The Southern Belle – 1998

The Southern Belle – a taste of luxury – July 1998

Initially I thought the main problem was going to be with the pastry chef. The morning tea came with chocolate eclairs that boasted a disgustingly large amount of fresh cream and an artistic chocolate whirl on top which was decorative without being excessively fattening (my theory anyway). Unfortunately, I was soon to discover that everything that came out of the galley was going to deposit varying amounts of fat into every body cell south of my chin. It took me less than a minute to decide that the weight gain was going to be a requisite of the experience. Simba, the barman, was just as shockingly perfect With his Bloody Marys, cocktails and liqueurs. The Wine list was broad enough to satisfy the most entrepreneurial pallets and it was still only lunch time on day one!

There are those that think the Southern Belle shouldn’t be gracing Kariba’s waters as it isn’t really in keeping with the whole ‘Kariba Houseboat’ theme. But this is exactly the reason that it is there. She Was a dream of Tony Turner and Peter Dobson who felt that there was a niche in the market for a little opulence. They visualised a boat that was totally indulgent, and in keeping with the traditional way of water travel. The Belle therefore takes you back to an era of extravagance, repose and old fashioned values – of silver serviced dinners, afternoon teas, and impeccable service. Oh, yes. There is also a spot of fishing available too.

The Ship (she is called that for no other reason that since no other vessel on the lake can boast the facilities that she has, she ought really be called a ship) can take 44 guests in either twin, double or triple, en suite, air-conditioned cabins. In addition there are 4 executive rooms (one decorated as a honeymoon’s haven) and a de luxe room with its own private balcony. The ship’s staff of 32 do a fantastic job maintaining every part of her ‘functions.

Once your luggage has been carried on board and you’ve walked past the pool deck into the lounge with the band, playing, been served with a fruit cocktail, alcoholic (the best one) or otherwise, been shown your (room, had a welcome drink and chat, lunch, afternoon tea (dreaded chocolate eclairs) then, its time for fishing. OK if we’re going to be fair it’s time for a variety of activities in the tender boats.

Each morning and evening there is the option of a game cruise or fishing.

The first mooring’s activities take place near Spurwing, the second at Tashinga and the third at Nyodza. There is also the option of going on a game drive or walk with Jess. Jess acquired his professional guides licence in 1992 and currently owns Jess Bush Safaris. He employs four other professional guides and has been running his own tours for the last five years. He is contracted by the Southern Belle to provide game drives on the first mooring and game walks on the second mooring at Tashinga. This service is something that other houseboats cannot offer and proved to be very popular. Participation did however increase after the second drive when 19 lion and a lion kill were sighted.

The temptation to see some of Matusadona’s many lions (arguably the highest density of the king of cats in Africa) was however beaten by the need to fish.

Never having done much fishing before (none if you don’t count the time I went with Dad when I was five) it was all rather exciting to say the least to catch one’s first tiger.

Initially I had a good run reeling in the dreaded water hyacinth, other peoples clothing, various tree branches, and a variety of other trash that the first time angler catches. The first tiger however was terrific. The reel whooshed out, there was much cheering and carrying on by fellow anglers and eventually I landed it, a whopping 900gm one which, I admit, is just a little smaller than the record one which rumour has it was 32lb and caught in 1960. I would like to thank Daniel, Mike and Gibson for their patience over the three days that I harassed them with idiotic questions and useless angling tactics. All of them were fantastically patient, impeccably polite and were yet another asset to the Belle. We should probably point out here that there was a certificate for the largest landed fish, which was an enormous l.7kg (who says editors don’t get holidays too?).

Twelve months ago the Belle received new management in the form of Derek and Natalie Adamson. They have previously lived in places like Fothergill Island refurbishing the place, and generally leading a very hard life! They are a very unassuming, friendly and extremely organised management couple who keep everything on board running smoothly and in a relaxed manner.

There is a scheduled departure every month for individual clients who fancy a splash of indulgence, otherwise the Southern Belle is involved with increasingly popular charter work. Private individuals sometimes hire the ship in order to have the ultimate luxurious wedding (the stairs are perfect for the dramatic entrance type stuff) but more often than not it’s hired by companies. June had five corporate charters as well as the scheduled trip and the other months are equally full.

Many people, (I ashamedly fell into this category) assume that because of her opulence and high profile she is an expensive experience. Not necessarily so. The three night, three day trip includes continental buffet and cooked breakfasts, buffet lunches, pre dinner snacks, five course dinners, morning and afternoon teas (dreaded Chocolate éclairs and other such calorie loading treats), all fishing and game cruises (maximum of two a day), en suite ins and fantastically friendly crew. Residents pay Z$5940 twin sharing, or Z$6480 per person for a double.

Non-residents pay R2160 per person for a double.

One of the points that was bought up on board was the fact that in order to keep the air conditioning on all night it was necessary to keep one of the Cummins 855 – 370ho engines running all the time. This mildly offended some of the old die hard ‘traditional houseboat’ types who yearned for the sounds of the African night. They were however happy enough to swap the lions’ roar for a spot of cool air especially with the Kariba temperatures being up in the late thirties. Another minor niggle was due to the size of the ship, 190m long and weighing 340 tons she could not moor as near to the shore as some of the smaller vessels.

The grandeur of the experience culminated in the final approach to Kariba when we motored in with all the regalia of a cruise liner with the tender boats along-side. On command the the tender boats moved off to port and stern respectively and we moored up, After descending and bidding our farewells to the excellent crew, there were only two‘ grievances I had. Firstly the extra three kilograms of body fat were going to be a lot harder to remove than they were to put on, and secondly that the gorgeous Leonardo De Caprio chappy was never waiting for me at the top of the stairs.

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