Sarah Morris, who is the General Manager of the Private Clients division based out of our Cape Town office, was lucky enough to stay at the prestigious Relais and Chateaux lodge, Great Plains Tembo Plains Camp in the last quarter of 2022. Sarah provides an in-depth first-hand account of her safari at Tembo Plains Camp, on the edge of the mighty Zambezi River.
Arriving at Tembo Plains Camp, you immediately feel relaxed and all the cares in the world float away. The views overlooking the plains to the Zambezi River are incredible, generally dotted with waterbuck, hippos, or other grass eaters. This premium wildlife camp is part of Great Plains Conservation. It is built in a thick riverine forest on the edge of the Zambezi River, in the 128-000 hectare Sapi Private Reserve. It offers diverse activities, from water based ones, to walking and game drives. The distance between the lodge and the airstrip is a 45-minute game drive – however if guests are late, you can take a side road at high speed for 20 minutes. Probably not recommended, as you’ll be missing out on the drive but it is an option for when in a pinch. The Sapi Reserve is next door to Mana Pools National Park and together they constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It is the only Zimbabwean member of Relais and Chateaux.
Unless you are staying at Victoria Falls, Sarah recommends that you rather fly via Harare, then take a light aircraft scheduled flight to the local airstrip. The flight time is 1 hour from Victoria Falls followed by a scenic 45-minute game drive with some game sighting stops en-route to the camp.
We do recommend a meet and greet in Harare to assist you to the light aircraft flight check in counter, as it can be confusing to find.
The rooms are incredibly spacious, and each has its own private plunge pool, indoor and outdoor shower and an indoor bath – although open plan privatized by the small walls built around the shower and bath – the toilet is private. There are plenty of extra details including verandas with exercise bikes and a double vanity in the bathroom.
They also offer a 2-bedroom Zanji Suite which can sleep a family of up to five people and boasts a fire pit, outside dining, and pool. The camp does take children aged six and older.
Decor is a mix of stone, dark wood, and canvas with high-standards throughout, yet each room still manages to maintain a sense of local culture and tradition. It’s beautiful, warm and welcoming
It can accommodate a total of 12 guests across five tents.
For the seasoned, discerning safari-traveler who believes that luxury is not just in the small touches but rather in every detail.
Also, being a Great Plains Conservation camp, it has low-impact operations that takes into consideration the natural environment. Hence, it is certainly suitable as part of a sustainability or eco-friendly focused itinerary.
For one of the evenings, the staff prepared traditional cuisine with a music experience, and on another evening you can enjoy a sit-down experience. Usually a choice of 3 course that includes a meat/white meat or fish and vegetarian option. The food is highly recommended and well prepared in an interactive 5-star kitchen. Sarah thoroughly enjoyed all the meals during her stay.
They offer a tempting selection from the well-stocked wine cellar.
The landscape is beautiful and offers a combination of land and water-based activities. This will ensure guests are guaranteed some beautiful wildlife settings, no matter what activity they might be busy with
The Fishing is seasonal – Tiger fish can be caught with catch and release. Sarah and her party caught 2 fish!
The staff go the extra mile and set up really special experiences for guests for e.g. sundowners on a sandbank in the middle of the river. This in particular is one experience that all visiting travelers will never forget.
Walking guided activities are fantastic and your guide will share details, about the many natural wonders of Sapi Reserve.
This is a birder’s paradise, and even if you are not necessarily that interested in birds, you will be when you leave as the area provides a real paradise and you can’t help but get enthralled by the guides experts knowledge about our feathered friends.
The water activities are amazing. There are a lot of hippos, so it makes for an exciting canoe experience. The elephants here often lift their front legs and reach for high branches – yes, Sarah witnessed that first hand.
The elephants spend a lot of time in the river or on the banks. This is a very thrilling experience for guests in boats or canoes- an incredible way to see elephants, crocodiles, and buffalo up close or from the water.
Generally being such a large area, with fewer vehicles, the wildlife will be slightly harder to track. There are many hippos which can be heard and seen from all the rooms. There are no zebras in the area. Elephants walked through camp and there was a pride of lions and leopards around, based on tracks we saw, however it was harder to spot these creatures in this environment. I don’t feel that predators should be the focus of this experience. The lodge is currently still waiting for their night drive license from the government so only morning and afternoon drives are possible at this time.
They are located about 2,5 hour game drive from Mana Pools, offering guests the opportunity to enjoy a full day game drive in Mana should they be interested in the wild dogs. The day would start with an early departure, leaving on a slow game drive through the parks, stopping for coffee and breakfast along the way. The guests will enjoy a packed lunch at the pools and then head back, stopping halfway to meet their boat which will take them the rest of the way back to camp. The day will end at camp at around 16h00.
The service is second to none, and guests will feel immediately at home when they arrive.
Sarah gave the guiding and service a 10/10 rating. Great feedback from a seasoned safari-goer! Rooms: Décor as per all the Great Plains Conservation properties – they are spacious and everything works perfectly. The water is distilled and drinkable. Everything runs off solar. The WIFI is good, but not amazing all the time however Sarah still managed a google meet video call one evening.
Every guest gets the use of a “photographer’s dream” Canon camera with an incredible zoom lens for the duration of their stay. Plus the use of Leica or Swarovski binoculars.
Tembo Plains Camp for 3 or 4 nights is a great way to end off a safari to South Africa, Botswana, or Hwange (Zimbabwe) and is definitely worth a visit for those who have been on safari before and are looking for an extra special experience
See you out there!