Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Thur 20 - Sat 22 Dec 2012 - Valencia near Beit Bridge

Late afternoon we arrived at Valencia Guest house which is just north of the Zimbabwe/South Africa border post.  It is on a citrus farm and the cool, tropical gardens were a perfect place to enjoy a cup of tea after our very long, hot and dusty drive.

The guest house was originally the current owner's parents' house and has been lovingly and tastefully converted into a farm house B&B.  Patti was very welcoming and took us for a drive to see the buffalo which they have on the farm and then to nearby her own house where they have two magnificent lions.  The lions came to Patti as cubs which had been orphaned and were hand reared but are now fully grown so kept in a large enclosure.  She can still stroke and pet them but they are now wild animals but were an amazing sight.  So content and well cared for and getting up close enough to them we were able to get some incredible photos.

We spent the next day exploring the lovely gardens, having a swim in the heat and relaxing.  We were served lovely home cooked meals and it was the perfect ending to our time in Zimbabwe.

We left early the next morning to cross the border into South Africa and continue our journey to Irene where we received the usual warm and loving welcome from my sister Dee and her family with whom we will spend Christmas and the next ten days until we fly off on the next leg of our journey.

Baobab tree


Our visit to Zimbabwe has been a very happy one.  Chris has looked forward to seeing the country where I grew up and we were so lucky to have explored so much of it, especially as mum has accompanied us on the journey.  She has been such a good sport and joined in with everything we have done, even when it has been scorchingly hot.  I truly hope that Zimbabwe will continue to improve so that the visitors start to return to enable the wonderful places to be explored and enjoyed more.  The people of Zimbabwe have and continue to live under very difficult times, yet they are still so friendly, happy and welcoming.  It has been great to be home again.  

Tue 18 Dec - Thur 20 Dec 2012 - Victoria Falls

After a reasonable sleep we woke early and were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise over the lake.  The kapenta boats were just finishing work for the night and they made a lovely backdrop to the inky lake as the sun came up.  After breakfast we arrived at Mlibisi and were sad to disembark as we had enjoyed the trip so much.  A 3 hour drive took us through little traditional thatched villages, past donkey carts, monkeys, cattle, villagers walking miles to fill huge buckets of water from the rivers and little children waving as we passed.

We arrived at Vic Falls after negotiating yet more police road blocks and another spot fine.   For the next 2 nights we stayed at a bed and breakfast which like a lot of places in Zimbabwe, has great potential but is a little tired and outdated, but it was fine as a base.

That evening we booked onto a sunset dinner cruise on the Zambezi river above the falls.  It was a rainy evening but that did nothing to spoil what was a very memorable evening.  We had a lovely group of people on the boat, the drinks were free flowing and the meal included freshly caught bream.  While cruising on the river we were so lucky to see hippos again - this time a large family and they were very close.  Chris was also happy as the captain managed to steer the boat right up to the bank where a large crocodile was hiding among the reeds.


The following day we went to see the spectacular Victoria Falls.  The walk through the rainforest was very humid but well worth it to see the view round the corner.  We managed, despite the heat, to walk all the way to the end of the footpath from where you get a great view of the bridge which spans the river between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  It is from this bridge that crazy people bungee jump into the ravine below.

That evening we went to the Victoria Falls hotel for a buffet supper with African dancing and music entertainment.  This was the first hotel in Vic Falls and still has a grand colonial feel to it.  Wandering through the old corridors and on the huge verandah overlooking the manicured gardens to the falls beyond you can imagine the old steam trains pulling into the station in the 1900's, bringing guests to the hotel and to marvel at one of the seven natural wonders of the world.


Next morning we were back on the road again for a very long hot day and an 8 hour trip to our next destination.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Sat 15 Dec - Mon 17 Dec 2012 - Kariba

After a couple of days in Harare we set off on Saturday morning on our road trip around Zimbabwe.  This gave Chris a chance to see rural Zim beyond the towns.  The roads are surprisingly good and apart from the frequent (and extremely annoying) police road blocks the journey from Harare to Kariba was a few hours easy drive.  We had hoped to see some game, particularly elephant on the road near Kariba but the recent rains meant that they have all headed into the valleys where there is now a lot of greenery for them.

We spent the next 2 nights at Cutty Sark in Kariba.  This was a trip down memory lane for me as it is about 30 years since I was last there.  It is in the process of being refurbished and updated after years of having very few tourists and when it is finished it will once again be a lovely place to stay.  The gardens are beautiful, green and lush and an oasis in the heat and humidity of Kariba.  We walked through the gardens the first evening, disturbing a family of mongooses (mongeese, mongii????)  and watched an amazing sunset over the water while in the bay nearby a family of hippos were wallowing in the water.  A sundowner on the terrace over looking the lake before dinner was the perfect ending to a long hot day.

Next day we went down to the Kariba dam wall and had a walk along the top of the dam wall.  In 1958 the dam wall was built to hold back the Zambezi river, flooding the valley and creating Zimbabwe's largest dam.  A huge hydro electricity station is inside the dam wall and creates the majority of Zimbabwe's electricity.  At the time it was very controversial as the dam displaced the Tongo people who lived along the edge of the water.  The were also thousands of animals who had to be relocated in a massive operation known as Operation Noah.  Lake Kariba is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Zim and is a beautiful spot for game viewing and tiger fishing and the majority of people stay on the houseboats which can be seen all over the lake.  Another large industry is Kapenta fishing.  Kapenta are similar to whitebait and are either dried or deep fried.  The boats fish mainly at night and the bright lights which attract the fish into the nets can be seen dotting the lake all night.  We also visited Carribea Bay hotel which was a very popular place in its day, with a lot of people travelling up to Kariba for a party weekend.

View of Kariba Dam and  statue of Tongan water God 'Nyami Nyami'

We were up early the next morning to catch the ferry to take us from Kariba to Mlibisi from where we drove to our next stop at Victoria Falls.

The ferry leaves Kariba in the morning and takes 24 hours to travel the length of Lake Kariba from east to west.  Getting the car reversed on to the ferry was a challenge - you have to reverse down a really steep hill with a drop on one side into the lake.  Then over 2 steel ramps to get onto the car deck.  With 3 people shouting different directions at me I eventually managed it!!

'Right hand down a bit!'

We had such a lovely relaxing time sitting on the deck and looking out over the lake.  With the aid of binoculars and zoom lenses we managed to view elephant, hippos and buck on the edges of the water - to Chris's disappointment we didn't spot any crocodiles.  Lunch, dinner and breakfast were all served on board and the food which was produced from the tiny galley kitchen was very impressive. beautifully presented by friendly and cheerful staff.

The sunset over the lake was spectacular and after dinner we settled down on mattresses on the deck for the night after a very special day!

Kapenta fishermen
'Nite nite Shirl' lol

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Mon 10 Dec - Wed 12 Dec 2012 - Imire Game Park

We left Harare and headed out of town to Imire Game Park near Marondera for our three day trip.  The latter part of the journey was on the old strip roads which brought back memories.  On arrival at Sable lodge we were greeted by the wonderful happy and friendly staff at the lodge.  A quick cup of tea and we were whisked off for our first game drive of the day. 

The 'Bar'
Our room

We saw a herd of buffalo and an old female elephant who arrived at the park years ago and was the only elephant at the time.  She decided to join the herd of buffalo and even after more elephant arrived later, she still thinks she is a buffalo and remains with the herd unbelievably as the matriarch.  Sadly, due to the large amount of poaching of wild animals in Zimbabwe, she needs to be guarded round the clock and followed wherever they wander to graze in the park! Chris wants his job!

'The Buffolant'

The next stop was at the crocodile dam.  Our driver tried to entice a croc out of the water with a sack on a stick but he was not in the mood for posing for photos and remained in the water with just his eyes peeping out! 

Back to the lodge for afternoon tea and then we were off again for our evening sundowner game drive.  We saw numerous herds of various buck including blesbok, eland, sable, impala, kudu as well as zebra and even a family of jackals peeping over an anthill.  We stopped at a hide and enjoyed a sundowner while looking out over the water of the dam. We were joined by a little local mouse who mopped up some spare cheese we had. Unfortunately it was too cloudy to enjoy a typical african sunset but the view was awesome nevertheless. 


As darkness was drawing in we were priviledged to be taken to see the black rhino in their night enclosure.  They are also guarded by an armed guard during the day but are brought into an enclosure at night for their own safety.  Imire has been involved in a black rhino breeding and conservation programme for many years but tragicaly lost 5 of their rhino about 5 years ago when they were massacred by poachers for their horns which are highly valued by the chinese medicine market.  Their remaining 4 rhino were all babies at the time and although they are growing and flourishing they are still not old enough to breed hence the breeding programme is on hold at present.  It was such a privilege to see these beautiful animals up close and we even got a chance to give them a few handfuls of their supper!!

Our evening was spent having a drink out under the african stars and then a lovely dinner.

Next morning Chris and I were up at dawn to head off for a highlight of our trip - riding the incredible bull elephants.  Getting on was very tricky as they are HUGE and I still have a sore back and bottom after my quad biking accident.  However once I had clambered aboard I was glad I had not chickened out as it was an experience I will never forget.  Chris climbed onto another one and were were off on an amble through the african bush.  We stopped every now and then at the elephants' whim while they reached up and ripped whole branches off trees then tore a trunkful of green leaves off and popped them into their mouths. Then we wandered off across a field, at one point I thought he was going to walk straight into one of the small dams for a swim.  Luckily the guide who was with me spoke sternly to him and he carried on walking.  We continued on the walk for a good hour with buck and zebra in the distance.  Dismounting was almost as tricky as getting on as our legs had gone to sleep but we staggered off ungracefully after an amazing experience!  One more thing ticked off on my bucket list!


We were ready for our breakfast when we returned and then set off on another game drive for the day.  We saw many more buck, 3 black rhino which had been born on Imire,  giraffe, elephants and a family of warthogs and then the white rhino who are also under armed guard.  Due to the risk of poaching the rhino are protected and actually owned by the state.  Imire Game park are custodians of these animals.  Every two years the horns of the rhino are cut off under strict control measures in an attempt to protect them from poachers.  What a sad world we live in!


Lunch was at a stop on the Kopje sitting on the rocks overlooking the dam.  Below us the rhino were enjoying their lunch at the same time.  The lodge cooks the lunch and transports it to this lovely spot where you can enjoy it in the african bush - a lovely touch!

Later we enoyed another evening drive to the hide for sundowners, we managed to have an even better view over the water as there was less cloud.  On the way the truck stopped abruptly to show us a 10 ft python who was lurking just off the road!  Needless to say I shot to the other side of the seat and graciously allowed Chris and mum to sit on that side - well he needed to take the photos!  In all my years in Africa I have barely seen a snake in the wild and this was by far the biggest.

As we pulled back into the car park at the lodge at the end of our drive I couldn't believe it when there was another snake slithering across the car park!  Luckily it was only a small grass snake and quickly disappeared into the bush!  I made sure I was not walking barefoot again for the rest of our visit! 

Another pleasant evening with drinks and dinner.


We left after breakfast the next day to return to Harare after a most incredible few days!

Imire is a farm as well as a game park and is the only farm remaining in the Wedza area where once there were 87 farms.  All the others have been taken over and lie abandoned.  The family who run Imire have been through very hard times but sheer determination and hard work mean they give people like us the pleasure of escaping to a little bit of Africa in the bush.