Deep in the wilds of Mana Pools National Park, you will find an exquisite lodge named Wilderness Chikwenya, where wildlife roams freely and guests are ensconced in dreamy, tented suites.
Revered for its conservation and hospitality ethos, Wilderness flies the flag high with its outstanding collection of properties situated in vast destinations throughout Africa that are remote and untamed. The company name Wilderness is not only symbolic by touching on the expansive characteristics of a concession; it also rings true when incorporating the wild aspect. This is especially evident during my stay at the sensational Chikwenya in the iconic Mana Pools National Park, one of Zimbabwe’s most pure and rugged regions.
Arriving in time for brunch, my table has been set under the trees overlooking the sprawling Zambezi River. Waiting for my meal to arrive, I look at my surroundings – to my right is the main pool where guests linger over late morning mimosas or teatime canapés while reclining on the chic loungers. The wooden deck is perfectly polished and kept in pristine condition should guests wish to use it during their stay. With its unimpeded views, it’s also the ideal spot to watch the sun setting over the river.
The stunning interiors at Chikwenya were conceptualized by Tanja Beyers from Profurn Contracts, who was given free rein by Wilderness to furnish the spaces. “They allowed me to run with things, which is always terrifying,” she tells me, “But it’s also when I’m able to produce some of my best work – it gives me the opportunity to push boundaries. I love the beaded chandeliers in the main lodge; I feel as though they anchor the space beautifully.”
Tanja went to work creating a striking wildlife canvas with framed prints on the walls of the main lounge area by Richard du Toit Photography. “The images I chose are not the obvious Big 5, instead they are interesting close-ups of an elephant’s trunk, or an elephant’s eye, which gives a more artistic approach to the obvious animal images one would find in a bush lodge.” The central lounge also happens to be Tanja’s favorite space at Chikwenya. “It feels like a space where you can curl up on the couch with a good book. The high-pitched roof creates such a spacious feeling, and it’s magical to sit here as the sun filters through the trees in the late afternoon.”
Inspired by the raw beauty of the camp’s setting, Tanja chose a neutral palette, allowing the surroundings to become the focal point whilst not detracting from the cocoon-like feeling guests will experience during their stay. She achieved this by layering and the removal of any hard surfaces and using canvas walls, rolled clay beads for light pendants and timber slabs for bathroom vanities. “I made use of as many handcrafted elements as possible, with each piece of furniture considered and made to our design requirements.” The result? A dreamy space, with flowing mosquito nets and splendid handcrafted touches.
With Chikwenya situated in such a far-flung destination, Tanja and her team had many challenges to contend with. “I’m very fortunate to work with an incredible team that will overcome anything thrown our way,” she laughs. “The rainy season put a stop to any work as the roads became impassable, so we had to try and work the contract period outside of the rainy season. When the Chikwenya airstrip became unusable due to the rains, site visits were sometimes two flights and a 4-hour drive away. Time became a challenge, but I cherished the adventure and wish I had taken longer breaths of the journey at the time.”
A stay at Chikwenya is a combination of supreme comfort, gracious hospitality, and amazing wildlife sightings. It’s also a haven for birders looking to spot something extraordinary only found in this special part of Zimbabwe. Guide Causemore finds an astounding array of winged species, including the peculiar-looking Crested Guinea Fowl, a Crowned Hornbill, a Racket-Tailed Roller, a Tawny Eagle, and a highlight for me – a Livingstone Flycatcher. On my last morning, two Ground Hornbills sit in the middle of the road, blocking our way. We have to wait for them to eventually disperse so that we can get to the airstrip. It makes me recall something Tanja said about the challenges of furnishing a lodge where wildlife is present. “I placed a lovely leather chair in the main lodge, to wake in the morning and find that the hyenas thought it was rather delicious. I would also set up the tables and chairs under the trees and the elephants would also have fun once we had all gone to bed, throwing them around as they felt the furniture was in their space.”
Departing from Harare International Airport, the direct flight to Cape Town International Airport takes only 3 hours and 20 minutes on Airlink’s magnificent Embraer 190. Waiting on the tarmac, the stunning new sunbird livery comes into view, setting Airlink apart in both looks and exceptional service from other airlines. With generous legroom, no middle seat, and a choice of aisle or window seat, passengers are in for a treat with delicious onboard snacks and a choice of beverages.
For more information, or to book, visit www.wildernessdestinations.com
*Views expressed are the author’s own.
How to Get There:
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Travelers can also enjoy the benefit of their intra-continental style business class service on select routes operating the magnificent Embraer E-190 / E-170 regional jets. Discover More – https://www.flyairlink.com/profile/airlink-profile#businessclass
How To Get There: Airlink operates direct flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Harare, Zimbabwe. https://www.flyairlink.com/destinations/flights-to-harare
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