Zimbabwe Offers a Slice of Northern Delight

Posted on 6 May 2021

Zimbabwe was once the road-trip destination for Saffers, but has been at the butt end of bad press for too long. Now our neighbour to the north 
is gearing up for your visit as soon as you can.

Words & Photos David Rogers

Stunning Kariba Lodge is situated on 13 hectares of forested mountainside with views over the Eastern Basin of Lake Kariba.

I flew into Bulawayo after a summer storm and was greeted by the fresh smell of water on dust – it’s a particular smell called petrichor and, for me, the fragrance was as warm and welcoming as an African sunrise. It was great to be back in Zimbabwe at the start of a two-week road trip that would take me, Garth Jenman of Jenman Safaris and Byrone Roche of Zambezi Cruise Safaris on a fact-finding mission to Matobo, Vic Falls, Hwange, Kariba and Mana Pools. Settling into the worn leather seats 
of a Land Cruiser, my mind freewheeled back to times long before when I had travelled the country as a kid. 
I could clearly remember the dull roar of the Ford Fairlane engine and picnics under tall baobabs.

The Matopos Hills was a great place to start. The World Heritage Site covers some 3 000 square kilometres of Matabeleland – a treasure trove of rock art, pottery shards, monuments and memories of war and peace that tell the essence of Zimbabwe’s history. We stayed at Shashani Lodge, set among a string of granite pearls, and were the first international tourists in months. The team could barely contain their smiles behind their masks.

Noah Ngwenya

The warm-hearted guide from Masumi River Lodge at Binga took us on a tour of a Tsonga village and to the hot springs. He also guides fishing trips and houseboat excursions to Elephant Bay.

We explored the park with Norman Bourne of Black Rhino Safaris and he told us of the birth of the rocks, stories of the very particular plants and animals and walked us within metres of seven white rhinos. We shared the excitement with two Swiss tourists, the only other international visitors we would see on our entire journey.

At World’s View, where Cecil John Rhodes and Leander Starr Jameson lord over the landscape from their graves, he reminded us of the Pioneer Column – a military force raised by Rhodes and his British 
South Africa Company in 1890 and used to annex Mashonaland. This paved the way for the controversial establishment of Southern Rhodesia. What other man in history, I wondered, has had the gall to name 
a country after himself?

Golden dawn lights up Shashani 
Lodge and the granite outcrops of the 
Matopos Hills.

I thought a lot about the Pioneer Column, too – and of one member in particular – Trooper Bradley, my great grandfather who was in its ranks. When the 
Pioneer Column was disbanded, having achieved its purpose for Rhodes, the troopers were given land to farm. Unlike many of his fellows, Trooper Bradley did not stay in Rhodesia but returned to his home in England where he married Sir Percy Fitzpatrick’s sister. His fascinating story is told in an extensive diary and includes details of the Pioneer expedition as well as the adventures that he had as a young man. One day, 
I thought, I must take my own children to the Matopos Hills to consider their place in the complex and controversial history of this country.

Norman Bourne

Norman Bourne’s open vehicle looked like it had travelled many, many miles and the potato salad and pink polony he served was a real blast from the past. This was all khaki shorts, Leatherman and slops, the relaxed 
I remembered from my youth. He walked us up 
to rhinos in Matobo, 
showed us rock art and reminded us how Rhodes had secured the mining rights to an entire country for 100 000 rounds of ammunition and 1 000 Martini-Henry rifles.

North to Hwange

Driving towards this renowned national park, the long straight roads, the trees and small villages all had such a familiarity. There were one or two roadblocks but the officials were polite and friendly and, after checking our masks, waved us on our way. Even though Zim’s economy remains as unpredictable as the stormy summer weather, travelling felt as safe and welcoming as when I was a kid.

Elephant’s Eye in Hwange near Main Gate, is owned by Garth Jenman’s company, Hideaways, and was offering good rates to Zimbabweans and South Africans – which they’ll extend throughout this year to stimulate the tourism industry. It had a double-storey bar looking out onto the waterhole where 
elephants, including the famous Presidential Herd, come to drink in the dry season. This group of 15 families comprises some 500 elephants, and is so named because Alan Eliott, a local guide, succeeded in getting the herd presidential protection.

We also visited Nantwich, which lies a full day’s drive north, near Robin’s Camp and Pandamatenga’s border to Botswana. This area was really remote – a sit back, grab a whisky and wait-for-something-to-happen kind of place. There were hundreds of buffalo in front of the camp and lions roared in the distance – a hint of some serious action to come. But nature cannot be predicted and, as we sat on the deck with drinks in hand, a wild dog, ears up and alert, emerged and frightened a kudu cow which ran straight into the dam. A crocodile was instantly upon it and drowned it so fast, I was only able to photograph an ear.

‘That was a real Tony Park moment,’ said Garth. 
Tony Park, an acclaimed Australian author, wrote several of his African adventures at Nantwich and when Garth restored the buildings after a fire, Tony and his wife invested.

Cecil John Rhodes is buried 
at World’s View in 
the Matopos.

If you walk out of the bar, up the hill and through a rusty gate you can find the grave of another Nantwich character. Percy Durban Crewe was known in Matabeleland for gold prospecting, mining, farming and a fair amount of drinking. He was also well respected by the Ndebele King, Lobengula. After rising 
tensions with British forces in August 1893, Crewe was sent by the king, along with an amaNdebele deputation, to request of Queen Victoria that his sovereignty be respected. The deputation made its way to Cape Town but were hindered from sailing on to England as the Matabeleland conflict escalated. His forces 
defeated, Lobengula fell ill and died in early 1894.

When we exited Hwange the next day, we realised that no guests had passed through the gate for nearly a week. The exclusivity we’d enjoyed in a slice of African wilderness almost half the size of Belgium felt pretty amazing.

Garth often takes tourists over the border into Botswana but we headed directly to Victoria Falls, less than two hour’s drive from Nantwich. No matter how many times I see the falls, the sight always takes my breath away. This time I felt a little sombre. Plans for the proposed 2 400-megawatt Batoka Gorge Hydroelectric Dam threatens to push Zambezi’s waters so far upstream that the most exciting one-day river rafting trip in the world is imperiled.

Tamaka Sharara

In Hwange, at Painted Dog Conservation, 
human and wildlife 
conflict is managed through education and community outreach – 
a difficult task in a massive reserve without fences and 
surrounded by farming communities. Five wild dogs, held in a pen, were under arrest. ‘They are criminals,’ researcher Tamaka explained, throwing up her hands. ‘Every time we release them, they kill goats. 
We are looking for a better place for them.’

To the Lake

Two hours drive from Victoria Falls, the backwaters of the 220km-long Lake Kariba washes the dry and blisteringly hot Lower Zambezi Valley at Binga. We stayed at Masumu River Lodge with wraparound views of the lake and a sunset bar where we sipped Zambezi 
Lagers and watched kapenta boats fishing, their lights twinkling like stars in the darkening skies. Garth looked forward to the return of tourists, when houseboats moored at Binga would take their guests to Elephant Bay – and even further to Kariba. For me, the most exciting gems of Zimbabwe lay there and at Mana Pools. It’s a bakkie-breaking drive to get there along the lake shore, so we opted for the long route via the capital, Harare.

A new double-lane freeway from Gwelo to 
Harare, being built by a South African company, took us to Pamuzinda Safari Lodge. An hour out of Harare, it had plains game, horses and well-tended gardens – a great base to re-energise before the drive to Mana.

The expansive view from the pool at Nantwich in Hwange.

The road to Mana

On previous fly-in safaris from Harare to Mana, 
I had observed endless farmland that was parched and barren. Now, travelling by road, I was pleased to note that modern irrigation, tractors and cultivated fields suggested that farming post-Mugabe was on the up. Many Zimbabwe farmers are being invited back onto the land and seem to be doing a great job of it.

A must-stop in this seemingly prosperous farming area was Lion’s Den with its freshly roasted coffee, chargrilled burgers and delicious strips of Zimbabwe beef hanging up to dry. Everyone stocked up with biltong here it seemed – in fact, we had just missed legendary guide Stretch Ferreira of Goliath Safaris coming out of the valley.

The scenic drive down the escarpment to the Zambezi was busy with lorries bringing copper out of Zambia. We could’ve driven east for four bumpy hours to Mana Pools National Park headquarters but instead left our car in Churundu and went in by boat. It was exquisite to be on a silky smooth water transfer, with a cold Zambezi in my hand, watching Tonga huts, herds of elephants and innumerable small fishing camps flashing by.

Hippos greeted us in their usual bored way in Matusadona 
National Park.

Mana Pools Safari Lodge was quite unlike the seasonal tented camps which are the norm in this World Heritage Site. It had an unexpectedly large footprint with a colossal wooden roof shading its deck. The house-sized tents had space for two large double beds and, in a first for me, had bathrooms with gold taps and a bidet! It felt strange to be in such a grand lodge in Mana and even more so in one that had not seen guests in more than a year.

We were in Mana just before the rains and elephants were plucking the pods off the winter thorn trees and congregating around the wild mangoes. Lions panted heavily beneath the trees and impala were everywhere. We saw one other tourist in the park – and almost saw the end of him, too. In a most random series of events, an entire tree fell and missed his car by metres as he drove by. The crashing crunch of breaking branches was a dinner bell for two elephant bulls that rushed in to feed on its branches. He drove on; seemingly unaware of just how close he had come to being squashed.

Bruce, who was forced off his land at gunpoint in 2002, now sells beautiful handcrafted furniture at Lion’s 
Den on the road to Chirundu. Zimbabwe 
is coming full circle he said. ‘My son is back 
on the land and now runs a very successful 
farming enterprise. South Africans should come here and farm. There are plenty 
of opportunities.’

Kariba on the up
Five years ago, you wouldn’t have found a cold Coke in Kariba. Now, in the harbour there were dozens of houseboats, including the gleaming Matusadona and three other brand new craft. Business was booming, I was told. I met a savvy, financial investor from Singapore who decided to make Kariba his home. And with wrap-around views of the lake, who can blame him?

We spent a night at Kariba Lodge which had the sort of polished service and luxury that you could expect in a modern hotel anywhere in the world.

The charm of Elephant’s Eye is not missed by the Presidential Herd which visits in the dry season.

Next morning we boarded the Sovereign – 
a triple-story air-conditioned houseboat with a crew of five, well stocked with food and beers and two tender boats. We headed east to Sanyati West and moored in a calm bay on the shores of Matusadona National Park. Large herds of elephant and buffalo roamed the shore; we caught bream and ate them freshly fried, washed down with cold Zambezis. These were lazy days that melted into one another and, as my departure for home loomed, I was already planning for a return visit.

Zimbabwe had been as friendly, warm and safe as I remembered from childhood. There were none of the problems with police roadblocks, 
petrol rations or corruption that I had read about in the media. This was the Zimbabwe of old – 
a country offering so much diversity and hungry for South African travellers. Good flight connections with our neighbour mean it’s easy to get there. But if you want my advice, pack the car and your sarmies and hit the road, just like we used to do in the old days.

Trip Planner


David’s trip was organised by 
Jenman African Safaris and Hideaways Jenmansafaris.comhideawaysafrica.com

Jenman has the following special six-night set departures for Getaway readers. 
Prices are for SADC guests only.

– Three nights Lake Kariba cruise, three nights Lake Kariba Safari Lodge, 
from R19 782 pp.

– One night Victoria Falls, two nights Masumu Lodge and three nights Kariba Cruise, from R19 782 pp.

– One night Victoria Falls, two nights Hwange and three nights on Lake Kariba, from R24 282 pp.

– Three nights Mana Pools Safari Lodge and three nights on Lake Kariba on a houseboat, from R26 982 pp

– These rates are for two sharing and exclude single supplements and park fees.

021 683 7826
[email protected]

The Zambezi River runs between the shores of Mana Pools 
in Zimbabwe (left) and Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park (right).


Airlink offers flights from Joburg to Harare return for around R3 000, flyairlink.com.

Fastjet does this and also flies to Bulawayo or Victoria Falls from around R4 500 return, fastjet.com.

Kenya Airways flies to Victoria Falls from Cape Town for around R4 950 return. kenya-airways.com

Self-Drive Rentals

Manapools.com offers 4×4 self-drive rentals 
out of Victoria Falls and Harare. Popular tours are eight-day Harare, Mana, Chitake trips and 14-day trips also include Kariba ferry, Hwange and Vic Falls. The rates, based on four persons travelling together, are from 
R1 500 pp per day including 4×4 rental, 
pre-booked campsites, guesthouse and transfer fees. Rates exclude fuel, food and park fees. They have a network of fuel and backup solutions. Vehicles are provided with pre-paid toll cards, and eco-cash wallets for expenses.

+263 778 422 185.

Avis South Africa will rent you a Ford Ranger single cab overlander equipped for camping for 12 days 
for R23 553.


Herds of buffalo crowd the shore of 
Matusadona National Park bordering Lake Kariba.

Need to Know

• If you are bringing a vehicle into Zim, you will require a valid passport, certified copy of vehicle registration papers in the name of the driver (or letter of authority from the registered owner). A temporary import permit will be issued at the border.

• Third-Party Insurance is compulsory – buy at the border for R90 for a small sedan and R270 for a large 4×4.

• Vehicles also require reflective tape on the bumpers and square strips on trailers, a fire extin- guisher, ZA sticker and safety vests. Get full details at aa.co.za.

• Borders Beitbridge is the busiest entry point and is best avoided. Plumtree between Botswana and Zimbabwe is less busy. Borders are open from 
8am to 5pm.

• Petrol and tolls Petrol in Zimbabwe costs around US$1.2 per litre (at the time of publishing), payable in US dollars only. There is usually one toll road between major centres charging roughly R15 per vehicle – Zimbabwe dollars are required. Obtain US dollars before departing as getting foreign currency in Zimbabwe banks is difficult and methods of exchange are often informal. A high tax on credit cards means that vendors will increase prices by up to 50% to cover their costs.

• Roadblocks are on all main highways and we had only good experiences as they were only concerned with Covid protocols.

• Covid tests We were required to show a negative Covid test before flying to Zimbabwe and also prior to returning to South Africa. It was expertly handled in less than 24 hours at Borrowdale Trauma Clinic in Harare at a cost of US$50. +263 242 886 921-4 traumazim.com

The Sovereign luxury houseboat sets sail at dawn from Matusadona.

Stay Here

All lodge prices listed are for SADC travellers only and are discounted for 2021. Contact Jenman African Safaris for these special 2021 rates on 027 21 683 7826 or [email protected]

In the Matobos

Shashani Lodge, in the Matopos Hills is 
a luxury lodge with magnificent views of Matopos and its own private reserve. From R1 700 pp for DBB. Activities from R200 per person. 
021 671 7729, 

Another option is the Farmhouse at 
R1 125 pp for DBB. farmhousematopos.

Big Cave has rates 
of R2 250 pp including meals, or camping from R225 pp, or stay in an Ndebele Village from R375 pp (children half price). 

Elephant’s Eye, Hwange

In Hwange

Elephant’s Eye has tented chalets on stilts with fireplaces and big outdoor baths and showers in a private concession. The Presidential Elephant Herd frequents the camp during the dry season. From R1 700 pp sharing for DBB. 
Game drives cost R675 pp. Drinks and park fees excluded. 
021 671 7729, 

Nantwich Camp is remotely situated in the northwest of the park, one of the best areas for buffalo and lion. From R1 700 pp for DBB. Drinks and park fees excluded. Game drives are 
R675 pp. 
021 671 7729. 

Robin’s Camp is a resort-style camp near Robin’s Gate with air-conditioned chalets starting at 
R2 100 pp, including meals. Game drives are an additional 
R1 500 pp. It also has a campsite, restaurant and swimming pool. robinscamp.com

Camping starts from R255 pp. You can also book picnic sites for exclusive use for six people from R2 595 per site. The picnic sites at Ngweshla 
and Kennedy are basic 
but well positioned and give you a ring-
side seat to the waterholes. WhatsApp 
+263 776 134 164

Mana Pools Safari Lodge

In Binga

Masumi River Lodge is a great sunset spot. From 
R1 700 pp for DBB. Drinks are excluded and activities are from R300 pp. 
+27 21 671 7729

Another great option on the lake is Kulizwe Lodge, from R1 700 pp. 

Lake Kriba

Kariba Safari Lodge is a stunning new lodge overlooking the lake, from R1 700 pp for DBB. Activities 
from R300 pp. 
021 671 7729, 

Sovereign houseboat is a luxury liveaboard for exploring Lake Kariba. From R3 750 pp (based on eight people aboard) including meals and onboard activities like fishing; excluding park fees. Game drives from R675 pp. 
021 671 7729,

Zambezi Cruise Safaris has a fleet of luxurious houseboats. Based on a group of eight, the rates are from R3 750 pp, including all meals 
and onboard activities, excluding park fees. Game drives from R675 pp. They also offer self-catering options from 
R11 250 per day. 

For something laid back, Sijarira Fishing Camp has a terrific beach, great staff and self-catering accommodation from R750 pp. Rent a boat from R750 for a half day. Whatsapp +263 788 680 136

Masumi River Lodge, Binga

Near Harare

Pamuzinda Safari Lodge is on a game reserve just over an hour outside Harare, which is great for before and after safaris. From R1 700 pp for DBB. 

In Mana Pools

Mana Pools Safari Lodge, from R4 425 pp sharing for full board, drinks and activities. Park fees are excluded. 
021 671 7729, 

Camp Mana is a traditional tented camp inside the national park and charges R4 425 pp for DBB, drinks 
and activities. campmana.com

Another way to explore the park is with Natureways which offers family-friendly mobile camps in Mana and multi-day canoe trips along the Zambezi. There’s a three-night special for R14 940 including a professional guide, meals, drinks and 
all activities. natureways.com

Camping in Mana Pools costs R1 725 
a site for six. Or book the basic Zimparks lodges for R2 760 
for four people. 
+263 776 134 164 

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