Our intrepid adventures, Gia (17) and Indi (16) explore Zimbabwe with their father (our CEO, Ian Solomon) and mother, Pippa, on an epic 2-week adventure involving Victoria Falls, Kariba, a 3-day canoe safari down the Zambezi with Natureways (watch here), and 2 nights in a tented camp in Mana Pools (watch here).
After 3 days in Victoria Falls, exploring the Falls themselves, and white river rafting and bungee jumping with Shearwater Adventures, we set off for 2 nights at Mpala Jena. We were greeted by Wellington at the A’Zambezi jetty and glided up the beautiful Zambezi river by boat, seeing plenty of wildlife along the banks – crocodiles laying peacefully in the summer sun, pods of hippos playing in the water and a herd of elephants browsing from the trees on the bank. It was so beautiful to be on the river surrounded by such natural beauty – the fully-stocked cooler box being an added bonus!
After a relaxing boat ride, we arrived at Mpala Jena. We were met by the friendly smiles of the staff, served delicious ginger and lemon welcome drinks and showed around the exquisite lodge. Mpala Jena is situated in the Zambezi National Park right on the banks of the mighty Zambezi river, with the white river sand mimicking the beach. The lodge has been beautifully designed as a mix of beach and bush. There is a fireplace on the sand surrounded by deck chairs, a beautifully designed lounge and dining area, a bar with luxurious rope swings for seats and a swimming pool with loungers where you can spend hours soaking up the sun.
We were just in time for the delicious lunch that chef Flower had prepared for us. It was an abundance of exotic salads, beef and stirfry vegetables, fruits and homemade freshly baked bread rolls. After lunch, we were shown to our room. The large tented family space was stunning as it was right on the banks of the river. We spotted some crocodiles on a nearby small island and we could hear the hippos grunting. Each room had a beautiful outside shower and bath as well as an inside one. The rope-strung daybeds were the star of the show and were proceeded to fight over which ones of us were to have a nap on them. After a considerable amount of relaxing, we headed off to high tea, served in a beautiful square, airy room overlooking the Zambezi. High tea was another delicious spread of both sweet and savoury treats, as well as excellent iced coffee.
We were then introduced to our ranger, Clever, and set off on our evening game drive. The horizon is scattered with big, beautiful baobab trees – so ancient and soulful. We came across a large herd of elephants, with many young playful bulls who wanted to show their strength by flapping the ears and rocking back on their hind legs. We watched all the elephants cross the road to go and have their evening drink from the Zambezi much like my dad was about to do, except his would be the local Zambezi lager. After all the elephants had disappeared from view we went to watch the sun set down at the river. Clever took us to his favourite spot for sundowners, where he laid out delicious snacks and drinks. The sunset painted the sky pink and orange over the river. While 100’s of guinea fowls roosted in an island tree so they did not have to worry about hungry predators in the night, we saw all the hippos gathering together in the shallow, getting ready to come onto the banks for their nightly feast. We headed back to the lodge for butternut soup with ginger accents, followed by an incredible stuffed chicken and sauted vegetables and finally, for dessert, a layered sunset pannacotta. We fell asleep warmed by hot water bottles and the incredible sounds of the African bush.
We woke up bright and early just in time for the sunrise. The sky started to redden as we drank our coffee before setting off with Clever on our morning game drive. We headed east to see the sunrise and to track lion. Unexpectedly, my sister saw a leopard right next to the road. We were so excited as we have only ever seen one leopard before. We watched the leopard walk slowly through the grass before climbing over a rocky ridge and out of sight. We weren’t able to locate the lions – I think we had used up all our luck on the leopard. We stopped for tea, coffee and delicious biscuits and saw an enormous crocodile slide gracefully in the water. On our way back to the lodge we saw waterbuck, impala, zebra and various birds of prey. Back at the lodge, a breakfast of baked goods, fresh fruit salad and assorted cheese and crackers was laid out overlooking the Zambezi, and we could order any hot breakfast our hearts could desire. After a rejuvenating nap on the day beds, we enjoyed lunch under the trees, while the resident tree squirrel tried his luck – a spread of different salads, wraps, garlic flatbread, homemade hummus and dips, as well as fresh fruit.
After lunch, we played games and relaxed, and showered in the outside showers overlooking the Zambezi, before heading for high tea. One of the many amazing things about Mpala Jena is that guests can choose between game drives and boat safaris – we chose the sunset boat safari. We saw plenty of wildlife along the river – an amazing giraffe sighting, as well as seeing two elephant herds, and many crocodiles and hippos. The sunset stole the show, painting the whole sky red and orange and reflecting so beautifully on the water. As the sun set, we enjoyed sundowners and decadent snacks. For dinner, the starter was exotic stuffed mushrooms, followed by beef steak with roasted vegetables, with malva pudding and custard for dessert. Flower and his team’s cuisine was exceptional again.
We arose at sunrise again and set off on our morning game drive. We saw a small herd of waterbuck, warthogs, zebra, impala, hippos and elephants. We also had an incredible sighting of a fish eagle – it flew right in front of the vehicle carrying a large bream in its claws. After coffee overlooking a family of hippos on the river, we headed back to the lodge and saw dozens of white-backed vultures circling a kill. After another delicious breakfast, we said heart-felt goodbyes to all the amazing staff who had looked after us and Wellington ferried us back to Victoria Falls by boat.
We were very sad when our time at Mpala Jena came to an end. It was an experience to cherish for a lifetime.