Zimbabwe was never a country very high on my list to travel too, this was a huge misconception on my behalf! We spent an amazing two weeks in Zimbabwe. Our time was filled with waterfalls and walking with animals such as lions, elephant and rhinos. The landscape was rich with a variety of trees and shrubs (even fynbos) and beautiful mountains. The people were friendly, accommodating and knowledgeable. What more could I ask of a country? I did find it interesting to learn that Zimbabwe has sixteen official languages (I thought South Africa was bad with eleven!) some of which overlapped with South Africa (Sotho, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and English). I noticed a lot of South African franchises in Zimbabwe and felt deeply sorry for the people when I saw how expensive things were in the supermarkets. Nevertheless this was a beautiful country which I hope becomes more politically stable in the future. Here’s what we did for our two weeks in Zimbabwe.
We drove into Harare, and if I didn’t know where we were I would have guessed it was a city in South Africa. I could see Pick n Pays, Standard Banks and Engen gagares. The houses also looked similar to what I would see at home. Houses had gardens with swimming pools and electric fences. This felt strange- out of all the African country’s (Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique) we have visited on this trip, this was the most I felt at home. We arrived at our campsite and quickly set up our tents before we were taken to the Oasis “African Head Office”. This was a beautiful house with a swimming pool. We enjoyed our afternoon there as well as a delicious Zimbabwean meal which consisted of sudza (a Zimbabwean stable similar to cornmeal) and a beef stew. We had a true Zimbabwean experience in the taxi that took us home. Thirteen of us squeezed into a car (that was only ment to take six people) and we drove past Robert Mugabe’s (the president of Zimbabwe) house. The next day we woke up and headed to the News Cafe for breakfast. After this a few of us went to explore the city. We started by walking to the Harare Gardens. These gardens were run down and small but still had a unique charm to them. After this we walked around the downtown area for an hour before we made our way back to the campsite to drop off something’s before we went to a wood carving and soap stone market. This market had a lot of beautiful items and I treated myself to a beautiful giraffe sculpture. After the market we freshened up and went for dinner at Chez Zandi Bistro and Wine Bar. After dinner some live music started to play, unknowingly we had gone for dinner at the venue where one of Zimbabwe’s biggest musicians, Hope Masike, was preforming. We enjoyed listening to her preform. What a way to end the day! Harare was unexpectedly impressive. I enjoyed the atmosphere of the city and it was nice to explore in the capital of Zimbabwe.
We left Harare and made our way down to Chimanimani in the south east of Zimbabwe. This is a small town close to the Mozambiquean border and is famous for its mountains and Bridal Veil Falls. Due to the crisis in 2008, this town has become run down and is described as a ghost town. The town used to boom with hundreds of tourists visiting each week, but when we were there the numbers where down to maybe tens of tourists a week. Our campsite had a beautiful view and there were two activities on offer. The first was to do a full day hike in the mountains and the second was to do a half day hike to Bridal Veil Falls. We only had one full day there so I opted to do the hike to the waterfall. This was a beautiful hike inside the Eland Sanctuary. We walked through fynbos (which I was surprised to find in Zimbabwe) as well as woodland areas. Bridal Veil Falls had three tiers to it. We walked from the top of the waterfall down to the pool and it just got more beautiful with each tier. The view from the bottom was absolutely stunning. I was the only one brave enough to swim as the water was FREEEEEEEEZING! After our hike we returned to town for some lunch and then proceeded to play cards for the rest of the day.
The Great Zimbabwe Ruins
We arrived at the campsite right outside of the Great Zimbabwe Ruins mid afternoon in order to be able to do the tour of the ruins. This was a beautiful experience that allowed us to learn about Zimbabwe’s history and how a kingdom turned into a country. The Great Zimbabwe Ruins are the oldest ruins in Africa south of the Sahara. The ruins themselves were built between the 11th and 15th century and was home to eight kings. The views from the ruins were impressive as was the architecture that was still standing. If you are in the area, definitely take the time to do this tour.
As we drove into our campsite, Antelope Park we saw four elephant and were welcomed by the staff singing for us. This immediately put everyone in a good mood. Antelope Park along with African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) have set their sites on rehabilitating lions and breeding lions in captivity in order to release them into the wild in the future. The lion population has decrease over the last few decades with only a few thousand left in the wild. The money generated by tourism at the park goes into this rehabilitation program. After setting our tents up and having dip in the pool we were given an introductory talk about the various activities the park had on offer. Out of the tens of activities to chose from I decided to do the lion walk and elephant walk. We were in Antelope Park for three nights and two full days. The first full day was overwhelming for me. The day started early where we met our guide Carlos. He explained a few rules we needed to know and before we knew it, we were being taken to the lions. We walked with three lions (two female and one male) who were all approximately 22 months old. With Antelope Parks objective being to breed lions to release into the wild, we learnt that they have three stages for this process. The first stage is walking the lions. This allows the lions to see its natural prey and to start learning how to hunt. The park allows tourists to walk along with the lion handlers. This was an absolute highlight for me. Once the lions were released from their enclosure they ran out and started to play. After a few minutes they relaxed a bit and walked in between our group. It was seriously scary to be walking while lions were bumping into me. After about two hours we returned with the lions to their enclosure. Wow! What an exhilarating experience. It was interesting to learn about the conservation efforts that the park are trying to achieve with their lion project. The second stage of the project involves allowing the lions to live in a large enclosure where they would have to hunt for themselves. In stage two the lions can have cubs naturally and allow the cubs to be born into an almost natural environment. The last stage of the process is testing if the lions are capable to hunt at night. After this, it is thought that the lions are ready for release. So far no lions have been released since the program started in 2009, however they are hoping to release their first lions in the next year. We returned to our tents and had breakfast.
That afternoon five of us went and walked with four elephants. We walked with two females and one bull. The bull was huge, easily 3 m! It was a fascinating experience to walk with these majestic animals. After about 40 minutes of walking and watching the elephant take a mud bath, the elephant found some trees to feed on. We sat watching them strip the bark off the trees and eating leaves off thorny branches. This was a truly humbling experience. The next day was spent relaxing at the pool, playing rook and looking for the mongoose. Our time in Antelope Park was perfect and it was truly a once in a life time opportunity to interact with two of the big five.
We arrived in Bulawayo mid day and took advantage of our campsites swimming pool. The next morning we were collected by Black Rhino Safaris and taken to Motobo National Park. Motobo National Park is approximately 600 km2 and is famous for having a high population of leopards and the oldest exposed granite formation in the world. We drove for about 5 minutes before Norman told us to get out of the jeep. We were told to walk in single file and to be as quiet as we possibly could. We walked for another 5 minutes and then we found them. A mother and her four year old calf. The calf had been dehorned a week before (all the rhinos in this national park are dehorned for protection reasons) so this mother and child combination were quite skittish around people. We were able to watch them from about 20 m away for a couple of minutes. After they disappeared Norman explained the situation with rhinos in this national park before we returned to the jeep. When we were walking back we ran into another group who told us that there was a family with a nine month old calf on the other side of the road. We carried on walking and within no time we had found a mother, a four year old calf and a 9 month old calf. We were able to get close enough to get some great pictures. This family was majestic and didn’t seemed phased by us at all. After about fifteen minutes we left them, all of us were extremely content! We drove through the park spotting sables, impala, warthog and a lot of baboons. We enjoyed a delicious lunch prepared by Norman’s wife and then made our way to the Nswatugi cave. We walked up a hill until we found the cave. Instantly we could see the cave paintings left by the San people. This was spectacular as one could easily recognize the different animals that had been painted years ago. Historians are not exactly sure when these paintings were created, but due to there being a quagga present on the wall (which is now extinct) the paintings are definitely over 150 years old. After Norman explained the history of the cave to us we made our way down to the jeep and went to another hill where Cecil John Rhodes was buried. Norman gave us a brief history of the man who originally named the country Rhodesia. We had a panoramic view from the grave which was absolutely beautiful. We didn’t spend much time here as we knew we had a possibility of finding one more rhino group. Our last rhino siting was the highlight of the day for me. There was a family consisting of a mother, and older calf and a young calf. They were standing in the middle of the dirt road. Norman told us to go sit on a dirt mound and have patience. After about 10 minutes the rhinos walked right passed us. They were about 10 m away from us which was incredible but scary at the same time. This was definitely an experience I will never forget! Spotting the eight rhinos, visiting the cave paintings and learning about Cecil John Rhodes was a great experience made even better by our incredibly knowledgeable guide. Norman gave us so much additional information that without him the day wouldn’t have been half as amazing as it was. The topography of this national park was beautiful and seeing so many rhinos was an absolute treat!
After an overnight train from Buluwayo, we arrived in Victoria Falls. This train ride was an experience as we were split up into four compartments (four people in each compartment). We were also assigned a security guard (for some unknown reason as this was completely unnecessary). This train ride was filled with good banter, card games and pizza. Definitely a true African experience! Victoria Falls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and lies on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. This waterfall feeds the Zambezi River and is classified as the largest waterfall in the world due to its height of 108 m and width of 1,708 m. We spent four night/three days in Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwean side.
1. High Tea
Twelve of us decided to treat ourselves and go for high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel. This was a great experience. We were treated to scones, carrot cake and some delicious sandwiches. After drinking some iced tea and enjoying some treats we made our way to sit on the lawn. Five warthogs were running around which was bizarre and scary at the same time. They came really close to us. A perfect way to end our high tea experience.
2. Devils Pool
We walked from our campsite across the border into Zambia. We had to split up into groups of six for Devils Pool. So my group of six was the first to go. We arrived at the Royal Livingstone Hotel and were warmly greeted and directed to where we needed to go. After a brief introduction, we got on the boat and drove for about 5 minutes until we arrived at Livingstone Island. We were walked over to the water and told to get undressed. Before I knew it we were in the water swimming against the current to get to Devils Pool. The six of us and one other girl enjoyed the pool, it’s current, the sound, and the view! The guided snapped some photos and before we knew it our 15 minutes were finished. We swam back to the island and got dressed before we took some more photos of the falls. We were treated to eggs benedict before taken back to the hotel. What an amazing experience. Being on top of the falls was exhilarating and it was special to be able to share the experience with friends! We made our way into Livingstone and explored the local market before we returned back to Zimbabwe to enjoy the pool at our campsite.
3. The Falls
We were told that going in the afternoon to the falls was best as you had the best chance of seeing rainbows. Lisa, Luke and I went down to the falls and the recommendation was right we had a lovely rainbow over the falls. We met up with Kyle and Brenton and went and checked out the nineteen viewpoints. We were really lucky with our timing as we had a beautiful sunset. We were also fortunate enough to see a bush buck and some hornbills. It was interesting to see Devils Pool from another angle. I didn’t realize that we were swimming on top of the main waterfall. Victoria Falls was a beautiful way to spend the last of our time in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe definitely had a special feel to it. The amount of one on one interaction we had with animals and the beautiful views allowed me to find a special connection with this beautiful country. Even though the political situation might not be stable, it is a country not to be missed!