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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Zimbabwe.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Zimbabwe.
HAD A VISITOR IN 1958 STOOD ON THE CREST OF BUMI HILLS and peered out through a pair of binoculars, they might have been distracted by the sight of a bare-chested man in a floppy hat attempting to strap an elephant to a wooden raft, Rupert Fothergill was chief game ranger of what was then Rhodesia, now northern Zimbabwe, and charged with relocating wildlife stranded by the rising waters of the newly created Lake Kariba. Grainy footage of the time shows him contending with a number of irregular predicaments: shoulder-deep in water and clutching a wriggling, rabbit-like hyrax in his arms; casually attempting to shoo away a rhino with a wave or two of his hat; and hoisting a bedraggled baboon into a boat by its shoulders.
By the time ‘Operation Noah’ was wound down in 1964, Fothergill and his team had saved over 6,000 animals. Today, horn the vantage point of Bumi, Kariba looks more sea than lake. On the shore, small herds of elephant, buffalo and hippo graze on the jewel-bright grass. Straight ahead, the crumpled, grey hills of Zambia are just visible, but there’s nothing but water to the horizon left and right; the weekly car fern? that traces a steady line through the waves east to west will take a full 24-hours to complete its journey. Over 50 years since it was created, Kariba remains the world’s largest man-made lake. And yet it is seen by some as a temporary blip, one likely to disappear before too long.
In the mythology of the region’s Tonga people, the Zambezi is home to the river god Nyami Nyami. A giant dragon, with the body of a serpent and the head of a fish, Nyami Nyami provides for the Tonga when times are hard. In 1957 and 1958, Zimbabwe suffered the worst floods it had seen in recorded history, twice sweeping away the wall being built to create Lake Kariba. Nyami Nyami is angry, said the Tonga, he does not want the dam. Sightings of a 200-metre-long beast weaving through the lake are still reported in the local papers, and the region’s earthquakes are attributed to the monster crashing against the dam, attempting to reach his wife stranded on the other side.
Local guide Student Muroyiwa grew up with these stories. In clothes with which Fothergill would be well familiar (crisply ironed safari shorts and shirt), he steers his boat among the treetops. Their blackened branches poking out of the water like macabre fingers, the trees are all that re main of a mopane forest that once carpeted the Kariba gorge, lost when the Zambezi was dammed. Cormoran ts settle on their branches, taking to the air only to dip suddenly beneath the surface, while swallows fresh from their summer breaks in Europe hoover up insects above it. Student points to an island named after the last human to leave the valley as the waters rose around him. ‘Mola believed in Nyami Nyami and he knew he didn’t want the dam.
“There’s noway the water will get to my doorstep,” said Mola. But the water started carrying and coming and it came right into his house,’ explains Student. ‘In the end, he just got into his canoe and paddled away.’ Student’s mother Unarie was another who left when the lake was formed, walking 12 miles inland to the resettlement village that was to be the Tongas’ new home. She sits in the shade of her mud-brick house, its roof thatched with bluegrass, tin pots drying in the sun outside. Tomatoes, sweet potatoes, okra and maize grow in the small plots tended by her family. At the edge of their cluster of huts, a look-out tower stands empty; as soon as night falls, one of her grandchildren will climb up and keep watch for marauding lions, hyenas and elephants. ‘I am too old to go to the lake now’, says Unarie, hut my life in the old village was perfect. I never saw Nyami Nyami but I would be more than happy if he wanted to break the wall.’
The falls are every bit as monumental and magnificent as you imagined, their noise greater than a million migrating wildebeests, their mists visible from 40 miles away. Dr. David Livingstone, who in 1855 became the first European to set eyes on them, named them after his queen (who unfortunately would never see them); they were soon widely recognized as one of the natural wonders of the world.
A fantasy destination of every adventure traveler, the falls are a mile wide, spanning the entire breadth of the Zambezi River. As they crash 400 feet to the gorge below, they create a delicate, endless shower of rain, rainbows, and – if the moon is bright and full enough – lunar rainbows that drift in and out of view.
At dawn and dusk the sky, water, and mist take on hues of pink and orange, especially during the wet season from March to May, when the cascades are at their greatest capacity and the opaque spray is kicked 1,000 feet into the sky. It is easy to imagine Dr. Livingstone’s awe as he wrote: “On sights as beautiful as this, Angels, in their flight must have gazed.” So was named today’s 15-minute heart-stopping “Flight of the Angels” over the falls, which rates as one of the world’s most scenic plane trips.
At the foot of the falls, the white-knuckle rapids provide some of the best rafting in the world. This is where the Zambezi plummets through the narrow basalt gorges separating Zambia and Zimbabwe – a mighty corridor of rushing, boiling white water interspersed with welcome havens of calm. The Zambezi’s classic passages – with names like Ghostrider and Moemba Falls – are rated IV and V on a scale of I-VI (you’ll walk around the really bad ones). Yet they are also some of the safest, in large part due to deep water and an absence of rocks midstream.
The first day out following the put-in at Victoria Falls is the most adrenaline-packed: You bounce through ten of the world’s biggest drops, reminiscent of those in the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Some local operators offer short-term, “crash” trips of one to three days, but it’s a shame to travel such a distance only to shortchange the Mighty Z. Nothing tops it.
Huge granite masses – seamed, split, shaped, and sculpted by time and the elements – form an array of giant whalebacks, fanciful castles, and knobbly outcrops that extend for thousands of square miles through the Matobo Hills (aka the Matopos).
This bizarre landscape so bewitched Cecil J. Rhodes (after whom Zimbabwe took its former name of Rhodesia), he arranged to be buried here. No one leaves the park without spending an awe-inspiring moment at the site of his hillside grave, named by Rhodes “View of the World.” The area has deservedly been considered a center of spiritual power since the first hunters and gatherers decorated their homes with rock art some 30,000 years ago.
Cave paintings can still be seen, their quality and quantity as impressive as the wildlife. Many paintings depict the white and black rhinos that still live here in great numbers. So do leopards, cheetahs, and more than 300 species of birds, including the world’s largest number of raptors: eagles (the park is in fact shaped like a giant eagle), hawks, and owls. Lost amid this vast, natural rock garden is the Big Cave Camp, which accommodates just sixteen guests in a 2,000-acre wilderness on the border of the national park.
Anything your hosts don’t know about the area’s geography, art, and wildlife isn’t worth knowing. Dinner is served around a traditional outdoor fire, and if you’re lucky enough to be there when a full moon illuminates the rock configurations, you’ll understand why Rhodes could never leave.
A canoe safari on the mighty Zambezi River, through ancient floodplains toward the Indian Ocean, is a trip through primeval Africa and some of its most remote and beautiful riverine scenery.
Leaving the heart-stopping white-water rapids upriver at Victoria Falls, all is serene as canoers glide along channels and pools and past countless islands. Hippos and Cape buffalo wallow beneath the low-hanging branches of trees full of bird life. The Ruwesi Canoe Safari, a four-day trip, covers the most interesting stretch of the Middle Zambezi, and beautifully sited camps are set up as you progress downstream. Guides make sure you’re canoe-bound just before sunrise, the river’s most bewitching hour.
For the less peripatetic, the permanently sited Chikwenya Safari Lodge is beautifully situated at the confluence of the Sapi and Zambezi rivers, facing one of the Zambezi’s largest islands. The Chikwenya’s guides strike off on bush walks with guests in tow – an activity allowed in very few of the national reserves. You’ll get back to camp in time for the obligatory sunset river ride along the Zambezi, an end to another perfect day in the bush.
Hwange is Zimbabwe’s largest, best-known, and most accessible national park. It boasts more than 100 different species of animal and 400 species of birds, putting it in the front ranks of the world’s wildlife centers. It is also one of the few great elephant sanctuaries left in Africa; herds of up to a hundred can be seen finding their way to the watering holes at dusk.
Of the 300-mile network of game-viewing roads, the most popular is the 10-Mile Drive, a loop through and around the most wildlife-packed areas of the park and past the major watering holes, such as Nyamandhlovu Pan with its raised viewing platform.
One of the country’s best permanent safari camps, the Hide, is ideally located on the eastern boundary of Hwange Park. Its name derives from the many hidden viewing spots, some underground and others unobtrusively constructed above, from which you can watch the wealth of wildlife without ever leaving camp.
The Camp Pan, a fossilized riverbed that has long been a popular and busy watering hole, is located just paces from the guests’ dining area. But the Hide’s excellent guides lure guests away from the backyard action with promises of even better viewing in the bush on organized walks and drives.
When it first opened in 1904, the Victoria Falls Hotel was an outpost of British civilization in the middle of nowhere. In the decades since, a number of hotels and lodges have sprung up near the falls, as has a small tourist-trap city hawking souvenir paraphernalia galore.
But this hotel will always be the elegant grand dame, a lovely and refurbished survivor of the colonial era following the falls’ “discovery” by Dr. Livingstone. His presence, and that of his sometime co-explorer, Henry Stanley, is still tangible throughout the hotel. The invisibility of the falls from any area of the hotel only augments their aura of mystery and magic.
As you walk past the hotel’s green terraces and through gardens lush with bougainvillea and frangipani, you are drawn out of this shelter of human scale toward the raw powder and roar of the nearby cataracts.
As a hotel guest, you have the unmitigated luxury of visiting the falls repeatedly and at different times of the day; a dawn visit is a must. So is a trip to Livingstone Island, where Dr. Livingstone first set up camp; it is just one-half mile but an entire country away (you’ll cross the border into Zambia en route).
A canoe brings you to this World Heritage Site, a big chunk of island that splits the falls in two: No permanent structure can be built on the island, nor is there electricity; still, you’ll be much better off than Livingstone, with your own cook, waiter, and guide to orchestrate a three-course lunch with Champagne, a view, and sound effects you won’t soon forget.