If you’re looking to tap out of the hustle and bustle of life for a while, or for a restful break while on a busy safari holiday, then Tsowa Safari Island is just for you. Idyllically located within the island’s riverine forest and overlooking the Zambezi River, this down-to-earth tented camp offers its guests a ‘bare-foot luxury’ experience where the finer things in life are intermingled with the authenticity of a wilderness bush camp, where nature is a balm for the soul.

From the Zambezi National Park side of the river, much of the camp is concealed from view, revealing itself to us slowly as we motored across to the island. After a warm welcome and refreshing drinks, we were escorted to our tent. Fallen leaves littered the soft, sandy path and filtered sunlight seemed to guide us along the path, birds flitted around within the thicket and a hippo honked its greeting from a distance.  

We enjoy a light lunch in the dining tent, acquainting ourselves with all that encompasses Tsowa Safari Island and its parent company, Isibindi Africa Lodges – not that much of an introduction was required as we have previously stayed at all three of their wilderness lodges in South Africa.  (Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge, Thonga Beach Lodge & Kosi Forest Lodge)

The Isibindi history dates back 27 years to when Brett and Paige Gehren, both from a conservation background, stepped bravely into the world of eco-tourism, both building and running luxury eco-lodges, of which Tsowa is the latest.

pic credit Chantelle Melzer

We were fortunate to coincide our visit with that of two of Tsowa Safari Island’s co-owners, Lucy Mavango and Duncan Elliot, both Zimbabwean, and both as committed to the ethos of sustainability and treading lightly as Brett and Paige.

Duncan Elliot
Lucy Mavango

Duncan tells us that he spent months camping on the island before its construction – he is a mechanical engineer specialising in the construction of lodges, walking every square metre of the island working out the best spot for each of the tents and for the main lodge area. The peaceful feel and privacy of each tent attests to his knowledge and attention to detail. And to the privilege of being awarded this pristine island as a concession.

It wasn’t always this way though. Duncan tells us that bands of poachers used to come across from the Zambian side of the river, and had been doing so for years, to the point of almost claiming the island as their own. Thankfully sense prevailed. The gentle development and constant occupation has ensured that the island is no longer a drawcard for poachers, but rather an idyllic escape for discerning eco-travellers.

A late afternoon sundowner cruise on the Zambezi is one of the must-do experiences when at Tsowa. It was bliss to feel the cool breeze on my face as we putter solely upstream, hear the tinkling of ice as our skipper expertly made us G&Ts, and drift slowly as the sun slipped behind the clouds robbing us of a breath-taking sunset. But later that evening the moon more than made up for it, gifting us with a spectacular moonrise, perfectly reflected as the river flowed by with barely a ripple.

The main living area is a delight to the senses, the river rippling through a grove of water pear, gigantic vines entwined around the branches of age-old trees, and the wonderfully curated selection of books and collectables reflecting the life of pioneering Zimbabwe.

pic credit Chantelle Melzer

The comfortable couches and armchairs the perfect spot to read a book or catch a quick a nap… or opt to cool off and relax at the nearby swimming pool, cocktail in hand.

Nature enthusiasts will enjoy a guided tour of the island… binocs and camera in hand we set off with Duncan and Lucy to discover more about this patch of paradise. Having spent so much time here Duncan seems to know every tree, and I’m almost sure every blade of grass. We walk past the woody branches of an African mangosteen (Garcinia livingstonei), whose fruits can be made into an alcoholic beverage and whose roots, when pulverised and powdered, are said to be used as an aphrodisiac.

We see old evidence of elephant, their dung now dry and scattered by the birds and other creatures seeking out nutrition from the undigested leftovers. The remains of a large elephant scull lies to one side of the path, Lucy touches it reverently, I feel sad at its loss, but grateful that poaching on the island is now a thing of the past.

We walk beneath a towering sausage tree (Kigelia Africana), its mature seed pods, that weigh in at about 7kg, dangling from a dizzying height are enjoyed by baboons, elephants and even bush pigs.  I gently touch the stem of a paperbark corkwood tree (Commiphora marlothii), is papery flakes revealing a smooth green trunk and a fallen marula tree (Sclerocarya berrea) offers the perfect refuge to a variety of critters. The highlight of my walk is the beautiful baobab trees (Adansonia digitata), the huge ones, old and gnarled, others still young and spritely. 

Butterflies flitted amongst the swathes of wildflowers, and saw birds in abundance, including an African golden oriole and a broad-billed roller, posing perfectly in a tree. Happy birding hubby!

Birds & butterfly pics credit Daryl Buhrmann

What activities you choose at Tsowa are entirely up to you… wander along ancient trails on a guided wildlife walk or seek out herds of game on a safari drive in the Zambezi National Park, take a drive into town to see the magnificent Victoria Falls, or just, like us, choose to stay on the island and enjoy all she has to offer. Which included a wild and wonderful canoeing safari paddling downstream through a maze of channels and small islands on the mighty Zambezi River.

pic credit – Chantelle Melzer

‘It’s gentle’, they said… and ‘you won’t get wet’, we were told. I should have known when the ‘please place your phones and cameras in this container for safe keeping’ comment was made. It wasn’t that gentle, and I certainly got wet, but it was the best fun I had had in ages!

It took a while for my hubby and I, to get used to negotiating the fast-flowing river – a few mis-paddles later and we had it sorted. Or so we thought. As that was before we got to the section of rapids. And did I mention the hippos in the distance? Thankfully they stayed where they were. We waved at kids playing on the riverbank on the Zambian side, worked our way past tall reed beds, that I was certain harboured a bunch of angry hippos.

A couple of exciting hours later we hopped ashore to be greeted with fluffy towels, and a delicious spread of canapes and choice of drink – sundowner in hand I watched the clouds darken and the sun slip below the horizon. Soon we were whisked off in the safari vehicle for the drive and boat-ride back to camp.

Tsowa is a place where one feels right at home, whether it be snoozing in a hammock, dining around the communal table, sharing tales around glowing embers on the fire-pit deck, or helping yourself to the perfect cup of tea.

pic credit Chantelle Melzer

It’s a place where you can shower beneath the moonlight, before falling asleep to the gentle sound of crickets and the occasional hoot of an owl.

It’s where you wake to the sound of distant call of hyena and lions, feeling refreshed, and more alive than you ever though possible. It’s where you step out of your tent to greet the dawn and watch as the mist slowly rises off the Zambezi.

pic credit Chantelle Melzer

It’s where each day brings on the adventure of your choice… and it’s where you wish you could stay forever!