On approach by plane to the Kigali Airport in Rwanda, I see the familiar red soil, green trees and clear skies of Africa and my fatigue quickly disappears. There is a magic to this land that can be hard to describe but tugs at my heart strings every time I visit.
Our group is on a connecting flight and so it is on to Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport to begin our adventure.
This is my first trip to Zimbabwe. Due to the sanctions and hostilities directed at the former President, Robert Mugabe, I had wondered whether this was a place I would ever get to visit. But now that Mr. Mugabe has been ‘escorted’ out of his post and a new President has stepped in, things are rapidly changing. Mr. Mnangagwa, known as the crocodile, does not have the best reputation and there are still democratic elections to be held, but the feeling of optimism among the general populace is palpable…electric even, and it gives me a real sense of the hopefulness for the future of this country.
Pool at Elephant Eye Lodge
In Harare, I notice currency from the old regime being sold. I learn later there are denominations of a million and even billion Zimbabwean dollars on a single bill. I need to learn more about what previously happened with the economy. But, what I mainly notice, are the beautiful veg for sale on every street corner, and, of course, the friendly outgoing people.
But soon we leave Harare and are out exploring the countryside and nature.
And speaking of nature, it seems that at the end of the rainy season one can still expect changeable weather. Much like the mid-west of the U.S., land-locked Zimbabwe can experience tropical storms during its shoulder seasons which may mean lightning strikes. Quite exciting.
After an overnight stop in Bulawayo, where one of my cousins was born, we head for the Matopo Hills and the Matopo National Park. It is when entering vast tracts of the African veld, full of kopje (granite exposed hill tops), that one starts getting a feel for the Zimbabwe of old. Here, there are ancient rock paintings of the San peoples who would have been migrating possibly to the coast. In days gone by, there were no roads crossing this land, only foot paths.
There are also black and white rhino in the park. Being taken on safari with Norman and his side-kick, also named Norman blackrhinosafaris.com, to trek rhino on foot is a, frankly, gratifying experience as we are able to get so close to these rare and beautiful animals.
This area is also famous for a hilly granite outcrop known as World’s View. Rather bizarrely and controversially, this is where Cecil Rhodes was buried after his death at the age of 48. He had spent a great deal of his life in South Africa but wanted to be interred in the hills of Matabeleland.
But now another animal adventure awaits us deep in the middle of the country: the Hwange National Park. The park covers 14,651 km²and with 40,000 elephants, lion and giraffe and herd animals all roaming about, this is a truly exciting place for a game drive. If viewing is difficult due to overgrown vegetation, then theNyamandhlovu Pan with its elevated viewing platform solves this problem. We saw crocodiles, Zebra, Waterbuck, Wildebeest and more all converging in and around the water hole.
Being able to stay at the Elephant Eye Safari Lodge and have a glamping type experience is awesome. Here, the swimming pool has no chemicals as elephants come and drink nearly every night. Also, at night, a lit section on the grassy plain with its own tiny waterhole, is a feast for the eyes as we watch impala at play.
Another place we visit which is of great importance is Great Zimbabwe. The medieval hill complex feels more like a pre-historic site. Climbing up the ancient stairs surrounded by stone masonry is a bit reminiscent of Sri Lanka’s Sigiriya. The structure of the complex is built into the granite and the views from the top are well worth the effort getting up there.
A stay at the nearby Ancient City’s Lodge (which is built from stone in the style of Great Zimbabwe) will mean you have easy access to Great Zimbabwe, a short drive away.
But it is the Victoria Falls which go the farthest to capture the magic of this country. 5,633 ft. wide and 343 ft. tall and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, this is the planet’s greatest mass of falling water. The first European to see the falls was missionary Dr. David Livingstone in the mid 19thcentury. He wrote that, “scenes so lovely that it must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”
The Zimbabwean side is packed with viewpoints including one above the Devil’s Cataract and four facing Main Falls, where at peak season more than 27 million cubic feet of water fall per minute. Walk the trail along the Rain Forest Walk and you will surely be drenched before the end of it.
Flights on Rwandair from London Gatwick cost from GBP 390 in economy (low season) Premium Economy from GBP 900 and Business class from GBP 1300.