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29.06.2012

Zimbabwe: Preparing the Trip

Already in 2010 we played with the idea of visiting Zimbabwe, but found very little information. The economic collapse and the surreal inflation rate made travelling there infeasible between 1998 and 2009. A few blogs raved about an amazing country and some travel guides pointed at some of the challenges, but did not provide answers. Ironically, prior to the dark years, Zimbabwe used to be major tourist destination, with more than 2 million visitors a year. Our parameters were: we did not want to book the trip through a tour...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

30.06.2012

Easy Driving in Zimbabwe

Driving in Zimbabwe is extremely easy: we averaged around 90 to 100 km/h on excellent roads linking major cities and our GPS found even tracks within National Parks. Traffic in rural areas is minimal and even in cities like Bulawayo or Harare, traffic jams are unknown. Only the roads leading directly towards border crossings with Zambia and South Africa are busy with trucks, very modern ones though, none of the puffing, diesel-spewing wrecks often seen in many African countries. Gasoline is available in all major cities, although...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

30.06.2012

Zimbabwe Collapsing - Zimbabwe Reviving

Once the bread basket of southern Africa and a country with a flourishing tourism industry, the economy of Zimbabwe collapsed between 1998 and 2009. Hyperinflation forced people to shop for bread with 100 Trillion Zimbabwean Dollar bills, the price tags in supermarkets could not be exchanged fast enough. Not to mention the massive shortage of almost all staple goods. Reasons for this disaster were manifold, but the widest international media coverage received Mugabe expelling white farmers and distributing the land to his cronies....[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

01.07.2012

Going Through Immigration and Custom… in Theory!

This is correct procedure for going through immigration and customs with a rented car. Unfortunately, it might be slightly different, especially if you decide to go through Beitbridge… First of all, buy a Gate Pass for the car (blue paper, 10 USD). This one will have to be stamped by almost everyone! Line up at immigration - if you need a visa, have 30 USD ready (more for US & British citizens…) Buy a 3rd party insurance from one of the touts. We paid 700 South African Rands, probably way too much. For doing that, you need the...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

01.07.2012

Beitbridge - Zimbabwe’s Most Notorious Border Crossing

Being the only border crossing with South Africa it can hardly be avoided, though rumors have it that some tourists even drive a long detour through Botswana and enter Zimbabwe via Plumbtree, just to do so. No, we did not pay any of the “runners” who get your documents ahead in the long queue at customs, all under the watchful eyes of a so called security person. Besides, by the times we had figured out the scam, we were too angry for deals. Even without paying the touts we had to flash money left and right, all kinds of taxes, visa...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

02.07.2012

Bulawayo - Here We Come

Deserted best describes the region stretching between Beitbridge and Bulawayo: no traffic on an excellent road, none of the typical caravans of people walking and carrying heavy loads, no herds of animals. We passed one non-descript sad looking town but apart from that it was flat, parched countryside dotted with small trees and bushes that were about to lose their last dry leaves. Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, is a friendly, sleepy town with wide streets and very little traffic, none of the bustle and hustle, noise and...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

02.07.2012

Bald Heads - Matobo National Park

Matobo National Park got its name from the Ndebele King Mzilikazi, who compared the balancing rocks to an assembly of elders from his tribe. The small hills (kopje) are adorned with stunning rock formations, spires, domes and large boulders defying gravity. No wonder King Mzilikazi wanted to be buried in this amazing place. Ironically, the key figure of European Imperialism, Cecil Rhodes, followed suit. His simple tomb is on top of a small conic hill called “Views of the World”. Large boulders surrounded the tomb, watching over it...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

03.07.2012

Stone Age Cave Paintings

Rock paintings are Matobo’s other and for some even main attraction. Early San people (bushman) created these precise, delicate and above all realistic drawings of game and hunters. How long they have been up there is a subject of scientific discussion, somewhere between 2.000 and 10.000 years. Some caves can be easily accessed, others are more time consuming. We checked out those: The “White Rhino Shelter”, The Pomongwe Cave, which has been seriously damaged by botched attempts to conserve the paintings, The stunning Nswatugi...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

03.07.2012

Matobo National Park - Poached Empty …

Game is very rare in this park, even in the Whovi Wilderness Area, the fenced in game viewing section. We were extremely motivated to spot one of the supposedly 30 Rhinos that still roam in this area and hired a ranger. But we had to accept that one giraffe and a few rock dassies would be all the wildlife on this otherwise most pleasant walking tour … What struck us was how shy & scared the animals were. Even the cheekiest of all, the baboons, would fade into the bushes once we approached, something we had never seen before....[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

04.07.2012

Boreholes - The Life Line of Hwange

Once Hwange National Park was declared a National Reserve in 1929 one thing became clear soon. To support a stock of game on the edge of the Kalahari Desert, a permanent water supply was needed, especially during the dry season. Over 60 holes were drilled, the water pumped up by noisy diesel powered pumps. Although the animals can roam freely around this park the size of Belgium, they have become dependent of the water holes maintained by the ZimParks Authorities. Unfortunately, suffering from lack of funding, many of these pans stay...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

05.07.2012

Elephants’ Territory

Near Sinamattela Camp, on the western fringes of Hwange National Park, we enjoyed the best game viewing. Two evenings in a row, we watched about 200 elephants gather at the Masuma Dam waterhole, the bigger ones shoving, pushing and trumpeting for a good position. Cheeky baby elephants sneaked underneath big bellies, curious what the commotion was all about. Every minute something different, exciting caught our eye: a baby elephant falling on its rear end, young ones spraying themselves with mud and then stand perfectly still to dry...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

06.07.2012

Mosi Oa Tunya - The Smoke That Thunders

“Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight”, Livingstone is quoted saying when he first set eye on what the local Makololo people called “The Smoke That Thunders”. Could he really guess in 1855 that one day thundering helicopters would take tourists high up in the sky to get that angel’s view? Livingstone, who was taken there in a dugout canoe, was lucky to arrive in November. During peak flow from March to May, the falls are completely obscured by the massive spray. In July, when we visited, it was still...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

08.07.2012

Business Around the Falls

A mind-boggling array of adventure activities has developed around Victoria Falls, like Abseiling, Flying Fox, Gorge Swing, the most popular being Whitewater Rafting and Bungee Jumping. In December 2011, an Australian girl survived a plunge from the platform on the bridge although the rope tore. Head first, she plummeted into the Zambezi River rushing below. With her feet still tied together, she miraculously was able to pull herself to safety onto the rocks with only a few bruises... Clever packages offer a combination of all...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

09.07.2012

Empty Shelves in Mlibizi

We spotted the supermarket right away when we pulled into Mlibizi… Not that there are many other buildings! Eager to buy supplies for dinner we found mainly empty shelves. This is what it must have been like until 2009. All that was available was cleaning material, but hardly any food. We grabbed the last 3 beer bottles, proudly walking away with our little prey. Even the ladies at the little market nearby had nothing to sell but dried fish and cabbage. Nevertheless, they had an advice: “Ask the lady at Mlibizi Resort”. True enough,...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

10.07.2012

Crossing Lake Kariba

Gliding through the calm waters of Lake Kariba on the comfortable Sea Lion is a must-do when travelling Zimbabwe. Starting in Mlibizi, the boat sails north, close to the shore and later past islands. Hard to believe that those were once small hills… Lake Kariba was born in 1954 and only 6 years later, electricity was produced here by taming the Zambezi with a huge dam. The animals that retreated to those islands were saved in a dramatic rescue operation, called “Operation Noah”. For 60.000 people of the Batonga tribe, who lived in...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

11.07.2012

Mana Pools - Canoeing the Zambezi River

Should anybody ask us what we liked best about this entire trip, the answer is very simple: the four days canoeing on the Zambezi River, camping on its bank and being in the midst of all this wildlife. And let’s not forget, listening to Gus’ exciting stories, a resume of 20 years of experience in national parks all over southern Africa. What made it so special? The different approach to game viewing! We moved in canoes and on foot. Yes, on foot... Each day, just after dawn, Gus, our guide from SunPath Safaris, took us for a walk...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

12.07.2012

Mana Pools - Hippo Attack

Of course we remembered what Gus had said during the briefing, “There are times where you need to concentrate on other things than taking a photo.” When we approached a narrow passage littered with hippos, we sensed that this might be such a moment. Gus was knocking the paddle against the canoe to make them move, to no avail. We sensed it was not the usually “let’s pass a bunch of hippos” situation. Nevertheless, a buffalo staring at us, monkeys racing up and down a tree and a huge elephant watching our attempts to pass the hippos...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

13.07.2012

Death in the Velt

The stench we noticed first, whiffing across the water! Gus immediately knew what it was, a decaying carcass. A few more strokes with our paddles and we could see the corpus delicti, a dead hippo lying on a small island. A vulture had already landed on its bloated body. Others were circling above. Next was the skeleton of a hippo, on one of our morning walks we stumbled across it in a dried up pen. Diligently we studied the enormous bones and how they were spread around the dried up water hole, probably by those in the food chain...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

13.07.2012

Painted Dogs: An Unexpected Encounter

Death is never far in the wilderness. After decaying hippos, crocs killing crocs and the discovery of all kinds of skeletons, the most fascinating incident was yet to come. It happened on our last morning walk, when Gus was trying to find a big cat, as he put it. All of a sudden a large pack of funny looking creatures raced by us, very close. Some even sped towards us, stopped short as if confused and then followed the pack. “Painted dogs!” Gus hissed, “They are extremely rare. Let’s follow them, they are hunting.” We were so...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

14.07.2012

Chinhoyi - Best Worms Ever

Suddenly signs popped up along the road claiming Chinhoyi was the city of the “best worms”. We were baffled. Was this a local delicacy? All the information we could find in our Bradt Guide was that Chinhoyi had spectacular limestone caves with large blue underground pools, a cave divers’ paradise. Curious, we decided to give it a shot and stay for the night. Besides we had left Mana Pools National Park only early afternoon and could not make it into Harare before night fell. With only three hotels to choose from (neither worms...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

14.07.2012

Unspectacular Harare

Looking back, we still find only one reason for staying in Harare: to break up a trip. A good place to do so is at “It’s A Small World” guesthouse. The lovely garden with pool and nicely decorated rooms are truly inviting, all for 40 USD a double. Only the kitchen could need some improvement, but no worries. The mall down the road features a cool café, where mainly white and Indian business people sip their café latte and some restaurants. The Bon Marché supermarket fits right in. Even though it was too pricey to shop there, it was...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

15.07.2012

Walking with the Lions

Antelope Park, a game reserve with a resort-like touch, offers something very, very unique: a “Walk with Lions”! Expecting cubs, as promoted on the website, we were rather surprised to find two large lionesses lying in the grass. The trainers introduced them as 20 months old cubs (!) A bit embarrassed by their slackness the trainers explained, “They had just been fed and are a bit lazy“. Trying to make the lions rise, they pocked them with wooden sticks, which only triggered repeated yawning, revealing a set of mighty teeth. With the...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

15.07.2012

Elephants’ Training & Riding

Having already spent 85 USD per person on the lion walk the day before and being happy that the sun was out, we felt like what the heck, let’s splurge again! Elephant training was on the agenda, for only 20 USD. This included elephants performing all kinds of tricks (lifting their legs, kneeling down, kicking a ball) and putting up with us. Hopefully they did not mind us sitting on their legs, on top of them, grabbing their trunk, touching their rough skin and taking photos as if there is no tomorrow. The only thing that irritated...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

16.07.2012

Volunteering in Africa

Volunteering has become a fast growing industry, a very profitable business fed by well-meaning people, who for various reasons devote some time of their life to helping others. Africa seems to be predestined for such endeavors. During our many trips we learned that the continent is swarming with volunteers, working at schools, villages, game reserves, hospitals, with blind people, handicapped people, you name it! Most of them are young, spending anytime from a day to a year for a good cause. Why? Some believe being born into a...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

17.07.2012

Houses of Stone - Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe is the largest stone structure ever built south of the Sahara. In its heydays (between the 11th and 14th century) it served as the royal residence of an empire that reached from Botswana to the coast. Trading gold and ivory for clothes, beads and ceramics with far away places like India, Arabia and China made the city rich. The mighty stone walls may easily be mistaken for fortifications, but they were not. Scientist came to believe that the high (11 meters) and thick (6 meters) walls served as a status symbol for a...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

18.07.2012

Gonarezhou - Alone Under the Cliffs

Slumped in our camping chairs, right in front of us Chilojo Cliffs were glowing red and golden, painted by the setting sun. And the best of all, we had them all to ourselves! Actually, we had the entire park to ourselves… A quick look into the registration book at the gate revealed that nobody else had entered the park that day. We could pick any camping site we wanted, the ranger said. Naturally we set up camp at a prime location, at the Wilderness Camp Site facing the cliffs, right on the Runde River. During the dry season, the...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

19.07.2012

Driving Along the Mozambique Border

Mutare was the place where our trio was to part. Heidi and Jason continued into Mozambique and Gilles drove straight down to Johannesburg / South Africa to fly home. Somebody has to work… But first we had to get to Mutare. From Gonarezhou National Park we followed the road running parallel to a mountain range forming the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Here Zimbabwe seemed the most traditional and the most scenic. The hilly scenery was a pleasant change to the large stretches of flat countryside in other parts of the...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

20.07.2012

Camping in the Wilderness…

Camping in Zimbabwe’s national parks gets you as close to nature, the wilderness and animals as you can possibly be. Sometimes frighteningly close! The sounds and noises made by feeding animals all night in “Wilderness Camps” often gave us goose pimples, but pleasant one. Wilderness campsites in Hwange National Park and Mana Pools National Park are in high demand and hard to get in. Only a very limited number of cars, one to four, are allowed in each, guaranteeing the upmost privacy and quietness. Especially in Mana Pools, do not...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

21.07.2012

Flying the “Big Bird” Down Under

Not that we got there any sooner, flying in the gigantic Airbus A380, but it was a great experience! Something that Gilles had wanted to do for a long time. The check-in in Paris was already quite a sight. Try to picture 516 passengers getting on board at the same time. To be honest is was very orderly, different utopian looking gateways, one for each class, take the passengers inside. Though the times when airlines generously gave away miles are long gone, Gilles managed to collect a lot. So many that we could fly Business Class...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe

22.07.2012

Zimbabwe - Budget

Zimbabwe is a very expensive African destination, if you decide to make the most of its highlights. The two biggest expenses were renting a 4WD and the 4 day canoe safari on the Zambezi. All the fun stuff around Victoria Falls or Antelope Park adds to the bill. And it was a stiff one! In 22 days we spent in total 4.400 USD per person, not including the intercontinental flight. How come one of the poorest nations on this planet, where the economy and the tourism industry collapsed in the last decade, can be that expensive for...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe, Budget

23.07.2012

3 weeks in Zimbabwe - Summary

After travelling 5.700 kilometers in three weeks in cars, boats and even a canoe, we got a bit of a feel what Zimbabwe is like, at least from a tourist’s perspective… Nevertheless, this country is so large and has so much to offer, on and off the beaten tracks that we actually feel we only scratched the surface! What makes it special? We had the touristic highlights pretty much to ourselves. Even the relatively touristy Victoria Falls was quite relaxed… The game viewing is unique and so different to safaris in other countries!...[more]

Category: Zimbabwe, Summaries