Scottish explorer David Livingstone had already spent much of two years mapping the Zambezi River when he arrived in November 1855 at its most breathtaking stretch. Of his first glimpse of the great sheet of water that plunges hundreds of feet into a narrow chasm, he famously wrote, “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” The site, known locally as “the smoke that thunders” for the billowing clouds of mist—was thereafter named for Livingstone’s queen, Victoria.
Just 25 miles upstream from Victoria Falls, the Zambezi curves through a private game reserve called Matetsi, a wilderness that looks much as it did in the days of Livingstone. Elephants, buffalo, and hippos cluster along the water’s edge; lions stalk the broad flood plain; and stately sable antelopes roam the woodlands. The snap of a crocodile’s jaw, the splash of an acrobatic tiger fish, and the sounds of more than 365 bird species set a distinctly African soundtrack. Here, facing the Zambezi, the suites of andBeyond Matetsi River Lodge appear one with the trees, cased in reed facades that speak to the region’s fishing and basket-weaving traditions. For guests, there is much to get the heart racing—river or land safaris, angling for tigerfish, bush walks, and all manner of adventures at the falls. But there is also a prevailing tranquility here, which you might just experience while soaking in your own plunge pool after a day on safari and watching that immortal river flow by.
Just a few years ago, poaching and trophy hunting had all but run their course along this stretch of the Zambezi, and locals say game had virtually disappeared. Zimbabwe businessman John Gardiner bought the property and invested millions of dollars in its restoration, including the procurement of a 50-year lease on the land. Initiatives to revitalize the land include installing 14 watering holes and solar pumps to ensure a steady water supply, supporting and encouraging wildlife. An anti-poaching security detail patrols the reserve using a new high-tech radio system.
The efforts are paying off: Wildlife again thrives at this prime riverside spot. Local guides—which include some of the continent’s top rangers and trackers, having completed andBeyond’s rigorous training program—lead game drives that include regular sightings of zebra, giraffe, buffalo, and the huge herds of elephants that Matetsi is known for. This conservation story is just beginning, and we like where it’s headed.
As a National Geographic guest, you’ll be invited to join Matetsi's reserve manager for a delicious breakfast, followed by a private behind-the-scenes tour of the lodge and the reserve. Learn firsthand about local conservation challenges and successes, get insights into the area's ecology, and find out what it takes to maintain and operate the 123,000-acre reserve.
The lodge has spearheaded an extensive restoration of the once-derelict landscape of the Matetsi Private Game Reserve. In addition to the installation of 14 new water holes, troughs and solar pumps have been strategically placed to sustain the resident wildlife. andBeyond Matetsi River Lodge collaborates with local park authorities and Zimbabwe police to patrol the area and keep poachers out.
But it’s not just about the animals’ wellbeing at Matetsi: Bush-clearing programs fight against the encroachment of invasive plant species. During its extensive refurbishment, the lodge was rebuilt in its old footprint using local materials, and a new network of roads have opened up the reserve for game drives. The lodge reduces its carbon footprint with LED lights, solar-heated water, and a gray water filtration system.
Perhaps most significantly, Matetsi provides fair wages for Zimbabweans, a people known for their warm hospitality. Of more than 90 employees, only a few hail from outside the country; most come from the surrounding region. Employee development is valued, and some staffers supply the lodge with vegetables through a small-enterprise program.
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