We are bidding farewell to three very special people in the Zambezi Queen Collection family – Debbie, Gavin, and their daughter Mila. As the regional management team for all properties under the Zambezi Queen Collection umbrella for the last five years, Debbie and Gavin handled everything from daily admin to maintenance, hosting of guests, human resources, and upskilling staff from our local community. They also loved learning how to fish and sharing stories about their adventures around the fire.
Just like any good adventure, Debbie and Gavin’s journey began with a dream…
From the Big City to the Chobe River
Debbie grew up in Port Elizabeth. At 18, she headed off to the U.S to au pair, then worked on a cruise liner. On her return to South Africa, she settled in Johannesburg for years working as a property manager and dealing with the daily grind of life in the city.
Born in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, Gavin spent his early life in small towns near the border of Botswana. Here, he rode dirt bikes, and play in the fields. Later, he became a river guide on the Orange River and a commercial diver off the West Coast Africa Gabon. Gavin moved to Tanzania for many years working for a large mineral company grading and procuring gems from the local mining industry. When he moved back to South Africa, he settled in Johannesburg.
One night, Gavin’s sister held a braai. This was the night that he met Debbie – a night that would forever change both of their lives. It was especially ironic that the two first crossed eyes around a fire, when this is how they would go on to spend many nights together, sharing stories and connecting over their love for Africa.
On a visit to Botswana, sitting on the pool deck of a lodge, overlooking the hippos, they made a decision that would take them on a brand-new adventure. They decided that they could no longer deal with the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg. Leaving the city, they worked at a lodge in the Namibian desert and later spent a few months at a private game reserve in Ladysmith. It was then that they knew that this was the life they were meant to lead.
After a short return to Johannesburg, just over a week later, they were hired as the brand-new general managers for the Zambezi Queen. Moving once more from the fast-paced life of the city, Gavin and Debbie found themselves situated on the Chobe River, working on a floating boutique hotel. They arrived on 14 February 2015.
They worked onboard the Zambezi Queen for a year and a half, then moved to Impalila Island, where the land based lodge in the Zambezi Queen Collection of properties is located known as the Ichingo Chobe River Lodge. Both experiences gave them memories to last a lifetime. Debbie loved the routine of the Zambezi Queen, along with the spectacular sunsets and the wildlife that was seen off the boat. Gavin loved the photographic opportunities and star gazing from the water at night. At the lodge, they both loved the peaceful setting of Impalila Island, along with the birds, trees, and the large crocs ‘guarding’ the driveway.
In 2017, Debbie and Gavin’s daughter Mila was born. Mila loved visiting the local villages to play with children and also enjoyed collecting pebbles, making sandcastles, painting, and getting full of mud.
The Zambezi Queen team have many great memories of the couple. Debbie’s ability to do fantastic work with the community and her deep understanding of the people made her a huge asset to our team, working with locals and surrounding communities. Despite her short height, she had a very large shoulders. She took on the challenges of being in a remote area headfirst, learning all the logistics and languages, teaching new staff skills, managing large teams, and leaving a big impression on everyone she met.
Gavin, or Gawie, as he was known, could not fish at all when arriving on the Zambezi Queen. By the time he left, he fancied himself as the best fisherman on the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers… so much that he renamed the Kasai Channel as ‘my kasaai’.
Over the years, this couple has become an essential part of our family and we will miss them and little Mila dearly.
All our team members play a vital role in what we do, helping to give guests the best possible experience throughout their stay. Although Debbie, Gavin, and Mila might be leaving the Chobe River, they will stay with us in spirit.
To Debbie and Gavin, on behalf of the Zambezi Queen Collection team, we’d like to wish you all the best for your new adventures. Thank you for your hard work, passion and for being and invaluable part of our family. We hope that we will see you again in the not-too-distant future!