A magical river encounter

MAY 2012 – On the banks of Zambia’s mighty Zambezi River lies Baines’ River Camp, a tranquil retreat in one of Africa’s most important wilderness areas. Here, low-key luxe blends seamlessly with unspoilt Africa to deliver a magical and timeless safari experience.

Baines’ River Camp in the Lower Zambezi Valley lets you get close to the earth without relinquishing any creature comforts. This luxury safari camp – named after legendary artist and explorer, John Thomas Baines – is set among giant tamarind and jackalberry trees on the lush banks of the Zambezi River, opposite Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools World Heritage Site. It lies in the heart of the protected Eastern Chiawa Game Management Area, adjoining the Lower Zambezi National Park: together they offer some 4 200 square kilometres of untouched bush that’s teeming with wildlife.

You’ll feel at home from the moment you arrive at the intimate, colonial-style safari lodge. The camp’s main verandah invites you to unwind, relax with a refreshing drink and lose yourself in the magic of Africa’s fourth-largest river, flowing just metres from your feet. Peace and tranquillity reign, interrupted only by the splash and grunt of hippos and the cries of some of the 350 bird species that call this valley home. After a dip in the crystal-clear pool overlooking the Zambezi, you may want to head out on your first wildlife activity or meander down the path to your own Explorer Suite.

Baines’ River Camp’s eight luxurious suites stretch out under the shade of vast trees along a path that winds gently through verdant riverine growth. In each sumptuous home-from-home, comfort is a given. The suites are fully air-conditioned, although back-to-nature types will love both the generous sash windows that can be flung open to let the night air in and the fan that circles lazily beneath the lofty ceiling. You may even catch a glimpse of Baines’ regular four-legged visitors – such as elephants, buffalo, antelope, hippos or, if you’re very lucky, a leopard – from the privacy of your own covered verandah. But with more than 60 free-roaming mammal species that you can view by foot, 4×4 game-drive vehicle or river, you’re probably going to tear yourself away from your suite sooner rather than later.

The Zambezi River sets the scene while you explore the vast unfenced wildlife area by boat, canoe, vehicle or foot under the guidance of professionals who are passionate about the African bush and their area of expertise. Baines’ offers an utterly uncontrived safari experience: with no fences, no traversing limitations and a vast wilderness expanse, you truly become an explorer in your own right.

The diverse vegetation ranges from Albida forests to lala palm groves, from grass plains to Miombo woodlands, from scrubby bush to lush wetland vegetation. The ancient baobabs – some over 1 000 years old – are a sign that this landscape has remained unchanged since the days of the first explorers. Start off with a river cruise into the heart of the Lower Zambezi National Park. As you go with the flow, you’ll see Nile crocodiles slip silently from the banks into the safety of the water while hippos eye you warily, snorting with disdain. The elephants that munch the sharp-bladed reeds and grasses on the islands dotting the river don’t even deign to notice you, so your safari boat can come within metres of these majestic giants. You may even catch a glimpse of Africa’s cats coming to drink at the water’s edge. The soundtrack to your cruise is the cry of the fish eagle, Zambia’s national bird. Tiny kingfishers hover and dart, while bee-eaters flash in the trees lining the river. Disembark onto the river bank, where Baines’ capable and charming guiding team wait to take you for a land-based safari drive.

There is plenty on offer for the more adventurous traveller. Once you have experienced a Baines’ canoe safari, you’ll never settle for anything less. Guided by experts, you slip silently down the Zambezi and through slower-moving channels. Here you become one with the river and with its abundant game and birdlife. The experience is profoundly moving. For a surge of adrenaline, head out on a sport-angling expedition. Capture a photo of a lifetime of your tiger fish – Africa’s most powerful freshwater game fish – before you release this living trophy back into the fast-moving waters. Baines’ River Camp is also increasingly famous for its specialised safari workshops, led by international experts in their field: enjoy photographic safaris, birding expeditions, fly-fishing clinics and workshops about the intimate world of elephants.

With delectable fresh food catering to your every whim, sundowner cruises, bush dinners under the Milky Way, in-room spa treatments, the Selous Bar and a library of fascinating reads, you probably won’t be too interested in the complimentary WiFi connectivity, cell phone reception and conference facilities available, but it’s reassuring to know that they are there if you need them. What is certain as you settle into the Zambezi way of life is that you will find yourself wondering why you booked to stay in Paradise for so few nights…

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