A Safari Island All To yourself - where is Tsowa?
Updated: Nov 19, 2021
Tsowa Safari Island, 40km upstream of Victoria Falls in the middle of the Zambezi River, is my kinda place!
At 1.5km long and 400m wide, Tsowa island is a secret hideaway within Zimbabwe's Zambezi National Park, carefully hidden in a riverine forest of mature Jackalberry, wild Mangosteen and Mahogany trees. From a boat you have to look hard to see the large en-suite tented rooms tucked into the foliage.
Yes, that's me standing outside my room one morning, while elephant grazed just metres away. Structural design has a lot of style in its simplicity, with communal areas like the lounge and dining decks under romantically-lit stretch Bedouin tents. To cool off there's a pool deck and to warm up there's the fire-pit deck. All overlooking the mesmerising flow of the Zambezi. Treading lightly on the earth is Isibindi Africa Lodges' trademark. Founder Brett Gehren says: “It’s a great privilege to have been awarded this concession. I feel that if David Livingstone had to walk through Tsowa Safari Island, he would feel right at home.” I don't know about Livingstone, but it certainly had that affect on me.
Elephant graze the forest and reedbeds of this island and very large footprints across the veranda indicated just how close they get to the accommodation. I wondered why my veranda didn't have a hammock, while all the others had. "Number 16 took it away" said our host Duncan Elliott, grinning. Collared in a research programme, elephant No. 16 is easy to spot, not just because of his large white collar, but because he's usually the one wandering through camp causing havoc. He almost prohibited my departure from the island by clambering up from the bank and blocking the path. "I'm going to have some stern words with him," said Duncan, as I finally waved farewell, wanting so much to stay.
Birders eat your heart out with regular sightings of Pel’s fishing owl, Schalows turaco, African finfoot and rock pratincole. The Pel's kept me awake half the night with it's piercing child-like cry. For the other half of the night I dreamed of a tall dark handsome stranger in khaki, inspired perhaps by Tony Park's novel heroes. I'd just bumped into this best-selling author in nearby Hwange National Park, who has set 19 of his daring crime novels in this part of Africa. “Since Wilbur Smith in his heyday, no one has written as well about southern Africa than Tony Park.” Crime Review (UK)
You can do a waterfall walk in the morning and be at Tsowa in time for an afternoon boat cruise, sipping sundowners on the Zambezi River. That's what I did, with G&T in hand, while colleagues were steadying their lenses for golden light bird shots and a Zambezi sunset.
While this island is remote, it’s surprisingly accessible as it’s almost equidistant from Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and a hop across the Victoria Falls bridge to the Zambian side, as well as Kasane (Botswana) and the Namibian border. This area is the stepping off point into the rest of KAZA - the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. Take a look at the 36-page brochure I wrote for KAZA here. It explains the significance of this 5-country cross border collaboration, notably opening up transfrontier migration routes, particularly for elephant, but also lion, zebra and wildebeest. A back issue of Travel Africa magazine has an article about the barely known migration of zebra, further in distance than the Serengeti migration and I mention it in the KAZA brochure too.
Game drives and guided walks in Zambezi National Park are an option from Tsowa, so is canoeing down river and getting picked up later by a 4x4 laden with drinks and snacks. A good river guide is a given, because this is hippo and croc country. Not to mention swimming elephants. Sometimes, often actually, I like to sit quietly at camp with binoculars in hand and let the the birds and animals to come me, as the elephants did as I practiced early morning yoga before my untimely departure.
Over too soon, I have a feeling I'll be back here. When the bush calls, you have to listen and it's screaming at me to come back!
Find more about Tsowa here and read what my travelling companion and journalist colleague Lesley Stones had to say about Tsowa.
To be reproduced only with the author's permission - Carrie Hampton email@example.com