Chundu Island: be warned - you won't want to leave!

Sally Wynn, Wild Zambezi • 24 August 2018

Wild Zambezi was delighted to be invited by Seolo Africa in July 2018 to experience the newly-rebuilt lodge on Chundu Island about 21kms upstream from Victoria Falls.

Our Director, Sally Wynn, had been threre before, under the previous management.  She was keen to see what the new place had to offer.  Here's what she thought:-

"What I love about Chundu, is that it’s on its own island… a little piece of paradise in the middle of the Zambezi River – tucked away in the wilds of the Zambezi National Park, and yet within easy reach one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, the Victoria Falls.

Undoubtedly, the Falls are a highlight of most people’s safari holiday in Southern Africa – and rightly so – they are truly awe-inspiring.  But, if I were you, once you’ve done the sightseeing bit, I’d factor in a couple of days on Chundu Island as the perfect final retreat at the end of your trip.   Here, you can catch your breath, away from the tourist buzz, and wind down fully with few distractions except those offered by Mother Nature.

Chundu is the perfect place for honeymooners,  nature-lovers,  bird-watchers, families or simply those who want a peaceful, romantic,  escape for the soul.   You’ll find few distractions except for what the island offers – naturally:  beautiful tropical shade trees, seasonal sandy beaches, the soothing sounds of the river flowing by, elephants browsing in the National Park across the water,  half-tame bushbuck nibbling the undergrowth, exotic bird calls, golden sunsets …. no shops, no traffic, no “entertainments”.   Be prepared to kick off your shoes,  put your feet up and indulge in a little island magic. 

Don’t think for a moment that just because Chundu Island is remote, it lacks comfort and luxury.  Far from it!  Spaced out along the edges of the island and nestled into the riverine woodland are six beautifully-designed, expansive, “Seychelles-style” River Suites (double or twin) and two Family Suites (sleeping 4).  The rooms are huge – fully-gauzed canvas on wood, high ceilinged, airy and completely open-plan. 

Large sliding doors leading out onto wide wooden-decked verandahs with comfortable loungers and views out over the river. 

Everything is provided for maximum comfort – wonderfully comfortable beds with crisp, white linen, generous “custom-built” mosquito nets; a fully-provisioned minibar and tea/coffee station,  separate dressing room and toilet, double wash-basins, an indoor bath and outdoor “under the stars” shower.  To minimise the lodge’s environmental impact, all water and lighting on the island is solar-powered.  

Even though Chundu is unfenced and lies within a wildlife-rich National Park, because it is an island, it is relatively safe to move about freely during the day (at night a security guard accompanies guests to their Suites).   This is ideal for children.  Sandy pathways lead through the trees to the enormous living/dining/bar/pool area.  

This is the heart of the lodge, a series of vast, sprawling, wooden-decked areas with gorgeous views upstream looking over a seasonal sandy beach towards the sunset.  Here one can while away the day and night, warm wood decking under foot, huge shade trees above, cool drinks from the bar (there is a wonderful wine cellar). 

The meals were delicious, fresh, imaginative and plentiful.  Breakfast and lunch were served al fresco on the dining deck overlooking the beach.  A stunning location under the shade of the biggest, most beautiful acacia tree I have ever seen!   

At night, when it can get a bit chilly, especially in winter months, dinner is served in the cosy covered dining room.  If you want something REALLY special, a romantic dinner table can be set up on the beach or in the woodland in a private setting.

There’s a range of activities to choose from at Chundu.  Some are river-based (canoeing, fishing, sunset boat cruises) and some are conducted on land within the Zambezi National Park (guided game drives or safari walks). 

Our visit was short, so I opted to take a walk around the island with Fanuel as my guide.  This was the highlight of my stay!   I cannot recommend this activity more highly for anyone interested in nature. 

While most of the big animals tend to stay in the National Park across the river, (groups of elephant make the occasional visit), the island is home to the small ones – including various types of mongoose, water monitors, warthogs and a high population of resident bushbuck (I believe there are 16 on the island!).  

However, it is Chundu’s varied natural island habitat, which includes riverine, sandveld and wetland species that makes this place so very special – and this attracts an extraordinary variety of birds.  It was these that I had really come to see! 

You could hardly walk more than a few paces without having to stop to raise the binoculars.  I’m not a twitcher, so I didn’t do a count, but we saw scores of different birds in just over an hour’s walk, including some special rarities – the African Finfoot,  the Collared Palm-Thrush and the African Skimmer.   If I’d had more time, I would surely have seen the beautiful Schalow’s Turaco, the inspiration for Chundu Island’s logo.   We spied the nests of Hammerkops and Vultures hidden high in the canopy, and searched the deep, dark, shady places where the Night Herons and the Owls hang out during the day (including the rare Pel’s Fishing Owl).  

The island habitat is home to an astounding variety of trees and shrubs all of which are well known to Fanuel who gently shared his extensive knowledge in such a wonderfully quiet and inspiring way.    He was the perfect guide – sensitive, unassuming, and obviously hugely respectful of and passionate about the wilderness environment he lives in and knows so much about.  I could not have asked for better.  Thank you Fanuel!

Reaching Chundu Island from the busy town of Victoria Falls involves a quick crossing to the mainland in the island's pontoon "ferry" boat (which doubles as a sundowner cruise vessel), and a 90-minute game drive through the Zambezi National Park. 

This is a pleasure in itself, especially if you can time it in the early morning or evening when you are more likely to see – who knows what en route?!  

Alternatively, if you are short of time, you can opt for a fast speedboat transfer upstream along the Zambezi River– but, be warned, this is a high-speed adrenalin-rush experience through the channels, rocks and rapids upstream of the Falls, and is NOT for the faint-hearted!

So – to go back to what I like about Chundu…. here’s a place where you don’t do ANYTHING at a fast pace.  The whole point is to get away from all of that, and just to relax in a luxurious setting. 

Go on - treat yourself to a couple of nights at Zimbabwe’s closest thing to a tropical island paradise!  I promise you won’t want to leave!"

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