Over the next few weeks we’ll focus on five different safari destinations worthy of making your 2019 wish-list. We’ll look at new camps, lodges and activities and give you ideas for amazing holidays in 2019.
Zimbabwe is firmly back on the safari map with a more stable political climate, investment going into developing its tourism infrastructure and the Univisa making holidaying in both Zimbabwe and Zambia easier.
This land-locked country in Southern Africa offers magnificent wilderness , exceptional guiding and a fantastic array of activities. You can canoe the Zambezi, walk in Mana Pools, zipline over Victoria Falls and stake out a waterhole from a hide in Hwange in the space of a 10 day -two week trip.
Prime safari areas are easily accessed via the international gateways of Victoria Falls and Harare. The best time to go is between May and September although many of the camps are open from April to mid November.
Find out more about Zimbabwe and see sample safaris here.
Call us on 01603 964 730 or email email@example.com to discuss a safari to Zimbabwe.
There’s a real buzz about Zimbabwe as we start 2019, and especially beautiful Mana Pools.
If you saw the BBC Dynasties episode on the Painted Wolves of Mana then you’ll have some idea why this World Heritage national park has attracted so much attention in recent months.
This wild and beautiful region is only accessible during the dry season (April to November) there are very few vehicle tracks and only a handful of safari camps.
Activities include walking, canoeing and 4WD safaris with wildlife viewing off-the-scale. The area is very well-known for its large bull elephants – encounters can be thrilling (especially on foot) – as well as a full cast of predators.
Well-established owner/run camps such as Vundu Camp where wild dog expert Nick Murray who appeared on the Dynasties episode is based, or Goliath Camp, home of Stretch Ferreira stand the test of time with emphasis firmly on quality guiding.
2017 saw the opening of John’s Camp, and Zambezi Expeditions and Kanga Camp from African Bush Camps.
2018 sees further new camps with each one below having a strong focus on responsible travel and conservation.
Chikwenya is part of the Wilderness Safaris portfolio of camps and lodges. The camp has always been in this magical position on the far eastern boundary of Mana overlooking the Zambezi but in autumn 2018 it opened with a completely new look. There are just seven glorious tented suites complete with outdoor showers, with two family units to follow in Spring 2019. Activities range from walking and boating to day and night drives. A stay here would work well with one of its sister properties in Mana, Ruckomechi or Little Ruckomechi on the western boundary or with one of the excellent Wilderness camps in Hwange (Davisons. Linkwasha, Little Makalolo). The camps are all accessed by nearby airstrips and the services of Wilderness Air. Enjoy a 5% long-stay discount on 6 night+ safaris in any combination of their Zim camps/lodges for stays until 31 May and from 1 Nov 2019 (subject to availability – special dates apply).
Owner-run African Bush Camps is due to open six suite Nyamatusi Camp in April 2019 giving clients three wonderful but very different camps to choose from in Mana Pools. Nyamatusi is a luxury option in a private concession in the eastern area of Mana with all suites offering plunge pools and wonderful views. We love ABCs new Wild Dogs of Zimbabwe itinerary which splits time in Mana between Kanga Camp and Mana Expedition Camp, a characterful mobile camp on the banks of the Zambezi. The itinerary also visits Somalisa Expedition Camp in Hwange and Thorntree River Lodge on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls.
3. Greater Mana Expedition Camp
Great Plains Conservation also now offers an exciting itinerary option in Zimbabwe with the opening of Mpala Jena close to Victoria Falls. Mpala Jena has just four tented suites, and works brilliantly in combination with Greater Mana Expedition Camp in the private Sapi Reserve on the eastern boundary of Mana Pools. Mana Expedition hosts a maximum of six guests and the emphasis is very much on activity and adventure in this pristine and beautiful environment.
Here are some other new camps/lodges in Zimbabwe to look out for and consider for your holiday:
Bumi Hills reopened in 2018 after an extensive refurbishment. There are ten suites with spectacular lake views. Lake cruises, walking safaris and game drives are all on the agenda. This is a stunning spot to simply relax and admire the colours changing over Lake Kariba. One of the highlights of any visit to Matusadona is learning about rhino conservation here and the background and success of the Intensive Rhino Protection Zone. Other well-established options in the Lake Kariba/Matusadona area include Changa Safari Camp and Rhino Safari Camp.
Verney’s Camp is a new opening in Hwange and sits in a private concession within the south-eastern zone of the national park – a low traffic area. This classic tented camp, part of Machaba Safaris is an exciting prospect and offers eight tented rooms plus a further two family rooms. All tented rooms look out to the waterhole in front of the camp. Verney’s further strengthens the excellent camp offering in Hwange which can be reached very easily by road from Victoria Falls – the main gate is around a 2 1/2 hour drive away. There is also an airstrip for fly-in safari access, but road transfers, especially if travelling in a group or as a family, give flexibility and allow you to have more freedom with your baggage! Fly in safaris impose very strict baggage guidelines! Road transfers also help to keep the cost down while allowing you to see more of the country. The Hide Hwange remains a favourite option with the waterhole very close to camp along with Camp Hwange and Davison’s. African Bush Camps offer three high quality options with Somalisa, family friendly Somalisa Acacia and Somalisa Expedition. Some camps offer the chance to get a behind-the-scenes conservation experience with visits to the Painted Dog Conservation Centre or by joining a Hwange Pump Run. Find out more about Hwange here.
There are dozens of places to stay in Victoria Falls – you can stay in an economical guesthouse in town, a colonial grand hotel with lawns rolling virtually down to the Falls, a safari lodge or a river lodge. Victoria Falls is a great place to arrive and relax following an international flight. It’s a good destination for families with many exciting activities on offer, for example the Flying Fox or canopy tours. Victoria Falls combines brilliantly with a safari to Hwange since you can transfer easily and affordably by road, or with Chobe in Botswana. In the last year several new properties have opened around Victoria Falls. At the top end is spectacular Mpala Jena from Great Plains. Old Drift Lodge is also new, around 7km upstream of Victoria Falls on the banks of the Zambezi. The lodge is owned by Wild Horizons who also offer The Elephant Camp at Victoria Falls. The tented lodge opened in May 2018 so has had a season to settle in. There are 10 suites here plus an additional four family suites. As well as being able to enjoy river cruises and game drives on the banks of the Zambezi, guests are close enough to visit the Falls themselves and enjoy some of the many activities. Masuwe Lodge is in a similar location and has re-opened after extensive refurbishment. You can also stay on the Zambian side of the Falls – known for its beautiful river lodges – great places to kick back pre or post safari and to get out on the water, but you’ll have to wait to read the blog on Zambia…
Next week: why a holiday to Tanzania should be on your wish-list.
Zimbabwe is one of Southern Africa’s undiscovered gems. It has an array of stunning scenery, pristine wilderness and incredible wildlife as well as warm, welcoming people. It is home to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls, as well as mighty rivers, mountains, forests and thousands of miles of untouched grasslands. The 10 national parks of Zimbabwe were established in order to protect these unique areas all of which are of major significance. Zimbabwe was at the forefront of developing the national park system and conservation in general and other African nations soon followed their model. The various parks all have their own character depending on their location, accessability, climate and wildlife populations. It is worth visiting more than one to get a true idea of the range and diversity of the wonderful wildlife and scenery to be found in Zimbabwe.
Hwange National Park – this is the largest and most popular national park in Zimbabwe. It is easy to self-drive in the park and its location close to Vic Falls makes it popular with tourists. Despite its popularity it is large enough to lose the crowds and it offers excellent wildlife viewing including most of the big safari animals and the Big Five. Hwange is famous for the large numbers of elephants that congregate round the park’s waterholes during the dry season. Between 20,000 and 80,000 elephants congregate around the waterholes during this time. All three of the big cats are regularly spotted and Hwange is also home to a large variety of antelopes. It is also a vital part of the preservation of one of Africa’s most endangered animals the African wild dog who have breeding colonies at Hwange. The park is situated on the eastern edge of the vast Kalahari desert so is mainly made up of sand and scrubland but you can also find teak forest and mopane woodland. We have lots of places to stay at Hwange including Camp Hwange.
Matusadona National Park – this beautiful park is found on the shores of Lake Kariba. It offers excellent wildlife viewing including all of the Big Five. Especially important are the groups of both white and black rhino and this is also where you will find the largest concentration of lions in Zimbabwe. Elephant and buffalo are also abundant in this area and Lake Kariba is home to many hippos and crocodiles. It is a great place for canoeing, birding and walking safaris and it is a great place for those wishing to get off the beaten track to a remote location. If you want to watch the sun setting over the lake with the Matusadona Mountains as the backdrop then this is the place for you! We have a choice of fantastic places to stay on the shores of Lake Kariba including Musango Safari Camp.
Mana Pools National Park – as its name suggests this is a watery wildlife area consisting of 4 main pools and several smaller pools on the floodplains of the Zambezi River. The landscape here includes lots of small islands and sandbanks bordered by lush forest, and also the sharp cliffs of the Zambezi escarpment. This unique riverine habitat and wildlife have been protected as a pristine wilderness and are now also recognised and further protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This park is best explored by canoe or on foot as there are few roads and it really is a true wilderness. This is for those who are looking for a safari with a difference and those who like really getting out of the car and into the African bush themselves. If you are a keen fisherman, canoer or birder then this is the place for you. There are no rhino to be found here but the other four of Big Five are all here. You should see the Big Cats as well as large herds of elephants and of course large numbers of hippos and crocodiles. There are also colonies of rare African wild dog to be found here. If you want to stay here you can choose from a variety of camps including Mana Pools Tented Camp.
Victoria Falls /Zambezi National Park – this is one of the smallest but one of the most scenic national parks. Close to the spectacular Victoria Falls it can be visited as a day trip for those based at Victoria Falls so it is good for those with families, those not wishing to go on a full safari or those not wishing to go too far off the beaten track. The mighty Zambezi runs through the heart of the park providing lots of great scenery and picnic opportunities. This park cannot be compared to some of the larger National Parks as it is much smaller and has far fewer species. You are only likely to spot elephant and buffalo who are prevalent in the park as are crocodiles and hippos. The park is home to rarer species like lion and wild dog but you are very unlikely to spot any. We have a range of hotels in and around Victoria Falls but if you are looking for a safari camp then Elephant Camp is the place for you.
Matobo – this national park is famous for its incredible scenery which offers the unique sight of enormous granite rocks piled high on top of each other towering high above the plains. Like other sites in Zimbabwe (Greater Zimbabwe etc.) this park is also home to their ancient civilisation and there are several well-preserved bushman rock-art sites that you can visit here. There is a good amount of wildlife in the park although no lion or elephant but white rhino is spotted quite regularly. This park is also the best place to see leopard as it is home Africa’s largest density of this elusive big cat. They are really at home in this rocky landscape with plenty of place to hunt, climb and hide. It is good for self-drive safaris as small and has roads.
Chizarira – this national park is very remote and fairly inaccessible which means there are only a few visitors at any one time. The camps here are remote, the environment is untouched and you will ge to experience the true African wilderness. You should be able to see the Big Five apart from rhino. There are plenty of elephant, buffalo, antelope and a variety of predators including lion, leopard and spotted hyenas. Walking safaris are a big part of the experience here and the scenery is stunning as it is dominated by the rugged and dramatic Zambezi escarpment. The park actually covers 7 different ecological zones from low veld valley savannah to high veld broadleaf woodland.
Gonarezhou– this a huge park (5000 kms2) which is actually part of greater a trans-national wildlife preservation area called the Great Limpopo Trans-frontier Park. This Trans-frontier Park is also made up of Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park and South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Altogether they make up a vast wilderness area which allows the wildlife to cross national boundaries whilst still being protected. It is a vast area so the density of animals is not strong but there is a huge range of wildlife to be found here including the Big Five. You will also rarely see anyone else out on your game drives. Walking safaris are fantastic here and it is really the chance to experience the untamed bush in all its glory that make this park worth visiting.
Nyanga– this is not a major park for wildlife and safaris in general. The main attraction instead lies in the beautiful scenery, hiking and some interesting rock art and archaeological sites. Nyanga is also one of Zimbabwe’s top birding hotspots. There are over 300 species and there are several near-endemic species to be found here. The park is also part of the globally important Eastern Zimbabwe Mountains Endemic Bird Area (EBA).
Chimanimani– this scenic park is one of Zimbabwe’s finest mountain wilderness areas and a very popular hiking destination. The mountain range lies on the Zim/Mozambique border and the tallest peak is almost 2,500m. Close to the town are the famous waterfalls, Bridal Veil Falls. The wildlife is not so important here but it is the landscape and scenery that is protected here. The park includes the Chirinda Forest, Africa’s southernmost tropical rainforest and home to rare species of plants and trees including the 1,000-year-old Big Tree at nearly 70m tall and 16m in diameter.
Kazuma– this park lies on the border with Botswana and is home to savannah grasslands. There are also a series of seasonally flooded pans in the south-west of the park that provide food and water for lots of birdlife and other wildlife.
Our team at Real Africa have visited many of the main national parks in Zimbabwe and have checked out all the accommodation options in each area so if you would like to find out more then give us a call.
Have you ever heard of a Peace Park? There are several in Africa but the biggest and most established is the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park in Southern Africa. This incredibly vast conservation area stretches across three frontiers between Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa and is home to millions of animals.
This park was set up as a peace park to join three countries together in an effort to protect the wildlife that roams across their national boundaries and as such it is one of the most successful conservation projects on the whole of the African continent. The park actually incorporates three seperate national parks; the Kruger National Park in South Africa, the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique and the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe and some of the areas in between.
At the moment it is in the first stage and currently it covers around 35,000 kms sq. The aim is to bring together some of the most exciting and well established wildlife areas in Southern Africa and manage it as one single, integrated unit across three international boundaries, a tricky proposition! The next phase will to be to create a bigger transfrontier conservation area measuring almost 100,000 kms sq. The larger transfrontier conservation area will include Banhine and Zinave national parks, the Massingir and Corumana areas and interlinking regions in Mozambique, as well as various privately and state-owned conservation areas in South Africa and Zimbabwe also bordering on the park.
The adminstration and development of the park needs the various countries to agree unified policies and to co-operate over things such as fees and rates, border crossings, tourism strategy, conservation strategy, future funding and future development. This can only be done by running the park under a single management organisation and this has been done since 2002 when the park was finally created after years of planning.
The park was originally discussed as an idea in a meeting between President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and the president of the World Wide Fund For Nature (South Africa) in 1990. The 1992 Peace Accord in Mozambique and the South African democratic elections of 1994 paved the way for the political processes to proceed toward making this idea a reality. Feasibility studies initiated by the World Bank culminated in a pilot project that was launched with Global Environment Facility (GEF) funding in 1996. Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique signed a trilateral agreement in Skukuza, South Africa on 10 November 2000. The Skukuza agreement signalled the three nations’ intent to establish and develop a transfrontier park and surrounding conservation area that, at that time, was called Gaza-Kruger-Gonarezhou. Finally, on 9 December 2002, the heads of state of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe signed an international treaty at Xai-Xai, Mozambique to establish the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Below is one of the first concept maps drawn up for the park in 1993.
The park is important for several different reasons. It is vitally important to preserve some of the cultural sites such as the ancient cave paintings and the evidence of early man within the park. The landscape and vegetation area are also vitally important to preserve. Of course one of the most important aspects is the conservation of the rare wildlife that lives in this area. In the GLTP there is a significant and viable populations of wild dog, white rhino and black rhino all of which are significantly endangered. Both these species are increasing steadily and increased range opportunities into Mozambique and Zimbabwe will enhance the conservation of these species and others. There are also significant populations of elephant, zebra, lion and spotted hyaena to be found in the park. As the park grows it will encompass and protect more endangered species and preserve more areas of environmental or cultural importance. It will also offer protected migration routes as most animals travel huge distances in search of either grazing or prey.
This is one of Africa’s great success stories. The park has taken a huge amount of time and effort whilst managing to overcome many hurdles on the way but it is now a great success with plans to continue its expansion and development.
After a decade of being off the safari map, Zimbabwe is back. Our consultant Lily, a frequent visitor there before the troubles, returns, keen to revisit one of her favourite countries. In her report she takes you to the great attractions this wonderful country has to offer, as well as reports and insights into some of the lodges and camps, and a brief history of its parks, attractions and people. For more information, please visit the Guide to Zimbabwe on our web site.
10h40- flew South African Airways SA22 to Harare arriving 12h20. Given immigration forms on plane for completion. Queued at immigration and paid USD$55 for visa which was very straightforward process. Into the Arrivals Hall and there was Peter from Meikles Hotel waiting for us with my name on board.. such a welcome sight. An almost Livingstone- Stanley ‘I Presume’ moment! From the background, strode Eisenhower, a very tall black man who introduced himself as the Customer Services man and had come to give us a special welcome to Zimbabwe.
General impression of Harare airport so far was that everything functioning normally although not as many airport shops as in Heathrow.. Clean but a little bare noticeable in contrast to all our Western clutter!
Smart mini bus transfer into town – limited cars on road and not as many people around as in e.g. Nairobi between JKIA and town.
Now a short history to set the background to Harare and Zimbabwe.
The Pioneer Column, a military volunteer force of settlers organised by Cecil Rhodes, founded the city on 12 September 1890 as a fort. They originally named the city Fort Salisbury after the 3rd Marques of Salisbury, the British prime minister, and it subsequently became known simply as Salisbury. The Salisbury Polo Club was formed in 1896. It was declared to be a municipality in 1897 and it became a city in 1935.
Salisbury was the capital of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland from 1953 to 1963. After that point, it was the capital of Southern Rhodesia. The government of Ian Smith declared Rhodesia independent from the United Kingdom on November 11, 1965, and proclaimed theRepublic of Rhodesia in 1970. Subsequently, the nation became the short-lived state of Zimbabwe Rhodesia; it was not until April 18, 1980, that the country was internationally recognized as independent as the Republic of Zimbabwe.
The capital city retained the name Salisbury until 1982.
The name of the city was changed to Harare on April 18, 1982, the second anniversary of Zimbabwean independence, taking its name from the Shona chieftain Neharawa. It is also said the name derived from the European corruption of “Haarari” (“He does not sleep”), the epithet of the chief whose citadel was located in the area known today as the Kopje. It was said that no enemy could ever launch a sneak attack on him. Prior to independence, “Harare” was the name of the Black residential area now known as Mbare.
Robert Mugabe was the first leader of Zimbabwe and still clings on to power since 1987. He initially pursued a policy of reconciliation towards the white population but severity towards regions which had supported a competing guerilla group aided by North Korean military advisors. From 2000 onwards, Mugabe instituted a policy of extensive land redistribution on party political lines favouring his cronies and of “national service” camps. As a direct result of Mugabe’s misrule, the economy was destroyed, inflation shot up, informal homes and businesses were destroyed, and there were severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine, together with the disappearance of the professional class and the emergence of mass unemployment. Life has grown miserable for Zimbabweans of all colours and they have left the country in large numbers. The prospects of real change still seem remote until the death of Mugabe and his cronies.
Economic difficulties and hyperinflation (1999–2008)
In the early 21st century Harare has been adversely affected by the political and economic crisis that is currently plaguing Zimbabwe, after the contested 2002 presidential election and 2005 parliamentary elections. The elected council was replaced by a government-appointed commission for alleged inefficiency, but essential services such as rubbish collection and street repairs have rapidly worsened, and are now virtually non-existent. In May 2006 the Zimbabwean newspaper the Financial Gazette, described the city in an editorial as a “sunshine city-turned-sewage farm”.
In 2009, Harare was voted to be the toughest city to live in according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s livability poll.
The Zimbabwean dollar currency went out of control, a loaf of bread costing about 3 trillion dollars! and in February 2009 the country became USD$ based overnight which has made a tremendous improvement to the country.
The feeling in Zimbabwe in 2013 surprised and delighted us. Everyone I spoke to is very positive and forward thinking with big investment taking place in the country generally as well as in the tourist industry now the second biggest industry after mining in the country. Diamonds have been discovered recently north of Harare.
Fuel USD$1.36 per litre which is cheaper than UK.
Arrived at the centrally located Meikles Hotel overlooking Africa Unity Square which is THE hotel in Harare and has been since it opened in 1915, part of the Leading Hotels of the World prestigious group. Somehow, even through the difficult times, it has retained its five star grandeur.
The lobby and foyer convey tranquil old-world opulence, complete with smartly dressed doorment (in dark green livery), deep pile carpets and huge bowls of fresh flowers on polished wooden tables. I certainly had a very warm welcome with members of staff including the manager, Karl Snater, coming to say ‘hello’ while I checked in at the VIP desk!
Meikles Lounge and the Explorers Bar are two popular places with the ‘locals’ to eat or enjoy drinks. The terrace restaurant is highly recommended as well being well known for its good food.
My deluxe front room overlooked African Unity Square and I noticed the flower sellers had set up their stalls giving a blaze of colour just like they had in the year 2000 when I last stayed at Meikles. Apparently during the troubled times the flower sellers disappeared, but now they are back which is an excellent sign.
The room was very comfortable just as one would expect from a 5 star property in any city of the world. No wifi in room but available in the lobby.
I was given a very thorough site inspection by Sitzi from Customer Services at 3pm and she showed me all types of room category from deluxe front to deluxe back to Club rooms, Royal Suite and also the new North Wing (£7million investment) which will be entirely Club Rooms on the 11th /12th floors plus a Presidential Suite. We picked our way round the workmen/hard hats and it is hoped the Wing will be open later this year.
Such is the positive approach for the present and future in Zimbabwe. I was most impressed by the care Sitzi took with showing me the many attributes of Meikles Hotel not forgetting the Spa and Gym and the roof top pool.
Meikles has currently 305 rooms in total.
There is a walk way through to the Eastgate Shopping Centre which opened in 1996. The architect, Mick Pearce, designed the building to be ventilated and cooled by entirely natural means and was probably the first building in the world to use natural cooling to this level of sophistication.
At 4pm Victoria Nash from Safaris4Africa (our excellent Real Africa ground handlers for Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia) collected me and we drove to Amanzi Lodge.
This is a 5 star boutique hotel in the Borrowdale suburb of Harare (20 minutes from the airport). The lodge reeks class and comfort in the lounge and dining area and with its stunning waterfalls and spectacular landscaped gardens, filled with rare cycads is truly a memorable African experience. The Lodge has twelve luxury private chalets, all set separately in the gardens. Each chalet is themed in the style of a different African country – with an exceptional collection of African antiquities and contemporary art. The Amanzi has one of the best restaurants in the city and popular with businessmen as well as the holiday market. Bed and breakfast basis.
From Amanzi Lodge, we drove to Ballantyne’s Lodge in the same area which is a very chic, minimalist style place with twelve luxury rooms. Bed and breakfast basis.
The Armadale Boutique Lodge was our final ‘stop’ and personally my favourite. Built in 1904. history is evident in the three generation old gardens. The charming farmhouse has been restored with modern amenities and has nine suites with views of the garden and swimming pool. A thoroughly comfortable, welcoming feel as we sipped red wine sinking deep into a comfortable leather sofa in front of a roaring log fire. Bed and breakfast basis.
Drove short distance to The Bistro restaurant and had delicious meal – international menu which included steak, fish, chicken, salads, puddings, good wine list, very friendly and efficient service. We arrived about 7pm and by 8pm, the Bistro was full so obviously a really popular place (even though a Wednesday night).
Borrowdale suburb is highly recommended location for clients wanting a stay in Harare but not city centre like Meikles. It has very smart places to stay, good shopping in the Borrowdale centre, good choice of restaurants and only 20 minutes from Harare International Airport.
Back to Meikles and a welcome sleep in a bed rather than an airplane seat like the prev- ious night!
0700 wake up call followed by very good breakfast in the regular restaurant.
Good to see a blue sky, sunny with coolish breeze. Weather hardly ever discussed by the locals as they take it for granted when the sun shines! Interesting to note that when the weather is in early 70’s, its termed ‘winter weather’. April/May is Autumn and in my opinion an excellent time to travel with sunny days in the 70’s and cooler nights.
We were given a fine farewell from Meikles led by Karl Snater, the manager. To ease oneself into a country, It is good to start ones journey in the capital city and in our case, at the best hotel in town! There is a very vibrant feel at Meikles and on the surrounding streets with obvious investment taking place which is all positive for the future of Zimbabwe.
Left the hotel at 0900 to the airport in chauffeur driven limousine, journey time 20 minutes. Views en route showed the populace getting on with their daily business including the open air stone mason workshop crafting the local sort after soapstone statues including birds (akka the Great Zimbabwe falcons -more later) and the Big Five. Vehicles and bicycles only heavy at traffic lights.
Arrived at the Domestic Terminal to find a scene reminiscent of the Marie Celeste! toally deserted … and our light aircraft flight with Alt Air was due to take off in 30 minutes! Gradully figures began appearing and our pilots (Bruce and Karl who in fact work for Safari Logistics ) appeared about 10 minutes before scheduled take off. They collected our $15 per person fee and paid it to the necessary government office, put fuel in the tank of our little Cessna 206, loaded their two passengers on board and off we went towards Lake Kariba.
We were the first flight out of the day flying low at first over the outskirts of Harare. I was expecting to see shanty towns but instead there below were neat, orderly housing areas. Flew over other areas where previus agriculture could be seen but not tended recently and then further, flew over well tended fields. Hills border Lake Kariba which we had to fly over with slight ‘bumps’ felt… but what a sight met our eyes below. The Lake is stunning with its islands and sandy shores.
The flying option of 1.5 hour saves the 468 kilometre, 5 hour road journey from Harare and is worth every penny for its scenic qualities and sheer timesaving option.
Now some background to Lake Kariba and Matusadona National Park.
Zimbabwe’s northern border is formed by the Zambezi River which is dammed at Kariba to form the vast artificial Lake Kariba which was built to harness electricity to feed industry in Zimbabwe and Zambia. The dam when it was built in 1957-1959 (by an Italian company) was the largest in the world and still today its size and strength remain awesome. But it wasn’t built without cost to human from various accidents to heatstroke and the tragic loss of 18 workers who fell into wet concrete during construction.
The greatest tragedy attributed to the building the dam is the uprooting of the Batongatribe from their ancestral home in the Gwembe section of the Zambezi Valley. These people had lived here for centuries, making a living from farming and fishing as well as being adept at wood carving, bead work and basket work with their own particular style. The removal of the Batonga created considerable anguish abroad (not to mention among the people themselves). Anthropologists rushed to amass details of Batonga society before everything changed. In 1959, when the last lorry – piled high with evicted villagers and belongings – was on the point of departure from the doomed valley, a small green bush was tied to the vehicle’s tailboard to trail along behind. The villagers explained thiswas to allow their ancestral guardian spirit to ride until they reached their new home. It was essential that this spirit remained on the ground during the journey for it to settle comfortably into its new surroundings and maintain a relationship with the ancestors.
The Batonga were removed to a very poor place
Little of this heritage seems to have found its way back to enrich the Batonga today. The people no longer engage in beadwork because they can’t afford to buy the imported beads. Many heirlooms have been sold off including beautiful stools and carved hut doors to raise money for the next meal.
WALL- 128M HIGH AND 579 M ACROSS.
The completion of the Kariba Dam Wall in 1958 had an immediate and drastic effect on the Zambezi Valley. As soon as the sluice gates were closed, the river level rose and burst its banks. With rapidly rising waters came a number of serious problems. The animals living in the valley had not been removed and suddenly became trapped on hilltops which were quickly shrinking into small islands or drowning when low lying land was flooded. Wildlife rescue seemed to be an afterthought and at the last minute, three men from the Southern Rhodesian Game Department were tasked with ‘taking any measures necessary to save animals from the floods’.
Thus Rupert Fothergill and ateam of 10 men set out on rafts with make shift nets, harnesses and catching poles, and a limited supply of tranquilisers and resources to save the wildlife from the ever increasing expanse of water.
Operation Noah is truly the stuff of legends. Dead barbell and tiger fish were found floating in the rising lake, bloated to bursting from gorging themselves on the swarms of insects driven from the saturated ground. Birds lost successive broods of chicks as the
Waters forced them to rebuild their nests in high branches. The drowned trees were festooned with snakes, moneys and leopards. Mats of floating vegetation seethed with scorpions. Mountains became peninsulars and hilltops ever-shrinking islands crowded with game. The larger animals found swimming in the lake were herded towards shore, or secured to sides of boats with ropes if they showed signs of distress.
‘To capture the deadly black mamba, the wardens use a fishing rod adapted to pull a noose around the snake’s neck; the snakes is then gingerly! Deposited into a pillowcase. Dassies (shrill voiced, rabbity creatures and porcupines are deliberately driven into the water since, despite their small size, dassies bite when cornered and porcupines has quills. Even in water, it takes three mean to outwit a porcupine’.
Over the next five years, Fothergill and his team managed to save over 5,000 animals, which included 1,866 impala, 585 warthog, 23 elephant and 6 scaly ant eaters. Many of these animals were released in a beautiful area on the lake edge now known as Matusadona National Park.
Nearly 5200 square kilometres of wilderness died with the valley. Desolate trees, still poking branches from the water, over fifty years later, bear vivid testimony to the destruction. But a new ecology has replaced the old in a turn of events that show the resilience of the natural world. Fish eagles and African darter colonies nest in the branches and the decaying wood feeds underwater life.
Fishing attracts many people to the lake particularly for the fierce tigerfish with their razor sharp teeth. They have great fighting ability, making determined rushes followed by an impressive leap from the water to shake the hook.
Back to our arrival on Fothergill Island. We were met by Simon, a very experienced fellow in the safari industry, born and bred in Zimbabwe. Part of the management team at Changa Camp set on the shores of Lake Kariba where we were due to stay for the next two nights. Simon and Saiide, the boatman, made us feel instantly at home as we loaded the luggage into the Bazooka boat, made in UK. Fast ride on the lake passing Spurwing Island where I stayed 20 years ago. Wildlife viewing included an elephant watching us from a promontory with impala playing in the shallows.
Twenty five minutes later we arrived at Changa Camp. This is a recently built camp on a private concession with 4.5 kilometres of lake shore.
The rich wilderness area offers exceptional game drives as well as walking and fishing safaris, all in the company of highly trained professional guides. Healthy populations of predators, including lion, leopard, hyena and cheetah as well as elephant, buffalo and antelope frequent the shoreline. Hippos and crocodiles are abundant in the cool waters. If you are very lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the last remaining Black Rhinos. Birdlife is prolific, with 350 species having been identified in the area.
We were shown to Tent 4, one of six tastefully furnished, fan cooled, spacious deluxe East African style tented suites. with its own private deck and stunning views of the mysterious Matusadona Mountains across the inland sea of Lake Kariba. We had shower inside and outside plus claw Victorian outside bath. Could have stayed here for a week! (Fully inclusive food, drinks, activities)
Tasty lunch behind the sandy beach in front of the mess area.
Relaxed in the afternoon followed by cup of tea and cake. Met the other guests in camp including three generations of a French family living in Harare, two Americans from Montana and a German journalist. Lake Kariba beckoned and four of us plus Simon and Kingsley (the guide) loaded up into the Bazooka for a trip on the lake.
Such a relaxing experience being on boat in the middle of a lake… motored close into shore looking out for game which included some waterbuck. The strident call of the iconic African fish eagle brought our attention to the high branches of a jackelberry tree. It is said if you hear the cry of the fish eagle, you will always come back to Africa.
The light was perfect and the reflections in the water from the trees some with fish eagles and the escarpment behind. It was pure magic and I noticed two houseboats moored near the shoreline and felt a mild shot of envy that the occupants were enjoying such a close rapport with this amazing area. There was also a tender boat with about 6 people on board, some fishing, other just enjoying the ambience of this magical scene… with a drink in hand.
Easily the best way to explore Lake Kariba is on a houseboat, cruising around the islands and creeks and along the shore of the Matusadona National Park. Very comfortable and very popular leisure activity with great opportunities for game spotting as the animals come down to the water to drink. For those interested, good chance of catching tiger fish and bream from a tender boat. Dozens of houseboats in Kariba’s harbour most being pontoons with large boxey double-structures on top. Ensuite bedrooms, air conditioning, lounge and bar area. Ideal for a group of friends or two families travelling together with three nights being average length of stay. This is definitely something I would like to do on my next visit to Lake Kariba.
When the land was flooded, the tops of many trees in the lake remained above water. The mopane and leadwood trees (among the world’s hardest woods) lost their foliage and died but did not rot immediately. Without their leaves, and because of the hardness of the wood, they appear to have fossilized.
It makes an intriguing sight to see the branches sticking out of the water but still doing a useful job as they are a favourite perch for the rich bird population of the lake such as African Darters, African fish eagles, Reed cormorants etc.
Other bird species noted during our sunset cruise were Blacksmith’s plovers and white throated bee eaters.
As the time ticked away towards sunset, the light on the lake was constantly changing. The water became a most amazing milky irredescent blue with the fossilized branches of mopane and leadwood trees breaking up the smooth panorama of the still lake. We were sailing towards a group of trees which were ‘thick’ with African darters silouhetted against the background sunset of blazing pink, crimson and purple… unforgettable!
Back to Changa Camp jetty and around 1915 enjoyed drinks in the comfortable lounge area behind the beach followed by lively supper including delicious roast beef at the communal table. All inclusive basis so drinks included which always I feel leads to a relaxed atmosphere not having to worry about the cost of drinks! Suddenly we were shushed into silence by Simon.
‘Turn round and look at the beach…. we have company’…. and there was the grey shape of an elephant watching us from the foliage by the side of the beach. Very quietly the huge animal came out into the moonlight and walked slowly along the water’s edge followed by a fellow pachyderm. They were very relaxed and sensed we were no threat to their evening stroll!… Disappearing as silently as they had appeared into the trees just yards from where we were sitting.
For several seconds after the beasts had melted into the darkness, no one spoke we were all awestruck at what we had been privileged to see.
That’s Africa for you… never quite knowing what is ‘round the corner’.
Lulled to sleep by the honking of hippos just yards away on the lake shore.
up at 0545, coffee and biscuits in mess tent then off on game drive with guide Kingsley and another guest called, Rudi, a very thin German gentleman of advanced years. Left camp at 0645 and drove about 45 minutes (meeting about 12 elephants on the way) to an open area where we left the vehicle and set off on foot (Kingsley armed with rifle).
Walked for about 2.5 hours and the most threatening mammal we saw were two impalas which suited me fine. Gone are the days when I thought it would be such fun to have an elephant , buffalo or lion encounter!
However, the bird life was very varied e.g. golden oriole, marabou stork, fork tailed drongo, fish eagle, lilac breasted roller, African darter, eagle owl, grey and red hornbill, bateleur eagle, Namaqua dove, white fronted bee eaters.
We stopped for coffee and cookies about 1000 and I asked Kingsley why we had seen no herds of buffalo (nyati) or big prides of lion that I remembered from my previous visit to Kariba (Spurwing Island) in 1994. He told me it was all to do with the rising level of the Lake which drowned the grazing areas for the big herds of buffalo.
The buffalo in their weakened state were easily picked off by the strong lion prides then when the buffalo had dwindled the lions had to move to new areas in the Matusadona.
then back to camp for 1100.
Tasty buffet lunch shared with Simon then relaxed until afternoon activity after tea and cake.
Our afternoon activity was quite memorable… again! We took the Bazooka speed boat across to the Sanyati Gorge which branches off Lake Kariba.
This area of course was flooded in the late 50’s along with several villages now lying submerged beneath the dark waters.
Fascinating sailing up the steep sides gorge decorated with African chestnut trees with white trunks and displaying their beautiful yellow flowers. Occasionally drifting to the sides and on one occasion we saw a well disguised elephant amongst the foliage watching us watch him. His trunk had been damaged in some way, even shortened but seemed to be healing and it didn’t affect his ability to pick up tasty bites from the trees or ground. Also saw guinea fowl scampering about as they so often do later in the day.
We motored up the gorge for about an hour, then had sundowners. I felt all the time we were being watched … maybe the spirits of the flooded villages??
On the way back down the brooding gorge, the light was fading fast but as we burst back onto the Lake the sun was still shining albeit rather muted with sunset approaching.
We speeded back across the lake to Changa Camp.
Freshened up for supper and when we arrived back at the mess area, we found that supper was to be enjoyed on the beach (where we’d see the elephants last night). There was a long table set up for all the guests with lanterns lighting up the welcoming scene. We enjoyed a braai with various meats included sirloin steak … all delicious. Lively dinner chat.. but no word from the elies tonight.
Simon brought out his guitar after supper and serenaded us as we sat round the beach camp fire. Quite quickly we realised he could sing and play just about any request.. was quite a surreal situation singing folk songs in the moonlight on the shores of Lake Kariba! All boded well for a good night’s sleep.
Up 0700, breakfast then said our goodbye’s to Changa Camp and its special people. Down to the jetty and loaded into the speed boat (Bazooka) and whisked across the lake with Simon and Saaide to Fothergill Island and the airstrip.
Our Cessna 205 with pilots Barry and Karl arrived as promised – and off we flew taking 1.5 hours to reach Hwange Main airstrip.
We were greeted on arrival by David Carson, part owner of Camp Hwange, in Hwange National Park. David is a very experienced ZimPro guide who has been running mobile and safari operations for many years. We found out just how experienced he was in the next 24 hours.
David loaded us into the open top safari vehicle and warned us it would be cool so ‘wrap up well’ and I was very pleased I’d brought my scarf, Andean hat with ear flaps and gloves.
Road very good and maintained well which was surprising given the history of the Park over the troubled years. David said somehow the money had been found for the upkeep of roads in Zimbabwe although the municipal roads were in a poorer state.
Stopped at National Park barrier by two stern looking lady park officials who gave the vehicle keen scrutiny then arrived at Hwange National Park Headquarters where park fees, paperwork had to be completed.
Pleasant place with relaxed feel.
Wandered around and found a bit of history of Hwange which is interesting to record and set the scene for where we would spend the next 4 days exploring the different areas of the Park and environs.
Hwange National Park is the largest national park in Zimbabwe and covers 14,650 square kilometres, about the size of Belgium.. larger than all of Zimbabwe’s other national parks put together. It is less than two hours’ drive southwast of Victoria Falls and makes a popular add-on safari from the Falls. Driving from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls, travellers will pass the main turn-off to the gate and is very convenient to make a stop there for safari.
The Park was the royal national hunting grounds of the Ndebele warrior king, Mzilikazi in the early 19th century and was set aside as a national park in 1929.
It was declared by the Rhodesian government as one of the last retreats for game animals not threatened by human encroachment. Additionally because of the presence of tsetse fly (which kills cows) the land couldn’t be commercially farmed. The first warden was Ted Davison who held the job for 33 years and developed the roads, camps and boreholes.
The town of Hwange was founded in 1899 when coal was discovered and is located just outside the National Park. The ‘village’ grew to accommodate mine workers and today Hwange Colliery is the biggest coal mine in Zimbabwe, producing over 5 million tons of coal per year.
Hwange boasts a tremendous variety of wildlife with over 100 species of mammal and nearly 400 bird species. The elephants of Hwange are famous and the park’s elephant population is one of the largest n the world, though they migrate to and from Chobe National Park in Botswana depending on the season and estimates of their number range from 20,000 to 75,000.
Although when we stopped to look at a point of flora or fauna interest, the sun beat down. Marvelled at the teak forests by roadside, very green as they have long roots which go down to the water table. Other sightings were male kudu and giraffe (Southern). He was a constant source of entertaining information as we drove first to the Park
Headquarters to ‘check in’ and then on through the Park to Camp Hwange in the eastern Sinamatella area, journey time in all two hours. Various sightings on the way to camp i.e. elephants, bateleur eagle (or brown snake eagle), purple roller, crowned crane, saddlebill stork, secretary birds, cape teals, and in the floral kingdom I would like to mention two unusual (for me) sightings of African lilies and Gardenia trees (much liked by giraffes).
We arrived at Camp Hwange to a very warm welcome from Sylvie, Andy and their team – probably because everyone was waiting to eat lunch and our late arrival was holding up hungry appetites! Large and spacious thatch roofed boma area with dining area (long table where all guests eat together), bar and comfortable lounge area. Stylishly furnished a la African chic, with camp fire area in front with waterhole and hide in the background.
(Fully inclusive of food, drinks, activities)
Camp Hwange can best be described as a comfortable, classic bush camp for people who want to connect with nature and the wildlife in this very game-rich area of the park.
Shown to our chalet/tent by Sylvie Pons from France, old Africa hand and part owner of Camp Hwange who told us all about the building of the camp and furnishing the tents etc. There are 8 large canvas walled en suite chalets (with canvas and guaze walls) positioned in a semi circle to overlook the busy waterhole. Each tent is furnished with stylish simplicity and en suite facilities.
There is a unique log pile hide in the shade near the waterhole where camp guests can visit escorted by one of the guide’s so that you may have a close up view of all the ‘visitors’ coming to drink and carry out their ablutions.
No internet at camp.
What struck me was the great enthusiasm and pride in Camp Hwange from everyone we met beginning with David Carson’s at the airstrip.
Quick but delicious lunch then we prepared to go out with David on a game experience combining a game drive with a game walk tracking elephants!
What we were quickly coming to realise is that Camp Hwange is really all about is the wilderness experience and getting out amongst it!.. and this is what we were about to do only we didn’t realise how close we would get to the wilderness experience!
The emphasis is on flexible, knowledgeable and charismatic guiding all in comfortable surroundings.
Cup of tea and cake around 1600 then David loaded Marie Aud, Gabrielle, Jean and I onto the game drive vehicle. Drove about 25 minutes to open area where David parked in the shade of an ebony tree. Now we were about to embark on a game walk and find out why David Parsons is one of the best guides in Zimbabwe. He gave us the all important safety talk which comes down to doing exactly as he says if dangerous game is encountered i.e. don’t run! Told how to walk quietly … heel then toe, follow his example at all times. I had a light rucksack which held water, JVC footage camera, Canon SLR with 75 – 350 mm and 28 – 75mm lenses.
The late afternoon light was golden and the sky very blue. The terrain was open with some shrubs dotted about.
David pointed out elephant in the distance and we stopped. He spoke in a whisper explaining that it was likely we would find elephants in a dried out river bed to the left… He kept checking the wind direction and confirmed that the wind although very little was blowing away from us and we would be fine as long as we kept upwind from the elies. They have acute sense of smell and it was very important that they should not be aware of
our presence or they would scarper. I guessed this must be a regular pattern at this time of day when animals were on their way to the main waterholes to drink.
We walked in line very quietly (heel .. toe) towards the banking above the river bed then David dropped into crouching position then sitting position. Shuffled on our ‘derrieres’ to the edge of the banking and there was the unforgettable sight of eight bull elephants of varying ages, totally relaxed, spread out along the river bed. Some were digging for water, others just standing enjoying the peace and quiet of the end of the day. The early evening light was perfect for photography and I got some very interesting footage, not easy when I was trying to be as quiet as possible! Every time I moved, dried out autumnal leaves crackled and I was sure the pachyderms with their keen ears would be alerted to our presence.
We were all feeling so lucky to be only a few yards from the beasts who appeared totally unaware of us when suddenly a spat broke out between two of the group.and the weaker elephant ran up the banking a few yards from where we were sitting. Despite David’s earlier instructions, we all went into what I would call ‘half meerkat position’ getting ready to run!! Whoa – Ho! the Real Africa JVC camera which I have always guarded with my life, fell to the ground (sorry Rob..fortunately only a few inches onto the dry leaves) and I was rapidly wondering what I could live without if a tree had to be climbed!
Ridiculous really but a natural instinct. The elie hesitated at the top of the banking which seemed forever with us wondering if he would turn left or right. We would have been in a delicate position if he’d decided to turn left… although David had a powerful.458 rifle under his arm and would no doubt have fired first a warning shot if the bull elephant has come towards us.
We all breathed a sigh of relief when he turned right and ambled away along the banking.
We headed back to the vehicle in the rapidly decreasing evening light and drove towards
a nearby man made water hole. Suddenly, a lioness came out of the bush in a front of us and lazily crossed the road – David braked abruptly (and I nearly went flying onto the bonnet of the Land Cruiser!). David became very excited as he was sure this was a well known lioness who had cubs on the other side of the waterhole.
We drove speedily up the track to the look out point and hide overlooking down over the Masuma waterhole. By this time, the lioness was quietly walking around the banking and the game including two waterbuck had gone into instant ‘statue mode’ and were watching the predator as she nonchalantly walked past them just a few yards away.
Eventually she went out of site and we could settle down to watch at leisure the tranquil evening scene below us. A group of elies were at a smaller waterhole a few yards behind the big waterhole for some reason preferring this area. The evening light washed the bush and wildlife in an ethereal glow and I felt how lucky we were to witness this peaceful scene. Hippos were honking down below and the sun was slowing sinking below the horizon as we, also quite lazily, drank our gin and tonics!
Back to camp and drinks round the camp fire. Chatting to other guests, three of whom has just arrived from New Caledonia in the South Pacific – what a journey coming half way round the world and a ten hour time difference!
Lively supper around the ‘long mess table’ with guests from NC, USA, France and England. Probably one of the best safari suppers I have ever experienced with such a good feeling of ‘aliveness and well being’ throughout. Oh, and the food we very good too!!
To bed with hot water bottles which felt very snug underneath our duvets. The night was cold so good to be tucked up well.
Up at 0545, cup of coffee and biscuit in the mess tent then loaded up for game drive tracking the endangered African painted (or wild) dog. David was determined we would find the pack and although we saw a lot of tracks, we didn’t see any of these endangered animals. But the amazing thing was, we felt we had seen them such was David’s enthusiasm and passion. Even the Painted Dog Conservation team headed by Dr Greg Rasmuissen (based just outside the National Park Gates) were looking for them in their Land Rover but the pack ( had gone off deep into the bush and were definitely not going to ‘say hello’ that morning. Birds seen on the drive included pearl spotted ow, cape teals, jacana and knob headed coot.
Back to camp for bacon sandwiches… again running late but it is one of Camp Hwange’s rules that there are ‘no rules’ and ‘no time restrictions’.
Camp Hwange has a private concession of 6,000 acres bordering the northern side of Hwange National Park hence plenty of space to offer guests for game drives and walks which is one its specialities.
Left camp with David and headed back to Hwange Main Gate where we met Janice, the manager of Ivory Lodge. Sad farewells to David Carson and off we went with Janice. Stopped at the Painted Dog Conservation Centre on the tarmac road towards the turn off for Ivory Lodge and Khulu Ivory Camp. The Painted Dogs, also known as African wild dogs, are unique to Africa and they are among the continent’s most endangered species. It is estimated only a mere 3,000 remain.
The population in Zimbabwe is one of the last strongholds of the species and this conservation charity, funded mostly by overseas donations, provides a refuge for rescued wild dogs, mostly pups that have lost their moters to lions. They are also involved in
anti-poaching in Hwange National Park where wild dog get caught and killed in wire snares, which have been put down by poachers to trap antelope. The centre has collected about 15,000 wire snares from in and around the park and it is possible to buy sculptures made of this wire which are for sale in the Centre shop (which I did). The centre is excellent and we particularly enjoyed the giant book pages telling the story of Eyespot, a painted dog ‘pups’ journey through life relating what each season (and set of circumstances) brought as his life developed. We walked along the elevated boardwalk over a large enclosure that is home to the dogs. Wherever possible they are returned to the wild and the current population in Hwange is over 750 dogs.
A most informative place and highly recommended.
Drove along the tarmac road until turn off for Khulu Ivory, located on a private concessionof 6,000 acresjust outside Hwange National Park. It is situated close to its sister property, long established Ivory Lodge where we would visit the following day.
Instantly liked Khulu Ivory (‘Grandfather of Ivory’) which combines luxurious and private tented accommodation on platforms. Designed for those who are looking for a real escape, Khulu caters for no more than twelve guests. This intimate camp comprises of six bespoke thatched safari style suites built onto platforms. The rooms are well appointed and each designed in a modern contemporary style. Each suite has an indoor and outdoor shower, a balcony for game viewing and individual tea and coffee making facilities. The beds are twins, but can be converted to super king size for double occupancy. Khulu has been carefully designed to have minimal impact to its surroundings and the environment and I can thoroughly agree with this statement as we felt very much part of the natural surroundings in this camp.
Khulu overlooks an ancient riverbed, in today’s terms called a ‘vlei’ and the waterhole in this vlei is known to attract a variety of the greatest wildlife and birds. Khulu’s main area has a full bar and provides a wide variety of local and imported beverages. There is a plunge pool located on the deck of the main area, as well as a raised fire pit for stargazing and night caps. All the camps water is from our borehole and there is an on site laundry service. Wifi in mess area.
Khulu Ivory offers guests guided game viewing on the private concession and/or in the National Park. (full board inc drinks/activities)
Activities on offer are; half or full day game drives, night drives, visits to the Painted Dog Conservation Centre, walking safaris, pan/hide sits and game counts (on request).
Made ourselves at home, which actually means caught up with some washing! which dried very quickly on the balcony rail of the tent in full sunshine.
Delicious lunch enjoyed with two American couples; Roy, the quiet manager and his chatty wife, Candice.
Relaxed after lunch until time for afternoon game drive, followed by a game walk with Roy in the lead, armed with rifle. Open vlei areas and woodland – saw lion tracks, baboons, giraffes, warhog, and many birds including white backed vultures. Back to camp for 1820 and after a quick ‘freshen up’ we picked our way, torches in hand, along the path to the mess tent.
We enjoyed supper (which included a delicious local recipe of chicken on a braai cooked with half a can of beer inside it covered with a potjie pot!) with Khulu himself, otherwise known as Cedric Wilde, who is one of the directors of Khulu (and sister, Ivory Lodge) and a third generation Zimbabwean. He lost his farm during the earlier ‘troubles’ and endured two years with squatters on his farm, before he was evicted in 2004. He then bought a game farm but his animals were killed and he was thrown in jail for 4 days.
He refused to be beaten by the politics in power and now he is in partnership with his daughter, Sharon Stead and husband, who own Ivory Lodge. The concept of Khulu Ivory took place and it is a total credit to the family, in difficult circumstance, that this stunning camp has evolved. Cedric built Khulu Ivory showing his particular talent for innovation and imagination which was in fact first brought to the fore when he built Camp Amalinda in the Matopos Hills in 1990.
It was very enlightening to have straight talking, no nonsense version of life in Zimbabwe 2013 style.
After supper we went round the camp fire, for shots of Amarula, when suddenly as if the smell of the delicious liqueur made from the fruit of the amarula tree (beloved of elephants) had carried into the darkness… a big bull elephant appeared almost next to us in the glow of the blazing fire! Apparently the camp is built very close to a path on the other side of the waterhole, up the vlei, which is regularly used by a big herd of elies but also there is another path which joins it virtually through the middle of camp.
Roy had to do a POP POP noise to deter the pachyderm from coming any closer.
It was a memorable sight watching the herd of elephants passing in single file on their regular evening ‘stroll’ within about 200 yards of where we were standing.
We had a very relaxed elephant munching on shrubs about 20 yards away in the darkness … one of the askaris was standing ‘guard’ (just in case). It was wonderful to feel we had our space and the tusker had his and as long as nobody stepped over the boundary, all was well.
The stars were amazing in the sky – so very clear with the Southern Cross and ‘pointers’ clearly visible.
Back to our tent … with armed escort! … about 22h30.
Up 06h45 to a beautiful morning. Delicious breakfast then left camp for Ivory Lodge (only six hundred yards away but carefully hidden so that neither camp is aware of the other. Had site visit with the manager, Janice.
Seven elevated thatched tree-house style room and 2 luxury suites. All rooms are fitted with mosquito nets and all rooms are fairly open commanding great views of the water hole, offering guests a more intimate safari experience.
The tree house style rooms are very comfortable and it is very different to be raised high above the ground from the aspect of views (particularly to the waterhole). The decor is much more traditional style than Khulu Ivory.
There is a great feeling of permanence here at Ivory Lodge and not surprising as it was built over 30 years ago. Another example of the older camps having best choice of locations .
The waterhole approached by a path which winds it way between some of the tree houses. There is a hide where it is possible to sit and view the waterhole which is only metres away – probably best waterhole I have ever encountered. Also possible to have dinner served in the hide which was in fact experienced by a honeymoon couple we met at the Lodge. Incredible and unforgettable, they said.
Activities on offer include game drives, night and day, visits to the painted dog conservation, walking safaris (on request), Game Counts (on request)
This area is in the key home range of the Presidential Elephant herd made famous by Alan Elliot in the 1980. The clan of semi-habituated elephants are known by our guides and certain family members can be called up to the vehicles if you are requesting a specific elephant experience.
We left Ivory Lodge and Janice drove us back into the park to Hwange Main Camp where we met Nkosi, the very pleasant and knowledgeable driver/guide from The Hide SafariCamp, in the Kennedy sector, where we were scheduled to stay that night. Very scenic drive to The Hide which is well positioned within a north eastern annexe of Hwange National Park.
We stopped at one of Hwange’s many renowned waterholes for a picnic lunch, and were able to watch a myriad of species come for a drink including a dazzle! of zebra, wildebeeste, giraffe, impala, baboons as well as a lazy crocodile who remained frozen in position with open mouth as we enjoyed our lunch.
Arrived at The Hide after 1.5 hour journey from Main Gate. Warmly welcomed by Kate and Lynette and manager Ian. Given safety briefing and signed indemnity.
Independent and owner run, the Hide benefits from both a popular waterhole and high game densities in the area. The camp is adjacent to the Victoria Falls-Bulawayo railway line and one does hear the train quite regularly which seems out of keeping with staying at a safari camp but doesn’t seem to deter the animals in any way.
The all inclusive basis camp of 20 tents is one of the oldest in the area but consistently voted Best Tented Camp in Zimbabwe for 13 years! Recently been renovated and I can honestly say the main areas, walkways to tents, tents themselves are gorgeous. Best described as a luxury tented camp, traditional yet contemporary. All tents have lovely verandahs looking over to waterhole. Wifi free for 15 minutes.
Night drives possible on The Hide’s own concession. The waterhole at The Hide is particularly special, being the only source of permanent water for a good-sized area hence always plenty of animals to see including elephants either in twos or threes or sizeable herds!
Afternoon tea and met all the other guests – seems like a full camp, with a mixture of expats from Harare, Australians and Americans.
Off on game drive with Nkosi, sundowners on ilala palm fringed open pan overlooking another waterhole. Apart from two ostriches and three giraffe, no other game about. Very quiet on the game generally but heard and saw several trains in the distance including one train with 23 open topped goods vans full of coal from Hwange area mines. Spotted vultures and Nkosi said an elephant had been killed on the line by a train so vultures always quick to spot a ‘kill’.
Back to camp then assembled for supper with drinks round the camp fire (wearing jackets as it was a cold evening) then settled around the long table where the guests enjoyed a delicious supper.
… this is Africa but even in Africa there is a winter season! Hot water bottles had been carefully placed in our beds when we got back to the tent (no.3).
Up 07h00, the usual coffee delivered to room which we took on the verandah in the morning sunlight. Breakfast, then I had a site inspection with manager, Ian. We walked along to the right of the mess area where Tom’s House, the two bedroomed family unit is located which interconnects with a smaller one bedroomed tent. This is ideally used by a group or large family and they have own chef. Lovely views over to the waterhole, closer than the standard tents.
Ian (with rifle) and I walked over to the waterhole and the hide. As Ian explained and I have never heard it put better…
‘Hides’ are very much part of safari tradition, although they have fallen by the wayside in many places, where it seems that frenetic activity is the order of the day. However, we think that hides are one of the best ways to get exceptionally close to animals. Essentially, the concept is to disguise a little safe room as a termite mound or other piece of thenatural landscape and slip inside via the back door. Normally positioned at a waterhole, the hide allows you to sit quietly and observe without being observed. Needless to say, the photographic opportunities at this range are unequalled. Of course, there is always the risk that you may miss dinner for the herds of elephant that surround you but it is worth it!’
I somehow slithered into the hide which was quite small but big enough to three people maximum. Can well understand that one could be within touching distance of an elephant’s foot when the pachyderms come to drink!
As we walked back to camp, we spotted a line of antelope coming to drink – probably they had been waiting until we got out of the way before approaching the waterhole.
Bade farewell to this lovely place and headed back to Hwange Main, passing male lion and groups of elies on and near the road. Also a big group of kudu just before Main Camp.
Nkosi made sure our transfer vehicle organised by Drive the Wild and driven by Elliott was waiting to take us ‘down the road’ on the 258 kilometre journey to Bulawayo.
So at 10h00, we waved goodbye to Hwange National Park. Took us 20 minutes to get back to the main Victoria Falls to Bulawayo road, the A8, where we turned right to Bulawayo. The distance is 258 kilometres (turn left and Victoria Falls is 172 kilometres) which Elliott estimated would take us about 3 hours, taking into account anticipated road blocks along the way.
The road was good, tarred all the way, and yes there were road blocks. About 6 altogether where we stopped, questioned, and as far as I could see no bribes were required to enable us to carry on our way. Apparently the latest ‘scam’ with the traffic police is to charge if a radio is playing in the vehicle and to claim a license is required for this and so charge the driver about USD$50!!
Pleasant scenery with trees very much in evidence, even drove through a forest at one point! Terrain started fairly flat after we left Hwange but hillier landscape as we headed south towards Matabeleland. (Bulawayo stands at 1358 metres above sea level).
I had held a great interest in Bulawayo and the Matobo Hills for over twenty years and so felt very excited at last to be ‘on the way’ to this part of Zimbabwe which is often overlooked by tourists.
As we drove nearer to Bulawayo, I couldn’t quite believe that at last I was visiting one of my ‘big tick’ places. For years I had read about Bulawayo whether in a Wilbur Smith novel, in a guide book of Zimbabwe or in a history book about British colonisation of
this incredible land in the middle of the African continent.
Zimbabwe’s second city is unquestionably more interesting than Harare, the capital. Harare uses western symbolism to make its mark whereas Bulawayo’s character comes from a history of going its own way and developing its own style. Despite being the largest city after Harare, Bulawayo is reminiscent of a sleepy English town, with bungalows and neat gardens on the outskirts, and wide tree lined streets, leafy parks, Victorian buildings and a slow paced atmosphere.
Little demolition or hasty redevelopment has taken place and the wide, regularly gridded streets remain studded with gracious colonial-era buildings. Overall, in fact, the city has something of a sepia-toned feel, compounded by rather conservative dress and aging cars – a slow laid back ambience that makes it a thoroughly pleasant place to stroll about and explore.
The city is home to the country’s main museum, the Natural History Museum, a Railway Museum, the Bulawayo Art Gallery housed in an attractive turn of the 20th century building, theatres, the Mzilikazi Art and Craft Centre and good hotels.
Bulawayo means in Ndebele, ‘The Place of Slaughter’, a reference to the fierce succession battles that took place in the late 19th century. These culminated in the accession of one of the key figures of pre-colonial Zimbabwean history, King Lobengula in 1870. His reign peppered with heavy doses of heroism, lying, betrayal and death reads like grand opera: an era which came to a close in 1894 with Lobengula’s demise and Ndebele collapse before the relentless northwards advance of the British South Africa Company.
Arrived 13h15, Elliott got a parking ticket – very difficult parking and the traffic wardens are very sharp eyed! Sam from Big Cave Camp was waiting for us outside the Bulawayo Club in centre of town and we quickly changed vehicles and set off for the Matobo Hills National Park which is 34 kilometres south of Bulawayo.
Almost immediately upon leaving Bulawayo we started seeing granite outcrops (kopjes)
which increased in number and size until we reached the main gate of this 434,000 hectare park, we were surrounded by this dramatic and enveloping scenery which was quite extraordinary. The Matobo Hills National Park is located in the magnificent 80 kilometre long Matobo Hills, a 200 million year old range of domes, spires and balancing rock formations hewn out of a solid granite plateau through years of erosion. The hills cover an area of 3100 square kilometres of which 424 square kilometres comprise the national park, the remainder being largely communal land and a small area for commercial farming. The park was established in 1953 and in 2003 the Matobo Hills were proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site for having one of the largest concentrations of rock art in southern Africa. The rugged terrain is interspersed with wooded valleys and the diverse vegetation supports a wide range of wildlife, including a large population of black and white rhino that are successfully breeding here.
Matobo was named by the first Ndebele king, Mzilikazi, and refers to the balancing rocks, which he compared to an assembly of elders from his tribe – amaTobo means ‘bald heads’. On his death in 1868, Mzilikazi was buried in the Matobo Hills just outside the park. The Matobo area has great spiritual and cultural significance for the local people and there are many sites where important ceremonies still take place.
We turned off the main road through an entrance gate into the Matobo Hills and drove several kilometres gradually climbing upwards passing amazing kopjes including the most famous of them all, the Mother and Child. Eventually reached the stunning approach to Big Cave Camp over enormous slabs of granite rock. Warmly welcomed by the manager, pink and blue haired Gillian, from Liverpool!
Big Cave Camp in the Matobo Hills has seven granite and thatch ensuite A frame chalets with wonderful views over the valley to the hills beyond. Chalet locations are stunning and went straight on to the balcony to see the panoramic views and watched dassies playing on the rocks.
Back to the Leopards Lair which is the lounge, bar and diningroom with impressive walls of giant boulders, atmospherically lit by lanterns at night. Had a quick but tasty lunch before we headed out again for Sam and drove a short distance to the official park gate, with craft stalls strategically placed by the car park! A quick look at wooden carvings before heading off into the park with our armed ranger/tracker, Benson, who was going to find some rhino for us!!
Met Sam at 3pm and drove off towards the official Park gate, about 20 minutes away. Craft stalls strategically placed by the car park and we had a quick look at wooden carvings while Sam paid the park fees ($15 per person plus $5 for Tapson, our armed ranger/tracker, Tapson, a young, tall, handsome, slim, Matabele with a lovely smile who said he was ‘going to find some rhino for us .. in God we Trust’!!
Gazing in awe and amazement at the views of the hills. Trees, vegetation, miombo woodland. We were tracking rhino, both black and white but especially white as the black rhino are more aggressive. Tapson walked ahead of the vehicle checking for spoor on the sandy road track and eventually we found two white rhino which were tagged (like many of the rhino in the National Park). Eyesight very poor but hearing excellent so they knew we were there but very relaxed. Keeping downwind, Tapson took us on foot within 20 yards so good photos were taken probably the best were of Tapson who seemed to get himself in every frame! He kept making a ‘whooing’ call which was supposed to keep the animals calm… the combination of Tapson together with the two rhinos made a very entertaining scenario!!
Walked through the bush with Sam pointing out plants and trees and their background. There are over 200 species of trees including mountain acacia, wild pear and the paperback tree, aloes, wild herbs and grass species. As well as a sizeable population of rhino, the park is home to zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, kudu, eland, sable, hyena, warthog, waterbuck, crocodiles and baboons.
Although fairly elusive, there is an exceptionally high population of leopard thanks to the abundance of rock hyrax (or dassies), a small rodent and nearest relation to the elephant!)
No elephant or rhino in the park.
Birdlife is rich with the park famous for large population of black eagles which can be seen
perched on or soaring off the rock formations and cliffs. Other species are fish eagle, martial eagle, francolin, secretary bird, weavers, pied crow and Egyptian geese.
Back on the vehicle and drove to the Maleme Dam where we had ‘sundowners’ discussing the wildlife around the Dam including the hippo population. Stood on the sandy beach by waters edge.
Back to the Park gate and dropped Tapson who had given us an excellent ‘rhino’ experience. Also revisted the craft stalls who were still there waiting for our return and they were duly rewarded with some sales especially in the carved rhino department.
Back to camp and after freshening enjoyed an excellent supper in the Leopards Lair with a young black Zimbabwean couple, called Amandale and Tobi, who had emigrated to Australia, qualified as doctors, and now returned for a visit to their family in Bulawayo. We were also joined by Roy, the assistant manager and guide who would be managing Big Cave while Gill was on leave in UK. A very good evening with more scrumptious food including one of the best apple crumbles I have ever tasted! Sat round camp fire on the rocks after supper.
Day 8 (Matopos to Bulawayo)
0615 wake up call and at 0645, met Roy who took us up to Baboon Rocks, which was quite a scramble to the top! Marvelous views all around even as far as Worlds View (where we would be going later in the morning). We descended down from the high rocks and Roy took us through the forest path to an overhanging area of rocks where there were some San Bushman paintings. Only about 5 minutes from the camp so easily reached by guests wanting to spend longer at this fascinating site.
Back to camp for breakfast, then off with Sam to for some more highlights of our visit to the Matobo Hills. The park is well known for more than 3,000 exceptionally fine rock paintings and there are numerous sites that were once occupied by the San (Bushman)hunter gatherers. The main periods of painting were between AD320 and 500; some of the caves and crevices, clay ovens, knife-like tools and crude scrapers have been found. Our first stop was Nswatugi Cave, where some of the finest paintings in the country are found and include beautiful reditions of giraffe, eland and kudu..
There are other caves with fine paintings in the park and all are easily accessible and each has a unique setting in this granite wilderness.
A small payment is made for visiting these exceptional sites.
We continued on towards Worlds View and the burial site of CECIL JOHN RHODES, perhaps the greatest African imperialist and founder of the state of Rhodesia. A financier, statesman and empire builder, he had an ambitious dream to paint the map red for Britain with his Cape to Cairo railroad. Rhodes was born in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire in 1853 and was a sickly child. He was sent in 1870 to Natal to stay on his brothers cotton farm.
He soon became involved in the rush to exploit South Africa’s newly discovered diamond deposits and set up fruitful claims in Kimberley, which went on to become the richest diamond pipe in the world. Rhodes bought up more claims and by 1888 he owned all the small scale mining operations at Kimberley and consolidated them under the banner of the De Beers Mining Company. By this time he was today’s equivalent of a billionaire; by 1891, his company owned 90% of the world’s diamond mines.
Rhodes became involved in politics as is often the case with hugely successful business men always pushing British interests in Southern Africa. In 1890, he became Prime Minister of Cape Colony. Despite his economic success with diamonds, he missed out on making a fortune when gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand in South Africa. Frustrated by this, he began to look towards lands north of the Limpopo river where local people were involved in small-scale mining for gold.
In 1888 Rhodes sent his Kimberley business partner, Charles Rudd, across the Limpopo to secure mining rights with Lobengula, the head of the Ndebele people (and son of Mzilikazi). Lobengula granted mining rights in part of the territory in exchange for 1000 rifles, an armed steamship for use on the Zambezi and a monthly rent of £100!
The Matobo Hills made a profound impression on these two men of absolute power, Lobengula and Cecil J Rhodes, whose destinies drew them into a final showdown in the last decade of the nineteenth century. The Matobo Hills became the stronghold of Lobengula’s indunas and impis in the battle against Rhodes colonizing “pioneers”. The “grain bins” still exist in hidden places where the Ndebele warriors used to store their grain, together with clay ovens, known locally as “iron smelters”, which the warriors used to manufacture their infamous assegais in 1896. Good examples of grain bins can be seen on the private wilderness, together with pottery almost a century old.
Rhodes sent the first party of colonists across the Limpopo in 1890; they settled on a site which later became the town of Salisbury (now the capital city of Harare) and started prospecting for gold. In support of Rhodes’ scheme, the government declared the area a British protectorate in 1891. Rhodes received a charter from Queen Victoria authorizing the British South Africa Company to develop new territory, and as the charter had no northern limit, Rhodes annexed Nyasaland (now Malawi) and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).
Meanwhile, Rhodes’ railway from South Africa’s Cape reached Bulawayo in 1896, though he failed to achieve his dream of connecting the Cape with Cairo. The railway reached Victoria Falls in 1904, after Rhodes’ death and while the Victoria Falls Bridge was completed in 1905 the line wasn’t extended north through Zambia and on to Tanzania until 1976.
Rhodes’ dream of finding great gold reserves in the new territories proved illusory and he failed to find another ‘Witwatersrand’.
He turned his attention back to his investments in the Transvaal but his annoyance with President Kruger’s constraints on non-Boer residents led him to make his greatest political mistake by backing the ill-fated Jameson Raid in 1895.
This failed attempt to overthrow Kruger’s government led to a serious breach in relations between Rhodes and Afrikaners in the Cape and he was forced to resign as Prime Minister.
He took a less public role in the Charter Company of Rhodesia and spent the Anglo-Boer War in Kimberley including the Siege of Kimberley (15 October 1899-16 February 1900).
Cecil John Rhodes died of a heart attack in 1902 at his cottage in Muizenberg, Cape Town, only 49 years of age. He bequeathed most of his wealth to Oxford University with nearly £3million used in the creation of the famous Rhodes Scholarships. Rhodes decreed in his will that he was to be buried at World’s View in the Matobo Hills. He had chosen the grandiose spot when riding in the hills six years earlier. When he died in Cape Town his body was taken by train to Bulawayo (presumably on ice!).
Nearly two weeks later, the cortege of coaches, carriages, carts, horses, bicycles and pedestrians left Bulawayo for Rhodes’ hut on his Matopos (as the hills were formerly known in colonial times) farm, stopping overnight before reaching the top. His burial was attended by Ndebele chiefs who gave Rhodes the salute of kings… ‘Bayete’. They also asked that the firing party should not discharge their rifles as this would disturb the spirits.
I have given a potted history of Cecil J Rhodes because I think he influenced so much of Zimbabwe’s past (and South Africa’s as well). Many books have been written about this formidable man who played such a big part in Southern Africa’s history.
And so, back to our visit to Rhodes burial site on 1st May 2013! We arrived at the car park and information centre and walked up (about 10 minutes) to the summit hill called Malindizimu (Ndebele for ‘hill of the benevolent spirit’) also known as World’s view after Rhodes’ own reference to it. My whole visit to the Matobo Hills area was a dream come true and this now was the pinnacle when I walked over the final vast slab of smooth, lichen covered granite rock to Rhodes’ World View and his final resting place. The tomb is carved out of solid granite and is surrounded by a natural amphitheatre of massive boulders. His right hand man and leder of the ill fated Jameson Raid, Leander Starr Jameson who died in 1917 is buried slightly lower down the granite rock. The first Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Charles Coghlan, who died in 1930 is also buried a short distance away.
Contrasting with this quiet resting place and erected at Rhodes request on the same hilltop, the huge and impressive Allan Wilson Memorial which commemorates the Shangani Patrol. After Bulawayo fell to the British South Africa Company in 1893, Wilson was part of a hot pursuit team running to ground the fleeing Lobengula. His patrol went ahead of the main column but, just as they were approaching the king, the Shangani River flooded separating them from reinforcements. On December 4th, the entire party of 34 men was wiped out by the Ndebele.
The men were first buried where they fell then transferred to Great Zimbabwe and finally brought to the Memorial in 1904. The square memorial in gleaming white stone which penetrates the skyline for miles, has heroic reliefs that wrap around the plinth and depict the members of the party.
I walked back up to World’s View for one last look at Rhodes resting place and the magnificent views in each direction (even over to Big Cave Camp) before making my way down the hill to the car park.
The whole visit was very emotional to me as I had read a great deal over the years about the history of Zimbabwe. It makes a great difference to a visit when one knows the background.
Drove back to Big Cave Camp and quickly packed. Farewell to Gillian, Roy and their staff- this is a lovely place where we could easily have spent another day/night. In fact, I would advise clients if they have the time and the interest level to spend three nights in the Matobo Hills. Perfect to have a day in camp enjoying the views, wandering around amongst the kopjes and even enjoying a dip in the swimming pool which is let into the rock slab.
Back into the Land Rover for our drive with Sam into Bulawayo via Amalinda Camp another highly recommended place to stay in the Matobo Hills area. Lovely camp and location with fabulous infiniti pool. More chic than Big Cave and would appeal to the trendy types. The rooms are stunning, built into the rocks which I personally found quite enclosed and oppressive. Amalinda Camp is generally considered to be most upmarket option in the Matobo.
Arrived Bulawayo Club at 1600 and said goodbye to Sam who has been an excellent guide showing us in just 24 hours how much there is to enjoy in the Matobo Hills.
The Bulawayo Club is an imposing white colonial club with a red tiled roof, wide verandahs and teak panelled rooms, built in 1895 and fully restored in 2009. Features include high ceilings, chandeliers, sweeping staircases, heavy drapes and old prints/paintings. It still functions as a Club and members use the fine restaurant, bar and billiards room. Second floor rooms very comfortable with traditional furnishings and flat screen televisions and the very useful wifi connection. I think the first floor rooms are kept for Club members.
We were close to the club lounge where we enjoyed complimentary tea and coffee.
Loved the atmosphere in the Club and found the fascinating Club room with old photos and memorabilia from days gone by.
The long Bar on the ground floor has only just allowed women to order drinks from the bar and it is great to see places like this which makes a great change from modern hotel bars which all look the same. I really admire the Bulawayo Club for keeping everything as it was and not ‘modernising’ to any extent except the essentials like plumbing/TV/wifi and room furnishings without taking away the atmosphere which is so important to keep.
We had supper in the restaurant which was excellent – like being in a Palm Court… in fact, I think that is what the restaurant was called and very aptly too. Rates are bed and breakfast.
Day 9 (Great Zimbabwe)
Up 0445 and met Paul Hubbard in lobby at 0530. Paul was waiting to take us to Great Zimbabwe, another of my iconic places to see in Zimbabwe. Still dark outside, we set off in his 4 x 4 vehicle through the quiet streets of Bulawayo. We had a long journey of 3 hours plus travelling east towards Masvingo.
This was the most expensive day tour I had ever taken (over $500 per person) and I hoped it would be worth the expense but as Great Zimbabwe was a ‘must see’ for me, there was no hesitation about the cost… and Gwen said Paul was the best! And I was to find out why during this incredible day.
We drove out of Bulawayo on the A9 tarred road. Gradually the sun rose and as only happens in Africa, the day dawned bright, fresh and clear. We pulled in to a layby at about 0730 and Paul produced delicious coffee from a flask and home made biscuits.
We continued on through Mbalala, Filabusi, Zvishavane, Mashana and Masvingo, originally Fort Victoria which was the first white settlement in the country named after Queen Victoria. The scenery was very attractive all the way (apart from the asbestos works near Zvishavane!)
Turned south at Masvingo and drove 28 kilometres south to Great Zimbabwe, arriving about 0845.
‘Wow’ hardly does it justice! Even though I had a good idea of the layout, it still came as a big surprise to see the sheer scale of these ‘Large Houses of Stone’, set in a lush and flourishing valley at the head of the Mutirikwi river.
The city is spread over 722 hectares and construction started in the 11th Century and continued over 300 years making the ruins at Great Zimbabwe some of the oldest and largest structures in Southern Africa.
Great Zimbabwe reached its peak of power in the 13th and 14th centuries when its empire extended over 100,000 square kilometers. It is likely that this society was based on the principle of sacred kingship and it is thought that the urban spaces and layout reflected this social system. The city derived its wealth from crops, cattle, and trade in ivory and gold and the stone walls were built to show off the wealth of the elite that lived behind them. Those who lived behind these walls enjoyed a comparatively luxurious lifestyle and ruled the society through their monopoly over the judicial, political, religious and trade.
Great Zimbabwe is a UNESCO World Heritage site, recognizing the amazing effort and skill that went into cutting the stone and assembling it in what are mostly geometrical forms, using only simple tools and technology.
Great Zimbabwe was not built to be hidden or for defence. It was a loud declaration of power and wealth by the rulers of the first state in this part of Africa.
Many 19th century archeologists found it difficult to admit that Africans had the know-how to build such an intricate set of structures. White explorers and archaeologists continued to believe and promote this theory even though there was no evidence of whites building or living at the complex. Artefacts that were found, such as bronze and copper spearheads, axes and tools for working with gold all pointed to the Shona people.
But in their attempt to exploit the African land and stamp their colonial seal on the territory, the colonials didn’t want anyone to believe that Africans were capable of building such a complex social system.
Once myths take hold however, they are very difficult to eradicate and the falsification of Great Zimbabwe continued with visitors being led to believe that Great Zimbabwe was built by Europeans. To black anti-colonialist groups, the stone city became an important achievement of black Africans and reclaiming their history was an important aim of those seeking independence.
In 1980 the newly independent country was renamed after the site and its ***famous soapstone bird carvings became a national symbol, depicted in the country’s flag.
First of all, we parked under a big shady tree by the official car park then walked over to the museum and Paul sorted out the entry charge (about $10 per person).
To give more background to Great Zimbabwe before we set off to explore!
It is estimated at its peak, Great Zimbabwe had as many as 25,000 Shona inhabitants. The ruins can be broken down into three distinct architectural groups: the Hill Enclosure, the Valley Complex and the Great Enclosure.
The Hill Complex is situated on a steep sided hill and was originally a royal palace;
the Valley Complex was used by the citizens and the Great Enclosure was for the King.
The Great Enclosure is the most formidable structure, with 11 metre high walls.
The sun was shining hotly as set off across the open ground towards the Hill Complex
and I now understood why Paul wanted such an early start from Bulawayo to try and avoid the main heat of the day whilst navigating the steep climb to the Hill Complex. We took the same route that residents, and visitors would have taken all those years ago and it was an ideal orientation for us to get the feel of Great Zimbabwe. This oldest inhabituated part of the city was for some time known as the ‘acropolis’, a kind of Hellenic compulsion having gripped early observers.
The steep ascent prohibits a lot of visitors with its various stepped routes and narrow chlostrophibic passageways which work their way round enormous balancing boulders (originally so that guards could keep check on visitors and search them for weapons).***see more background to the soapstone birds in later paragraphs.
The final approach is very narrow and daunting, where guards could check on who was coming and going into the enclosure. With relief we climbed out into the main area and it was amazing to see how the level had risen over the 400 years of occupancy showing the building on top of the original structures. The earliest settlement would have been daga and pole huts, and the growing wealth of the later state made the building of stone walls possible. The Hill Complex was originally a royal palace and it seems likely that it later became the seat of a Rozvi spirit medium- the religious counter part to the secular king’s court, some 80 metres below in the Great Enclosure.
Paul showed us all aspects of the Complex and the views to the Great Enclosure and the Valley Complex almost 300 feet below were stunning – in fact, Paul had cleverly distracted us from seeing the Great Enclosure until we viewed it from the Hill thus showing us how the City of Stone was so cleverly planned.
We spent over two hours on the Hill exploring the different areas and listening to Paul’s expert and passionate knowledge and explainations of the why’s and wherefore’s. He showed us an overhanging rock for instance where, if news or messages were required to be sent to the Great Enclosure in the valley below, then the appropriate person would shout the message which would travel by echo … we experienced this later when in the Great Enclosure listening to modern day messengers experimenting with the early form of ‘telephone’!
We marveled at the balancing rocks and of course the very special area in the Eastern Enclosure of the Hill Complex where the birds were found! Was very excited to hear about this as the soapstone birds of Zimbabwe had long fascinated me. This area is assumed to be a ritual or religious centre. Paul showed us where the soapstone birds had once stood.
Let me give some background to the Zimbabwe birds.
Over one hundred years ago, the German explorer, Karl Mauch was shown the ruins of Great Zimbabwe and his report of this enigmatic stone built city fired the imagination of romantics and aspiring colonists across the world. His assertion that the ruins were the home of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon was seized upon by many as proof that an ancient civilization of non-African origin once existed in the interior and manipulated by others to argue that the time was right to re-establish this civilization. The Zimbabwe birds, which Mauch never saw, became a central part of this argument and have long played a role in the tussle over the interpretation of the origins and development of the Zimbabwe culture as well as the modern nation state of Zimbabwe.
The first white man known to have seen a Zimbabwe bird and immediately remove it was the hunter and explorer, Willie Posselt who, excited by the rumours of a lost city, organized a trading-hunting-exploring trip to the interior. He reached the ruins on 14th August 1889 finally climbing the hill on 15th August 1889…’in an enclosure, I saw four soapstones, each carved in the image of a bird and facing towards the east. Each one, including its plinth, had been hewn out of a solid block of stone and measured four feet six inches in height, and each was firmly set into the ground’. Posselt negotiated the purchase of one of the birds for a few blankets and other trade articles from the site’s custodian, Chief Mugabe.
He buried the other birds and took his purchased bird back to South Africa where he sold it to Cecil Rhodes. To this day, this bird remains in Rhodes’ Groote Schuur mansion,Cape Town. Rhodes was obsessed with the bird and used it to great effect when convincing sceptical investors that there was more to the northern territory than met the eye. He instructed the experienced antiquarian Theodore Bent to lead a structured historical expedition back to Great Zimbabwe to find the other birds. Bent found the four more birds and a fragment of another and he took these back to Cape Town and the South African Museum (returned to Zimbabwe in 1981).
There was much local objection to the excavation of the sacred site and the ‘stealing’ of the birds but also the local people were offended by the opening of graves which were sacred in most African societies.
The incredibly destructive excavations made later by Richard Hall, the first curator of Great Zimbabwe, brought to light a further two birds (one complete and one fragmented) from the area to the left of the Great Enclosure.
The complete bird was found buried upside down, which is probably how it was missed by previous investigators. It shows evidence of more artistic workmanship than that of previously discovered birds and eventually became the national symbol of Zimbabwe.
Both the Rhodesian and Zimbabwean governments have used the Zimbabwe bird as well as other images of Great Zimbabwe in a variety of ways to bolster their seemingly separate claims to legitimacy, create a national identity and assert their version of the past.
The birds are all carved from soapstone (talc or mica-schist), a material not uncommon in the area and were once perched atop pedestals, many of which were intricately carved. The birds represent birds of prey but it is not possible to identify the species because the carvings combine human and avian elements; beaks with lip on some, and four or five toes or fingers on all, reminiscent of a mythological style.
We made our way down the hill by the servants route. Wonderful views over to Lake Mutirikwe which was at low level due to lack of rain. Walked over to the Museum and in the basement we viewed the birds, seven in all. I found the time spent with the birds quite spiritual looking at their inscrutable faces!
We walked over to the car park and enjoyed our well earned picnic lunch under the shady trees.
Feeling refreshed, we walked over to the Great Enclosure, the pinnacle of Rozvi architecture which sits a short distance from the foot of the Hill Complex. Originally a royal palace and a powerful symbol of the community, it provided privacy to the state’s rulers with its 11 metre high walls; at the peak of their power, the enclosure is thought to have housed the king, his mother and his senior wives.
We went in through a narrow entrance but with no door – in fact there are no doors in any of the entrances. The problem with finishing off a wall without an abrupt and jarring halt is brilliantly resolved by curving the wall back in on itself. Around and about usually at the entrances and particularly on the wall facing the cliff ascent of the Hill Complex there are stone pillars.
It is likely they were topped by symbolic totems which told which family lived inside (like a street address). The Zimbabwe birds were probably the totem of the royal family.
Although the walls are monumental in scale, the architectural ‘language’ used is an adaptation of traditional Shona domestic themes; the circular pole and daga hut just as it is today.
The Great Enclosure has entered the record books as sub Saharan Africa’s greatest stone monument. It is also Zimbabwe’s most photographed building: the massive tower and narrow, snaking parallel passage instantly recognizable from publicity pictures.
Whatever the conical tower signified to its builders, it provided ample scope for the imaginations of those who followed. Clearly, it can be seen as a phallic symbol and that the stairs present femininity and the chevron patterns on some of the walls, fertility. Every theory has been considered including grain store and prototype safe, the romantics were certain it contained hidden treasure, until archaeologists delved beneath in the 1920’s and found… nothing! It is in fact solid all the way up.
The whole experience of being inside the Great Enclosure was unforgettable and a new site was found turning each corner. Once inside it was easy to see how the occupants kept their business private from the those living outside walls. Leading out of the tower enclosure, a parallel passage stretches 70 metres to the north entrance. It gives a good idea of the value of privacy to the Rozvi rulers, screening their domestic arrangements from even the privileged few invited inside. Walking to the tower enclosure or even central area, and still not see where the main huts were.
It is also noticeable how the Rozvi masons skills improved as they gained experience – the inner wall was built at least a century earlier than the smoother, more accurately laid, outer leaf. These mortarless wall faces, standing several times human height are magnificent; this society had no wheels and no writing.
We stepped outside the walls into the sunlight once more and made our way amongst the palm and aloe trees which stood like sentries amongst this incredible stone city. We walked over to where the ‘upside down’ bird had been found by Richard Hall in 1905.
Back to our vehicle and loaded up by 1500 for the long journey back to Bulawayo. Back to the main road and stopped by the roadside where there was an extensive line of craft stalls selling everything from soapstone birds, magnets of Great Zimbabwe’s conical tower, colourful katengis to wooden hippos, long necked giraffes and soapstone jewellry… and everything else in between!! I bought a soapstone falcon headed bird and three hornbills and Jean bought an enormous, handsome hippo with my encouragement… although we didn’t know where it could possibly go in the suitcase!!
Very interesting talk with Paul about Zimbabwe most of the way back to ‘town’. Paul told us how his family had lost their farm but he had sold the cattle for Zimbabwe dollars and immediately bought other things so managed to make the best of it… somehow. He looks on his experience as hard at times but eventually he now has a better life.
When I told him that Gwen had described him as one of the top historical guides in Zimbabwe, he modestly said that he had studied very hard to get where he is today (and only in his early 30’s). If he and parents ever managed to get the farm back, he wouldn’t have cattle but go for game farming instead.
Paul said it was essential for businesses to keep open as once they closed, they never opened again. As the years went by, it became increasingly difficult getting supplies e.g. milk and flour, fuel and other basics particularly by 2008.
He is very busy with guiding excursions from Amalinda (in the Matobo) and also private work. Latest new project is helping the ‘Chief of Education for the National Parks’ with training the guides at sites.
Paul told us how in February 2009 there was a tremendous change in the country when the USD became the official currency as the Zimbabwe dollar had become so unstable… trillions of dollars = 50 cents for instance! It would start being so much in the morning then by evening had devalued by half.
Very confusing at first with understanding how much the USD was worth as people didn’t know what to charge for a service e.g. boiler needed servicing and the plumber charged him USD30.. now of course everyone is used to the currency and prices are in realistically in line with reality!
It was 1900 when we arrived back in Bulawayo and we said ‘goodbye’ to Paul at the Bulawayo Club. What a day he had given us bringing Great Zimbabwe and its history to life. He has a very special talent and a wealth of knowledge and I would very much recommend him to future clients … worth every dollar (US not Zim!)
Quick freshen up then a welcome supper in the Palm Court restaurant where we talked about our Great Zimbabwe day.
Day 10 (Bulawayo to Victoria Falls)
Tasty breakfast and afterwards I met Rob, the Manager of the Bulawayo Club.Our driver, Joseph, arrived at 0830 and he kindly found a local shop which was open pre 0900 to buy a hat (having lost mine in Hwange). Drove out of Bulawayo on the familiar R9 road back north to Victoria Falls, a journey of 424 kilometres. We stopped at Halfway House Hotel which as you would expect is located about halfway between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls. Remarked on the huge China/Africa Sunlight Energy company which we noticed along the way. Big clay mine in the area hence the reason why we saw two big stalls selling clay pots on the roadside… just like a garden centre in UK.
Drove past the Hwange National Park sign as we headed further on the R9 towards Victoria Falls, took a right turn to Elephant Camp as the road sloped downhill towards the Falls about 20 minutes out of town. Rough track to the Camp, arriving 1330 and warmly welcomed on arrival by Jonathan, the General Manager and Bernie, his assistant.
Shown to our tent which was gorgeous décor and very spacious with outside decking and plunge pool. Views to the distant spray of the Falls. Quick turnaround and headed back to the mess area where lunch awaited us. The camp has twelve tents and looked as though all full according to the busy lunch setting. Staff very pleasant indeed.
Food scrumptious and in designer fashion style. Elephant Camp is No. 1 on Tripadvisor even though not close to the falls. Very trendy, chic place on fully inclusive basis (re food,drinks)
Guests seem to be mainly Swiss, French and US.
Relaxing afternoon (for a change), and I braved the plunge pool for a dip (freezing)!
Wifi available in mess lounge area so caught up in the evening with latest news ‘from the outside’.
Pre dinner drinks followed by tasting style supper ie. small portions of 2 soups then 3 mains including chicken, beef and pork. Ate on the outside decking which looked very pretty in the candlelight with moon shining on the swimming pool below. Paths to tents lit by lamps.
Comfortable sleep with Jean preparing to be up early for her Elephant Back Safari departing at 0645 so early call at 0600. I had done this in 2001 and so missed out on the 2013 version. (cost USD140)
Up at the leisurely time of 0800 and I made my way along to the mess area in time to see Sylvester, a magnificent cheetah on a lead who was parading around the decking in front of the lounge. A sight to behold and he seemed very relaxed even when the guests knelt very close to him when he was lying on the ground. I noticed his mood was being monitored very carefully by his ‘handler’. Eventually after about 15 minutes of this attention, Sylvester had had enough and he got up and walked away from the human attention – loaded into the back of a pick up truck by his handler.
Good camp shop with reasonable prices.
Jean arrived back from the Elephant Ride and we enjoyed breakfast in the sunshine while she recounted her morning adventure on safari atop a very relaxed elephant.
At 12 noon, sadly bade farewell to Elephant Camp after our very short stay – a lovely place much enjoyed by all the guests and a great atmosphere.
IMPRESSIONS OF ZIMBABWE
Positive feeling and attitude of everyone we met whether in the tourism industry or the general public, particularly Gwen and Victoria from Safaris4Africa; management from Meikles Hotel, Harare; Simon from Changa Camp, Dave Parsons from Camp Hwange, Cedric Wilde from Khulu Ivory; Ian, Manager of the Hide; Gillian from Big Cave Camp; Paul Hubbard, historian and guide from Bulawayo; Julio, manager of Victoria Falls Hotel;
Incredibly, I never heard any person echo bitterness (even Cedric who’d been thrown in jail- it just made him more determined ‘not be beaten down’)
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE FUTURE and realizing Zimbabwe is in a better place than it was 5 years ago.
Generally held that Zimbabwe has best guides and guide training in Africa.
Matusadona NP and Lake Kariba – land/boat safaris
Matobo Hills NP – San bushman paintings and Cecil Rhodes history
Great Zimbabwe – History; UNESCO World Heritage site; the stone city was a great symbol of achievement and the mysterious soapstone bird(s) incorporated in the national flag in 1980 upon independence.
Victoria Falls – iconic site and adventure capital of Africa
**Mana Pools National Park by the Zambezi (should have included it but didn’t… will go back another day… highly recommended by locals.
For many reasons, recent years have not been good for the country and people of Zimbabwe but the tourism industry has remained resilient and visitors are back in force to country. The UK market once comprised 25% of overseas visitors but this is now only a trickle. Other overseas markets like US, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Far East are coming in droves (as we noticed). Only met three other UK visitors on the whole of our 14 day visit… probably down to negative perception in the national media BUT not in the travel press which regularly features Zimbabwe’s myriad ‘must see’ areas of amazing and iconic interest.
April/May is a great time to visit – low season prices, temps pleasant, rain dried up usually, October very hot, Rain Nov….
Zimbabwe and Botswana make a great combo being so easily accessed by vehicle at the Kazangula border.
BUT I do feel that there is so much variety to see in Zimbabwe that there is no need to visit Botswana. …. I haven’t even mentioned the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabawe and Gonarezhou National Park, in the south eastern part of the country.
Don’t forget only twenty years ago, Zimbabwe was one of the most popular safari destinations in Africa….
And there was very good reason for this.
Let’s put our hearts into putting ZIM back where it belongs!
This week we are taking a closer look at one of Africa’s most iconic sights- the Victoria Falls, also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya or the Cloud that Thunders.
One of the most famous waterfalls in the world, the Victoria Falls are created where the River Zambezi drops from the flat plains into a narrow rocky chasm carved out by the river. This chasm or gorge is so narrow that the river is truly squeezed into a tiny space as it pours in, creating the famous river rapids so beloved of white-water rafters. The mighty river cascades over the rocky edge of the plain and falls 355 feet in depth at its mid point and over 5,604 feet in width. It is regarded as the largest waterfall in the world despite it being neither the tallest or widest but a combination of the two. The Victoria Falls are so special they have UNESCO World Heritage Status. The two main flows of water over the Falls are split by two islands; Cataract Island and Livingstone Island. During the dry season when the water level falls more, islands appear and divide the river into parallel streams all of which have their own names: Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Rainbow Falls and the Eastern Cataract.
The highest water levels are between February and May with the peak usually in April when the Falls are at their most powerful. The spray from the Falls rises up to 1,300 feet in the air which can then be seen from up to 30 miles away. In fact the mist cloud is so overwhelming it isn’t possible to see the foot of the waterfall or the gorge! It is best to visit Victoria Falls when the water levels have dropped slightly. Even in the dry months of September to January there is still water pouring through and also various walks along the river and falls are available that are not possible during the wetter months.
David Livingstone the famous Victorian explorer was the first European to see the Falls although there have been many Stone Age discoveries in the area indicating it was a popular spot even 50,000 years ago. It was Livingstone who renamed them Victoria Falls after the reining monarch. He was so enamoured of their beauty he wrote, “No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”
The Victoria Falls share the border between both Zambia and Zimbabwe so can be visited from both countries. There is a huge range of accommodation available in both, from small eco-camps to large luxury 5 star hotel resorts. The town of Victoria Falls is in Zimbabwe and the town of Livingstone in Zambia and these both form the main bases for tourism in the area. Other activities around the Falls include bungee jumping, white water rafting, canoeing on the Zambezi and going on safari in the nearby national parks of Zambia or Botswana. Elephant, buffalo, giraffe, crocodiles and hippo are commonly seen on safari, and if you are extremely lucky you might catch a glimpse of a lion or leopard.