That seems odd when The Kingdom’s same-site predecessor, but one –– the much-loved family-run Victoria Falls Casino Hotel –– was the venue of my first three forays of, currently, 49 trips to this country’s premier tourist destination. Between the Casino and Kingdom, it was The Makasa Sun during a lengthy inter-regnum.
It was the Casino in the early 1970s, when most people I mentioned it to this week hadn’t been born. They were stunned pictures on hearing I couldn’t recall if the Rh$8,80 a night fee was for dinner, bed and breakfast, or just bed and breakfast (B&B)!
They also initially offered a 10% (subsequently 15% discount to civil servants, journalists and men in uniform. As on a 1977 visit I was all three, I jokingly demanded 45% off my bill and was equally jocularly told to voetsek…fast!
In those days it cost Rh$8 in fuel to drive the old Volvo 121 estate, I seriously wish I still owned, from Bulawayo and Rh$8 back; the almost compulsory booze cruise was Rh$1,50 offering limitless “dop”.
Thus a memorable, activity-filled long weekend in attractive company at a family hotel at one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World cost about $50-$60 in the days when I earned a basic $500 a month, averaging $650. The Rhodesian dollar was worth about 60c-70c US.
Truly, those were the days…if you didn’t mind the odd rattle of machine gun-fire, crump of mortars, hand-grenade cracks and land-mine booms in the sometimes not too distant distance!
Today, the twice re-built hotel, architecturally, owes much to the Lost City Resort in what was Bophuthatswana (now South Africa): a sort of Afro-Gothic moated complex of soaring walls and columns; much masonry resembling the chevron-patterned dry-stone walls at Great Zimbabwe. Water features replicate the magnificent Victoria Falls, the gates to which are five minutes’ walk away.
There are 290 comfortable, well-proportioned, comfortably appointed rooms and four suites costing from US$140 double, B&B; $100 single for Zimbabweans. Like all AfSun properties there are periodical promotions, especially at holidays. Over Easter, a double will be $150 dinner, B&B; $100 a single.
Food is basically standard Zimbabwean buffet breakfast and supper, but with perhaps more choice and a nicer presentation than most competitors. Certainly at dinner this week, a stir-fried Zambezi bream dish of spectacularly recently caught freshness looked and tasted considerably more agreeable than anything tried at its fellow group member, Elephant Hills Lodge over the previous two days. Light lunches are pool-side alfresco.
The Kingdom has the only surviving working casino in the border town –– a matter of complete indifference to me –– there’s limited in-hotel shopping, including a pharmacy and it’s a few minute stroll to the main shops, standalone restaurants (Wimpy’s shut, after all these years!) and four other hotels. Vic Falls Bridge, with its frontier post to Zambia, bungee jumping and other adrenaline junky activities is also a few moments’ stroll.
General manager is Zimbabwean-born Derrick Kung, whose grandparents came to this country from Canton, China as market gardeners at the turn of the 19th century.
He was at Thornhill High, Gweru and Bulawayo Hotel and Catering School, culminating after a four year course (then run by the Irish) in a Higher National Diploma.
After post-qualification work at a New Forest gastro-pub in the south of England he was at Meikles Hotel, Harare for 30 months, leaving as assistant food and beverage manager. Then at award-winning Victoria Falls Safari Lodge nearly 10 years becoming deputy general manager and has been Kingdom GM since 2005.
His wife Karen (née Joseph) is also of Chinese descent, her ancestors having arrived here before even Derrick’s folks’ early arrival.
They have two children at junior school in the Falls. Derrick’s mum, Yvonne, at 76 still does some pro-photography from Hotline Photo Studios she has run in Bulawayo for many years.
I had to ask Derrick (41), was he ever nick-named “Kung-Fu” at school: “Sometimes,” he confirmed.
He says he and his family are very happy at the Falls and see a career in Zimbabwe’s resorts, rather than returning to “bright lights” or transferring to one of the company’s new West African properties.