ROMANCE & ADVENTURE: Zimbabwes’ best sleep out options
Imagine being alone in amidst the sights and sounds of the African bush… hearing the jackals cry as you watch the sun set over a distant horizon, the smell of sage bush wafting on warm air as the southern cross appears glittering above you…
This is the appeal of a ‘sleep out’ on safari. You may ask ‘What is a sleep out?’ Well many of Zimbabwes’ best lodges now offer an opportunity to ‘sleep out’ under the stars for the night. Usually you head off to the sleep-out platform in the late afternoon by foot or by vehicle. Before or after sundowners and a meal your hosts depart leaving you and your travelling companion if you have one alone to enjoy the wilderness you are surrounded by. Most of these platforms are well equipped with full beds, linen and toilets as well as lanterns. All camps keep guest safety in mind giving you either a guide near by and/or a two way radio so you can contact camp if necessary and you are well above the ground and animals below.
I recently got to experience just this. As my partner and I watched the safari vehicle depart, golden dust rising behind it in the late evening light it became apparent how truly alone we were. The silence was deafening- something we aren’t used to in today’s world. We had been left with a full meal and drinks and so despite my twinge of apprehension and awe a glass of bubbly soon settled me and I could truly appreciate my surrounds. As we ate hot soup the air filled with a rich chorus of nocturnal insects that were soon joined by the mournful, haunting cry of a jackal. Awestruck and happy my partner and I watched a truly spectacular sunset hand in hand.
Bats flitted overhead as we ate a delicious main course and stars began to twinkle overhead while the remaining glow on the horizon faded. Moments like these make you incredibly aware of your senses and of the passing of time. After chocolate we headed to our luxurious bed, replete with feather duvet. We blew out the lanterns and drifted off to sleep with the contented rumblings of a family of elephants feeding nearby. I awoke a few times in the night to listen nervously to lions roaring in the distance and hyena calling closer by but managed to calm myself in the knowledge that we were safely above all the action and go back to sleep.
We woke in the glow of pre-dawn light to talk in hushed whispers as the sun rose. A thermos provided steaming hot water for coffee and as we finished it the rumble of the vehicle coming to fetch us seemed too soon… I looked back regretfully as we made our way down the stairs of the platform, it had truly been a very special evening and one which I would love to repeat.
Want to Try it? Here are some of the Best Options in Zimbabwe
The Hide Safari Camp – Dove’s Nest
Aptly named sleep out deck called “The Eye”. This tree house overlooks a waterhole and is equipped with a queen-size four post bed (complete with mosquito net), bathroom with an incredible view and a great selection of drinks.
Situated on a raised platform overlooking Madison Pan, this star-bed is a 20 minute drive from camp and can accommodate up to 4 guests. It includes bed rolls, a flush toilet and mosquito nets.
Overlooking Ray’s Pan, the Somalisa sleep-out accommodates up to 5 guests and has a loo and shower built into the structure.
The platform is equipped with a mosquito net, flush toilet and 2 beds that can be coverted to a queen- there is even a seating area so you can watch the action at the pan it overlooks.
Kanga has 4 sleep-out platforms – 2 sets of 2. Each has a mattress flat on a platform, under a mosquito net. A separate loo and bucket shower can be found under the trees, a 10 metre walk from the sleep-out. Bush barbecue dinner or breakfast can be arranged.
Life on board a luxury Houseboat on Lake Kariba
I lie somnolescent on a sun lounger… lulled into a dreamy state by the sound of water lapping at the boat’s sides, the warmth of the sun on my skin and the cool breeze.
The cries of a fish eagle cause me to stir and sleepily I sit and look outward. We are cruising past the shore with its iconic rim of dead trees. In one of the skeletal branches, the impressive bird is perched, throwing his head back as he calls, the eery cry echoing across the vast lake. I am on a houseboat in the midst of a vast, manmade lake created when the massive Kariba Hydroelectric Dam was erected on the Zambezi River in 1958.
Despite its controversial start, the shores of the lake provide crucial habitat for several species and it is a great place for bird and animal watching, fishing and relaxing. One of the best ways to experience this is as I am now, on a houseboat. There are many advantages to this style of travel- such as unpacking once but getting to travel between destinations, being on the water and the ability to choose self-catering or fully catered.
But back to the present moment! I walk across the boat’s top deck, help myself to an ice cold ‘Mazoe’ (Zimbabwe’s orange juice) and soda and join the rest of the group in planning the rest of the day. We decide to take out one of the small boats we are trailing behind us in the evening to fish, enjoy a sundowner and watch for animals along the lakeshore.
There’s something special about game viewing from the water. Instead of driving bumpy roads or spending long hours inside a vehicle, on Lake Kariba’s houseboats the game viewing is quiet, and the animals often come to you, relaxed in a way they wouldn’t be if you were on land.
The anglers among us are happy when we go out with one even catching a large fighting tigerfish- something that causes much excitement on the small boat as he tries to reel it in. It is released shortly after. However, it is the sight of a mighty bull elephant placidly grazing on the lakeshore as the sun sets in a fiery glow that stays with me.
We return to the houseboat as the sky darkens and stars appear. The onboard chef has conjured a delicious meal and we enjoy it with plenty of wine and the good cheer that comes from having a group of friends in close quarters.
As I drift off to sleep the boat moves slowly and steadily towards a new destination. I am content in the knowledge that I have a few more days of this happy routine; reading, drinking, eating, taking dips in the boat’s plunge pool and watching the shore for wild animals.
- What to see: Common sightings are buffalo, zebra, waterbuck, impala and hundreds of elephants every day. There is an amazing array of birds at Lake Kariba; including kingfishers, cormorants, storks, herons and of course the ubiquitous fish eagle.
- When to go: The area generally has very hot summers, averaging 38 degrees Celsius. The winters are usually mild with an average temperature of 25 degrees Celsius. Wintertime, from April to August, is considered the best time to go to Kariba as many animals visit the lakeshore in this dry time.
Contact us for recommendations on which houseboat will suit you best, how to get there and away and great rates.
What to do in Victoria Falls
One thing few people realise before travelling to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is just how much there is to do here. The small town is named after the magnificent waterfall it is adjacent to (from nearly everywhere in town the rumble of the waterfall is heard faintly). As tourists have flocked here for years it has built up a great number of fun, thrilling and family friendly activities showcasing our great outdoors, wildlife and of course the friendly local culture. Below are Zimbabwe Holiday’s top 3 choices for ‘must do’s’ whilst you are here.
Guided Tour of the Falls
First on the list is of course seeing the Victoria Falls itself. While it is totally achievable to access and view the Falls yourself we highly recommend you hire a guide who will bring the Falls and their fascinating history from their formation, to the many people that lived alongside them, to their ‘discovery’ by the first European man to see them; David Livingstone.
Zambezi River Cruises
Enjoy the often-spectacular African sunsets while relaxing on the mighty Zambezi. Guests may have the opportunity to see a variety of game; including hippo, crocodile, and elephant as well as many different bird species. The Sunset cruise is very popular and includes finger snacks, beer, wine, local spirits and soft drinks. It offers great photo opportunities.
Helicopter Flight over the Falls: ‘The Flight of Angels’
It is at ground level that you can appreciate the rumble and spray of the mighty Falls and truly experience their force-however viewing them from the air gives an entirely new perspective. Suddenly the carving force of the water becomes apparent as the mighty gorge below the falls comes into view, zig-zagging downstream. The flight takes you over the falls several times in both directions as the pilot flies in a figure 8 path giving passengers on either side unforgettable photographic opportunities and views.
The above are only the 3 must do activities, however, we have listed some more options below. The best value way to experience multiple activities is to purchase a ‘Pass’- these bundle activities and give you a discount for booking multiple activities at once. There are a wide variety of these passes available- contact Travel Wild Africa and we can tell you which one is right for your needs and interests.
Thrills and Spills.
White Water Rafting: known as the wildest white water in the world, rafting on the Zambezi River is an adrenaline rush not to be missed.
Day Trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana: enjoy an abundance of wildlife, Chobe is well known for its large herds of elephant.
Wildlife Conservation and Awareness Safari: Learn about conservation efforts with the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit in the Zambezi National Park while game viewing and enjoying this beautiful area.
Game Drives at the Victoria Falls Game Reserve: you may see the ‘Big 5’ along with varied antelope and bird‐life as you safari through this scenic reserve close to Victoria Falls.
Village Visit: visit an authentic village and be given a tour by the local village chief. Gain insight into local life, culture and tradition.
The Boma Dinner and Drum Show: a unique cultural experience that includes a large buffet with European and local foods, an interactive drum and dance show and more.
Home Hosted Meal: enjoy a home cooked traditional meal, in the family home of a friendly local resident
Given all these activities we recommend a minimum of two nights at the Falls however 3 nights are ideal to relax and enjoy all that is offer. Zimbabwe Holidays also offer a wide variety of accommodation options and can package accommodation and activities for you.
Pioneers in Tourism: Charles Brightman
Charles Brightman is a respected guide in Victoria Falls who is known widely for his conservation and wildlife work. Charles has worked as a Professional Guide for 27 years and has an extensive knowledge of the local flora and fauna. Charles believes that tourism can benefit wildlife conservation and local communities, and is committed to minimising our environmental impact and supporting local conservation and community projects. In 1999 he established the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit which he has developed into a well respected anti-poaching initiative.
You can go on a variety of game drives and bush walks with Charles and all are illuminating insights into the wildlife and natural history of the Victoria Falls Area. A particularly special experience is his ‘Conservation Safari’. On this activity you can participate in wildlife conservation efforts that are taking place behind the scenes in the Zambezi National Park.
You start off by attending a presentation by a member of the Victoria Falls Anti Poaching Unit. Learn about the various types of poaching that take place in the region and are shown how snares that are laid to poach mammals are laid.
Following this you take a field trip into the Zambezi National Park where you record game sightings, identify spoor, patrol and sweep for wire snares and generally visit areas to investigate for any signs of poaching. Because you are paying for this experience, it allows them to visit areas that are not often patrolled and the more trips that run, the more frequently we can cover these areas.
This safari provides an effective presence at ground level, to deter various forms of poaching, whilst playing an important role in conservation efforts. A light breakfast, tea/coffee and mineral water is provided.
Contact us to see how you can add value to your itinerary and support the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit by adding a game drive, bush walk or Conservation Safari with Charles to your itinerary.
Chimanimani Visit- Eastern Highlands
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to venture up to the Chimanimani region – which makes up part of the Eastern Highlands.
This was my first time here, and seeing this region of the Eastern Highlands solidified why the highlands are one of my favourite areas to explore in Zimbabwe. It’s a pleasant drive from Harare to Chimanimani – approximately 5 hours. This is not including viewpoint stops which you are almost guaranteed to make once you start ascending up the mountains as the views are just amazing. As you start driving through the Pine Forests and past the saw mills, you get the refreshing smells of fresh pine trees mixed with newly cut timber.
The road meanders around the mountains until you reach your destination; the small village of Chimanimani. On arrival, we followed the road up to the quaint Frog & Fern Cottages where we stayed and were warmly welcomed. The first thing we noticed on arrival was how quiet and peaceful it was – with only the sounds of the birds and crickets! This was so nice after the hustle and bustle of the city!
After check in, we decided to go and ‘explore’ the little village of ‘Chimanimani’ and ended with a light dinner at the old and once famed Chimanimani Hotel. Although very basic now – the staff was very welcoming, drinks were ice cold and the food tasty. We spent the next couple of days – exploring this amazing area whilst keeping an eye on the rain clouds – which were hovering above but didn’t deter us.
One day we ventured up to ‘Tessa’s Pool’ a hidden oasis which is situated on the Outward Bound Property. You need a relative level of fitness to do this, and it is a beautiful walk down to the Pool which is crystal clear and if you are keen to take a dip – you will leave feeling refreshed. From, Outward Bound you can also access the beautiful Middle Pool. If you are at Tessa’ Pool – you can reach it easily. It is about a 20-minute walk from Outward Bound. Take a picnic lunch with you!
We also did a couple of scenic drives – through the pine forests, which are just beautiful even when the mist starts coming down.
Whilst on our explorations – we set aside a couple of hours to visit the breath-taking Bridal Veil Falls. This is very easy to get to – and it is just stunning – no words to describe it, you have to see it yourself. We ventured about half way up the mountain to try and reach the source- but due to the weather had to turn back. However, I can imagine it must be quite something! There are attractive lawns and natural gardens around the Falls with picnic sites, so you can just go, relax and enjoy your surroundings.
The Chimanimani area is just a dream for the avid explorers and hikers – other activities that you can do here include full day hikes up into the mountains, as well as horse riding, golf – the bird life here is fantastic as well.
Overall – I can definitely suggest the destination for anyone with a keen sense of adventure and that is up for the walks and hiking, as well as nature lovers – they will love it! We certainly cannot wait to head back for our next trip to explore these regions a bit more. We are buying a tent for the next adventure!
Text and Images by Karen Paardenkooper
Walking Safaris in Zimbabwe
I recently had the opportunity to visit several camps in Hwange National Park and, even better, to go on bush walks at many of them. Walking amongst the flora and fauna of the African bush is an incredible experience and Zimbabwe offers some of the continent’s best walking; particularly in Hwange and Mana Pools.
There is nothing quite like the first few footsteps on a walk in the bush. As you take your first few steps away from the safety of the camp or a vehicle an incredible awakening of your senses occurs. You become aware of the crunch of your footsteps on the crust of dry ground, the smell of wild basil and sage brush, the feeling of the wind upon your skin and it’s direction. As you go further you become acutely aware of how these senses matter as you could easily come across large and potentially dangerous animals.
Zimbabwe is well known for its rigorous guide qualification process and on all walking safaris you are accompanied by a guide armed not only with a firearm but with a wealth of experience and knowledge to ensure that there is no reason to use it!
The point of a walk is not to provoke or enter any animals comfort zone. Rather a walk seeks to show you the bush in a new light- to experience the myriad ‘small things’ that could pass you by on a drive. During my walks in Hwange I have wondered in awe at iridescent beetles and newly blooming lilies, frozen at the alarm call of a bird, sought out orchids with blooms smaller than my finger and learned much about the landscape, animal tracks and plants.
You are forced to live in the moment whilst walking in the wilderness, and to me, this is the ultimate joy. With senses alert and the wonders of the natural world around you, no longer can you worry about trivialities such as next week’s grocery shop or the unanswered mail in your inbox…
In today’s world of Facebook notifications and constant communication, this is such a gift- the ultimate way to unwind by unplugging and be reminded of your natural place in the world. If you love nature and want to experience and connect with it on ground level there can be no better experience than walking in the wilderness.
Images and Text by Sarah Kerr
Zambezi National Park Lodges
The Travel Wild Zimbabwe Team had a lovely day yesterday showing one of our great agents around the beautiful and under utilised Zambezi National Park.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this small but productive Park it is adjacent to Victoria Falls and runs alongside the Zambezi River. It has a reputation as being a ‘soft game’ area meaning that although leopards, lion and wild dog are present they can prove elusive. This is rapidly changing however as from about 8 years ago lodges started to appear in the Park.
They have had a beneficial effect as anti-poaching deterrents and wildlife numbers are increasing. In addition the animals present are becoming more relaxed with game viewing vehicles. In evidence of this our first stop was Zambezi Sands Camp where guests had been lucky enough to see 11 lions on the previous evening’s game drive.
This lovely camp is spread along a bend in the river with spectacular views of the Zambezi and 8 sprawling luxury tents connected to the main area by raised walkway. It is the furthest into the park of the camps meaning it is in a remote area and takes longer to reach from Victoria Falls. It is best seen as a destination in itself in my opinion- for game viewing, game walks, canoeing on the Zambezi and wonderful rest and relaxation in the room’s private plunge pools. It is great in combination with a stay in Victoria Falls although the town and waterfall can be visited on a full day trip from the camp.
I loved the feel of the camp and the rooms which are very spacious, secluded and private. The raised walkways add a feeling of security when walking to and from the rooms and stop your shoes from filling with sand- a minor issue but one that can be a nuisance in places. The main attraction here are the views from the central area and every room- which are simply breathtaking.
Sadly we had to continue our sojourn in the park and so we headed off to Victoria Falls River Lodge- an hour and 15 minutes of secnic game viewing away. On our mid afternoon journey we saw baboon, monkey, warthog, impala, zebra, kudu, giraffe and elephant in abundance. Not bad for a 3 pm drive when all the animals are meant to be tucked away havinga siesta.
When we arrived at the River Lodge we were greeted by some of the resident elephants who like to browse the green foliage around the camp. As Victoria Falls River Lodge is the closest of the Parks Camps to town it is easily combined with Victoria Falls whilst still providing the wonderful Zambezi National Park experience. The town of Victoria Falls is a mere 20 minutes away. This means that if your focus is the Falls and the activities that place there you can easily stay at this lodge and experience game viewing too.
Victoria Falls River Lodge is modern and striking in it’s chic decor. The high ceilings and beautiful furnishings of the central area immediately struck me. I love that the lodge has chosen to echo the wonderful blues and greens of the sky and river along the Zambezi rather than the traditional khaki and earth tones used elsewhere. The camp epitomises true luxury. Its thirteen spacious, luxury tents, and five luxury family tents are all equipped with air-conditioning and am airy modern design with an emphasis on natural texture. Each is complete with plunge pool overlooking the banks of the Zambezi River.
The large amount of family rooms makes this the perfect choice – especially for those with more than one child as 4 of the rooms sleep 3 children in perfect comfort.
After a wonderful visit during which we went on ‘ elephant time’ waiting for them to clear the way before we could view the rooms we sadly had to return to reality. This was a perfect reminder of the treasures on the doorstep of the team at Travel Wild and we left refreshed and rejuvenated. Contact us today to find out how you can visit- which camp will best suit you and what great deals we have available!
Sarah from Travel Wild Zimbabwe recently visited Ruckomechi and Little Ruckomechi and had this to say about her visit.
Mana Pool’s setting and scenery has to be the most serene, peaceful and magical place. Little Ruckomechi comprises just 4 elegant suites and this intimate camp is perfectly suited to small groups who will enjoy the exclusivity. Both camps are stunning, the staff is friendly and service is great, all without being ‘over the top’. Ruckomechi has maintained an authentic bush feel.
Email us for more information and some of the great specials we have access to.
Self Drive Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is a great country for touring with a network of good tar roads between the main towns and cities. Travel Wild Zimbabwe pride ourselves in being specialists in self drive itineraries around Zimbabwe. We feel it’s one of the best ways to see this beautiful country. Please contact us for sample itineraries.
Here’s how to get the most from the experience:-Travel with small US$ notes for paying toll gates.
-Road Blocks are frequent but friendly. The police are simply checking that your vehicle is safe and that you are licensed. Enjoy the opportunity to meet some locals.
– Take a camera! There are frequently amazing scenes and insights into rural life on the road in between ‘destinations’
Batonka Guest Lodge introduces Family Rooms
We love Batonka Guest Lodge, Victoria Falls for families- the relaxed atmosphere, beautiful enclosed gardens and swimming pool make it the perfect choice.
The intimate lodge has 22 well-appointed rooms with elegant, contemporary style décor.Located in a quiet suburb it is close to Victoria Falls yet peaceful. All rooms are air conditioned and have ensuite facilities and a verandah.
They have recently introduced new Family rooms. These rooms are made up of two inter-leading Garden View Rooms which connect to a third room for children under 12. This extra room has a bath, toilet and basin as well as all the standard amenities. Perfect for a family of 6!