Es­sen­tials

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Cover Story -

Mahla­tini Lux­ury Travel (028 9073 6050; mahla­tini. com) of­fers a six-night Zim­babwe hol­i­day from £2,140 per per­son for a fam­ily of four (two chil­dren un­der 12) stay­ing three nights in a suite at Africa Al­bida Tourism’s Vic­to­ria Falls Sa­fari Suites and three nights at Wilder­ness Sa­faris’ Linkwasha Camp, Hwange. In­cludes road and light air­craft trans­fers and ac­tiv­i­ties, but not in­ter­na­tional flights. Bri­tish Air­ways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) flies daily from Heathrow to Vic­to­ria Falls (via Jo­han­nes­burg) from £850 per per­son. view of the gorge be­tween Zim­babwe and Zam­bia. None of us fan­cied the 230ft-drop “Gorge Swing” (ev­ery­one who did it screamed madly) or the face­down “Fly­ing Fox” over the gorge, but we had a go at the zip wires back and forth across the gorge. There are nine wires in all, with a steep climb at the end. Some­how we man­aged to con­trol our nerves – and I was de­lighted we did. Fly­ing over the gorge from side to side was one of the most ex­hil­a­rat­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of my life (and after 30 years in tele­vi­sion I’m lucky enough to have tried some amaz­ing and ridicu­lous things).

We re­turned to Vic­to­ria Falls Sa­fari Suites to get ready for our even­ing at “The Boma”, where we had a joy­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. I urge you to go to rel­ish the de­li­cious food (Mopane worms, a lo­cal del­i­cacy, are avail­able too; if you eat one you get a cer­tifi­cate), watch the danc­ing and singing, and learn to play African drums. It’s a won­der­ful even­ing, al­beit one aimed squarely at tourists. Just leave your in­hi­bi­tions at the door and join in.

Our last even­ing was spent on a sun­downer cruise. The Zam­bezi at sun­set is ut­terly mag­i­cal. Myr­iad colours spread out over the ma­jes­tic wa­ters and the wildlife along the river’s banks pro­vides an ex­tra vis­ual treat. We saw croc­o­diles, ele­phants and hip­pos wal­low­ing while we sipped our cock­tails. No pho­tographs can ever re­ally do it jus­tice. The colours of Africa are, to me, the colours of life.

We then took a six-seater Cessna light air­craft over the vast Hwange Na­tional Park, fly­ing for nearly an hour to what seemed like an open­ing in the mid­dle of nowhere. Hav­ing cleared the run­way of ele­phants, our guide, called Hon­est, was wait­ing to greet us with a ta­ble laid out with vodka and ton­ics (mango juice for the girls), olives and crisps. Wel­come, he said, to the sa­fari of your lives. And it re­ally was.

Our drive through the bush to Linkwasha Camp cul­mi­nated in see­ing li­onesses de­vour­ing a re­cent kill, just 200ft from the camp. Linkwasha is the type of place you see in films, a lux­u­ri­ous oa­sis in the mid­dle of the African bush. Our “tent” had show­ers, loos, a sit­ting room and, more im­por­tantly, views. These were breath­tak­ing through­out, of the wa­ter­hole by the camp and be­yond.

The staff were warm and friendly, and the food was in­cred­i­ble. How they man­aged to cook cui­sine like that in the mid­dle of nowhere is be­yond me. They even man­aged gluten-free! But it’s the game drives that make a sa­fari, and our jour­neys with Hon­est at sun­rise and sun­set brought us closer to wild an­i­mals than I ever re­mem­ber be­ing be­fore.

We found our­selves just 3ft from el­e­gant ele­phants, then just 20ft from a pair of bal­letic chee­tahs. There were gi­raffes, ze­bras and the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered Roan deer, ba­boons, wilde­beest, warthogs and jack­als. Hye­nas screeched as they ran past our camp. There wasn’t a mo­ment when we be­came blasé about those beasts. This was their ter­ri­tory and we were priv­i­leged to be able to watch them.

One of the best mo­ments was see­ing Xan­der, son of Ce­cil, the lion whose killing last year by US tro­phy hunter Wal­ter Palmer sick­ened the world. How any man or woman can de­stroy and slaugh­ter one of these an­i­mals for plea­sure is to­tally be­yond me. We are truly blessed to share the planet with these mag­nif­i­cent crea­tures.

The still­ness of liv­ing out in the bush with noth­ing to hear but the wind and the calls of the an­i­mals was bliss­ful. And at night, the sky trans­forms into an ex­plo­sion of stars which trans­port you to another par­adise al­to­gether. The girls were full of won­der, amazed the sky could be so un­be­liev­ably full.

Now, back in Lon­don, I know that the part of me that I’d left be­hind in Zim­babwe is still there. Those weekly dreams had be­come a re­al­ity for 10 short days. And I can smell it still.

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