PERHAPS an hour’s drive from Victoria Falls, but across a laid-back international frontier (formalities generally take a few minutes), is one of my favourite leisure spots: Botswana’s Chobe National Park.
Travel with Dusty Miller
But just outside the actual Chobe National Park on its own extensive estate is Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa, which makes a great base for exploring the Chobe/Kasane area, for game-viewing or fishing.
Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa has 114 luxury air-conditioned rooms, each overlooking the spectacularly beautiful Chobe River. With drink in hand, from the cool verandah of my room, I watched two stately houseboats moor on an island opposite, which I though odd as houseboats are banned in Botswana.
But not so in Namibia and the island opposite me, not a kilometer, away was in Namibia, now on West African time and an hour behind Zimbabwe and Botswana.
The amiable John Gray is back at Cresta Mowana for a third stint as general manager at a hotel which prides itself on its reputation for service with a genuine smile.
Zimbabwean-born John began work as a receptionist at the 250-room, five-star Hotel President in Johannesburg in 1974 and a steadily spiraling career saw him climbing the promotion ladder in Durban, Greece, Iran, Saudi Arabia and a job which saw him overseeing catering operations throughout the Middle East generally until 1984.
He was in at the opening of the then Harare Sheraton (now Rainbow Towers) rising to executive assistant manager in a five-year tour of duty from 1985. Then he was deputy general manager of Elephant Hills at Victoria Falls, reopening the hotel, between 1990 and 1992.
From 1992-1996 he first ran Cresta Mowana as its general manager when it had 111 rooms . . .
then it was over to the breathtaking Indigo Bay Resort on Bazaruto Island, Mozambique, owned by Rani Resorts.
Back to Cresta Mowana as member-in-charge from 2003-2008; then a spell with Lonrho Hotels in Johannesburg from, 2008-2011, mainly concerned with opening that group’s new property in Lubumbashi, DRC.
He returned to Cresta Mowana (now 114 rooms: including a Presidential Suite and two paraplegic rooms) in 2011 and it looks to me as if he might be ready to settle down at last, as his wife also has a major interest in a new Thai restaurant at nearby Victoria Falls.
I went from Vic Falls to the Cresta Mowana at Kasane with Wild Horizons, a first-rate organisation for activities and transfers who can efficiently organise almost anything in the Falls, Hwange, Chobe/Kasane and the Livingstone area of Zambia.
A day trip, including a morning river cruise and afternoon game viewing drive by 4WD through the 11 700 sq km park costs around $170 per person including drinks and lunch. But I stayed overnight as a guest of Cresta Hospitality.
Chobe National Park was founded in 1962 and boasts all the Big Five animals, probably most of the Small Five! And lots of handsome beasts in between.
There are about 450 species of birds easily spotted and snapped in Chobe National Park, compared with around 650 species in the whole of Zimbabwe. It is strong in indigenous flora and colourful butterflies flutter by everywhere.
Like many hotels in the region there are alterations and improvements going on apace but the Cresta Mowana property is very restful.
The Serondela Restaurant, with its tranquil views of the Chobe River and Namibian flood plains, serves a sumptuous breakfast and dinner daily.
At night a very talented singer entertains with slow pop classics of the last six decades. He was especially appreciated by Australian tourists who tipped him generously.
After soup and salads starter from the impressive buffet, one of the chefs made me a magnificently tender ostrich fillet steak stir-fry for supper, which I washed down with a couple of delightfully chilled St Louis Export Lagers, the local crisp, dry beer brewed in Gaborone.
There was a traditional Western-style breakfast buffet and chef made me a grand Spanish omelette to go with cocktail sausages, bacon and mushrooms, after cereals and fresh fruit.
Located between the main core of the hotel and the lush river bank and cruise vessel dock is the day dining patio and Boma Bar. Lunch included wonderful leek-and-potato soup and luscious slices of juicy roast eland with fresh crisp salads.
John Gray says most of his Zimbabwean visitors initially go there for regional conferences and workshops, but many delegates return later with wives and families for a leisure visit.
Activities include: golf, tennis, an invigorating Clarins spa bath and massage, swimming, bird-and game-viewing from cruise vessels, open-air vehicles or canoes, river rafting, fishing (mainly for the fighting Tiger fish.) This is probably the only place in the world where you can visit four countries (Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia) in a single day.
Further details: Tel (267) 6250300; firstname.lastname@example.org