Building a Beach Safari Lodge on the Zambezi River

Nine months into the construction and with opening day on 1 November 2017, Chundu Island’s design and build team have shared their experience of putting together our Zambezi River lodge on an island 21km upstream from Vic Falls, which has come together beautifully.

The overall design intention for Chundu Island Lodge is to create a ‘barefoot luxury’ feel that allows for peaceful, laidback, low carbon footprint immersion into rich, beautiful natural surroundings. A crucial element of achieving that is facilitating a unique privacy that amplifies the isolation of being on an island in the mighty Zambezi River, overlooking the Zambezi National Park (but close enough to Vic Falls to be a relaxing end destination if you’ve been in the high-adrenaline atmosphere there).

Some of the biggest challenges and opportunities in achieving this have been the distance from everything and unique mid-river positioning, as well as the climate and wildlife that pops by from time to time.

Paul Fairburn, foreman of the lodge’s construction, shares that, “It is a logistical nightmare! Being based inside the Zambezi National Park adds to the problem because the roads are not tar, just dirt roads. For example, we have had to transport our building materials from Victoria Falls, through the park, offload onto the bank to be loaded on the pontoon and obviously then unloaded on the island.”
He shares that it hasn’t been all hard work and no fun, with privileges like “many hippo encounters after dark. We were charged walking back to our chalet one evening… funny after the fact! Feeding the almost tame bushbuck male is always a special experience, and of course, the elephants swimming across the river has got to be one of the most special sights to see.”

Interior Designer, Marina Pagan, worked with architect Chris Sparks to respond to the mostly hot temperatures, as well as the maximisation of the panoramic views with the open feel of the canvas walls and cooling Soltis netting in the window frames. The strength of steel frames is softened by canvas cladding of the solid frame and fibre leaf roofing, inspired by the island’s ilala palms, which rustle gently in the breeze.

The large dining and lounge areas (with a swimming pool) aim to provide wide open views of the Zambezi National Park, whilst maintaining a comfortable, cooling atmosphere – and refreshingly, there will be no cliché African masks and colonial-era furniture, with an emphasis on a soft, luxurious and contemporary African feel.

The architect explains, “The lodge’s relaxed island feel is a natural enhancement of the magnificent island location rather than a traditional African bush lodge. We wanted to create large contemporary open spaces that invited the outside in and the inside out, a lodge that is simple yet sophisticated with an overall contemporary ambience, reflecting the peace and magnificence of the Zambezi river and the natural African environment.”

The architect explains, “The lodge’s relaxed island feel is a natural enhancement of the magnificent island location rather than a traditional African bush lodge. We wanted to create large contemporary open spaces that invited the outside in and the inside out, a lodge that is simple yet sophisticated with an overall contemporary ambience, reflecting the peace and magnificence of the Zambezi river and the natural African environment.”

He also shares that his favourite spot is the main area and bar area, with the deck under the large trees at the western tip of the island, overlooking the white beach. All areas (bar, lounge and reception) open onto the outdoors and the deck expands right up to the edge of the Zambezi River providing a spectacular view into the Zambezi National park and afternoon sunsets up the river.”

Before they began building Chundu Island Lodge, there was a small, very basic lodge. “The site was however amazing, stunning large trees, beautiful ilala palms and a beautiful white beach on the top side of the island.”

To ensure that there is as little impact on the island as possible, he opted for placing all the structures on stilts – in steel, to protect against the many termites on the island.

Most of the design decisions were “to create a feeling of Zambezi meets Seychelles.”