Musango Island –magical for friends or family

Wild Zambezi • 28 May 2018

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It has been some years since we visited Musango Island Safari Camp - one of Lake Kariba’s longest-established island camps - and so it was with great delight that we joined friends for a 3-night stay in April 2018, to renew our acquaintance with this lovely place. 

The 16-bed “Classic Safari Camp”is built on a private island concession, near the Ume River estuary which forms the western boundary of the Matusadona National Park on Lake Kariba’s southern shores.  When the lake water level is low, Musango is joined to the mainland. 

Steve and Wendy Edwards built their dream camp here in 1991 when Steve retired from Zimbabwe’s National Parks Department, after serving for 18 years, three of which were spent as Warden of the nearby Matusadona National Park.   He is one of a handful of veteran Zimbabwean professional guides who have spent nearly five decades in the wild.  He is a consummate bushman, keen photographer, avid birder and, since discovering dinosaur fossils in the vicinity of his camp, an enthusiastic palaeontologist.   Steve is also a highly entertaining raconteur – you won’t easily forget an evening round the campfire in his company!    Wendy handles the details of the camp management, the bookings, the décor, the housekeeping, the ordering, the vegetable garden and the kitchens.  The high standards at Musango are testimony to their hard work and dedication. 

What differentiates Musango from other camps in the area is its magical “island quality”.  The hub of the camp is its central wooden & thatch living, bar & pool area, with covered or open-air dining.  This is located at the narrowest part of the island with spectacular views over the lake to either side. 

From here, a rustic pathway (romantically lantern-lit at night) leads through thickly-canopied woodland to eight, private, stone-under thatch, tented, en-suite chalets spread out along the island’s east-facing shoreline.   Each chalet has its own private view of the lake, the beach, the sunrise and the hills of the National Park in the distance. 

Musango Safari Camp looks after its guests extremely well.   Whether you arrive by air charter, speedboat transfer, or in your own boat, the staff are welcoming and attentive, and their standards of service throughout our stay were exceptional.  

The meals were quite outstanding given the remoteness of this little island - with meticulous attention to every little detail.  We were treated to a vast array of highly varied, creative and freshly-prepared food – fresh fruit salads, yoghurt, freshly-baked rolls, home-made jams, sushi made with local crayfish from Lake Kariba, fresh-baked pizza, exotic fish dishes, and all the usual meats with fresh vegetables and herbs (many of which are lovingly grown in the camp’s kitchen garden!).   We were highly impressed – these meals were world-class by anyone’s standards.  

Under Wendy’s careful supervision, the camp and its double, twin or family chalets have been lovingly embellished with new décor and details inspired by the local Tonga community, and a high level of comfort has been achieved by attention to detail.  Our kingsize double bed with crisp white sheets and sumptuous pillows was one of the most comfortable I have ever slept in. 

We were lulled to sleep by the gentle rhythm of the waves breaking on the shore in front of our room, and in the morning, with tea and coffee freshly delivered to our verandah, we sat next to our private plunge pool in comfortable armchairs, listening to the dawn chorus of woodland birds and watching a spectacular crimson sun rise over the lake. 

You can tell that this place is owned by nature-lovers.  There are little touches….. a bottle of birdseed carefully placed on a stool on the verandah so you can feed the birds that come to the birdbath right outside your chalet; a bird-hide strategically camouflaged in thick bush halfway along the path, with window lookouts, chairs, a camera tripod or beanbags for stabilising your camera lens and a tap to turn on the sprinklers discreetly hidden in the undergrowth around a group of strategically-placed birdbaths.  I spent in idyllic half an hour in here in the middle of the day.  All manner of bird species visited, including brightly coloured finches, bulbuls, the resident Paradise Flycatchers, and a stealthy young water-monitor lizard who crawled past within a few feet of the hide.  

A feature of the island is also the presence of a dozen or more beautiful bushbuck who are frequently spotted during the day resting or feeding in the shady woodland alongside the path.  At night the bolder ones emerge into the lights of the main living area, in expectant anticipation of a few handfuls of grain.  If you are gentle and quiet, they will eat out of your hand!

The island is fenced and so relatively safe from invasion by large (and potentially dangerous) animals like hippo and elephant.  This means that it is a perfect destination for families (our visit coincided with two family groups with teenagers who were having a wonderful time).  However, like all wild places, it needs to be treated with cautious respect, especially if you have young children with you.  Steve loves to tell the story of the male bushbuck which was killed in a fight with a rival male one night.  A natural occurrence, one might assume…. except that the body was found dragged some considerable distance from the scene of conflict.  A carefully-placed night-camera eventually solved the problem.  A large male leopard had found his way onto the island from the mainland when the lake levels were down!   Fortunately, he found his way back a while later, but not before the bushbuck population had diminished by a few!   So yes… young kids will love this place - let them feed the birds and the bushbuck, and let them roam happily during the day, but at night-time walk the pathways together.

If you want to relax in peace and quiet on an island paradise on Lake Kariba, with very few other people around  – this is a place for you!  But you’re not confined.  You can also go sight-seeing, game-viewing, birding and fishing for tigerfish  or bream by boat in the nearby creeks of the Musango concession.  A cultural visit to the local Msampa fishing village and school can also be arranged .   Steve will take you walking in the wild and share his passion and extensive local knowledge of the area with you – there are elephant, buffalo, lion and other wild animals to be seen in the vicinity. 

If you’re interested, he will show you his pride and joy – his museum collection of fossils collected from the area –dinosaur bones and teeth, the jawbones of an ancient lungfish, scale “plates” of a pre-historic 250-million-year-old crocodile relative  – and –star of the show - a precious fossilized dinosaur egg!  

This is not just a Safari Camp – it’s a family island home of several decades with a carefully catalogued collection of treasures and memories, pre-history, history, local knowledge and specialist experience.   There are so many stories….. learn about the Tonga people who were displaced by Lake Kariba and whose fascinating works of art are featured in the décor at Musango;  learn how the island’s forests have matured since the camp was built, with the introduction of the wildlife fence; learn about the tragedy of the rhinos lost to poaching; about how local conservation efforts are improving wildlife populations in the area; about the Paradise Flycatchers (which usually migrate during winter) but which now stay on the island all year round, and about the boffins from the world’s most famous museums who are flocking to see the latest dinosaur fossil finds discovered nearby. 

At Musango it’s as much about the treasure-trove of stories as it is about the safari experience.

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