Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - MAIL -

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.


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.

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