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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Sheedy

Mpala Jena, Place of Dreams

Along the banks of the magnificent and mighty Zambezi River, situated on a private concession lies Mpala Jena Camp, one of the newest additions to the Great Plains Conservation Collection.

From Victoria Falls International Airport its approximately an hour and a half, depending on what wildlife you see on your drive through the Zambezi National Park.

Upon our journey we see herds of zebra, many warthog, journeys of giraffe and an array of birdlife. A highlight for me is the incredible amount of Baobab Trees. They remind me of something from a mystical world, with their large girth and height, they look as though they have been planted upside-down with their root like branches.

A Baobab tree in the Zambezi National Park

For the Zimbabwean people, Baobab trees are a powerful symbol, better known as the tree of life which provides shelter, clothing, food, and water for both humans and animals.

The name Mpala Jena, means White Impala, and came about from a sighting that local rangers had in 1979 of an albino impala in the area, when the Zambezi National Park was created, and separated from the Victoria Falls National Park.

Zambezi National Park has an abundance of wildlife including lion, buffalo and elephant.

We arrive at the camp, and are welcomed by the warm hearted Mpala Jena Team, we can already feel that fine Zimbabwean hospitality, one of the most fabulous parts of traveling in this amazing country.

The entire camp is tented with marquee-style draped roofs, and as we walk through the grand, turquoise carved Zanzibar door we are in awe of the spectacular sight of the Zambezi River.

The first view of the mighty Zambezi River as you arrive

The main quarter offers a dining area, lounge, and a wonderful decking area that has a fire pit and chairs surrounding it in the shape of a half moon. A little to the right, is a curio shop with beautiful clothing, jewelry, and bags among other items.

As the cool breeze rolls off of the Zambezi river and through the open aired area, you can’t help but feel relaxed and at peace, immediately.

Although the camp has a minimalistic feel to it, (in case they should ever have to break down the camp, there will be little trace of it left behind, and after a while absolutely nothing) the rich and thoughtful décor creates an ultra-luxury, yet homey feel.

Beverly Joubert’s fabulous photographs adorn the walls, the running theme: aerial shots of hippos.

The lounge area boasts a fireplace for cosy evenings, brown leather couches and wooden shelves and tables. Book shelves are adorned with antiques and trinkets collected by Beverley and Dereck Joubert on their world travels, and a collection of classic novels which you are welcome to read during your stay.

The Lounge Area

We are accompanied to our tents, along the slightly elevated wooden walkway to settle in and freshen up before lunch. We cross over a small bridge which has a stream flowing under it and there is an entire family of baboons sitting beneath a large tree, watching the youngsters as they play on the sandbanks. They have much to say, and chatter away – perhaps this was their way of welcoming us to Mpala Jena?

The camp is unfenced and we are in complete pristine wilderness, surrounded by nature and wildlife. A delightful, and most welcome thought.

The spacious tent has been built in a very similar style to the main area. Before I even go inside, the private plunge pool overlooking the Zambezi River, catches my eye. The river glistens in the sunlight, with the dreamiest views. There is even a stationary spinning bike on the deck in case I want to work off all the extra calories from my stay here.

The Mpala Jena Tents offer private plunge pools and splendid views of the Zambezi

I enter through the Zanzibar carved door and in to the lap of luxury with my own private lounge, fully stocked minibar, desk, king-sized bed, spacious shower and ball-and -Claw bath tub boasting the most impressive views. And if I feel like being a little more adventurous, there’s always the outdoor shower.

Great Plains think of absolutely everything… reading glasses are provided on the desk for you (in case you forgot to pack yours), silk robes with a fleece lining, spacious wardrobes and in the bottom drawer; small weights, and a yoga mat. Even a shoe horn.

As of the 1st of July 2019, Mpala Jena became a Relais Chateaux member.

Another noteworthy mention is the limited amount of paper and plastic used at the camp. By the end of the year Great Plains Conservation will be completely plastic free. The camp is also powered entirely by solar.

All of the amenities are in beautiful antique silver dispensers. The soap, body lotion, shampoo and conditioners are manufactured specifically for Great Plains, with the most divine vanilla pod fragrance.

The tent with its marquee draped roof, recycled hardwood floors and canvas lining is completely open in the front (with netting) to show off the grandest views of the Zambezi. It is perfectly complemented with the signature design element of pack stone walls which features in the bathroom and on one of the walls in the main area, to honour the Zimbabwean ruins.

Beverley Joubert’s photographs are also featured in the tents, and have been transferred on to recycled wood, giving it a softer, artistic flair.

The combination of East African elements, with an Arabic undertone is beautifully finished off with the old-world charm of a Hemmingway safari.

We are treated to the tastiest light, and refreshing lunch filled with such goodness. Watermelon Gazpacho, Freshly baked bread, butternut and feta salad, beetroot salad, chicken stir-fry, yellow rice, small bowls of lettuce, cherry tomatoes and radishes. We finish it off with a freshly brewed cup of coffee, cheese and biscuits and a fruit platter.

Chef Tasara telling us about the delicious lunch he has prepared for us

We even have some sweet little visitors, pop by for lunch. Two adorable tree squirrels who are rather brave for their size. One even managed to steal a piece of bread from the lunch table, before being shooed off.

That afternoon, we make our way down to the river banks to embark on our Zambezi Sunset Cruise. River guide, Wellington, welcomes us onboard the small, alluvial flat based boat, and gives us our safety briefing. Soon we are on our way, and already watching a massive elephant bull, wallowing in the river and snacking on some reeds.

Our fantastic river guide, Wellington

We pass a small rocky island in the middle of the Zambezi which is teeming with Egyptian Geese, and we continue on to a pod of curious hippos peeping over the water’s edge, as we cruise past them. Wellington manoeuvres through the rapids, and eventually slows down and pulls up to an island. It’s magic hour and the river and trees are lit up in enchanting golden light. We beach the boat, and all get off to stretch our legs and have a sundowner.

As we sip on a G&T and snack on some dried mango, popcorn and watermelon, we watch a family of waterbuck nearby.

I look around and all I can see is untouched wilderness, not another person in sight, except us, sitting on an uninhabited island, somewhere along the magnificent Zambezi River. A remote paradise.

The sky is lit up in beautiful shades of red, oranges and yellows as we cruise back to camp, the trumpeting of Egyptian Geese echoes across the great river, dusk soon turns to dark, and the silhouettes of the trees began to disappear in to the evening sky.

A magical, Zambezi Sunset

We are welcomed home by friendly faces with warm face towels to freshen up.

The Welcome Home Committee, Guide Buli and Lorna

Dinner is a 3-course ala carte menu and we are so spoilt for choice. I indulge in a delicious fillet mignon with potato bake, and veggies. Dessert is malva pudding and chocolate mousse.

I draw a hot bath with bath salts, and while I lie there soaking away the dust of the day, I can hear a lone hyena howling somewhere in the distance.

As I get in to bed, I feel something warm by my feet, it’s a “bush baby” – a leopard print hot water bottle, another special touch. I fall asleep to the sounds of the African bush choir and dream the dream of Africa.

I wake in time to catch the sky showing off as the sun rises and drink the most delicious cup of coffee. The tents don’t have kettles in the rooms, only thermo-flasks which have piping hot water in. Preparing my coffee this way, makes it taste all the better.

Sunrise from my tent

The bushveld is beautiful this morning, and the baboons pop by to wish me a good morning.

Breakfast is a scrumptious affair, and then we head off to one of the seven natural wonders of the world,The Victoria Falls.

As David Livingstone quite rightly put it, “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight”. Along the walk around the falls there are 15 viewpoints on the Zimbabwean side each with their own spectacular view of the gorge and falls. The final view is of the iconic Victoria Falls Bridge.

The people of Zimbabwe call it “Mosi Ou Tunya” the Smoke that thunders. The sound of the crashing water sounds just like thunder, and the spray from the falls rises above like smoke. A magical sight.

We end off our visit with a stop by the market, which offers a beautiful assortment of handmade ornaments and clothing made by the locals.

Upon our return from The Falls, I am off to the spa for an indulgent “awaken the senses” massage by therapist Prim.

The breathtaking view from the spa

The spa tent is elevated and is completely open in the front, boasting the most breathtaking views of the Zambezi. All of the products they use are Spacology products, which are manufactured specifically for Great Plains.

The faint smell of lemon grass from the aromatherapy oils fills the air. There is no music, as the wilderness creates its own enchanting melody. A fish eagle cries, as he swoops down over the river below, a hippo grunts in the distance, the leaves rustle in the wind. My senses are alive. Tranquility sets in.

That evening we experience the interactive Kitchen, where Chef Tasara and his team put together a delicious assortment of appetizers, and we are able to watch him prepare our main course.

We are joined for dinner, by wildlife guide Buli (who conducts game drives and short bush walks) and camp manager, Johno, and they keep us thoroughly entertained with stories of their experiences in the African Bushveld.

We finish off the evening with coffee and a night cap around the fire, while an elephant enjoys his dinner just below us on the river banks.

There is something exhilarating about watching the African night sky twinkle above, while the crackling fire burns, knowing you are in the presence of a giant, yet you can’t see him all that well. Your senses sharpen, as his pungent, earthy scent fills the air and you can hear him munching away on the reeds. This is Africa, one of its very best treasures.

The perfect spot to end the evening

Special care and thought are given to every single aspect of a safari at Mpala Jena, creating a truly authentic, bespoke experience. There was no moment during our stay where we were left wanting for anything. Our stay was nothing short of incredible.

Africa is such a special place that needs to be treasured and preserved and having companies like Great Plains Conservation at the helm of magical safaris makes all the difference in the world. They pride themselves on being a conservation organization first and foremost and use eco-tourism as a way to sustain conservation programs.

I'd say that's pretty downright impressive, wouldn't you?

The Amazing Mpala Jena Team bidding us farewell

My next safari? Hopefully to one of Great Plains other amazing camps :)... Kenya or Botswana, perhaps...


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