It was my birthday and I was sitting in a bubbling hot spring on the edge of the Kafue River in Zambia. Fireflies were dancing around my head and a fellow journalist on this press trip – a rather tall, handsome fella – was giving my shoulders a massage (c’mon it was my birthday). I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
Large boulders surrounded the hot springs, protecting it from an unannounced visit by hippos or crocodiles. There I sat with a glass of bubbly in hand and a big smile on my face.
If this wasn’t enough, I was then informed that Hippo Lodge offer massages at this spot too. This information served to put the cherry on top of the safari cake for me and I mentally awarded Hippo Lodge in Zambia’s Kafue National Park, top honours in my safari lodge repertoire.
When asked, “Which safari lodge do you like best?” I usually reply, “the last one I was at.” But Hippo Lodge has stuck in my mind as one I really want to return to as soon as possible.
BUBBLES TICKLING MY BODY
The hot spring water was bath-temperature and completely free of any nasty sulphur smell. Underfoot was soft sand, which sank into small bubble holes releasing little streams of bubbles that tickled all the way up my body until they burst on the surface. There was something ever so sensual about it.
Another great thing about Hippo Lodge, is that it isn’t a fancy-shmancy kind of safari lodge. You don’t need to take out a loan to stay here. It is one of the more affordable safari lodges, considering all the special things on offer. You could pack the barest minimum – a couple of t-shirts, some khaki shorts and swimming gear – and you’d be fine. This far into the bush, there’s no reason to dress up.
Hippo Lodge lets you experience true safari life, which is all about looking, listening and admiring nature in its wildest state. It’s a place to unwind as far away from city life as you can possibly get.
When Bruce Whitfield built Hippo Lodge (with his bare hands – he’s that kind of man), he didn’t initially notice that the spot he had chosen takes full advantage of the sunset across the Kafue River. He did of course know that Hippo Camp’s proximity to several islands, made for good boating opportunities and island camp outs. We didn’t stay overnight, as his fly camp in the trees had yet to be constructed, but we often piled into one of his funny-looking boats to go fishing and hang out on the islands. Here we had long leisurely lunches of bream freshly caught by my own hand, filleted and battered with a beer batter by the ever-smiling staff, then deep-fried in a skillet over the fire, accompanied by real potato French fries. Sublime fish ‘n chips.
Elephants obviously wade out to the islands, judging by the large dollops of evidence. There are hippos and crocodiles too, who usually push off when we disturbed them. Birdlife is outstanding, and we saw several rare species including pels fishing owl, finfoot, Schalow’s turaco and other rarities that send twitchers into a complete tizz (twitchers is the common name for obsessive bird watchers).
THE LION BRAT PACK
Everybody wants to see big cats on safari and I am no different. It turns out that Hippo Lodge have their own lion ‘brat pack’. There are three male lions, not quite grown up enough to have their own pride, but like most teenagers, hell bent on having fun. Bruce’s financial business partner Igor, wasn’t amused when Bruce informed him that it was the lions who ripped up the 4×4’s canvas seat cushions, which had been left outside the storage room. Imagine how pleased the lions must have been when only a week later they found a set of newly repaired cushions in the same place and proceeded to rip them to shreds again. What Igor said to Bruce after that is unrepeatable!
This story served to change the nocturnal habits of my fellow companions, who’d been wandering around in the darkness, blissfully unaware that the ‘brat pack’ visit the camp quite regularly (presumably looking for some tasty furnishings). It was the very same night that we were told about the ‘brat pack’ that news-hound Gabriel, and writer/lecturer Leon, had a lion encounter. When they got back to their cottage after a bout at the bar, they found a lion paw print on Gabriel’s bedspread.
Gabriel and Leon aren’t very bushwise – they’re from the city – so imagine how freaked out they were at the thought a lion had been in their room. Thinking the beast may still be inside, they felt safer outside and rushed over to raise Igor from his bed. He’d been drinking with them and responded groggily saying that he knew nothing about lions and they should consult Bruce. Bleary-eyed, but still ever so manly, Bruce came to inspect the paw print. He stared and nodded seriously, then stated that this was indeed an animal print. Gabriel and Leon felt vindicated. Bruce looked at them eye to eye, man to man, and revealed to them that this was a the print from a human hand that had pushed off the bed leaving indentations. Laugh, I almost cried when the story came out next morning, with Gabriel and Leon looking very sheepish!
I am sure Bruce and Igor have added this story to their wide repertoire of tall tales. Let them tell you their version when you go to Hippo Lodge, and if you take my advice, go!
Here’s some more useful info about Hippo Lodge:
Where and How: In Kafue National Park, a huge wilderness area of Zambia, where you won’t see another vehicle apart from the one you are in. It takes about 5 hours to drive there from the capital city of Zambia, Lusaka in Igor’s comfortable transfer vehicle. Or even better, take a short hop by light aircraft direct to the lodge. Sefofane air charters fly into that area and are a well-recognised professional outfit. For the international flight I flew with Zambian Airways from Johannesburg to Lusaka.
When to go: Zambia is best in the dry winter/spring season in the months of July to November. I was there in September and the weather was perfect at about +-26°C. October and November gets hotter, easily reaching into the 30’s, and the humidity arrives with the rains from December to April when it is very hot and humid.
Excellent, unpretentious, better than home-cooking, but not trying to be clever. Really tasty steaks, lamb fillets on the barbecue, crunchy salads and best of all, fish fresh caught in the river with chips made from real potatoes. Plenty of cold beers and bar drinks.
The Rooms: Cottages of various sizes are situated along the riverside and although not decorated by an interior designer, are delightful and comfortable in a semi-rustic way. There is no air-con, so avoid the hottest months.
When they have completed an upgrade of soft furnishings and added some finer details, the accommodation will be improved, but right now the beds are big and comfortable and the chalets attractive.
Safari activities: Kafue may not be for the first time safari visitor, since you aren’t guaranteed all the big game even though they are there. But if you are not concerned with clocking up the list of Big Five, Hippo Lodge will give you a taste of real safari, where nothing is for sure. Game drives are bumpy and fun and you are likely to see leopard and lion and even the very rarely seen sitatunga antelope. You can go on bush walks and of river cruises for a spot of fishing. You can also sleepover on Lunga Island at the fly camp, with real mattresses and bedding and a chef cooking supper.
Birding is spectacular – it’s a birdwatcher’s paradise for the number of rare species. Bruce takes you on a trip to an old copper mine, which I didn’t have time to do. Oh and there is a brilliant swimming pool surrounded by giant amethyst crystals over which the water runs into the pool. And of course, the bubbling hot springs, with in-room or hot springs massage at certain times of the year.
Anything else: With an abundance of minerals and semi-precious stones in this part of Zambia, the lodge was built incorporating massive crystals into its walls. This could account for the strange dreams we were all having!
More About Hippo Lodge and Zambia: Take a look at the Hippo Lodge website, which doesn’t really do them justice
The Zambian Tourism website gives an idea of what the rest of the country can offer, which is one of the wildest and best safari destinations in Africa.
Have you been to Hippo Lodge? Leave me a comment.
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