Inside the Zambezi National Park, a short drive from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, something magical has mushroomed. Imagine how thrilled I was to be invited to experience the enchantment for myself. Come and explore Mpala Jena with me: a superb addition to Zimbabwe safari lodges for a Victoria Falls safari.
Mpala Jena is about 15km inside the Zambezi National Park, giving easy access to town for activities but remaining far enough away from the flurry of activity and the constant humming of helicopter flips that you can just chill, submit to the peace and immerse yourself in the natural spectacle.
The name Mpala Jena means ‘white impala’ after sightings of a ghost-like albino impala along the river in this area some years back.
Good news for those who love top-quality food – you’ll be blown away by what the chefs produce here in the bush, from unusual salads to succulent meat and fish, and decadent desserts. Just leave room for high tea before you head out on your afternoon game drive.
Included in your package is a visit to the impressive Victoria Falls. Orientate yourself by reading the posters near the entrance, which tell the stories of David Livingstone and the people who used to live in the area, and how a geological shift created the Falls five million years ago.
Then explore the Falls themselves, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989. The height varies from 70–180m and they’re 1708m wide. Although they’re neither the widest nor the highest in the world, they have the largest flow rate (a peak flow rate of 700 000 cubic metres per minute) and represent the largest curtain of falling water in the world. To put this into perspective, every three and a half minutes the whole of New York’s yearly consumption of water goes over the Victoria Falls and plunges to the gorge below.
Walk along the cliff top and through the rain forest to see the larger-than-life statue of David Livingstone and the Devil’s Cataract, where the water moves at 160km per hour. Marvel at the Main Falls, where the water drops 93m and is turned into clouds of mist that you can see from many kilometres away.
Then continue to the end of the path to see some of the other falls like Horsehoe Falls and Rainbow Falls, which is the highest at 108m. On a clear day, you should be able to see a rainbow here.
Victoria Falls – adventure capital
There are oodles of other things to do in Victoria Falls town, which is the adventure capital of Zimbabwe. For an additional charge, choose from amazing activities such as bungy jumping from the bridge over the Falls, ziplining over the Batoka Gorge, a helicopter flip over the Falls, a sunset cruise, tandem sky diving, white-water rafting (in the dry season) and tiger fishing on the Zambezi. For great discounts, book more than one activity with Wild Horizons; the folks at Mpala Jena will be happy to help arrange these.
Stop on your way back to Mpala Jena to see a magnificent 2000-year-old giant baobab tree just outside town.
Of course, adrenalin activities in Victoria Falls are not all there is to entertain you. Make the most of early morning and late afternoon game drives or bush walks with your Mpala Jena guide through the mopane woodland and riverine bush of the 56 000ha park that surrounds the camp.
- Mopane woodland is a good place to find elephant, kudu, giraffe and zebra. The leaves have a high tannin content so they’re bitter, and can increase this as a defensive mechanism that kicks in within 15-20 seconds of being browsed. ‘Watch kudu and see how they move very quickly from one bush to another,’ he said. That’s to get to another bush before the trees alert others in the area to increase their tannin content and become unpalatable.
- A marabou stork’s pouch may be ugly, but it’s useful – used for food storage and thermoregulation. It loses the pouch in winter when doesn’t need it. ‘Another way they cool down is to defecate on their legs. It’s white because it’s high in calcium from the bones of carcasses and so it helps to reflect the heat,’ he explained.
- The forktailed drongo can imitate about ten other bird calls, including eagles’. ‘I’ve seen them use this on meerkats that were foraging. The drongo called like an eagle and the meerkats dashed for their burrow, leaving the bird to eat the food they’d uncovered.’
The conservation ethic
Great Plains Conservation’s name is a clue that for them, conservation comes first as they try to find ‘the right formula of conservation, communities and commerce’ that will make ‘a lasting, sustainable difference to the world’s iconic wildlife and wildernesses’.
I can’t wait to see a similar influence in Zimbabwe now that they have invested here. Zimbabweans have been patient and hopeful for so long, they deserve a brighter future.
Note: I was a guest of Great Plains Conservation Zimbabwe’s Mpala Jena camp for two nights, but I was given free rein to write what I chose. I paid for all travel costs.
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