OUR 12-DAY TRIP TO ZIMBABWE
We planned our trip to Zimbabwe many months before our departure on 26 July. I wanted to visit Zim for various reasons: I haven’t ever been to Mana Pools and while I’ve done overland trips to Namibia, Botswana and Zambia over the last few years, I haven’t been to Zimbabwe for holiday since 1998.
Our two vehicles (a Merc Sprinter 4×4 converted to a camper and a new Hilux with a Boskriek were packed a few days before leaving. Before I go into the trip, the two vehicles’ fuel consumption figures are very similar, around 12.2l/100 km. Very good I think, and we had no tyre or other vehicle problems, except once the Hilux ignition didn’t want to switch on.
We left for Zvakanaka camping area in the Lebombo Mountains past Louis Trichardt on day one. It was cold but convenient with very good facilities. The second day we planned to cross Beitbridge Border Post to go up to Hwange National Park. We had prebooked and paid for our camping spots. However, the crossing took three hours and it was frustrating as the officials were uninterested in helping. My vehicle is heavy duty and so it has to get different insurance for the Temporary Import Permit (TIP), they overcharged me for the insurance and TIP and everything was so chaotic that I required assistance. I made a mistake by not certifying my car’s registration papers and it cost me dearly to get the gate pass cleared.
We decided not to try to reach Hwange, but instead to spend the night at Matobo National Park. To get there, we took a gravel road at Gwanda but it turned out to be a 4×4 track and what an adventure.
At 6pm we were close to Matopo and we found The Farm House Lodge that has a great campsite on top of the mountain. The staff made a fire for us even though it was dark and we had a hot shower. The following morning, we left for Hwange, and arrived early in the afternoon after many police roadblocks, where they did their best to find something wrong with our cars. They even said I must have a height indicator on my van and they fined companions because of a fault with the trailer’s lights (guilty as charged).
Bulawayo was disappointing, as we couldn’t find a decent toilet and the fuel stations were all in a bad way. The lady at the main reception area at Hwange National Park was friendly and even deducted the conservation fee from our previous night’s accommodation that we hadn’t used. We saw wild dogs, which was fantastic. We needed to refuel the next morning but as there are no credit card facilities, our cash came in handy and was welcomed by a cash hungry country.
The next day, we headed for Victoria Falls and the roadblocks carried on endlessly. When we arrived at the Falls, we discovered we had only paid for three people and needed to pay an extra $72. We had booked through the Parks Board and couldn’t believe it. We were also told that we had to be at camp before dark and therefore we couldn’t do our sundown cruise.
We decided to go and find another campsite that cost far less and stayed there.
After finding out that the road to Tashinga had washed away, we decided to travel through Zambia, on a road full of potholes, from Livingstone to Lusaka, to get to Mana Pools instead. We spent the night at Mooring campsite, which was fantastic and then headed into Zim again at Chirundu the next morning. The border crossing was a breeze with all our documents already in place. There were no additional costs, but highly irritating agents still pestered us. We took the bad gravel road to the office at Mana Pools and settled down quickly at our pleasant campsite next to the river for the next three nights, a welcome break from all the driving. The first morning we saw a lioness and elephant, but that’s about it: we were disappointed with the low number of game and birds. The elephant roaming through the campsite was a highlight.
Then we headed to Rhodes Nyanga National Park via Harare. The city actually surprised us: it seems that there are many South African businesses and the city is well developed. It was cold when we arrived at Nyanga after 7pm, but fortunately the office is open 24 hours and after taking us to our campsite, the staff immediately made us a nice, big fire. The next day we drove round the park but it was disappointing and not as scenic as we had expected, although it does have its own beauty.
When it was time to leave, we drove to Lion and Elephant Motel (where the campsite was quite neglected) on our way back. Driving through Masvingo, we were stopped at five roadblocks in town. On a positive note, the road over the Birchenough Bridge was good and the drive was scenic. After the night camping at the Lion and Elephant Motel, we left for Beitbridge. Our papers were checked again and the policeman didn’t want to sign my gate pass as the S looked like an 8. He did eventually when he realised I was not going to offer a bribe.
We felt delighted to be back in South Africa, the staff on our side of the border was friendly and helpful. I hope they make visitors feel welcome.
HERE ARE MY REMARKS:
Fuel is widely available as opposed to a few years’ ago, but at $1.3, it’s very expensive.
In the east you can buy almost anything, but the west is very poor and there are no credit card facilities or ATMs.
Victoria Falls is the only place that is tourist friendly.
The road/police blocks are really intimidating; I have nothing to hide, so the continuous stopping and questioning felt threatening.
The main tar roads are fairly good, with the occasional pothole but nothing serious.
If you have to go, avoid Beitbridge and rather go in via Botswana.
Road manners in Zim are very similar to SA, be wide awake, no rules apply.
Would we go again? No, except if things change a lot. We didn’t meet any other South Africans travelling overland, so maybe we were the only stupid people going there?
Ben Visagie via email
Above: A reader’s trip to Zim was filled with wonders of nature, but also plenty of lowlights. He says he won’t be heading back any time soon.