We sat in the lobby of the Old Drift Lodge when a family of three arrived. As they were still drinking their welcome drinks the daughter, a recent college graduate, ran to her mother with child-like glee saying, “mom mom look!”. Her mother turned to face the front of the lodge and just gasped. Outside the front entrance was a herd of elephants including an adorable baby elephant.
That gasp and that glee were not an accident. When you build a luxury safari lodge inside the Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe right on the banks of the Zambezi River, you are trying to create an amazing experience. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the owners of the lodge placed that man-made watering hole right by the entrance.
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The company that runs the Old Drift Lodge, Wild Horizons, knows what they are doing. This is their 4th lodge in the area after The Elephant Camp, The Elephant Camp West, and Imbabala Zambezi Safari Lodge. They have also been one of the leading activity companies in the Victoria Falls area of Zimbabwe for many years. The Old Drift Lodge opened in 2018, but we talked to a number of the employees there who had been with Wild Horizons for 8 to 10 years. It seems like every 3rd van and every 5th boat on the Zambezi River has the Wild Horizons logo on it.
The “Old Drift Lodge” Name
During our visit in June of 2019, the name “Old” seemed like an odd moniker on a lodge that opened in 2018, but the lodge is named after the “Old Drift” which was where people crossed the Zambezi River before bridges were built. The lobby of the lodge has pictures of one car ferries that would drift across and down the river to Zambia on the other side. The Old Drift was and is located about 7 kilometers above Victoria Falls so you don’t want to drift too far.
What’s Included at the Old Drift Lodge
This is a luxury experience. It includes all meals, drinks, mini-bar drinks in your room, a number of safari and sightseeing activities (see below), transportation, and even laundry services. Don’t underestimate the value of laundry services. We were coming off a one-week overland trip from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls and many of the other guests we met were also coming out of the bush.
Old Drift Lodge Facilities
The lodge has a central main structure. The main building is a “tent” as are all other buildings of the lodge. The land that the Old Drift Lodge sits on is national park land, so it is not owned by the lodge. Instead, they rent it as a concession. So, in theory, the lodge could be relocated if need be.
In the main tent, you will find a welcoming lobby with a bar and fireplaces. There are a few board games like chess and mandala on the tables in the lobby and also a fireplace. It has a series of large tables inside and smaller tables out on the porch for dining. During the beautiful weather of our June visit, no one sat inside for the meals.
Just outside the main tent is a fire pit area and a walkway that go down to the dock along the banks of the Zambezi. Wild Horizons has two boats at the dock. One will accommodate about a dozen passengers and the other looks to be set up more for a dining at tables experience.
There are 14 rooms or tents for guests. 4 of these are family tents and when we were there I would say about half the guests seemed to be there with kids or grandkids. Half of the rooms (1-7) are one direction from the lodge and the half (8-14) are the other direction along the river.
We had room 12 and were about 600 steps from the main area as the rooms are spread out for privacy.
Because of where the Old Drift Lodge is positioned, wildlife encounters are an everyday experience. The paths from the lodge to the room have places where the walkway breaks so that wildlife can pass through on the way too and from the river.
We regularly encountered warthogs around the paths or even one foot from our room’s deck area. There was elephant dung right near our tent and manager Bright told us they have to clean the small pools at the tents often because local elephants like to drink from them. We had to keep the sliding glass doors to our room closed because Vervet Monkeys were often playing near or on the tent. During the hours of darkness, we needed to be escorted to and from our tent, often by one of the guides who would be carrying a rifle.
One surprise to me and to Wild Horizons was that the presence of the lodge has discouraged poachers who used to come up river to the park. Wildlife in the park seems to be increasing since the lodge was built.
It is hard to know what to call the rooms. Is a tent still a tent once it has large picture windows and a sliding glass door, electricity, and plumbing? The room is the size of our first apartment. It has a sitting room, a large comfortable bed facing the river, good storage, and a large bathroom with a toilet area, duals sinks and a large shower.
Outside the room on the patio is an outdoor shower, an outdoor bath with privacy curtains, a table and chairs, two chaise lounges and a small pool. The pool would probably be more popular in the hot summer months as it is heated by the sun and was chilly in June.
The room also had good wi-fi and numerous electrical outlets including one each side of the bed which could take a U.S. Africa and Europe plug. There were also at least 3 USB outlets, 2 of which were located next to the bed. The electrical plugs in Zimbabwe, in general, are the 3 pronged round Africa style plug so you will need an adaptor if you are coming from Europe or the U.S.
There was a stocked mini-bar in the room that came stocked with wine, mixed drinks, and soft drinks. A quick call to the main number and ours was stocked with Coke Zero instead of Coke. The mini-bar is free.
There was also an electric kettle to heat water for tea and coffee, a French roast press and a jar of cookies in the room. The room has a hair dryer, an ice machine, and even a hair straightener. There were large bottles of water that we could use to refill the glass water bottles that they give all the guests to cut down on the use of plastic bottles. When they picked us up in the van the first time they handed us a plastic water bottle, so that was a bit of a mixed message.
Our room was a stone’s throw from the river’s edge but we were encouraged not to venture down to the river which is the home to both hippos and crocodiles. We saw neither near our room during our stay.
Your stay includes 2 included activities a day according to the official documentation in our room, although the staff did not mention that particular limit so it might be fungible. Many of these are at sunrise and at sunset which are the best time for game spotting and for some great pictures.
Wild Horizons has at least 3 safari vehicles at the lodge. These are the traditional open vehicles that seat 10 passengers in elevated seating and the driver/guide. They run game drives morning and evening and we did both.
Like any game drive, there is some skill of your guide and a lot of luck involved in seeing wildlife. This is not a zoo but a 219 square mile (567 square kilometers) park and the game will move around.
On the first drive we did in the afternoon we encountered elephants including a startling encounter with a young male that tried to intimidate us. He would raise his feet as if he was going to charge and even trumpeted at us from 10 feet away. Everyone in the vehicle, except our guide Khule, were properly intimidated but Khule explained that this was basically a teenage male acting out. Elephants are matriarchal so only if the lead female elephant looks uncomfortable do you need to worry.
We also saw giraffes, kudu, waterbuck, impala, warthogs, zebra and many many different species of birds. We learned that ants will launch attacks on nearby termite mounds. We learned that warthogs often kneel to eat. We learned that giraffes move their left feet at the same time and then their right when they run.
The afternoon game drive ends with a traditional sundowner drink. Our stop was at the top of a hill by a baobab tree.
Morning game drives conclude with tea. We had tea along the banks of the river.
We did not get a chance to do a game walk as we were only at the camp for 2 nights and there were too many things to do. While we were on the morning game drive we did not see as many of the big animals like elephants, giraffes or zebras, but Khule who did the guided walk that day said his group saw all of them. That morning they kept themselves further in the bush away from the tracks that the vehicles were taking.
We took the sunset cruise the second night we were at the camp. This is a popular activity along the river. We cruised towards the falls but they boats stay at least 2 kilometers away from the edge. There are 3 main channels and a number of islands in the river between Zimbabwe and Zambia in this stretch here of the Zambezi. The river is wide and is filled with hippos.
Our sharp-eyed guide Levi spotted two baby crocodiles along the banks of the river and one 1 meter (3 feet) long young croc. The crocodiles in the area can grow to as long as 5 meters (18 feet).
We saw elephants and other wildlife coming down to drink from the river. We did all this while sipping our wine or other drinks that were available on the boat. The cruise ended with a spectacular sunset.
While the river was full of boats at sunset, we were one of a very small number of boats that went out on the mist covered river to see the sunrise and to look again for what wildlife would come down to the banks of the river.
We saw a water monitor lizard and a number of hippos that had returned to the river after foraging for grass all night on land.
Mornings in Zimbabwe in winter can be cold so we were dressed with layers. The lodge also provided blankets and a hot water bottle for us to hold on our laps. The boat was stocked with hot coffee, tea, other libations, and cookies.
We did not take the Victoria Falls excursion, simply because we had already visited the falls by the time we came to the lodge. A visit to the falls is pretty much mandatory. The falls are usually the reason that people are in this part of Zimbabwe. So not surprisingly the lodge will take people the 20 minutes back to Victoria Falls to experience this awesome display.
Some other guests were also getting rides back to town to shop, take high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel or just explore the town.
At breakfast, there is an good breakfast buffet set out as well as items that you can order from the menu like an English breakfast, omelets, and pancakes.
This was not my first African safari lodge experience so I had a better idea what to expect when we arrived. So I had a chance to enjoy my wife’s reaction as we pulled up in a safari vehicle to the lodge and were greeted warmly by various staff members. They brought us fresh wet cloths to freshen up from the trip as they did each time we returned from a game drive or boat trip. They introduced themselves throughout our stay and were extremely attentive. In short, they treated us in the fashion to which we would like to become accustomed.
We enjoyed meeting the other guests on our various game drives or boat cruises. On our first game drive we were having so much fun talking that our guide was concerned we would scare away the game.
When to Visit
We visited in Winter in early June. The weather was perfect as the rainy season was over. It was not as hot as it was during my visit to the area the previous December. The mornings were chilly but that also meant, that in 2 weeks in Africa I think I only saw one mosquito. During the day the temperature would climb up to shirt sleeve weather.
The Old Drift Lodge is not a budget experience. It is a luxury experience and it is a great experience. The lodge had only been opened for a year when we visited, but I will be willing to bet you that they will have guests return to visit them again and again and again.