Setting Sail aboard Shayamanzi
“All this water, and not a drop to drink,” I pout, gesturing melodramatically at the expanse of Lake Jozini. The captain’s mouth quirks up into a smile, five-minutes pass and a lethal-looking cocktail is plonked in front of me. Thirty-minutes later and I’m happily contemplating wobbling my way towards my cosy cabin and its downy pillow. Captain Allan sure knows how to pour a stiff drink. I think we’re going to be the best of friends.
I’m aboard the Shayamanzi Houseboat in the Kingdom of Zululand. Ostensibly to catch some fish (but really, I’m just here for a little year-end time out). And I couldn’t have chosen a more relaxing way to do it. Man-made Lake Jozini is ensconced by the spiny Lebombo Mountains that fringe Swaziland. By day we sigh along, binoculars poised, spotting the “walking trees” (giraffes), hippos, ellies, buffalo, rhino and warthogs that populate the area.
"I could not have chosen a more relaxing year-end time out. I’m aboard the Shayamanzi Houseboat and we're setting sail in the Kingdom of Zululand..."
It’s hot, humid and the sun squeezes sweat from my neck. But I daren’t dip a toe into the water because there are “water dogs” around, cautions Captain Allan. “Water what?” I squeak. You mean c-r-o-c-o-d-i-l-e-s, I say slowly as if I’m imparting some sort of highbrow David Attenborough bush knowledge. Allan, a native to the area, cocks his head quizzically – it’s the kind of look reserved for the simpleminded or the stupid. Jokes on me it would seem.
As we steer towards the gorge the water is as translucent as vodka and deep enough to deter any crocs and hippos. But ever wary, I leave my level headed crewmates to their nippy dips and wind my way back upstairs. There’s always the Jacuzzi to stew in later – prune fingers, come to me! But first, lunch.
Mealtimes are a delight, with Chef Mike the Malawian, conjuring all manner of feasts from his bite-size boudoir: buttery chicken pie, sticky-sweet gammon chops, tartar-sauced kingklip… but no tiger fish. This is odd because my fellow crewmates seem to be reeling them in with bloodthirsty fervour. But it’s all catch-and-release, partly because the buggers are too bony to enjoy plated and also because it’s more “sporting” this way. All this I contemplate while spread out on the top deck, working on my tan.
Storm clouds congealing on the horizon put a damp squib on my tanning, I mean fishing, and we quickly batten down the hatches, scurry inside to marvel at the lightning strobing in the distance and watch the big fat raindrops splatter down. I lie meditatively on my dreamy double bed and watch the flash-storm thunder past and with the last drips of plaintive rain, sunset quickly crashes into darkness. That night we dine like Romans on rump steak and red wine as a mantle of fireflies, replete with incandescent bottoms, float gauzily around the houseboat. Bucket list angels, is that you?
A squadron of miggies and mozzies descend on us as we sleep (yes, I was told to close my sliding door, but no, I didn’t listen), sucking the serene straight out of my slumber. But nothing that a murderous 10-minute crash around the cabin armed with a slip slop for a swatter can’t solve. And with the rampage over, a flip of the fan switch and a flick of the sliding door, it’s back to bullfrog sonnets and dreams about a houseboat dining-room table, groaning with bacon, eggs and champagne.
Across the Border: Paradise is spelled ‘Zambezi Queen’
OK. Stop and picture it: Africa-meets-Manhattan! And by Africa I’m not referring to a kitsch, musty, safari-print grotto; rather I’m talking primal wilderness - the smell of damp earth, the powerful presence of beasts all around, the darkness of an impenetrable African night. Right. Now combine that with a cosmopolitan environment, boasting enough glass windows to do justice to the remarkable wild landscape of Botswana and you have the luxurious 45-metre Zambezi Queen.
Cleaving her way through the Chobe River waters, there are few natural wonders as synonymous with Africa’s raw wilderness as this swirl of untamed liquid highway. The Chobe River divides Botswana’s 11 0000 km² Chobe National Park from Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and its serene banks boast one of the densest populations of wildlife on the African continent. Home to the largest elephant population in the world (120 000!) and boy do they lumber by the dozen down to the river to drink and frolic. Then there’s the prides of lion, a skulking leopard, huge herds of grumpy buffalo and plenty buck that also wander the riverbanks, not to mention the hippos and crocs that regularly breach the water’s skin. Good thing there’s a fancy telescope aboard, so you can scrutinise the game closely, or just marvel at the glittering African night sky.
I love the library the most. Yes. This floating hotel even has room for a reading nook. Brimming with books about the area you’re gliding through, it’s also a great place to smuggle your G&T into, flop into a spongy couch and flip through the wildlife books.
On her top deck there’s a snazzy, superbly-stocked bar; intimate yet open dining area; glam lounge and yes, even a pool deck (wouldn’t want to chance it with all the hippos and crocs, right?). All of this is framed by huge floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors for, that’s right, you guessed, more superb wildlife viewing.
On the Queen’s second level you’ll find your sleeping quarters - 10 suites and four master suites, in all. All carry through the sophisticated safari look, with Nguni-cow hide rugs and tasteful wildlife photos blown up to adorn the cabin walls. All are en-suite with king or twin beds, private balconies and fans for those oppressively hot summer afternoons.
Included in the ample price are all meals and refreshments during game drives. And just so you know, you’re not banished to the boat. On offer, and included in your package price, are land-based 4X4 game viewing in Botswana’s Chobe National Park as well as land-based cultural tours of local villages. So no chance of cabin-fever then, but why you would ever want to disembark the Queen, with all her sophisticated trimmings, is just beyond me.
FIND ME A HOUSE BOAT!
KNYSNA: Lightleys Holiday Houseboats, www.houseboats.co.za, 044 386 0007
BREEDE RIVER: House Boat Dream Cruiser, www.houseboathire.co.za, 028 542 1049
PORT ALFRED: Lightleys Holiday Houseboats, The Halyards, Port Alfred, 044 386 0018
LANGEBAAN: Langebaan Houseboats, www.houseboating.co.za, 021 689 9718
VAAL RIVER: Old Willow No 7 Houseboat Charters, ww.oldwillow.co.za, 016 973 1729