Best of Zimbabwe Safari 13-day guided tour

Highlights: Great Zimbabwe, Harare, Matusadona National Park, Hwange National Park, Victoria Falls

Meet and greet on arrival in Johannesburg

Day 1: Soutpansberge, South Africa

On arrival at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport, you will be welcomed to South Africa by your guide.

After arriving in Johannesburg, you spend your first African night at the eco-friendly Mashovhela Lodge, in the Morning Sun Nature Reserve.Nestled in a river valley, surrounded by impressive rocky kopjes, and situated on the site of a former Venda settlement lies snug and comfortable Mashovhela Lodge which gets its name from a rock pool that is sacred to the Venda. The name means the „Place where the drums beat“.

The ten cosy rooms, restaurant, cocktail bar, conference venue, boma, swimming pool, arts and crafts shop were all built to minimise the ecological footprint and are run on a sustainable energy program.

Overnight: 1 night Mashovhela Lodge, Bed and Breakfast

Enjoy a glimpse of Venda Culture at Mashovhela Lodge

Days 2 & 3: Masvingo, Zimbabwe

After crossing the border from South Africa into Zimbabwe, you will carry on to Masvingo and the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe.

Building began in the 12th Century and continued up until the 15th century in three distinct phases. Common to all phases of construction is that the massive walls were built without scaffolding and without cement to bind the stones together. During the first step, stone blocks were neatly piled upon one another but without regard to the size and shape of the rocks. In the second phase, stone blocks were sorted according to size and shape and the walls smoothed after the construction was finished. This was the period during which the decorations were built in, and the soapstone sculptures of the birds were created. In the third phase that coincided with the gradual decline of the city, stones were piled without regard to shape or size. Current archaeological research indicates that Great Zimbabwe was built by the Karanga, a part of the Shona nation. The stone city with its 3 complexes covers an area of 722 hectares which, at its peak, could have housed up to 20,000 people, cattle herders, goldsmiths and ironmongers.

Great Zimbabwe is believed to have been the home of the king and his entourage. The King would have lived in the Hill Complex with his closest aides. 100 metres below, in the Great Enclosure, his wives and families would have been protected by walls up to 11 metres high and 6 metres wide.

We have chosen a small lodge, Norma Jeane’s Lakeview Resort, close to the Great Zimbabwe Monument for your overnight accommodation. It is lovingly maintained, the main building in colonial style. The rooms are individually furnished and decorated. The most attractive feature, however, is the magnificent garden in which it is a delight to relax after a long drive or a hike around Great Zimbabwe. From the grounds, you also have a view of Lake Mutirikwe.

Overnight: 2 nights, Norma Jeane's Lakeview Resort, Bed and Breakfast

Tour the fascinating Great Zimbabwe Monument

Day 4: Harare, Zimbabwe

Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital and the largest town in Zimbabwe has much to offer her visitors.

First of all, time permitting, we recommend an optional city tour to get orientated. You will get to see the glittering facades of the high-rise buildings in the city centre as well as the high-density areas with their large markets where you can buy almost anything. All sorts of goods are on offer, but the international visitor will most probably be mainly interested in the many stands selling stone sculptures and other crafts.

Chapungu Sculpture Park and the National Art Gallery are imperative for all visitors to the city who are interested in Art. The exhibition area of Chapungu Sculpture Park was founded in 1970 as a small museum and is now a massive sculpture park on the outskirts of Harare with a branch in the United States. It is easy to spend half the day here, for some even that is too short to appreciate all the many and vastly different sculptures.

In the National Art Gallery in the centre of Harare, you will also find stone sculptures amongst other artworks. Since the 1950s the Shona art of stone sculpture was supported and placed on show here. Today, many art exhibits from Zimbabwe and other African countries are on display here, as well as art from Europe.

In addition to the really exciting artistic side of the City, there are world-class hotels and restaurants.

Your accommodation for the night is a very comfortable guest house in a quiet suburb, Jacana Gardens Guest Lodge. All rooms are individually decorated and furnished in bright, African colours and with exquisite artwork.

Overnight: 1 night, Jacana Gardens Guest Lodge, Bed and Breakfast

Visit the Capital City, Harare, for a night

Days 5 & 6: Matusadona National Park, Zimbabwe

Today you will travel North to the town of Kariba. There you will board a boat for a transfer of about 1,5 hours to Rhino Safari Camp on a private concession within Matusadona National Park. A large part of Lake Kariba’s southern shore, as well as some of the islands, is a conservation area. Thus a large variety of animals and birds can be observed. Crocodiles go hunting and fishing. Hippos rise out of the water to graze in the cover of darkness. Elephants splash in the lake and take mud baths, fish eagles circle over the water, their wild and beautiful call echoes far and wide.

The 1400 km ² Matusadona National Park was proclaimed a national park in 1975, but it was already a protected area before the creation of the dam. Its northern boundary is the lake shore, to the east and west respectively, its borders are the rivers Sanyati and Ume.

Due to the high water levels of the lake, large animals that were previously found here only seasonally, now stay in the park permanently, e.g. elephants and large herds of buffalo that are highly dependent upon a regular water supply. The park is very rough and mountainous, covered with dense bush. This makes it an ideal habitat for black rhinos that were relocated here from other parts of the country to protect them from the increasing threat of poaching.

You will stay at Rhino Safari Camp, with stunning views of the lakeshore. The accommodation is as natural and rustic as possible, with thatched, open-sided individual rooms on raised platforms, while being very comfortable and offering you all you need for a relaxed stay. All rooms have en-suite showers and toilets.

Your days will be spent exploring Matusadona National Park by boat, by vehicle and on foot. The species to really look out for here are the prehistoric-looking black rhino, an iconic species, highly endangered because of heavy poaching activity during the last several years. Elephants and buffalo are frequently seen grazing along the shoreline, particularly when low water levels expose large areas of their favourite grass. But you will also be looking out for the beautiful African fish eagles, the African jacana as they walk across lily pads, the small and sneaky Black Crake in the reeds, black with bright red legs and a yellow beak. And of course, there is the red sun setting behind the drowned forests, where trees died during the flooding of the valley.

Overnight: 2 nights, Rhino Safari Camp, Full Board

Watch elephants from your bed at Rhino Safari Camp!

Days 7 & 8: Houseboat Cruise to Binga on Lake Kariba

Today you leave Rhino Safari Camp after a good breakfast and carry on across the lake to Binga on a luxurious houseboat. You can continue your game viewing from the boat, just relax, or catch some fish for dinner!

In 1959, the massive Kariba dam was completed, retaining the waters of the Zambezi River at a length of 220 km and a width of up to 40 km. At that time many people of the Tonga nation were relocated to higher ground, far from their villages on the Zambezi River. Where they had previously lived mainly from fishing, they now had to learn to survive by growing crops.

They tell the story of Nyaminyami, the river god of the Zambezi. His wife lives on the Zambian shore, and the two were separated by the construction of the dam. The floods that devastated parts of the dam while it was under construction in 1957 and 1958 and that swept many people to their deaths are attributed to his anger over the building project. Even today, the earth trembles here occasionally. It is said that this is due to the efforts of Nyaminyami to finally be reunited with his wife.

When the lake began to fill up, many animals were stranded in higher areas that turned into islands initially and then slowly but surely also began to disappear under water. In an enormous and unprecedented effort, National Parks staff and volunteers, led by Rupert Fothergill, rescued more than 6,000 animals within 5 years, including everything from elephants to snakes and lizards.

The lake was intended as a reservoir and hydroelectric project that benefits both Zimbabwe and Zambia. Also, a species of tiny fish named Kapenta was relocated here from Lake Tanganyika. Many commercial fishing companies live off these fish on both sides of the border.

Overnight: 2 nights, luxury houseboat on Lake Kariba, fully inclusive

Enjoy relaxing time on a Houseboat on Lake Kariba

Days 9 & 10: Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Hwange is Zimbabwe’s largest national park, it is about 14.000 square kilometres in size. Within its varied ecosystems, it is a home to over one hundred species of mammals and four hundred bird species. In the dry season, the vast elephant herds and many other animal species can be found at the artificial water points, where ground water is pumped into troughs and pans. The bare facts and figures do nothing to describe the incredible experience of following a guide through the bush, on the fresh spoor of a bull elephant or a pride of lions. The sun burns down on your shoulders, the bleached grass is dazzlingly bright to look at, you listen carefully to every sound, watch every movement, freeze when you step on a crackly twig or brush against a bush. You feel the wind in your face, smells seem to be especially intense … and then, the unique experience of seeing what you have spent such a long time searching for! A massive grey silhouette in the shade of a tree or the casual flicking of the black tuft of hair at the end of a lion’s tail.

There are, of course, other more conventional ways to watch animals in Hwange, for example, game drives in 4x4 vehicles allow you to cover greater distances and enable good wildlife sightings. It is very relaxing to sit in one of the viewing platforms at the water points and watch the animals come to drink. Neither of these game viewing options is exclusive of the others, and we find the most interesting is a combination of them all.

In the area around Iganyana Conservation Camp, your home for 2 nights, you will see that the soil consists of Kalahari sand. Thus the landscape is mostly flat, sometimes slightly undulating, there is a lot of open grassland dotted with stands of Camelthorn trees and teak forests. There is rarely any natural water in the area hence the animals depend on the pumped water at the pans for drinking. You will very probably find elephant here, as well as a multitude of plains game, giraffe, buffalo, and many different antelope species. A small pride of lions has made this part of the private concession their territory, perhaps you will encounter them on one of your drives. With a lot of luck, you may also see the highly endangered Wild dog every now and then, so it is well worth keeping your eyes peeled.

Overnight: 2 nights, Dinner, Bed and Breakfast, Iganyana Conservation Camp

Hwange National Park is famous for its large elephant herds.

Days 11 & 12: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

David Livingstone was the first European to see and record the existence of these magnificent waterfalls, naming them in honour of his Queen Victoria. The local people called the Falls “smoke that thunders” in several different languages. This name is very apt and a beautiful description of the rushing and thundering sound of the water that can be heard at a distance of many kilometres at high water and the spray that is visible as a white cloud over a great distance.

Victoria Falls has been listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. In bare terms, the water of the Zambezi River plummets into the gorge to a depth Of over 100 metres and at high water over a breadth of 1,7 km. But these bare facts do nothing to describe the highly powerful and emotional reality of the Falls.

A visit both in the morning and in the afternoon is recommended because the sun shines into the gorge from noon on and often creates several rainbows in the spray. Guests should take their time to savour the visit, the incredibly loud thunder, the always changing but nevertheless hypnotic sight of the falling water, the fresh smell of the river, and of course –depending on the season the occasional or almost constant shower from the spray.

Many activities centred around the Zambezi River and its waterfalls are on offer for visitors. Here is only a small selection that can be recommended:

• A guided tour of the Falls and Rainforest that takes you all the way along the various lookout points from Livingstone’s View to the view of the railway bridge. We have already included this in your visit for you.

• A sunset cruise where you spend about 3 hours on the river winding in between and around the islands and watch the animals and birds on the banks and in the water. Drinks and a little snack are included. This is already included and planned for you.

• A helicopter flight over the Falls, “Flight of Angels”. This is the best way to see the entire scope of the mighty Zambezi River and its many islands.

• A half day canoe trip. Savour the power of the mighty river and watch the birds and animals at “eye level”.

• Whitewater rafting. Let the highly trained guides take you through breathtaking rapids as you experience the awesome power of the Zambezi where it surges through the gorges.

• A few hours in a ground-level hide beside a water hole where herds of elephants and buffalo drink regularly

• A visit to the Victoria Falls Craft Market, where some excellent quality and very imaginative curios can be bargained for as keepsakes or gifts for those who stayed at home.

You will overnight at the A’Zambezi River Lodge, a freshly renovated, very comfortable hotel on the banks of the Zambezi. As the lodge is directly beside the Zambezi National Park, don’t be surprised if some of the animals come to pay the lodge gardens a visit. There are complimentary shuttle buses to take you into town several times daily.

Overnight: 2 nights, A'Zambezi River Lodge, Bed and Breakfast

Your visit to the Victoria Falls is the grand finale to the Safari

Day 13: Transfer to Victoria Falls Airport and depart

The last day of your journey has arrived. After enjoying your final breakfast together, you will be transferred to Victoria Falls Airport.

We hope your flight is pleasant and look forward to hosting you again on your next African Safari!

Information:

This is a guided safari for a minimum of two, maximum of 10 guests. For more information, dates and rates, please ask your trusted tour operator or travel agent to contact us: sabine@indonga.co.za

All photos, text and editing: Sabine Gebele, sabine@indonga.co.za

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Sabine Gebele
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Photos: Sabine Gebele

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