Tourism to Lake Kariba has had its ups and downs since Zimbabwe's vast inland sea was created on the Zambezi River in the late 1950s. After a mushrooming of lakeside fishing and safari lodges in the 1980s and 1990s, economic challenges in Zimbabwe since 2000 have seen many of these closing or struggling to attract business.
Spurwing Island Lodge, however, has thrived through the good and the bad times! It is one of the longest-running and most successful tourism establishments on Lake Kariba, and has ALWAYS been a popular holiday destination for Zimbabweans and their families.
There is obviously some magic formula that has allowed Spurwing to stand the test of time despite all the challenges of Zimbabwe's chequered history.
Wild Zambezi visited in March 2017 to find out what this formula could be.
Here's what we came up with:-
1. SUPERB SERVICE
Spurwing Island Lodge has a management and staff who are completely committed to providing very high standards of service. Many of them have worked on the island for a long time, and their experience shows. Every one of them (even the gardener mowing the lawn) is friendly and helpful. They are there to ensure that every need of their guests is looked after. This is not just a platitude. It's a reality.
We arrived at the island in our own boat. There was a full compliment of staff and management at the harbour to greet us on arrival with a welcoming and refreshing drink. Luggage was swiftly offloaded and transferred to our rooms. Formalities were minimal. The bar is very well stocked and the barman was always available when required at any time of day.
Our extremely comfortable and spacious en-suite chalet room was beautifully prepared on our arrival and carefully serviced and replenished every day. The housekeeper was always on hand to attended to needs (when the gas in our hot-water geyser ran out, it was replaced within a few minutes). The dining room staff were ever attentive (even when we delayed our lunch beyond normal mealtime hours).
2. ATTENTION TO DETAIL
The key to this excellence of service at Spurwing is undoubtedly attention to detail. Here's one example (but there were many): We had come for the fishing. A specific member of the harbour staff was allocated to us and was ALWAYS on hand to look after our every need. Our boat was meticulously cleaned every day, our fishing bait was kept fresh, our cold drinks were ready and delivered to the boat every time we went out onto the Lake. Fishing gear and other kit was quickly loaded and unloaded, and the harbour hand was always waiting to assist with mooring at whatever time we embarked or disembarked.
We had good fishing, catching nice quantites of Kariba Bream and bringing them back to harbour in our keep-net. I was particularly impressed that Julius, our harbour hand, specifically asked us what we would like him to do with our catch. Did we want him to ask the cook to prepare some of them for snacks or dinner? Did we want him to gut/fillet and freeze them take home later? This service was seen as part of his responsibilities, and when we departed, all the fish we had kept were duly produced, prepared and frozen as promised. This attention to detail was most impressive.
While proving superb service and attention to detail, somehow Spurwing Island Lodge manages to allow their guests a degree of freedom and flexibility which is refreshing. There is a careful balance required here, and Spurwing seem to have achieved it. Meals are available in the dining room between certain hours, and, since guests have their own, individual tables they can choose when to sit down to eat.
There is attentive waiter service, but often a sensible self-service buffet is on hand, or, (when there are not many guests in residence), a delicious indvidual lunch platter provided for each table. A choice of safari and other activities was always on offer to us, even though we had specifically come for the fishing. Alternatively, simply relaxing in your chalet under the shady trees or on the green lawns around the swimming pool is always an attractive option at Spurwing.
4. SIMPLE, CREATIVE, FRESH MEALS
Spurwing has managed to achieve another clever balance with its meals. A full-board rate with big meals three times a day including teas and snacks is often way over the top for most guests. However, the Spurwing formula offers simple and creative menus prepared with healthy, home-cooked, fresh ingredients. There is always plenty of choice and variety (self-service buffets work well here) and ample quantities which avoid excess and extravagance. Keen fishermen are always offered the choice of eating their own catch for dinner. We were delighted with the quality of the food.
5. FAMILY-FRIENDLY & SAFE
A big attraction of Spurwing is its relative safety as an attractive venue for family holidays. Although located in the Matusadona National Park, the lodge is isolated from the mainland (when the lake is high it is an island) and any local wildlife is generally deterred from entering the grounds by the presence of a discreet perimetre fence. Children are welcome and well catered for, with friendly staff always on hand to help (however, parents still need to be cautious and the swimming pool is unfenced.). The recent introduction of a fenced and gated "live-bait" fish-pond at the lodge, where children can safely catch tiddlers under parental supervision is an inspired idea.
6. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Finally, we believe the single-most attractive factor of the Spurwing success formula is its location. The lodge is the closest Matusadona National Park safari property to Kariba Town - only a short (30-minute) cross-lake transfer boat-ride away. Its harbour is well sheltered and the lodge has magnificent and panoramic views out over the waters of Lake Kariba towards the Matusadona mountain range which forms the southern shore. The National Park is close by for game viewing and birdwatching and can easily be accessed either by road or by boat (depending on lake levels). Keen fishermen can reach the magnificent, deep gorge of the Sanyati River by speedboat in a few minutes.
All of this adds up to a sublime tourism experience in a beautiful setting. And there is one more thing:-
7. SIZE MATTERS
Spurwing has enough space to cater for groups, special occasions and weddings, with accommodation for up to 40 people in a combination of its chalets, cabins and tents. If there are more guests than this, a plan can be made with extra houseboat accommodation and, as a result, the lodge has, in recent years, become increasingly popular as a wedding and conference venue. Similarly, during the school holidays, there is plenty of space for family groups where parents can relax while their children play in the spacious grounds in a safe environment.
However, the disadvantage of this is that individual guests or couples, looking for a peaceful and quiet weekend getaway, or for a personalised safari experience, may be disappointed if the lodge is full. We weren't, because we chose a time outside of school holidays, when there was no function and there were few other guests staying. So, it's worth checking, when you book.
There's no doubt, however, that in almost every case, the Spurwing formula works superbly! We were very impressed.