Wildlife & waterfalls …in Zimbabwe
Having been on safari in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, I have always been intrigued by Zimbabwe and what the country’s national parks have to offer. Back in the 1990s, Zimbabwe was one of the top destinations for a wildlife safari but years of violent and tumultuous rule by the former leader Robert Mugabe led tourism numbers to decline significantly.
I travelled to Zimbabwe’s largest national park, Hwange, which is located on the eastern-most edge of the Kalahari desert and covers 14,000 sq km. I flew to Hwange from Victoria Falls and was straight on a safari drive from the airstrip to my camp, located in the magnificent Linkwasha concession in the south-eastern corner of the park.
The scenery of the park is a mix of golden sand, lush woodland, saltpans, acacia scrub and palm-fringed grasslands. The park has one of the densest concentrations of wildlife in Africa, in particular its herds of elephants and buffalo. Arriving at Linkwasha Camp we were greeted by a very proud team of staff. We were even joined by some elephants happily drinking at the swimming pool, oblivious to the people clicking away on their cameras.
Linkwasha Camp, Hwange
I went on twice daily wildlife drives during my stay here. At this time of year (October) the weather is dry and hot. Elephants were out in force, drinking from the waterholes on the plains, along with any other animals that could get their snouts in. We also spotted a number of migratory birds that had flown from as far afield as Europe in anticipation of the rains to come.
Elephants seen on a wildlife drive, Hwange
Aside from the safaris, I also visited a local village. The school in the village was supported by Wilderness Safaris and Children in the Wilderness, projects which aim to encourage sustainable conservation through the education of children in rural regions of Africa. The positive results of their work can be seen at Linkwasha Camp, who employ guides, chefs and camp hosts from this very village. It was humbling to see such dedication from the teachers with limited resources, particularly at a time when such basics to us as sugar, salt and cooking oil are very difficult to come by. A daily meal for the villagers and school children consisted of rice and beans, occasionally supplemented by fruit and vegetables grown on their own land.
School children in the local village, Hwange
Hwange is perfectly combined with the Victoria Falls, which can be reached by a five-hour road transfer or an hour-long flight in a light aircraft. Bordering both Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is the only waterfall in the world with a width of more than a kilometre and a height of more than hundred metres. It was named by the Kololo tribe living in the area in the 1800s as Mosi-Oa-Tunya, meaning ‘The Smoke that Thunders’. In its peak flow, the noise of Victoria Falls can be heard from a distance of 40km, while the spray and mist from the falling water rises to a height of over 400 metres and can be seen from a distance of 50km.
I viewed the falls from both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides. Both countries allow tourists to make day trips to Victoria Falls without prior application process. When entering either Zambia or Zimbabwe, a Kaza UniVisa can be obtained on arrival which allows you to cross between both countries as many times as you wish, making it easier to experience both sides of the falls.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
From the Zambian side, inside the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park, the falls can be viewed from several points but one of the best vantage points is from Knife Edge Bridge. It’s important to note that only 25% of the falls can be viewed from the Zambian side. I visited the falls in October when the water levels are at their lowest. Although not quite so impressive at this time of year, I was able to see remarkable geological features including the Eastern Cataract, the Main Falls, the Boiling Pot and Batoka Gorge, all of which are hidden by the spray and water during peak flow.
With my guide, I crossed into Zimbabwe via the Victoria Falls Bridge. From the entrance of the Victoria Falls National Park, a cobblestoned pathway leads through to over a dozen viewpoints, all truly spectacular. In contrast to the Zambian side, there was a much heavier flow of water. Along some sections of the trail I could feel the spray and the roar of the water. During peak flow, visitors need to wear waterproof ponchos and wear sturdy, non-slip shoes as pathways get drenched and become slippery. Unsurprisingly, Zimbabwe receives more visitors to view the falls as it offers a far more dramatic spectacle than Zambia. However, with the ease of crossing borders and a number of quality hotels and lodges on both sides, it’s easy to see the best of the falls, whatever side you stay.
With the recent change of leadership and the country in the middle of economic uncertainty, I travelled to Zimbabwe with some apprehension. However I was completely blown away by the beautiful landscapes, wildlife aplenty and the warmth of the Zimbabwean people.
Cox & Kings offers a number of suggested private itineraries to Zimbabwe. Alternatively, if you are interested in a tailor-made trip, please either call one of our Africa travel consultants or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.