PHOTOS Dook WORDS Jane Broughton
Victoria Falls has a hip new hangout on the banks of the Zambezi River, with a mix of retro furniture, African artefacts, found objects and lush plants that makes it seem as if it’s been there forever.
With Zimbabwe back in the sights of savvy safari-goers, the town of Vic Falls is booming again. After its opening in July, Zambezi House Bar & Canteen, upstream from the falls with front row views of the Zambezi, is fast becoming the most desirable watering hole in the area.
Majestic ebony trees add shade, warthogs graze nonchalantly on the lawn, and a wooden jetty extends into the river. East African daybeds and wrought-iron tables and chairs under the trees speak of long, lazy afternoons outdoors. Built out of decommissioned shipping containers, for speed and to limit the environmental impact, Zambezi House is a collaboration between Zimbabwean Mark Valentine, co-owner of Amatuli in Johannesburg, and Zimbabwean Beks Ndlovu, founder of African Bush Camps, a collection of properties in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia.
Beks met Mark years ago, when he first started visiting Amatuli to source artefacts and furniture for his safari camps and homes. In-between discussions about the merits of African treasures, Mark and Beks realised they both had a yearning to establish a relaxed, authentically African meeting place somewhere in Zimbabwe. Tourist focused Vic Falls was the obvious choice.
Zambezi House was conceived as a modern eatery and bar that they hoped would become known as much for its simple, honest food and generous drinks as for its stimulating interiors. “We wanted it to be a place where locals and travellers could hang out, hold meetings or just have fun,” says Beks. Above all, he wanted to create a place that would give local people access to the river. It may be hard to believe, but the average Zimbabwean has never seen the Zambezi, let alone has access to it.”
Beks was in charge of putting up the structure, and Mark gave the task of conceptualising and implementing the interior design plans to Elize van der Merwe, a partner in Amatuli. “Elize is an expert junk shopper with a nose for the sort of ‘found’ objects that can turn a fairly ordinary interior into a magical space,” says Mark.
Initially, Mark hated the idea of using metal containers, but once they’d cut out sections to let in light and incorporated breeze-block walls, intricately carved East African doors, lush greenery and bold wallpaper, the “rusty boxes” (as he called them) began to blend into the natural surroundings.
Says Beks: “I am used to setting up safari camps from scratch, whereas Mark prefers the challenge of seeing potential in something old, the creative process of transforming an existing interior.
At the heart of the building is a courtyard with a series of container rooms around the edges, creating individual bars serving coffees, cocktails and even ice cream, and private alcoves furnished with armchairs and sofas for lounging or dining.
Ebony trees appear to grow out of the timber deck, and moss-filled hanging baskets, traditional grain stampers and old mokoros overflow with indigenous plants. “We smashed the budget with plants,” says Mark.
The wide, welcoming smiles on the faces of the Zimbabwean staff say a lot about the need for job creation in this part of the world. For chef Elias Kelosas and his brother Robert, a barman, the opening of Zambezi House was a dream opportunity to return home after several years of earning a living in South Africa.
Zambezi House is located at 1 392 Parkway Drive, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.