Zimbabwe Trip Report
Zimbabwe – The Land of Waterfalls, Wildlife, and Walking Safaris by Thierry Cellier
When thinking of going on an African safari, Zimbabwe is not the first place that springs to mind, however, there is much more to this spectacular country than we know. Landlocked in southern Africa bordering South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, and Botswana, Zimbabwe boasts some of the world’s most beautiful natural sites, including the mighty Victoria Falls, the Matopo Hills, and their megalithic boulders, and the ruins of Great Zimbabwe that highlight Africa’s great ancestry. Add to this, vast shimmering saltpans, rolling hills, and grassy plains that teem with wildlife and you have Africa at her best. This is precisely what I was looking forward to experiencing when I jumped on a plane in May and headed to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.
After a very long flight from Vancouver, which took me via Los Angeles, Dublin and Addis Ababa, I landed at Victoria Falls airport on a hot summery afternoon and headed to the Gorges Lodge to relax. Located about 30 minutes from Victoria Falls and set on the edge of the Batoka Gorge with beautiful views over the Zambezi River, the Gorges Lodge features comfortable chalets and luxury tents with spectacular views. The lodge is managed by Chris, who has a great passion for birding, particularly for Verreaux’s Eagles, and his knowledge of these magnificent birds that can be seen soaring regally over the gorge is inexhaustible. The views from the gorge are breathtaking, especially when the sun goes down and creates a continuously changing light.
The following day began with a visit to Victoria Falls, which is known as ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ (‘The Smoke that Thunders’) by the local people. Fed by the mighty Zambezi River, the falls feature an impressive two kilometer-wide curtain of water that spills over into a 110 meter-deep canyon to create swirling mists that can be seen kilometers away. May marks the end of the rainy season, and the falls were a sight to behold – the perfect introduction to the beauty of Zimbabwe.
After a delicious lunch at the Three Monkeys Restaurant, which is a vibrant spot that serves excellent food, it was time to head out to the Hwange National Park for a safari.
Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s largest game reserve, and the vast saltpans and grassy plains support a large concentration of animals, including about 44,000 magnificent tuskers, over 100 species of mammals, and 400 species of birds.
It took about an hour on a paved tarmac road to reach the gate of the park where we left the comfort of the air-conditioned mini-van and jumped into an open 4×4 land cruiser to begin our safari in true African-safari style. The next five days would be spent exploring the park between North and South Hwange.
It didn’t take long before we saw our first family of elephants, and a few kilometers on we were very fortunate to see four wild dogs trotting in the middle of the road, which was an excellent introduction to Zimbabwe. As the sun began to sink below the horizon, we stopped at a watering hole for sundowners and watched hippos wallowing in the shallows against a melodious background of serenading insects and singing birds.
Our base for the night was the Nehimba Lodge, a well-appointed, nine-chalet bush camp with comfy thatched, canvas and wood chalets with en-suite bathrooms and modern amenities. We had the pleasure of enjoying dinner while watching a group of elephants drinking at the pool just a few meters away.
The following day began with a morning game drive, where the soft morning light bathed the lush grassy savannahs dotted with sable antelope, blue gnus, zebra, and waterbuck, while lazy lions lay patiently in wait. We visited the Nyamandhlovu Pan and stopped at the Nyamandhlovu platform, which overlooks the vast pan and a waterhole, and is the perfect setting to watch passing animals.
In the afternoon, we arrived at the Dete Railway Station where we caught the Elephant Express, a one-of-its-kind railcar and unique safari experience that takes guests on an exciting train journey along the edge of Hwange National Park,into the wilderness between the Dete and Ngamo sidings, one of Africa’s longest stretches of straight railway track (114 kilometers). The relaxing three-hour trip provided a scenic and relaxed transfer to our bases for the next few days, which were the Bomani Camp and the Camelthorn Lodge, and I was lucky enough to see elephants and lion crossing the railway along the way.
Managed by young and enthusiastic, outdoor-loving staff with a passion for the African bush, both the Camelthorn Lodge and Bomani Camp were stylish and comfortable with all the amenities needed for a relaxed bush stay. Camelthorn Lodge boasts eight luxurious villas with lovely views, while Bomani Camp is a classic tented camp with 11 tents, including a sizeable family tent and there is also a thatched bungalow .
For the next few days, we explored the landscapes of South Hwange on guided game drives and horseback safaris and visited the local school at the Ngamo Village where we had great fun with the children from the school.
We also went on a guided walking safari with armed guides, who have the reputation of being some of the best guides on the continent, and they certainly lived up to it with their incredible knowledge of the local fauna and flora. Getting out of the safety of the vehicle for a walking safari on foot and strolling through the bush was a real thrill as it took us much closer to the animals. The walking safari ended in a delicious bush lunch with elephants jostling with each other at a nearby watering hole, and we had a perfect view of them from an underground hide overlooking the pool.
One of the many attractions of Hwange is the lack of crowds, and we rarely saw any other safari vehicles on our game drives. During our last game drive, we witnessed a breathtaking scene where a group of 15 lions was hunting a group of 10 elephants. Lions in Hwange have developed skills to hunt elephants and to see this play out in the wild was incredible.
After our days in the grassy savannahs of Hwange, we headed for the Zambezi National Park which is home to the mighty Zambezi River and the elegant Zambezi Sands, which was our base for the next two nights. Perfectly located on the banks of the Zambezi River and just a one hour drive from Victoria Falls, the lodge features ten spacious and luxuriously furnished Bedouin-style tents with private terraces, plunge pools and spectacular views of the river. Early mornings were spent on the terrace sipping steaming coffee and soaking up the view – the only thing missing was a fresh croissant!
The lodge offers a relaxing retreat after an action-packed safari, but with plenty of activities on offer such as canoeing, fishing, and sunset boat and canoe cruises, along with a wealth of picturesque game viewing opportunities.
On our last morning at the Zambezi Sands, we enjoyed a special treat of a bush breakfast by the river before heading back to the airport.
By the way we still have 2 spots available on our September 2019 Zimbabwe small group safari click here for more details