By Blake Powell
Looking out over dry African bush, the starkness is broken up only by the violet splodges of Jacaranda scattered across the land. I’m not sure if it’s the heat or the overwhelming anticipation to spot a rhino, but standing atop a mountain of boulders, every rustle in the grass or shaped rock suggests we are surrounded by wild animals. It is this excitement that makes me forget about the long journey to Africa and makes these trips so worthwhile.
Just 2 days prior, I flew into Victoria Falls which is located at the very heart of Southern Africa. With Botswana’s Chobe national park to the west, and Zambia just across the Zambezi river – VFA makes for a perfect arrival point into Africa. Direct international flights now service the new airport from Johannesburg, Cape Town, Addis Ababa and Nairobi making travel to Zimbabwe so easy. As the name suggests, the falls themselves are the big draw card to this part of the country. The mighty falls create the largest single sheet of flowing water in the world which make them one of the seven natural wonders. Even in the dry season when I visited, the falls are impressive and gave me the opportunity to see the various waterfalls that make up the Mosi-oa-Tunya ‘smoke that thunders’. After heavy rain you may really hear that thunder, though the falls themselves can be hidden by the magnificent mist that can be seen from miles away!
Walking through the mist on a guided tour, the vapour is a welcome cool escape from the heat of the African sun. However, the falls can be experienced in other ways such as from a helicopter or micro flight to give you a true perspective of the waterways. Vic falls is also the adventure capital of Africa, and offers so much for any level of adrenaline. I’d recommend taking the sunset cruise down the Zambezi river where you can sip gin and tonic while weaving around hippos, crocodiles and even swimming elephants! Trips to the devil’s pool for a swim on top of the falls, bungee jumping and flying foxes are also popular activities to keep you busy and reasons to spend at least a few days in this town.
The next stop on any visit to Zimbabwe would be Hwange National Park. This is just a few hours’ drive or a short flight from Vic Falls and if you have any interest in Elephants, you are guaranteed the time of your life. During my stay, the local community set up camp at every water hole in the national park for the annual animal count. In a 24-hour period, the waterhole where I stayed was visited by over 1,000 elephants! I didn’t stay awake for the 24 hours like the volunteers but I did enjoy a sundowner by the pool which was visited by herd after herd of elephants just meters from my chair, coming to have a drink with me. Although elephants style themselves as the stars of Hwange, wildlife sightings abound in this national park. Staying a few days, you have a very good chance of seeing lions, painted dog, cheetah, jackal, zebra and giraffe. With a range of accommodation options throughout 14,651km2 park, Hwange is certainly worth a 2-3-night visit for families, small groups or couples wanting to get close to some of Africa’s famous game.
While Vic Falls and Hwange are the obvious choices for those visiting Zimbabwe, I was lucky enough to visit some more incredible places that should not be left out of any itinerary exploring one of the friendliest countries in Africa!
Matopos National Park is a destination a little different to your regular safari. It is here you can track rhinos by foot with a very high success rate. You’ll learn about the anti-poaching projects the country is experimenting with while searching for both black and white rhinoceros. We came across a family of four resting in the shade and were just meters away from the prehistoric looking beasts. It was stranger still to see them with their horns grounded down to stumps which is an initiative to make them less attractive targets for poachers. Also in Matopos, you can visit the ‘World’s view’. This is a natural amphitheatre surrounded by boulders that is also the resting place of Cecil John Rhodes, the man whose name formed the countries former designation ‘Rhodesia’. It is an incredible site to learn about the modern history of Zimbabwe and not far from the charming city of Bulawayo making Matopos a convenient exit point. Staying in Matopos offers you the opportunity to sleep in the cave style accommodation without forgoing any comforts – a fantastic experience should you get the chance.
Now, for a very special experience, your next stop in Africa would be Mana Pools in the north-west. A scenic flight in a small aircraft will take you to one of the small landing strips – an adventurous activity itself! Here, you will really feel out in the wild. I stayed a semi-permanent camp where we had a local themed dinner of sudza and ox tail while a hippo waddled up and went to sleep just five meters from our dining table under the stars. That night, I was awoken by rustling outside of my tent and woke up with an elephant just next door. Had it not been for the fly screen, I could have reached out and touched it – a very surreal experience to wake up to! African plains game and carnivores are also common sightings up here with one property claiming to have visits from the elusive leopard at least twice a week!
For me, the perfect end to a trip to Zimbabwe was on the banks of lake Kariba. The vast waters of the lake were a welcome site for the eyes after a week in the dry Zimbabwean bush land. There are also a range of activities both on the lake and around camp on safari. Fishing is a popular sport for those interested in capturing the ferocious tiger fish. Our speedboat into the canyons allowed us to spot crocodiles protecting their eggs as well as some rare birdlife not found in other parts of the country.
Zimbabwe isn’t the first country that came to my mind when considering an African adventure, however, I am convinced that Zimbabwe is a destination unto its own that can offer wildlife experiences to rival anywhere in Africa! Combine this with the fact the country is safe, family friendly and incredible value for money, this is a choice that can exceed any traveller’s expectations by miles.
If you want to find out more about the destinations in this article, or have any questions in general please contact us.