By Travel Beyond consultant Marguerite Smit
All jobs have their perks. Mine include travel, but it’s a different kind of travel – travel that moves the soul. You change as an individual with every trip you take. You can’t help it; it changes your perception, and if you are lucky enough, it moves you to dance…
My travels recently took me to Zimbabwe, a country that has been the clout of controversy over the years. I have to say that I fell in love with this place, once known as “the breadbasket of Southern Africa,” almost immediately. A remarkable 83% of the country is unemployed and although conservation efforts have been slow yet groundbreaking, hunting remains a large source of income in many of the conservation regions. These photographic regions were stumped in growth due to sanctions against the country, making hunting the easy solution. This alone should spark interest in traveling to Zimbabwe as each tourist’s dollar helps in the conservation efforts here, a country with unlimited potential. As a photographic tourist, you are literally taking bullets out of the hands of hunters – empowering conservation regions to function, employing locals and educating them on the positive future of conservation efforts. The government itself gains very little (around 1%) from tourism dollars. In fact the biggest winner in this scenario would be the wildlife of Zimbabwe.
My first stop in Zimbabwe was Victoria Falls. For those of you not familiar with the geography, the Zambezi River creates the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls and forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Seventy-five percent of the falls actually lie within Zimbabwe, where there are 16 viewpoints At these viewpoints, it rains 24hrs, 365-days a year due to the spray from the falls. The Falls never dry up on this side, and the town of Victoria Falls is less than 1 km away from the actual falls. Everything here is more convenient and accessible than on the Zambian side. The town of Victoria Falls is a small town you actually want to stroll around in. Pricing for accommodation and activities are generally lower on this side of the falls, as Zimbabwe has lower government taxes and levies. Previously Zimbabwe was seen as an unsafe country to travel to, but I would like to directly address this by saying I have never felt safer traveling as a single female in Africa. I visited Victoria Falls Hotel (colonial), Elephant Camp (tented), Imbabala (thatched) and Ilala Lodge (mid-range small resort) – all offering something unique and different.
Hwange National Park
Next I ventured to Hwange National Park where I visited Little Makalolo, The Hide and Somalisa Tented Camp, covering a triangle within the park. Elephant activity here was out of this world! The many shallow pans in the area lend to wonderful sightings of sable, roan, southern giraffe, blue wildebeest, impala and, if you are lucky, Oryx. The park is best known for its predators: lion, leopard, wild dog and cheetah, along with the smaller African wildcat, serval, honey badger, civit and spotten hyaena.
Matusadona National Park
From Hwange I travelled to Changa River Camp on the shores of Lake Kariba in the Matusadona National Park. The lodge is situated within a private concession with 4.5km of pristine lakeshore, providing stunning views of the mysterious Matusadona Mountains across the island waters of Lake Kariba. Activities here include game drives, walking and fishing safaris. Healthy populations of elephant, buffalo and antelope frequent the shoreline. Hippos and crocodiles (large crocs) are in abundance in the cool waters, and birdlife is prolific with 350 species having been identified in the area. This is also the place where “Operation Noah” took place—a remarkable story of wildlife rescue lasting from 1958-1964 in Zimbabwe. The rescue operation was in response to rising waters drowning wildlife, caused by the creation of Lake Kariba by a man-made dam – a remarkable piece of wildlife history captured in this very special place.
Mana Pools National Park
From the relaxing shores of Lake Kariba I travelled to Mana Pools where I visited Kanga (a tented camp inland from the river) and Ruchomechi Camp (along the shores of the Mighty Zambezi), getting a good feel for the region. Here you get wonderful views of the escarpment over the border in Zambia. This region is renowned for large numbers of elephant, buffalo, hippo and eland. Predators such as lion, leopard and wild dog are also found here. Birdlife in the region is superb, particularly for both the Mopane woodland and riverine species. This region also boasts the tallest Mopane trees I have seen, as elephant were heavily hunted in the 80’s in Mana Pools, which gave the trees the opportunity to outgrow the elephant’s usual feeding height. What’s left is magical for as far as the eye can see. During the dry season, the 4 main pools that Mana (meaning 4) Pools is famous for hold water year round, becoming an oasis for wildlife. I also visited Goliath, a semi-permanent camp and a very rustic option in the park located along the river. Goliath is the perfect setting for guests wanting that real bush experience: no electricity with only the basics amenities but the most breathtaking views from all around the camp. Stretch Ferreira, the owner, is on hand guiding guests and is a real personality in the area. Goliath safaris is one of the most established operators in Mana Pools and has been in operation for over 30 years.
From here I headed to Zambia, but that is a story for another day. Zimbabwe touched my soul. The people I met and places where we captured moments in time together will forever be in my heart. I highly recommend a visit to this long forgotten safari destination!
My Favorite Trip Photos