Published: August 7th 2012August 7th 2012
I flew into Harare
just in time for breakfast having flown from London via Johannesburg. At the time it was the only really practical way to access Zimbabwe. However by the time of writing, Emirates have started daily services from London and Manchester via the Middle East. Flights via other African countries are also becoming more available. No jet lag of course as flying North to South, and a flight time of around 10/12 hours.
The capital city of Zimbabwe, Harare
, is a beautiful, light-filled, open city, high on the country's central plateaux. A city with a wonderful climate and streets lined with flowering trees.
I made a quick visit to some old acquaintances who live in a beautiful house in the suburb of Newlands. A stunning typically colonial style property built in 1906, it had 2 acres of land, swimming pool, a tennis court with a Braii (barbecue in Afrikaans) and immaculate gardens. We went to an open-air 'fish and chip' restaurant for lunch, and sat and chatted over a couple of chilled beers and delicious food.
Rainbow Towers Hotel
My first three nights in Zimbabwe were spent at The Rainbow Towers Hotel
(formerly The Sheraton) in Harare
. It is a large hotel with an exhibition centre and a 4500-seat auditorium attached. A little tired maybe, but a comprehensive refurbishment is underway and the hotel should be of a very high standard again when completed.
The Sanganai African Travel Show was in full swing at the hotel and its surrounds. Many African countries were represented, as were many companies involved in all sorts of tourism related products in Zimbabwe. One big surprise was to see a local entrepreneur with a display of new Jaguars and Range Rovers. Possibly a positive sign of optimism for better times ahead?
Day 2 in Harare
began with an early start but it was worth it as it allowed a glimpse of life in downtown Harare
on a busy Wednesday morning.
Soon after the brief city outing it was time to make way to a press conference at the National Parks and Wildlife Management Centre where the director Vitalis Chadenga talked us through their work around Zimbabwe and shed light on the debate around the issue of the international ban on selling and disposing of ivory and rhino horns. Zimbabwe is sitting on a 44 ton stockpile of ivory, which it cannot sell due to an indefinite ban from CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). We were able to see the entire stockpile in their heavily fortified vaults. This was after a tour round the head office with Vitalis Chadenga, the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority Director General.
Zimbabwe has not made a sale of ivory for three years and has made another appeal to (CITES) to be allowed to trade part of its' growing stock on the world market.
"Because of the sanctions regime on our country, we cannot sell any of our ivory and worse still, we are not getting money from the international community to fund our operations,” Chadenga said. “Until we convince CITES to lift that moratorium, we remain stuck with these tons of ivory. We want CITES to understand that lives of elephants can be saved with money from ivory sales. Our current drought is responsible for the death of 70 elephants in the last three months alone”
“We need infrastructure and equipment to run our operations," he added, saying that his organisation had “declared war” on poaching.
Zimbabwe national parks control 12.5% of the country’s land with an elephant population of 100,000 while the rhino population stands at 700 animals.
The trunks and ivory from the animals that die of natural causes are collected, weighed and catalogued in what sounds like a tedious task. We got to see these trunks including the heaviest from an elephant that died in 1984 which weighs 67kg.
On return to The Rainbow Towers
and The Sanganai Exhibition, while having buffet lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, there was a sudden shower of hail with huge chunks of ice pounding down on the outdoor patio. It lasted 10 minutes and even after an hour in sweltering heat there were still large hailstones on the ground!
Following lunch, 3 pm was the scheduled departure time for a city sightseeing tour, but as with most things sub-Saharan, it wasn’t until 3.45 that the tour left the hotel. This tardiness became the norm for the rest of the tour!
The first stop was at the highest point of Harare
, The Kopje, which provided an unrestricted view across the city capturing for posterity the Harare
skyline. The city was laid out with large open spaces like the 68 hectare National Botanic Garden
with more than 900 species of wild trees and shrubs from all over the country. It was well worth visiting. Then on to Harare
’s oldest township, Mbare.
The main street market was buzzing and seemed to have shortages of nothing. In fact the opposite seemed to be the case! Here you can feast your eyes on a colourful array of baskets, food, clothing and other items. Haggling is an integral part of the buying process. It seems that you can negotiate up to 75% off the original asking price. From one half of the city to another, a drive across the city to Harare
’s Beverley Hills – Borrowdale. I was amazed at the variety of shops available in the Borrowdale shopping plaza in Harare! It was a modern western type of building, serving all shopping needs.
gives the impression of a relaxed city. I saw little sign of any underlying problems. There are obvious signs of poverty, but we are in Sub Saharan Africa and most major towns and cities have similar problems.
Our plan for the last night in Harare
went awry as the dinner outing was thwarted by the unimaginable closing time for restaurants – 8pm. It was only when the taxi got there at 9pm, did we realise that the last restaurant option had also long shut down for the night. We returned to the hotel, had a quick meal and retired for the night.
We managed a more reasonable hour to depart in the morning, leaving Harare
at 7.30 on the third day. In front of us was a four-hour road trip to The Eastern Highlands
and The Inn on Rupurara
for an overnight stay.
On the road to Eastern Highlands
I was travelling with a group of nine others, either journalists or photographers. We were ten different nationalities which made conversation very amusing. Pietro from Italy was the only person with not even one word of English. I took it upon myself to help! By the end of the trip I had succeeded. He had learnt to say “ two Zambezies please” which seemed as good as anything to teach him! (A Zambezi is the locally brewed Zimbabwe lager).
Halfway through the journey, we stopped over at the aptly named Halfway House –little white-washed house with a thatched roof which housed a grocery shop, antiques and souvenirs shops, a pub and a small café / takeaway around a shaded courtyard to the rear. A quick coke and stock up with water. I never remember consuming so much liquid per day, the heat and associated high humidity made it an absolute must.
The second and last stop on the way to Rupurara was the buzzing commercial town of Rusape
(means “never dries out” with reference to the ever flowing waters of the Rusape River close to which the town was built.) a town in the province of Manicaland Province with a population of around 30,000 situated on the Harare
- Mutare main road, approximately 170 km south east of Harare
and 93 km north west of Mutare
. I had a chance to walk down the streets and converse with the friendly locals who were always happy to chat, and who without exception had wonderful smiles exposing pure white teeth.
What was surprising about this quaint little town was while it took me quite some time to find a bank in Harare
, here there were three opposite each other on the main junction, as well as numerous supermarkets, local shops and a vegetable market. There appear to be no shortages of food and other necessities as there were when I last visited in 2006. With large numbers of people strolling around, Rusape looked a postcard picture commercial centre. It must be stressed however, that absolutely nobody walks faster than a stroll, in fact I guess a fast tortoise moves more rapidly than most. Time and punctuality seems to be two concepts the locals don’t understand.
The roads stretched as far as the eye can see under the clear blue skies, the journey proved smooth and fun driving past Mabvuku, Ruva and Macheke towards the Eastern Highlands. This region has been described as the “Scottish Highlands of Africa."
The road we were on was a wonderful drive, little traffic, beautiful scenery and friendly locals waving as we pass and smartly dressed school children all smiling as they wander home at the end of their day in school.
Rhodes Nyanga Hotel
We visited another property which can only be described as a fine example of long passed colonial days, The Rhodes Nyanga Hotel
. This was once the home of Cecil Rhodes and it has a small museum in the old stables which is totally dedicated to the great man. It is the Museum of Zimbabwe's colonial past.
The views were stunning as we sat at tables on the lawn whilst enjoying a traditional afternoon tea complete with dainty cucumber sandwiches and scones with jam and cream. Bliss!
A short journey follows to the entrance to the National Park, and on to the wonderful waterfall and view, at 'World’s End.' This is a must do as well is a dip in the icy pure water at The Nyamgombe Falls as we did from a little sandy 'beach' formed below the waterfall, which locals call 'Brighton Beach.' We were told we were the first visitors to the park in two days!
Before leaving the hotel I glanced in the visitors’ book. The following entry rather amused me.
Name : W M Handibaya
Address : Dept. of Physical Planning, Harare
Comments : The honeymoon suite is splendidly set up – however the bed is not suitable for the purpose. A double single I often find to be better.
Oh well I hope they are still happily married!
The Eastern Highlands
forms Zimbabwe's eastern border with Mozambique and comprises three main mountain groups – Nyanga (to the north) which contains Zimbabwe's highest mountain Mount Nyangani, Africa's second-longest waterfall Mutarazi Falls and the Honde Valley which leads into Mozambique. Bvumba Mountains
(centrally situated ), Chimanimani (to the south).
These regions are all sparsely populated, highland country and are covered in rich grassland and forests. They have a cooler and wetter climate than other parts of Zimbabwe. The beautiful scenery of the Eastern Highlands is breathtaking and the main attraction of the region is great hiking and fabulous scenery unlike any other place in Africa. The Eastern Highlands are also a popular destination for golfing, fishing, horseback riding and birdwatching.
Inn on Rupurara
The Inn on Rupurara
finally appeared on a pine-clad mountain offering spectacular views of the rolling mountains ahead. The inn has 17 lodges, with a capacity of 36 guests. Six of these - the Waterfront suites - overlook a superb water feature nestling in the valley. The Valley View suites provide guests with spectacular views of the local mountains and valleys.
Once settled in my room, I made my way to the main building to have lunch on the terrace overlooking the valley to Rupurara Mountain. The Inn has an excellent reputation for its fine cuisine and a braai facility is also available.
Leopard Rock Hotel
The area is noted for its leisure and sporting amenities and facilities, including golf at the Claremont Course, horse riding on Rupurara Estate, scenic walks, trout fishing, game viewing and birding, and the inn is within easy reach of local visitor attractions, including two golf courses and a casino The Leopard Rock Hotel
is an excellent hotel with a very pretty golf course which sits at the foot of the famous Leopard Rock in the beautiful Bvumba Mountains of Zimbabwe. The Hotel and Championship Golf Course is set in its own country estate and enjoys spectacular views up into the Mozambique Mountains. This elegant hotel, with its understated charm, has played host to world statesmen, royalty and numerous regional decision makers over the years.
Guests can enjoy great golf, try their luck at the Casino, hike in the forests or relax by the pool or on the sweeping terrace. It also a spectacular place to see the silvery-cheeked hornbills when the fig trees are fruiting. On the golf course you may be lucky to see the red-faced crimsonwing.
Another excellent hotel is The Troutbeck Inn
in the Nyanga Mountains
of Zimbabwe. The majestic Mount Inyangani of 2600m is in close proximity.
The hotel has been in existence 45 years. The log fire in the reception area is always welcoming and the hotel has the air of a gentrified “country club” Guests are accommodated in 73 beautifully styled rooms, and for the travelling family, there is also a family suite. All rooms offer en-suite bathroom, satellite TV, and air-conditioning, The Beck Restaurant offers superb dining for up to 160 guests and overlooks the manicured gardens of the hotel. During the summer months in Nyanga, guests love to enjoy their meals on the outside terrace overlooking the magnificent golf course.
The Hare and Hound is Troutbeck Inn’s snug bar with glowing log fire, ideal for a pre-dinner drink. If books, cream scones and tea are more to your liking, you’ll find the Residence Sun Lounge at the Troutbeck Inn simply irresistible with its comfortable couches and fireplace. It also offers a bar service and snack menu. The garden is the perfect venue for a lovely picnic – with the delicious baskets provided by the kitchen, and the kitchen staff will be happy to provide a packed breakfast and lunch.
After lunch, I opted for a game drive in the confines of a 4×4, not too much game to be seen, impalas, giraffes and zebras a plenty, but none of the big five.
Dinner was a quiet affair in the main building – a cosy lounge where I tucked into cheese and onion roulade and butternut soup for starters and enjoyed a delectable steak served with rice potatoes and vegetables for the main course. The rest of the evening was spent fighting with a low speed internet connection and it was only at midnight having achieved nothing Bed seemed a good option.
I now realise that the rest of the tour would be exactly the same. No internet access of any speed anywhere! One night I went to bed leaving my computer downloading emails. On awakening the next morning it was still busy. A good job connection was free!
The next day after a hearty English breakfast and a super-fast shower to make the 10am check out, we were once again on the road, this time heading towards the Musangano Lodge which is tucked away on the lower slopes of a tree- covered hillside in the Eastern Highlands, a half hour drive away from the border town of Mutare
- “The Place Where People Meet” - has been operational since 1996 and to date continues to provide spacious and tastefully decorated lodgings for up to 32 guests across its five chalets and four lodges – all named after the indigenous trees of the region – and a range of activities from bird watching, game viewing, biking to walking expeditions. I was particularly impressed by The Globe-esque architecture of the main building with its round open air structure, white-washed walls and thatched roof and the pristine swimming pool. Even my lodge had an open fireplace which would be very welcome when the nights became a little chilly.
In the afternoon we made a visit to Hartzwell School where we watched a home economics class and met with some wonderful, young children with big smiles, who were so smart academically and in appearance. They were so proud to allow us to examine their notebooks which were impeccably presented and showed off the high standard achieved. They all take GCSE and A level examinations, They could show many of our youngsters how to take a pride in their manners, education and appearance. They were a joy to meet.
This became even more evident when we met the enthusiastic, confident and well-spoken members of the media club who produce the annual school magazine. From the chief editor to the treasurer, with quite a few considering a future career in journalism it was obvious members of the team took their duties seriously. It was amazing to experience their confidence. After a spontaneous presentation of the work they do in putting together their magazine, it was time to head to the nearby Fairfield Children’s Home sponsored by the US-based Fairfield Outreach and Sponsors Association.
Fairfield Children's Home
Fairfield Children's Home was founded in 1903 and lies on the outskirts of Mutare
, at the Old Mutare Mission, which is home to a hospital, a church, schools, a dental clinic and the orphanage. It is built on land dedicated by the United Methodist Church after receiving it as a gift from the local chieftain and Cecil Rhodes. In May 2004, after considerable fundraising Fairfield Children's Home moved the children to a community of small group homes down the road from the hospital.
Currently the home has 76 children between the ages of 0-19. They are cared for in 8 houses, each having its own “Mother” to care for the children. The children are raised in a healthy social and cultural environment. Children are raised in this secure family environment until they are 18 years old or have completed their education.
Late afternoon we made our way back to Musangano and finally checked in to our rooms. Around sunset, we were promised a spectacular light show. With the amazing landscape in the foreground we were not to be disappointed.
The next day we would depart for our journey onwards towards the border town of Mutare
, close to the border with Mozambique.
Day 5 of the trip around Zimbabwe kicked off with an 8am departure. Bidding our farewell to Musangano, we followed the trail south to Mutare
– the border town a mere 8km away from the Mozambique border and Zimbabwe’s fourth largest city.
After what seemed like one police check every 5 minutes in the course of an hour’s journey, we finally got to see Mutare from the vantage point of the hill which welcomes you to the city. We later found out that the police checks were carried out due to the close proximity of Zimbabwe’s diamond mines! The city is on the main route out of Zimbabwe to Mozambique, and the port of Beira. This has always been the main route for imports and exports. Mutare has a population of 180,000. This predominantly industrial city has little to commend it for the tourist, but it is an ideal point to stop for refreshment etc on any long journey.
After an hour wandering around the markets and the bustling city centre of the city, we were back on the mini bus to our next destination Masvingo
On the road to Masvingo
The journey was easy and it was not long before we reached the Birchenough Bridge over the Save River. Located 62 km from Chipinge in the Manicaland province of Zimbabwe linking Mutare
, the bridge was funded and planned by the Beit Trust, a foundation chaired at the time by Sir Henry Birchenough. It was completed in 1935 and is 1080 feet long.
It was the third longest suspension bridge in the world when it was constructed. Ralph Freeman was the designer and he was also responsible for The Sydney Harbour and Victoria Falls bridges.
Our next mini-break is by the The Zion Christian Church Mbungo Estates in Masvingo
– one of the largest churches in Africa constructed at an estimated cost of US$2 million, with a capacity to accommodate over 15, 000.
we parked for 30 minutes to stretch legs and enjoy the sight of yet another wonderful African sunset. It was then only a short hop to The Lodge at the Ancient City, our resting place for the night.
Lodge at the Ancient City
Built on a granite outcrop, the Lodge at the Ancient City
has sweeping views of a valley filled with trees, and faces in the direction of the Great Zimbabwe monument, so that you can see the Great Enclosure with its famous Conical Tower from the Hotel.
The hotel can accommodate 48 guests in luxurious chalets decorated in a typical African style. There are 4 family chalets, each accommodating 4 guests (extra beds can be arranged), as well as 14 chalets with twin or double beds. The chalets are all en-suite, equipped with bath, shower, toilet and basin.
At night the firelight and soft mbira music at the Lodge create a magical atmosphere. You can enjoy Table d’hôte meals in the open-air summerhouse, or, in the thatched dining hall. Huge granite boulders, characteristic of the geology of many parts of Zimbabwe, form part of the lounge and bar at the Lodge at the Ancient City
Lake Mutirikwi Recreational Park
Game drives and walks in the nearby Lake Mutirikwi Recreational Park, sunset cruises on the lake, as well as drives into the tribal areas surrounding the Great Zimbabwe
site are some of the activities available to guests.
While Lodge at the Ancient City
is one of the hotels that provide wireless internet, the chances of getting good speed and connectivity remained slim to nil, so after another two hours of fighting (helped by the occasional Zambezi) to contact home and the outside world, it was time for bed.
The Glenlivet Hotel is another hotel worth a visit, if only for a marvellous tea of hot scones and jam served on Saturday evenings!
The Great Zimbabwe Ruins
It was yet another early start at 6am the next morning to head to the Great Zimbabwe ruins
, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to see the majestic ancient city which gave the country its name back in 1980. It was once the ancient capital of The Kingdom of Zimbabwe.
The monument, which first began to be constructed in the 11th century and which continued to be built until the 14th century, spanned an area of 722 hectares (1,784 acres). At its maximum it housed up to 18,000 people. Construction of the stone buildings started in the 11th century and continued for over 300 years. One of its most prominent features are its walls, some of which are over five meters high and which were constructed without mortar.
It has to be on everyone’s itinerary when visiting Zimbabwe.
At the Eastern Enclosure of the Hill Complex you get to view the huge boulder in a shape similar to that of the Zimbabwe Bird on the national flag. Our patriotic guide also tells us of the symbolism of the Zimbabwean flag, with the Zimbabwe bird at its heart, symbolizing strength, freedom and the spiritual ties to ancestors.
Great Zimbabwe Lodge
Following the visit to the Ancient City, the next stop was in Masvingo
. En route we also dropped by the Great Zimbabwe Lodge where Queen Elizabeth II stayed during her visit to Zimbabwe in 1991. The lodges within the site are the subject of preservation orders. The hotel boasts a swimming pool and tennis courts. I can't comment on the quality of the accommodation or food but the setting is beautiful.
is a small town on the main highway between South Africa and Harare
, Zimbabwe. It has numerous hotels and lodges to cater for various travel budgets-from backpacking accommodation to 4-star game lodges. It has good road access to South Africa as well as Harare
and Bulawayo. It is surrounded by hills, which in turn surround the largest man-made inland lake in Zimbabwe, Lake Kyle / Mutirikwi. The lake is 30km from the town and has a wide variety of activities available on it, including kayaking, boating and fishing. The Kyle National Park borders the lake.
By midday, leaving Zimabwe’s oldest city Masvingo
behind, we headed out to the country’s second largest city, Bulawayo
( pop. 1.7 million) which is a standalone province. Bulawayo
has long been, and is still, regarded as the industrial and business capital of Zimbabwe and is home to the National Railways
of Zimbabwe. The city has wide Jacaranda tree lined streets and is surrounded by beautiful parks, a legacy of Cecil John Rhodes. With its open spaces and a hybrid of colonial and modern buildings, the city still lives up to its nickname, City of Skies, providing light, space and airy cityscapes. Bulawayo was a very popular choice with early settlers. The old Victorian buildings are maintained by the Bulawayo
City council, and landlords, as heritage sites.
houses the country's Natural History Museum, a railway museum, the Bulawayo Art Gallery, which is housed in a most attractive turn of the century building, theatres, the Mzilikmzi Art and craft centre, good hotels and one of the finest caravan and camping parks in Zimbabwe. Bulawayo
is also home to the Chipangali wildlife orphanage and the Kame Ruins.
More of Bulawayo
later on our journey.
Matopos Hills Lodge
We headed off to our next stop and residence for the following two nights: Matopos Hills Lodge – another mountain resort off the beaten track. It is built on a private reserve next to the famous Matobo National Park
, and is an establishment that captures the serene essence of the Matobo Hills
. Designed in such as way as to blend into the granite boulders so characteristic of the Matobo Hills, the Matobo Hills Lodge offers unrivalled views of the Maleme Valley and Mount Ififi. Guests are accommodated in 17 thatched luxury lodges, built from granite, all en-suite. Four lodges have double beds, while the remaining lodges have twin beds. Tea/coffee-making facilities are available in all lodges.
The lounge and bar with its glass walls as well as a balcony offers unforgettable views of the surroundings. The Matobo Hills Lodge is famous for its fine meals, which can be taken in the dining room or the open-air gazebo. Mealtimes can be adapted to suit game drives.
Next day we start with a 7am breakfast call and gorge ourselves on yet another full English ready for a day of hill climbing. Today’s conquest is no ordinary hill but the site of Cecil Rhodes’s grave at the World’s View – named by Rhodes himself for its panoramic vistas of the Zimbabwean countryside.
The Matobo National Park
The Matobo National Park
forms the core of the Matobo or Matopos Hills, an area of granite kopjes and wooded valleys commencing some 35 kilometres south of Bulawayo
. It was in these hills that the San (Bushmen) left a rich heritage in hundreds of rock paintings about 2,000 years ago. The Matobo Hills were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.
Despite the recent problems of tourism in Zimbabwe, safari guide Ian Harmer of African Wanders based in Bulawayo
, a third generation Zimbabwean guide, has stuck to what he loves best safari game guiding and talking about the bushmen and their rock painting in the caves of Matobo National Park
in the south of the country.
One of the first things you notice is the beautiful, 3,000,000,000 year old granite rock formations. Erosion has left them perfectly balanced on top of one another and beautifully coloured in greens, oranges and black by the lichens that grow on them at a rate of 1cm squared per 50 years.
Cecil John Rhodes' grave
After a short climb up the Malindidzimu Hill (View of the World) we reached Cecil John Rhodes' grave
at the summit of the 'Hill of Benevolent Spirits' the site where Rhodes said he 'could view the world.' The imposing granite mausoleum close by was raised by Rhodes in honour of Scottish-born Major Allan Wilson and the thirty-three men who died pursuing king Lobengula. It has four bronze relief panels depicting their last stand. They were white Rhodesian pioneer police officers killed in battle on the Shangani River in Matabeleland in 1893.
An ardent believer in British colonial imperialism and the founder of the state of Rhodesia, Rhodes is an icon for many fans of white rule in Africa. However, for many Zimbabweans he cuts a controversial figure who exploited the potential and the people of their country for imperialist and personal gain. While Ian spoke about the greatness of Cecil Rhodes, it became plain, that, despite his vices, a businessman in his early 20s, a power player in business and politics in his 30s, there is no denying that the man was a genius.
After Ian’s passionate half-hour long account of the life of Cecil Rhodes, we then make our way down the meandering dust roads for a quick lunch where we are observed keenly by monkeys, and discover bushman’s soap – a leaf or stem of a plant called Devil Thorn, which lathers instantly upon contact with water. Containing Vitamin E, it’s not only good for the skin but also is the best cure for sunburn.
After lunch, we head up the hills once again to see the Bushmen rock paintings, the oldest graffiti of the world. Ian leads us to the Nswatugi cave. Dating back to thousands of years ago and featuring some of the most accurate depictions of giraffes and other wildlife, these paintings are works of art. There are over 3,000 registered rock art sites in the Matopos Hills.
The Ntswatugi Cave is the scene of ancient cave paintings and it was where the palette of an artist from 40, 000 years ago was found. While the steep climb to the Silozwane cave will test your fitness, the view from there will be worth your while.
Judging by our guide’s second passionate and emotional half-hour long speech, San Bushmen are clearly another topic close to his heart. Fascinated by the Bush way of life he told us about their customs and traditions. Bushmen never hunted more than what was necessary to feed the family. And yet the great shame is that these people, so at one with nature, have been cruelly driven away from their lands and today in Zimbabwe only 43 Bushmen remain.
The bushmen, the indigenous people of Southern Africa were not too long ago hunted like game but are now included in a program to find out the numbers of wildlife in the vast game reserves in Southern Africa.
As the night falls and the breeze picks up, and rather worn out by the day’s activities, we return to our lodge for a hearty dinner and early night. No connection with the outside world yet again. We have an early start again next morning, 6.00am !
On the road to Hwange
Day 8 marks the turn in the weather as the rainy season makes an appearance. After the 6am morning call and a quick breakfast, we begin our travels to Hwange which is the last stop before Victoria Falls. Home to the largest national park in Zimbabwe, Hwange National Park
, which is the perfect place to view game.
Passing through Bulawayo
The first stop on our journey is Bulawayo
where we have a little more time to explore the light and airy city we had passed through on our way to Matopos two nights before.
Firstly an hour at the National Museum
, the second largest museum in southern Africa. An hour certainly doesn’t prove long enough to take in all that there is to see from the relics of Zimbabwean history to the many animals and birds the country is home to.
I paid a quick visit to the Bulawayo Tourist Office, and spent half an hour deep in conversation with a wonderful ambassador for the city. She was a marvellous lady with so much character, who had lived in Bulawayo all her life. Val Bell won’t mind me saying she was no spring chicken but she had the energy and enthusiasm of someone half her age. Well worth popping in for a chat!
The Bulawayo Club
Next stop for me was The Bulawayo Club
, situated in the heart of historic Bulawayo, occupying one of the most imposing buildings in the city. Built in 1935, the foundation stone was laid by the Prince George, later King George VI of Great Britain. Originally a Gentleman’s Club in a tradition which flourished the world over in the Age of Empire, It has survived a rapid decline in local membership by the Club now been commercialized as a boutique hotel, whilst still offering the members all their past benefits.
While The Bulawayo Club
has been lovingly renovated, much of the original furniture, fittings and early colonial artwork remain. Visitors will be walking in the steps of the giants, both illustrious and notorious, of southern African history.
Governors’ Restaurant is one of the most gracious and memorable dining venues in the city where hotel residents and causal guests can enjoy a fine dining experience.
Leaving The Bulawayo Club I hailed a taxi to take me the couple of miles to the entrance to Nesbitt's Castle
, situated in Bulawayo's leafy suburbs. Formally the private residence of early pioneer Mr. Theodore Holdengarde, The Nesbitt Castle was restored and reopened as a boutique hotel in 1990 by Mr. Digby Nesbitt. Medieval architecture with signature crenellations and ramparts echo an era when romance and chivalry were the hallmark of hospitality. That gracious ethos remains the signature of Nesbitt Castle today.
The Castle has played host to such luminaries as Morgan Freeman, Stephen Dorff, and Daniel Craig. The award winning Coach House restaurant offers fine dining for guests and visitors alike.
Nine gloriously individual suites lie behind the castle walls, stone-chilled in the heat of summer, cosy and welcoming for those cooler days. Be enchanted by the carved four poster beds, enviable antique collection and gothic curiosities that await you along every twisting passageway and behind every gothic oak door. Really well worth a visit.
Sikumi Tree Lodge
By the time we reach Hwange, evening is fast falling. Our first stop was for an hour at the Sikumi Tree Lodge to meet Marleen Sabeta-Post who greets us with drinks, wet towels and heaps of hospitality, we are treated to an impromptu visit from wildlife as buffalos, baboons and Guinea fowls take turns to arrive for early evening drinks, ( happy hour?) at the water hole located right in front of the lodge.
The lodge offers luxurious, affordable accommodation in Mangwe trees overlooking a waterhole which, it appears, is very popular among the wildlife in the area. Guests are housed in thatched wooden tree houses, all en-suite, with comfortable beds, glass-free windows and electric blankets in winter. Definitely not your average “Swiss Family Robinson” type of accommodation!
Sikumi Tree Lodge offers the choice of bed and breakfast or full board options. The lodge offers delicious meals in the thatch and stone central barlounge, or you can enjoy your meal beneath the shady trees.
You also have the opportunity of viewing game in two reserves, both famous for the huge numbers of elephant, leopard, wild dog, lion, giraffe, to name but a few species. Guests can self-drive or take part in a guided drive in an open four- wheel drive safari vehicle from the Lodge.
Hwange Ivory Lodge
We move on now to The Hwange Ivory Lodge
, our base for the evening. Set on its 6000 acre conservancy bordering Hwange National Park deep into the mystical teak forests of Hwange, Ivory Lodge offers exclusive accommodation in the shape of seven luxurious tree houses and two Presidential Elephant Suites which host 18 guests only at any one time, ensuring privacy and personal attention.
The lodge is able to offer both game drives and bushwalks. Aside from elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard are regularly spotted in addition to a wide range of other mammals and birds. We saw a tree full of vultures: 12 or so of them, sitting just like they do in the Lion King. A couple were on the floor, eating some of a leftover carcass. Next to appear were a pair of black backed jackals who tried to help themselves much to the vultures disapproval.
This is the place of elephants. It is here that great herds of elephants are found – sometimes over 100 strong. Hwange is renowned for its huge tuskers – big old bulls with magnificent tusks. It is also here that the famous Presidential Herd drink – these elephants’ home-range is amongst the dense feeding areas of the Sikumi Vlei and where they find refuge from the scorching heat at Ivory’s water hole.
Silently, elegantly, the lodge stands over the waterhole.... washed by flood light under a star spangled African night sky. Ivory’s very own water hole means that you have the chance to get up close and personal – as we all find out within minutes of arriving on the site – with the elephants dropping by for a drink. The manager Rob skips the check-in in favour of heading for the hide so we’d be able to catch a glimpse of the elephants. Mere metres away, these wonderful creatures unwittingly pose for us, an unbelievable experience.
After a filling dinner – for once not a buffet – where we savour the food, the venue and the company, we also have the chance to chat to Rob who is originally from England and has only spent a fortnight in Zimbabwe, and he seems to absolutely love his new life here in Hwange.
As evening drew in it gave us a good excuse, if one was needed, to warm up by the fire and listen to Rob strumming his guitar.
Another day in Zimbabwe reaches its end as we soak in the warmth from the sizzling touch of an open fire crackling away, and a starlit African sky only interrupted by the distant rolls of thunder and spectacular lightening.
Wake up to a cloudy start in Hwange on Day 9 with an early morning breeze to accompany us on an early morning game drive scheduled for 5.15. At 5.15 sharp Peter, the guide for the morning arrives Armed with course blankets to cover up in on this breezy Hwange morning, we are ready to roll.
Hwange National Park
Hwange National Park
dominates nearly 15,000km2 of western Zimbabwe. The areas’ status as the royal hunting ground of Mzilikazi, King of the Matabele people, in the 1800s testifies to its superior quality as a wildlife destination.
Previously well known particularly for lion, elephant and wild dog, the area is still teaming with game, assisted by a number of waterholes which act as a bit of a game magnet. This is the best place to go if you want to see the Big 5.
As you can imagine given its size, the scenery is quite varied from camel thorn thickets to teak forests and open vleis with pans that resemble lily ponds in the green season. There are areas where the sand is white and beach-like and the Ilala palms are silhouetted against the sky rather like some Bedouin oasis. As varied as the terrain, the seasons project their changing faces on the landscape across the year. In March the bush is thick and lush with long grass, wild flowers and green, green everywhere. In October, the Park wears its Kalahari desert face and it can be parched and dusty. The weather too is extreme. In the winter months (June - August), temperatures at night can drop to -100C, while in the height of summer, day-time temperatures will be nearer 400C.
Hwange is actually very accessible as part of a safari in Botswana and Zambia as well as Zimbabwe since it is only two hour’s drive from Victoria Falls and combines well with other spots in both Zambia and Botswana.
The start of the rainy season seems upon us as the skies are threatening to open up any minute. In the meantime as last night, we are entertained with a light show and the distant roll of thunder. Sunrise, lightening and the long dusty road through the bushes soon fully awakens me. Just in time too as there are elephants, zebras, buffalos and even lions to see in what is Zimbabwe’s biggest national park which boasts a size equal to that of Belgium.
The arrival back at Ivory Lodge is complemented by a welcoming hot drink and a full English breakfast, Zimbabwe style. Very welcoming.
I spent 2 hours by a waterhole watching a stand off between two crocodiles, a giraffe and a fish eagle. One of the crocs made two unsuccessful attempts to grab the giraffe, whilst the other concentrated on the fish eagle. He failed to get his lunch as well!
After filling up with food and fuel the time comes to depart for Victoria Falls
The Gem of Zimbabwe
By mid afternoon we reach Victoria Falls
very gem of Zimbabwe’s tourism destinations and the host city of 2013 United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly co-hosted by Zimbabwe and neighbouring Zambia.
It's early evening by now and time to head for my accommodation for the night, The Gorges Lodge
30 minutes out of town. Yet another beautiful hotel with spectacular views of the gorge – not that I can see much as by the time I have checked in, it is pitch black, so much so that we’re having difficulty to see two steps ahead of us to the accommodation, let alone the gorges.
However after a good nights' sleep I awake to the majesty of the views of the gorge immediately below, from my room and also from the dining room. The drop is vertical with only a flimsy rail to stop any accident. The Zambezi must have been 500 metres or more below!
Africa's fourth largest river acts as a border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The river rises in a spring in Mwinilunga in Zambia and travels for 2,700 kilometres through six countries finally emptying out into the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. The river has been dammed at two points to provide hydro-
electric power. For thousands of years, the river has been used for transportation and hunting by the indigenous population. Visitors to Zimbabwe will find several points of interest to visit along the Zimbabwe section of the river, the most famous of which is Victoria Falls
is known in the local dialect as 'Mosi-oa-Tunya' which translates as 'the smoke that thunders' due to the impressive power of the water cascading over the falls and the rise of spray that can be seen from miles away in the wet season. David Livingstone, the British explorer, is considered to be the first European to see the falls. It was he who named the falls for the then Queen of England. The Falls are around 1,700 metres wide and drop to a depth of 107 metres at the deepest point into the Zambezi Gorge. They have unsurprisingly been declared a World Heritage Site.
One of the best things, from the visitor's point of view, is that the area around the Falls is largely unspoiled and natural. You can walk through the rainforest that has formed due to the spray, watching monkeys and birds flitting through the trees and then walk out to the incredible sight of the magnificent falls in all their glory.
On the second and last day in glorious Victoria Falls
, I wake up to overcast skies, and alas, all hopes of experiencing the glory of the gorges at dawn evaporate into the gloomy grey above. Metres underneath, The River Zambezi is oblivious, going on at its usual pace, gentle and shimmering green. Breakfast like royalty – full English once again the order of the day.
The rest of the day is spent in and around Victoria Falls which has an airport where you can fly in from Zimbabwe's larger cities such as Harare
and Bulawayo. There are a variety of places for the visitor to stay, including the colonial Victoria Falls Hotel
, itself a World Heritage Site, which has its own path down to the falls. I ventured into the hotel for lunch where I enjoyed an excellent club sandwich, washed down well with a cool lager. The view of the bridge from the gardens is spectacular. You can actually see foolhardy souls bouncing up and down on ropes off the centre of the bridge! I resisted the temptation to have a go.
Activities around the Victoria Falls include white water rafting, bungee jumping from the rail bridge that crosses between Zimbabwe and Zambia, game viewing either by boat, on foot or by vehicle, fishing and you can even enjoy the Falls from the air with flights over the river and the waterfall.
I decided to cross the bridge on foot and visit Zambia for a couple of hours, if only to see the Falls from the other side. Unless you collect stamps in your passport, it's not worth the effort. The view from Zimbabwe is far superior, and far safer!
Victoria Falls Safari Lodge
Next stop, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge
, where I have 30 minutes to check in and head back out for the sunset boat ride on the Zambezi. I join the rest of the crew on the bus as we make our way to our boat, The Wanuka Queen. The Zambezi flows on the border between Zimbabwe and neighbouring Zambia, the co-hosts of the 2013 United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly.
Soon enough, the animals appear, elephants swimming towards an island in the river, crocs camouflaged under the river banks trees, hippos with their young, and zebras, giraffes and all types of buck on the river banks. It really is difficult to know where to look next. The variety of bird life is also quite spectacular.
By dusk we arrive back at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. The 72-room Africa Aldiba Tourism flagship property with its very own waterhole on site has been named “Zimbabwe’s Best Safari Lodge” by the Association of Zimbabwe Travel Agents (AZTA) for 15 consecutive years. The hotel terrace has been the perfect spot for afternoon tea or a sunset drink for over 100 years. Nearby is the Elephant Hills Resort, sited on a hill next to an ancient elephant trail. The resort has everything you would expect of a luxury hotel including an 18-hole golf course designed by Gary Player.
Although the plan is to eat in The Boma “Place of Eating”
nestled in the Gusu Forest a short shuttle ride away from the hotel, which promises to deliver a feast of the tastes, sights, sounds & smells of Africa – with some interesting menu options such as Mopani worms. However along with one or two others I opt to stay and sample the food at the world-class Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.
After enjoying a leisurely “G and T” at “The Buffalo Bar” watching the lightning show with fellow guests, I made my way to the award- winning Ma Kuwa-Kuwa restaurant
. I ate there some years ago and it is just as good now as it was then. It's no surprise to find the service and food is still of an exceptionally high standard. A variety of internationally-styled cuisine – with a hint of Africa. For dinner I ordered ostrich as a starter followed by warthog, washed down with bottles of excellent red wine, a relaxed dinner at the end of an action-packed day.
The attention to detail at the hotel is exceptional, whilst readying myself for dinner, I am joined by three separate people attending to my room – one spraysmosquito repellent, while another puts down the netting over my bed, and a third is making sure I am well stocked on bottled water and ice. At Victoria Falls Safari Lodge
, it is easy to feel like a King. By now it is almost midnight, and it is a little over four hours to my wake up call.
It is soon 4.30 and yet again and time to hit the road. The next destination and final stop on the way back to capital Harare
, is Gweru
With such an early morning departure from Victoria Falls, it's welcome after 4 hours on the road to stop for breakfast at a very good diner next to a petrol Station. We also fill up with fuel which incidentally is always available wherever we travel. Another two hours and around midday we reach the misleadingly named Gweru Antelope Park
. If you were expecting to find a handful of antelopes and be bored to tears, you will be pleasantly surprised to find Antelope Park, 8km from Gweru
in Zimbabwe Midlands, offers much more than that.
The emerald grass stretches beyond the lodge to the shimmering blue waters of its lake, Antelope Park
looks a picture-perfect paradise. Attention to detail and personal touch are evident from the hospitality team that welcomes you by the reception with a 'song and a dance' (quite literally!) and cold drinks to the buffet lunch already served and table laid out for us in the thatched dining room overlooking the lake.
The rooms are river tents – a large, East African-style en suite tent furnished with indigenous teak furniture all made at Antelope Park
, overlooking an inlet of the lake. All necessary amenities together with a well-fitted bathroom are included.
There is a presentation room where guests are given a briefing on the work of Antelope Park
and ALERT (African Lion Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild programme). www.lionalert.org
Like all guests I was presented with a personalised folder which contained all the information you need to know about the work done here at the park with the lions: a ground breaking four-stage rehabilitation and release into the wild programme which aims to offer a part solution to the decline in wild lion population (80% decline in less than 30 years) by releasing the offspring of captive lions back into the wild as self-sustaining prides.
An evening game drive to end the day, following three 2 year old lions who are being introduced to hunting as a prelude to being released back into the wild. It was a fascinating experience.
The work of the park, and all it offers to its guests and volunteers, can be seen at their website : http://www.antelopepark.co.zw/lion.html
Before we travelled we found and used a website www.experiencezimbabwe.com
for all the information we required. Tell them you have seen the blog if you happen to get in touch. They were so helpful and seem to know every little detail about Zimbabwe. They put our minds at rest as we very unsure of what we might find in the country having read so much bad publicity. When we returned we sent them our travelogue, which they have used on their site. ( with my agreement to use it as their own!!)
I hope you have found the rather lengthy details of our tour. Don't leave it too late before visiting what i found to be a truly wonderful country with delightful people.