Riverside Romance – Royal Chundu Island Lodge
Words by Gillian McLaren
Situated on Zambia’s Katambura Island in the Zambezi River, this elegant lodge is an ideal base from which to explore the river with its rapids, islands and nearby Victoria Falls – if you can bear to leave your suite.
The outdoor bath is positioned on the wooden deck in front of your villa, which is above a rushing river. Foliage of tall trees ensures total privacy. Sizeable white candles on the ledge above the bubble bath flicker in the gentle breeze. The deck has been festooned with candles in brown paper bags, which cast a warm glow. An array of Tabrar Earle products, with an orange and sandalwood scent, has been left for your pleasure.
With only four spacious suites, Royal Chundu Island Lodge is exclusive in the extreme. The bedroom, lounge and bathroom areas of each suite are side-by-side, facing the river, with views of ancient African ebony and baobab trees.
As the entire front of the suite is made up of concertinaed panels of wood and glass, it can be as open or closed as you prefer, allowing you to enjoy your twin shower either indoors or outdoors, as you please. Although each is totally private, Villa 4 has the most remote feel as it is furthest away from the main area, on its own pretty pathway.
For intimate dinners in your lounge area or on your deck a table is set bearing tall silver candelabra with long white candles, designer cutlery and crockery on quality linen, with some quirky elements like a diamante frog containing toothpicks. The effect of this careful styling is supreme elegance. Relais & Chateaux standards of food are impeccably maintained at each meal.
Each suite has a unique butler system, where anything you order is discreetly left in your private hatch, then a mellow gong sound alerts you that a delivery has been made. Properly brewed coffee or tea of your choice is served in this fine manner, any time in the morning or during the day.
From the vantage point of the lounger on your deck you might be treated to a sighting of the extremely rare and beautiful green Shalow’s Turaco. Bird life is prolific on the island and you are likely to see Collared Sunbird, Half-collared Malachite and Giant Kingfisher as well as friendly Greenbuls. Otters are sometimes seen swimming past the suites. The waterway is totally private, so you will never see a boat pass your villa.
For a spa treatment the therapist sets up a portable bed in your lounge or on the deck. It is dreamy to experience an open-air massage to the sound of swirling river water, calling Scrub-Robin and swaying leaves.
Beneath a canopy of mature trees, next to the infinity pool of the communal area of the lodge, tables are set where lunch is served. Tributaries from either side of the island meet in front of this space. The presence of a variety of species of butterflies adds to the beauty of this tranquil spot. Meals are unhurried and exquisitely presented, so guests tend to delay leaving to prolong the contentment. As some guests have a private luncheon in their villa or enjoy a day trip to Victoria Falls, you may have the entire place to yourself.
Staff are available, but discreet. Further inducement to linger is the excellent selection of coffee table books, including volumes about African flora and fauna, and field guides, as well as an interesting collection of African artefacts housed in the lounge and indoor dining room.
Shooting the white water of the nearby rapids is great fun, with the experienced guides doing the paddling as they know the area well and are able to negotiate an exciting but safe passage. On the more sedate stretches of the Zambezi there is time to do some bird-watching from the canoes, including trying to find the much sought after Rock Pratincole, which lays its eggs on rock surfaces of any size that protrude from the water.
Cruises are offered in comfortable, covered motorboats, ideal for viewing the birds, game and spectacular trees of this region. On the Sunset Cruise gourmet snacks are served with iced drinks of your choice as you revel in the iconic beauty of a vermillion sky reflected in the waters of the Zambezi. The boat edges the nearby Matetsi Game Reserve, where abundant game come down to the water’s edge to drink.
It is a thrill to spot a majestic kudu bull, scampering baboon or even a big cat. Hippos and crocodiles are often seen, as are many waterbirds, including several species of heron, egret and kingfisher. African skimmers are a special sight, with their lower beak much longer than the top one for skimming along the water’s surface for food.
This area of the Zambezi is famed for its tigerfish. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced fisher, you could try to hook one of these striped beauties with tackle provided by the lodge. The catch and release policy is in line with their ecoconscious philosophy.
A stroll around the island with one of the well-educated guides is most informative. It is fascinating to hear snippets about the trees, butterflies and ecology.
Victoria Falls is close enough for a pleasurable day trip, but as the lodge and surrounding area are so magnificent I would suggest a separate stay at the falls if that is possible, to maximise your time at Royal Chundu. Even if you only have a few hours at the falls, a helicopter ride is a memorable experience. Tucked away beneath indigenous trees at the entrance to the falls is a surprise:
Rainforest Café, a chic restaurant serving artistically presented meals with fresh produce as well as superb coffee. Apparently growing vegetables and herbs is a challenge in Victoria Falls, as elephants invade the gardens. They step delicately over the lettuce and make for the coriander and rocket. This stylish eatery manages to overcome these sorts of obstacles to serve food good enough to rival any boutique hotel.
Royal Chundu Island Lodge, with its alfresco bath on the deck, clouds of butterflies and unique position to explore this remote wilderness location, is a sublime destination for a honeymoon.
Royal Chundu Island Lodge
Flame of Africa