Back in July, I had a brilliant opportunity to visit Zimbabwe with my brothers’ girlfriend – Laura – and I severely underestimated just how incredible the trip would be! After I finished University a few years ago, I went backpacking for 6 months and one of the places I visited was South Africa. Among diving with sharks and crocodiles we also went on a three day safari to Pilansberg National Park, which at the time I thought was incredible, but after returning from Zimbabwe it paled in comparison. Our guide drove us through the park in a Ford Focus, blasting rap music (which I normally love, but there is a time and a place) and stopping so far from where the animals were we would have needed a telescope to see them.
Fast forward 5 years and my experience in Zimbabwe was completely different. I flew to Harare – the capital of Zimbabwe, and met the rest of the 13 in our group at the airport. We were an electic mix of 20 something’s from London, successful businessmen and women from the US and a retired couple from South Africa.
My first stop was Pamuzinda Lodge in Selous where I stayed in this beautiful gate house, complete with a real log fire, hot water bottles in our beds and champagne on arrival.
My first day in Africa was magical. On my way to breakfast I met Jasmine, an orphaned giraffe that was picked up by a guide on a game drive several years ago, and brought to the lodge. Every evening she sleeps in the bush, but every morning she religiously comes back to the lodge for snacks and selfies with overly eager tourists.
I spent the morning canoeing along a peaceful lake that ran behind the lodge, within minutes I spotted the first of the many wildlife I would see on my trip, a ‘small’ croc just a few metres away. Up close and in a kayak it looked HUGE.
Albert – Laura’s father – who owned the lodge and had arranged the trip, told us there would be a lunchtime surprise. We all piled into jeeps and did a short drive into the bush, stopping next to a beautiful baobab tree that is often used for weddings, and found a ready laid table and buffet waiting for us, it was very surreal. After we devoured our first real African meal we heard a rustling in the trees not too far from where we were sitting, and after a few moments saw a family of four elephants approaching us – our surprise!
I controlled my urge to run over to them and instead did something between a slow creep and a high speed walk until I got close enough to take this awesome picture. We took it in turns to have pictures with the mother and father (the little baby was too hyper to stay calm for a picture) and was surprised when I stroked their skin to discover just how tough their skin is. It’s covered in thick coarse hair that feel like the bristles on the end of an old broom.
That evening we went on our first game drive of the trip and spotted zebras,(apparently every zebra has a different stripe pattern. Yes, I did learn a ton of random animal trivia whilst I was there), impala (which are great when you see the first ten and then you quickly get bored of them), water buck and some cute warthogs. We ended the drive by stopping to watch the sunset over the bush with a sundowner – an alcoholic drink ( mine was always a G&T) – a tradition I quickly learnt was a daily activity, much to my delight.
After a couple of days in the lodge we made a 5 hour journey to Lake Kariba and boarded Shikra – a 30 person houseboat. I have an unhealthy obsession with boats ( I would live on one forever if I could) and this was by far the most INCREDIBLE one I had ever been on. Spanning 3 floors, the first floor resembled a hotel corridor with ensuite double rooms, the second floor housed a bar, a dining area and lounge and an outdoor pool and the third was the captains deck.
Over the four days we spent travelling across Lake Kariba, we’d wake most mornings at 6am, have our first of five meals of the day before boarding a smaller boat that took us closer to the shore. We saw hippos, crocodiles, elephants and were lucky enough to see some hyenas too. And birds.
So. Many. Birds.
If you’re a fan of bird watching then you are in for treat if you ever visit Zimbabwe!
We’d return from our morning game expeditions to a full English breakfast and we’d spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon sunbathing, reading and squeezing in the odd workout around the pool to try and burn off the 10,000+ calories we were probably consuming every day. Just before sunset we’d head out again on the small boats and try our hand at fishing. I’d dabbled in fishing before but I’m too impatient to sit for long periods of time and just watch the world go by. Thankfully that wasn’t the case here as our guides took us to spots that were heaving with seabream and I caught a fish every 10 minutes ( my record was 13 in one sitting!).
Ok so that fish is tiny but I did catch some absolute whoppers. We took the biggest fish back to the boat and our chef would cook them up as pre dinner snacks.
After 4 blissful days on Lake Kariba we arrived at Rhino Safari Camp, a luxury bush camp on Muuyu Island in Zimbabwe’s Matusadona National Park. There are only 7 huts in the park and we took over all of them, they are situated near the waters’ edge and have no fencing or security, but are built on stilts, so animals freely passed underneath the huts during the day and at night. I will never forget the incredible views from our beds of a salmon pink sun that slipped behind the horizon, with a smattering of elephants always visible (and audible) just a few metres away as they drank by the river.
It was the perfect balance of feeling close to nature and the animals, but still holding a hint of luxury. During our first game drive our guide took us to see an orphaned baby elephant that had recently been killed by a pack of hyenas. Its mother had died a few days before after being shot by poachers. I hadn’t realised quite how bad poaching had become in Zimbabwe. Despite the fact that an elephant’s tusk grows like a nail, so if it’s cut off properly it can grow back with no harm to the animal, poachers still prefer to shoot them in the head before cutting off their tusks. Sadly, despite the fact that most National Parks have anti poaching schemes in place, many of them are owned by the poachers. During my time at Rhino Safari camp I spent roughly 10 hours a day on game drives and never once saw an anti poaching jeep.
Thanks to the park being opened since 1991, we were able to get incredibly close to the animals as they had grown somewhat used to the jeeps and the guides. One afternoon we even left our jeep and explored the bush on foot. Our guide – Peter – explained that the previous family he had taken for a bush walk had been charged by elephants. He’d told them to stand completely still so as not to scare the elephants but they’d ignored his directions and fled. (I would have done the same!) Thankfully there was no charging of elephants during my walk, but we did find an impala that had been dragged into a nearby tree by a leopard.( I’ll spare you the gory image and not show you the picture)
My highlights during my stay here, were being trapped in our hut because Marula – an overly friendly elephant – had decided to eat some branches right outside our hut ( he did this on almost daily basis) and falling asleep to the sound of lions roaring nearby.
For anyone that is interested in going on a safari, I highly recommend considering Zimbabwe over the commercialised and extremely touristy South Africa. You will have a more real and life changing experience, you’ll see a bigger range of animals and be able to get closer to them than you ever imagined.
If you’d like more information on the places I have been to, check out the links below:
Pamuzinda Lodge – http://dunhuramambo.com/lodges/pamuzinda/
Relax in luxury at Pamuzinda Safari Lodge, only an hour out of Harare.
Shikra houseboat – http://dunhuramambo.com/houseboats/#other
Hire the perfect houseboat for your getaway on Lake Kariba with Dunhu Ramambos Umbozha fleet.
Rhino Safari Camp – http://www.rhinosafaricamp.com/
The spirit and natural rhythms of nature combine with the warmth of the raw, untamed environment and are interwoven with legends of mysterious and powerful ancient …
To my fellow readers – have any of you been on a safari? If so, where did you go?