A Tanzanite in Zimbabwe?
Leaving game heaven the next morning was a quiet drive. We all enjoyed the sanctuary out in the bush and weren’t looking forward to today’s long drive; this all changed a couple of hours later. On our way to Karoi and then onto Chinoyi, we drove through the now mostly abandoned farmlands.
Thomas shared his knowledge on Zimbabwe’s politics and history and driving along this route, seeing the overgrown farms, empty silos and abandoned tobacco barns resulted in some kilometres being spent in silence thinking about what had happened to the people who had lived here …
Our silence was broken by a quick stop at Chinoyi Caves – a little picnic site at the side of the road, just outside of Chinoyi. When descending to the first cave, both Becks and I could not believe our eyes. There was water so blue and crystal clear as if looking at an oversized Tanzanite. The stone walls were reflecting in the deep water as clearly as on pictures of the mountain lakes in the Swiss Alps on a warm and sunny summer’s day. We were blown away. We had a little extra time to explore some of the caves but it became clear very quickly that one could spend a couple of hours here exploring the networks of underground caves.
We continued our journey to the little town of Chinoyi and then onto Gweru, passing through more farmlands including citrus farms and some visibly wealthier towns. Gweru, Zimbabwe’s third largest city and home to the military museum seemed to be tidy, clean and compact as we were passing through during ‘rush hour’. Our destination for the day was a place called Antelope Park, just 10 km outside of Gweru, rated the nicest and best value place in this area.
Lion’s roar in an Antelope Park
Antelope Park’s staff told us that this camp is like an escape from the ‘real world’ and it surely was. The camp was buzzing with business men, tourists and volunteers alike. Most of the people staying at the camp were part of the African Encounter Volunteer Program including an Elephant Training and a Lion breeding program. Around the campfire, Becks and I quickly got chatting with the variety of travellers.
It gets cold here in winter, but there were hot water bottles in the rooms; personally I feel there is nothing better than a spacious outdoor shower on a cold winter night –only on these crisp winter nights can you really appreciate the comfort of the hot water coming so conveniently out of a tap while you are gazing at the star-filled night sky of Africa.
The roar of the lions awoke us early the next morning – this time not as distant as in Mana Pools or at Matusadona. When heading out on our lion walk, we were actually quite surprised by the distance we had to walk to the lion cages, considering how close the noise sounded during the early morning hours. Walking with lions and even being able to touch them is truly a ‘once-in a-lifetime’ experience. If your journey takes you through Gweru and to Antelope Park, it’s worthwhile doing this activity here rather than in Victoria Falls – it will save you some dollars.
Also, maybe plan two nights here at Antelope Park, there are so many activities on offer or you can just sit back with a book and relax, overlooking the river. If you come in summer, you should give the Elephant Swimming a go – it sounded very exciting and is definitely something I would try. Unfortunately these gentle giants aren’t too keen on this activity during the cold winter months, so better you plan your trip during summer if this is something that sounds appealing to you.
Speed-walking The Great Enclosure
Our guidebook informed us about some ruins close to Gweru, we however decided to rather do the ‘real thing’ and on our way to Matopos, did a’ little’ detour to go to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, close to Masvingo. There are three sets of intact ruins at this UNESCO World Heritage site; The Hill Complex, The Valley Complex and the Great Enclosure and it’s best to visit them in that order. The Great Enclosure is without a doubt the visually most impressive part of the complex.
You can hire a guide at the entrance who will take you through the ruins and give you details on the history, construction and myths around these ruins. Maybe take the information you are given with a pinch of salt – you’ll get different stories from each guide, especially on the question, who actually built these ruins. Unfortunately we had to rush our guide and our guided tour turned into a speed walking exercise. I am pretty confident that our guide wasn’t too upset when we mentioned that we wouldn’t have time to climb up to the Hill Complex, seeing the speed we were aiming on doing this. Planning a visit, allow at least half a day better even a full day including a lunch at their beautiful picnic site to soak in the atmosphere.
Total Lunar Eclipse on a granite whaleback
After this history & cultural lesson, we continued our journey onto Bulawayo and Matopos. Our host at Big Cave Camp had already given up on seeing us that night when we arrived around 20h30. Big Cave Camp – the Lodge on the Rocks – is situated atop an enormous granite whaleback with inspirational views across the famous Matobo National Park; the colossal boulders that this area is so famous for are incorporated into a luxuriously thatched lodge.
Lunar eclipse – have you ever witnessed one? Have you ever witnessed one in Matopos? The total lunar eclipse allowed us to do some fantastic star gazing – for the first time in my life I was shown my star sign, the scorpio and a couple of other impressing star constellations. But this wasn’t the biggest highlight of the evening. After a couple of hours, the full moon was visible again in it’s pure beauty and only then, were we able to admire the exceptional landscape of granite rocks; the massive stones casting their shadows over the camp, making them seem even greater.
A lesson on aphrodisiacs
Jordan, the camp manager, educated us the next morning on natural toilet paper, antiseptics and aphrodisiacs (much to our excitement) found in the natural environment of Big Cave Camp during a bushwalk. I took some of the bushman tree leaves, which he assured us were aphrodisiacs, to try but unfortunately never got around to see if he was pulling our leg or telling the truth.
When planning your journey around Zimbabwe, don’t forget to pay a visit to Rhodes Grave known as World’s View in Matobo National Park.
Before heading onto Hwange, we stopped at Bulawayo to do some shopping and stock up on beers as well as ice for the last three nights of our journey, which we were allowed to share with our partners. That morning, Justin & Mark were on their way to Victoria Falls to then meet us by sunset at Ivory Lodge, close to Hwange National Park by sunset. Shopping takes time and we only left Bulawayo after 13h00. It’s a 3-hour drive from Bulawayo to Hwange.
Hwange – place of elephants & electric blankets
This night should also be the first night that both Becks & I are meeting one of our JENMAN Safaris’ tours on the road. Ten of our clients, including two guides, had been staying the night before at Ivory Lodge and greeted us bragging with their exciting sightings of cheetah and lion at the lodge’s waterhole. Seeing one of our groups on the road and witnessing first hand that they are having a good time is simply great. It made us feel all proud to be part of the JENMAN Safaris team.
Hwange National Park gets cold – and if I say cold, I mean cold. Apparently the country’s coldest temperature ever recorded was measured here at Hwange. Ivory Lodge however awaits you with a surprise – an electric blanket. So if you are booked camping, try and get an upgrade!
The lodge also has their own hide and waterhole right in front of the lodge where throughout the day and night wildlife enthusiasts can watch animals come to drink. All of us enjoyed our dinner cooked by our guides Blessed and Colin with the rest of the JENMAN group and chose to eat our deserts at the hide, listening and watching a herd of about 40 elephants that had come to drink.
A jackel, an ant-eater and a pearl-spotted owl were reason for some more excitement at the hide. The lodge owner, Cedrik, was also in camp, supervising the building of the new campsite. He entertained our guests with his guitar and some songs that I heard in the distance when I crawled into my heated bed in my chalet on stilts.
Munching camel thorn pods at a blissful home from home
Our journey was slowly coming to an end but not before seeing one last lodge that I had been dying to stay at. Rated as a ‘blissful home from home’ in one of the latest National Geographic Traveller, the Imbabala Safari Lodge had some expectations to live up to. The lodge enjoys 14 kilometres of private Zambezi River frontage on the four-border crossing of Namibia, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Imbabala Safari Lodge is 1-hour drive from Victoria Falls and stands for pure indulgence. The camp’s staff is extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable and we welcomed the opportunity to go on a sunset game cruise rather than a game drive after all the driving we had done in the past 10 days. While enjoying our delicious 3-course-dinner on a big social table, we got to know the families that had made their way to Imbabala for a real bush treat.
Just in time for bedtime, a large choir of Impala gathered in front of our room and the sound of these pretty animals munching on camel thorn pods, lulled Mark and I to sleep. Imbabala had lived up to my expectations and more.
The next morning it was time to say good-bye to the safari lodge, to Victoria Falls and to Zimbabwe – a country that has given the Africa Fever a new meaning to me! I was excited to go back and tell everyone about this thrilling & diverse destination, share my pictures and convince people that it is worthwhile travelling here, that you should put it back on the tourism map and how great it felt to help the Zimbabwean people, by coming to their lodges and sights, by sending clients to their camps and therefore providing a stable income for the owners, but most importantly for the local staff.
Watch this space – I will be back!!