When Dr. David Livingstone first set sight on the magnificent falls, and when he penned the famous words ‘…scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’ little did he realise the rich legacy he would leave in the charming town of Livingstone. When Sun International Zambia had the vision to develop The Falls Resort, I’m sure they did not realise the full extent of the legacy they would leave either. 

Mosi-Oa-Tunya – The Smoke That Thunders – the local name for the Victoria Falls, is recognised as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Sun International Zambia, The Falls Resort is a 46-hectare paradise, situated within the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Wildlife Park, which fringes the Zambezi River and overlooks the Victoria Falls. The resort incorporates the three-star Zambezi Sun, and the sophisticated five-star hotel, The Royal Livingstone.

The town of Livingstone, founded in 1905, was named after the famous Scottish missionary, Dr. David Livingstone who explored much of the area. This charming historic town has much to offer the visitor, including three museums: the Livingstone Museum traces the history of man in Zambia and has a good collection of memorabilia relating to Dr. David Livingstone; The Victoria Falls Field Museum which stands on an archaeological site with artifacts dating back millions of years, and the Railway Museum, detailing the years when Livingstone was the Railway Capital of a vast region and when much of its wealth came from the railways.

I had the pleasure of staying at The Royal Livingstone, reminiscent of a by-gone era of colonial sophistication, where I was welcomed with iced tea and personal attention in the elegant lounge. With my luggage installed, Kennedy my butler proceeded to give me a ‘tour’ of my luxurious en-suite room, taking care to check whether I would need my towels and linen changed daily – this was just the start of my journey into exploring the responsible tourism initiatives that saw The Falls Resort named as the overall winner at the 2009 Imvelo Awards for Responsible Tourism. As part of their commitment to being a sustainable tourist destination, The Royal Livingstone Hotel and Zambezi Sun were proud to achieve Platinum Heritage Status for environmentally responsible tourism in 2009. The daily operations are underpinned by their concern for the environment and the development and implementation of the Environmental Policy has received highest priority since August 2003.

Dinner at the Royal Livingstone is a treat, with its fine cuisine, beautiful décor and breathtaking view.  We were seated on the verandah watching the waters’ of the mighty Zambezi as they prepare to launch over the edge into oblivion. I was dining with Dean Pitt, Resort Facilities Manager, and we were discussing the numerous contributions that Sun International Zambia (‘Sun’ as it’s affectionately know here) is making to the community and the environment.  ‘…responsible tourism is about putting back into travel what you get from it. Sun International is committed to sustainable tourism that uses environmental resources efficiently, with minimal negative impact, that respects local communities and culture, and that leaves a legacy of long term, viable enterprises’ said Dean.

As my beautifully presented main course arrived, Dean’s comment made sense as he explained that the lettuce on my plate was grown by a local entrepreneur, the pan-fried Zambezi Bream came from the Katombora aquaculture project, the tomatoes from the Linda blind Agricultural Scheme, and that even the tablecloth and serviettes would have another life in one of Sun’s many community initiatives! ‘I’m looking forward to tomorrow’ I thought, appreciating the spectacular view and classical guitarist (a local musician, of course) playing in the background.

Morning arrived, and after a sumptuous breakfast I was off to see some of the projects for myself, accompanied by Stain Musungaila (CSI Manager), Cephas Sinyangwe (Public Relations Officer) and our driver (now known as ‘007’ for his expert handling of the rough muddy roads). Our first stop was the Global Samaritans Orphanage where I met the very gracious Miriam and Owen who, with the help of house mothers, take care of 53 orphans.

With the high prevalence of HIV/Aids and poverty in the area, caring for the many orphaned children is a community responsibility and ‘Sun’ has committed to assisting local orphanages with educational materials, foodstuffs, clothing and many other needs. Every Friday Miriam and Owen drive into Livingstone to collect their weekly supply of fresh vegetables and foodstuff from the Sun International Zambia (SIZ) warehouse.

It was heartwarming to see the appreciation shown for what SIZ is doing, and the relationship they have with Stain – Miriam’s comment ‘…the children pray for you every Wednesday’ somehow said it all.

One of the newer endeavours is a partnership with St Joseph’s Hospice in Livingstone where SIZ has assisted in setting up a 2500 square-metre vegetable and fresh fruit garden. This is to provide a stable source of fresh vegetables as well as an income from the sale of excess produce thereby enhancing its self-sustainability. The hospice takes care of the terminally ill who have nobody to look after them and is a place of recovery for those who would otherwise not have any kind of support – the dedicated staff at the hospice endeavour to ‘add life to days, and not days to life’.

With expert precision ‘007’ maneuvered us around potholes and through muddy patches to our next stop, the Maramba Women’s tie and dye project. This is where old linen, serviettes and even uniforms from the hotel are transformed into colourful fabric just waiting for a new life – anything from bags to bedspreads. This initiative and others like it are aimed at empowering women, specifically widows and HIV positive, enabling them to provide for their families.

The resort is involved in several agricultural projects – I had the opportunity to visit the onsite hydroponic greenhouse, the Herb Garden, Vermiculture project and propagation block at the resort as well as the Linda blind Agricultural Scheme, which consists of a farming block that supports more than 34 households of 5-8 peoples per household. Vegetable seedlings are propagated in the resort greenhouse and then planted out on the farm, cared for and then harvested and then sold.

Another ‘Sun’ initiative is the Farmers Market, where individual farmers around Livingstone are encouraged to grow different fruits and vegetables and bring them to the Sun International Zambia warehouse on Mondays, where the warehouse buys the produce from them. The extra is sold to the surrounding lodges and individuals. This programme has helped farmers to acquire a sustainable livelihood by creating employment and a source of income – there are currently 321 farmers on the database.

Of equal importance is the need to facilitate education, and Sun International Zambia values education as one of the fundamentals of modern society. In an effort to bring about positive change to the Livingstone education system, SIZ has partnered with the government and other cooperating partners to improve the facilities at five different schools. Improvements have ranged from renovations of classrooms to facilitating the construction of additional classrooms as well as the provision of learning materials.

I visited two of these schools (Zambezi Basic School and Christ the King Basic School); it was heart-warming to see the dedication of the teachers and the commitment of the pupils to learning – the attitude of teachers and pupils alike is a testament to the legacy left first by Dr. Livingstone, and now continued by the commitment of Sun International Zambia’s community projects.

My trip to Livingstone ended on a high note, with dinner aboard the Royal Livingstone Express. This was a splendid affair, definitely something to dress for… the red-carpet treatment, drinks on arrival, and light-hearted conversation in the lounge car before heading to the observation car for departure. From departure the train moves directly onto the restored old Mulobezi Line (it was once the largest privately owned railway network in the world and was set up by the Zambezi Sawmills in 1916) through Dambwa suburb towards the Mosi-oa-TunyaNational Park. The delight of both adults and children alike as they run to wave at the train as it chugs past with the familiar ‘choo-choo’ of steam, is evidence of the positive impact that Sun International Zambia has had in these parts.

Our dining car with its luxurious leather seats, silver cutlery, crystal glassware and damask linen all provided the ideal backdrop to the exquisite cuisine created by the Royal Livingstone Hotel chefs – with much of the fresh produce being sourced from local community projects. Not even a downpour of rain could spoil such a memorable evening!

It’s little wonder that so many guests choose to return, I know I will… I left a little piece of my heart in this ‘Piece of ‘Paradise’.

Words – Tessa Buhrmann

Pics – Tessa Buhrmann / Sun International Zambia

UPDATE: 2016 – The Royal Livingstone is now part of Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas (Minor Hotel Group)