“When I was young I used to watch the night sky for hours, looking for shooting stars. When they fell, I’d go and look for them in my backyard,” the traveller beside me on our sunset cruise said, as she gazed up at the night, waiting for a star to drop. “I thought I’d find charred pieces of star scattered on the ground.”

There is no space for small talk on a boat on the Zambezi at night. All conversations take on a depth that cuts right through to the heart of things. Simple stargazing becomes a contemplation on the magical realism in which we lived as children, back when fallen stars could be collected.

That magical realm is a lot more plausible when faced with the beauty of the night sky over the Zambezi River. Perhaps as children we simply took more time to notice it all. Perhaps, as adults, if we could step out of our minds and let our eyes gaze a while longer, we’d see it too.


Above: The night sky over Royal Chundu, captured by our guest, Jacqui Hemphill

We followed the stars to a lantern-lit island sandbank across from River Lodge, set in the middle of the Zambezi. This is Royal Chundu’s newest adventure – a beach barbecue experience that takes you away from everything only to bring you together again. A sort of Arabian Night Dream recast on the Zambezi, with a mokoro bar, stocked with wines and spirits, Persian carpets and cushions laid around a long table, candelabra lighting the party and plates of local tastes, such as village chicken and corn on the cob, and a circle of chairs wrapped around a bonfire looking out on the river – the perfect setting for stargazing and other nighttime fancies.

After dinner, we took to the water once more and journeyed back to the lodge. And it struck me – as is surely bound to happen when there is no other light to challenge that of the stars, and when the G&Ts work a magic of their own – perhaps Mufasa had it right after all. Perhaps he was onto something when he told Simba, “The great kings of the past look down on us from those stars. Whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you. And so will I.”

Rather than the “balls of gas burning billions of miles away,” that Pumbaa suspected them to be, Timon’s philosophy even tempts logic to surrender… “Fireflies that, uh… got stuck up on that big bluish-black thing.”

However you view life up there in the “big bluish-black thing”, I hope you never stop looking at it, contemplating it, and getting lost in its magic. And if you do, take yourself out on a boat or an island in the middle of the Zambezi and stop and stare.