African Bush Camp’s Thorntree River Lodge
Our final stop of our Africa adventure! While we were in the area, I thought adding a stop at Victoria Falls would be a great way to end the trip so that is how we ended up staying at African Bush Camp’s Thorntree River Lodge. Located on the Zambezi River, this lodge is gorgeous and seems to be the draw for visitors with beautiful sunsets each night. Activities at this lodge include game drives, river cruises, cultural visits, fishing expeditions, canoeing, with the option of adding excursions as well.
The plane picked us up at the Khwai airstrip – again having our pilot Kaboo! – and we flew first to Kasane for immigration out of Botswana then a private journey to Livingstone. Kaboo turns to us and says that he missed the falls and got permission to do a fly over of Victoria Falls.
What a treat! We bid Kaboo a farewell, thanking him for safely transporting us from each location, as it was now time for the final leg of our Africa adventure. Quick note that we did need a visa to enter Zambia and I was able to get us both cleared for it ahead of time.
A van – a regular van – picked us up from the Livingstone airport and it was air conditioned! It was so strange to be back in an air conditioned vehicle but I immediately missed the safari vehicle. I had to really talk myself into realizing this was going to be a different experience – this was not bush safari but I do not think I was ready to leave it as I found myself aching for it the moment we arrived.
Upon our arrival at Thorntree River Lodge we met Justina, one of the hosts, who escorted us through the lodge which was indeed beautiful. She went through our schedule which was quite brief with an activity today, two activities tomorrow, and then a free day the day before we left. Meals seemed to be at will and not at set times – something we were not used to. We opted for a light lunch before our afternoon activity that included vegetables and cous cous for me and chicken for Kevin. One thing we noticed is how much more laid back everything was here – the “it’s all up to you” options and the length of time between courses in meals – it was so different from the bush camps regimented and timed days.
Our room was probably the nicest room we have ever stayed in. And it had air conditioning! It was very large and had a view of the river with a private pool. We did not know what to do with ourselves! I have to admit though, as wonderful as this room was, I really missed our previous two camps at Linyanti and Khwai Leadwood.
At 4PM, we left with Phillip, one of the guides, in a safari van which definitely brought a smile to my face – we would be driving through the National Park to reach the white rhinos the park is trying to bring back into the country. He explained how the rhino population has been eliminated from the country due to poaching and in an effort to bring them back, have made several attempts to successfully bring them back into Zambia. So far, efforts have been ongoing and heading in the right direction.
On our way out of the lodge, we noticed two giraffes side by side swinging their necks fighting – we had discussed this behavior in Botswana but did not see it and here it was right outside the lodge. Nature!
Things we noted that were very difficult to ignore – power lines and paved roads. This may be more typical of the National Park safari experience at other places but coming from the Botswana camps, it just feels so out of place to have these animals so ingrained and integrated with human behavior. Baboons and vervet monkeys are not shy as they find any opportunity for some food and curiously jump on cars with no fear. Zebras were grazing in front of a building right off the paved highway. Warthogs that were on the lodge property did not even flinch when we walked by – a drastic difference from safari life. The animals really have no predators here so they have nothing to fear.
We traveled into the park and were escorted where we were able to observe two white southern rhinos – a mom with a giant front horn and her two year old calf. With this sighting, we have completed our bingo card of “the big five” – lions, leopards, elephants, water buffalo, and rhinos.
One our drive back through the park, Phillip pointed out some trees that we discussed. The first was the mopane tree, also known as a butterfly tree due to the leaves creating the shape of a butterfly. There is a large caterpillar that appears when the leaves are in full swing as they eat the leaves. Additionally, elephants also love to eat this tree but the tree has an interesting defense mechanism. If more than a few branches are taken from the tree, the tree releases a tannin that makes the leaves and branches unpalatable. This also occurs in neighboring trees for self defense. As a result, elephants have learned to only take a small amount from each tree to avoid the protective mechanism for ruining their meal. Fascinating!
We also spotted some more warthogs and were able to visualize the “warts” on their faces – two for males, one for females – and learned that they have periorbital glands for marking their territory. Additionally, we found another type of antelope – the bush antelope – that most resembled a deer back home with their white spots and fluffy tail.
Phillip found a place for sundown while we watched an epic sunset over the Zambezi River. I do not think anything compares to African sunsets.
We returned to the lodge, freshened up and sat on the deck for dinner. It was difficult to stay awake as we were so tired from all the travel. We had a mixed vegetable soup but it was too spicy for me, then I had a salad and Kevin ate chickpea and rice in a curry sauce which he thoroughly enjoyed.
We then proceeded to have probably the best sleep of the trip thus far – with air conditioning and minimal noises outside the lodge, it was clear our bodies needed a solid night of sleep.
Breakfast awaited us and it was a full continental spread just for us. And then we were handed a food menu – how much do people usually eat at this place?! We were happy with the current spread and did not order anything off the menu which seemed to confuse our server – clearly we were not the people places like this were meant for. The spread was delicious and I could have this every morning.
This morning was our Victoria Falls experience! Unfortunately Phillip could not join us so we met Claudia who would be our guide around the falls. The lodge is a twenty minute drive from the falls so we enjoyed the air conditioning in the van while we could. On the drive, I noticed a lilac breasted roller on a power line and it just made my heart sink – those were our favorite birds in Botswana that we found and it was sitting on a power line.
Read about our excursion to Victoria Falls here!
Lunch was ready upon our return. We enjoyed a glass of rose with caprese salad, vegetable tacos (which were absolutely delicious) and an apple tart – a delightful lunch.
We took the rest of the bottle of rose back to the room and spent the afternoon taking our private pool for a spin – despite still being sad about not being on safari, this was pretty luxurious! However, we were treated to a lovely surprise of elephants crossing the river which brought a big smile to our faces.
One of the activities I was hoping for one our stay in Zambia was a boat safari on the Zambezi River to explore the wildlife and luckily that was one of the activities at Thorntree River Lodge. Before dinner we had our sunset cruise and yet another reminder that we were no longer on safari appeared – we had other people in the boat! Goodness we were spoiled. We were also so used to the punctuality of safari – if the time for a meal or activity was a certain time, the expectation was you were on time. Here, they seem to beat to the rhythm of their own drum – this activity started over twenty minutes late waiting for the other group.
Dinner was another delicious meal including tomato soup to start followed by vegetable lasagna for me and quail for Kevin finishing off with a pear for dessert.
We liked the sunset cruise since it gave us wildlife experience on water that we wanted to do the sunrise option this morning. We had a feeling that the guests here are not early birds. The staff seemed a bit perplexed when we requested it – are you sure you want to wake up that early? I guess the sunrise is not requested often at the Lodge but we were all in.
Wow! We could not have been more happy with our sunrise boat ride. We saw so many new birds and learned new facts about birds we have been seeing the whole trip. Our guide was great and we were very appreciative of the early wake up call.
Breakfast was waiting for us when we arrived and we enjoyed every bit and this morning we decided to, in addition to the usual spread, split an english breakfast that was on the menu – still confused the server but honestly, there is so much food all the time I do not know what other people do!
Our COVID tests were administered next which we needed to check into our flight tomorrow. Luckily there was a portal in which the results could be downloaded from and we had the results in a few hours. We were able to use the WiFi near the lobby to check in and make arrangements for our travel day tomorrow.
We spent the rest of the day at the room enjoying the pool, reading, taking more bird photos – it was actually nice to have a nothing day despite how much I try to avoid those on vacation but there was nothing else to do!
Since we ate later than normal, lunch time came and went – I am actually surprised no one came to make sure we were alive since the meals seem to be a big sticking point. We emerged from the room for dinner and we were treated to the seats down on the dock for our final meal. I ordered the mushroom and sage ravioli and Kevin ordered the osso buco – a great way to end the trip. After dinner, the staff surprised me with a birthday cake! It was extremely sweet and thoughtful – the staff here really were great especially our server Elvis – thank you!
Another restful night of sleep, we packed up and had a late breakfast to make the food last awhile. Shortly after, we were driven to the Livingstone airport where we started making the long journey back home.
Overall we had a relaxing time at African Bush Camp’s Thorntree River Lodge. But I think the issue is that we were not looking for a relaxing time on this trip. I feel that our previous experience at Linyanti and Khwai Leadwood left us wanting. Comparing Thonretree to those experiences is certainly unfairly as it really is a separate experience altogether than the bush camps. I think we just wanted more of the bush camp experiences than this one – I wonder if the order was reversed how we would have felt being here. While it was a very luxurious stay, it was just not our style. On our way home, Conde Nast top 50 in the world for 2021 – we had to laugh! If this is the type of experience you are looking for, it is very lovely and you will have a fantastic time!