Zimbabwe is “Open for Tourism” part 1

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Victoria Falls – one of the biggest tourist attractions and which forms part of the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia

For many years, Zimbabwe was a country people left rather than visited. With the recent change of president the country is again “Open for Business” and, in particular, it is open for tourism.  With a certain amount of trepidation I flew off to see the country for myself.

I was delighted to find that the country has a lot to offer for those who love nature, wildlife, the breathtaking Victoria Falls, and anyone wanting to explore the country’s lesser-known gems.

Harare, the capital is a dusty African city that has little to offer the tourist. Unless you feel you need a rest after the long journey, it is somewhere that really isn’t worth visiting. My advice is to head out into the countryside.

Once you arrive in the country, the best way to get around is by car. The country is under-populated, at least one third of the population having left during Mugabe’s era, and the countryside is, as far as I could see, mostly wild and uncultivated. Twenty percent of it, however, is dedicated to wildlife, and home to the country’s Big Five – lions, leopards, buffalo, elephant and rhinos as well as an estimated 108 different wildlife species, and over 470 bird varieties.

certainly the feeling I got was that the country is much more welcoming than it perhaps was in the past

Places to visit

Set in thirteen thousand acres of wild bush, a natural habitat for wildlife, and within a conservation area Pamuzinda Safari Lodge is an hour’s drive from Harare. Accommodation is in thatched buildings – mine had an outdoor shower – overlooking the banks of the River Serui. As I arrived I could see wild monkeys perched on the roof although they disappeared as I approached. Within the preserve is a wildlife rescue centre where animals are cared for, and then released back into the wild. I join a group on an early morning game drive with Simba, the head guide.  Having seen impala, zebra, wildebeest and guinea fowl we then saw the outline of a giraffe among the foliage. Simba got out of our 4×4, and made a noise that coaxed the animal into a clearing where it was joined by two others. They were obviously used to people looking at them, and back at the lodge, I was told that Jasmine, the female, often came visiting. It was hard to tear myself away from such a lovely environment.

My guide, Lovemore, at Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe

Declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986, the ruined city of Great Zimbabwe is the largest preserved ancient stone-walled city in southern Africa and, at one time, their largest community. It is also where the name of the country is taken from and means Great House of Stone, stone being the symbol of the country. It was built, and inhabited from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries by the Karanga tribe, descendants of the Shona people.

At the top of a huge hill, the King’s palace, dating back to the fourteenthth century, dominates the area. Each subsequent king built his palace on top of his predecessors. There are two paths to go up. My guide, Lovemore, and I took what I was told was the original one, which is very steep and has some very narrow passages. The King’s wives, of which he may have had as many as 200, lived in the valley below. To enter Great Zimbabwe it will cost you $15 plus $3 for a guide.

Matobo National Park

An hour outside Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city is Matobo National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage site.

The grave of Cecil Rhodes atop the Matopos Hills

In this area there is a large population of black and white rhino and Norman, who runs Black Rhino Safaris, told me that they are part of the country’s breeding programme. Next to the park are the grounds of a research centre where, on a walking safari, I was able to see and get quite close to several white rhino, which aren’t really white at all but brown in colour. Norman explained that one of the differences between the two species is that black rhinos eat leaves whereas the white variety eat grass. Accompanying us was an armed guard as the rhino’s horns are very valuable. Every three to four years they are cut to deter poachers who take them not just for their value, but also because they believe that the substance produced from the horn is an aphrodisiac. In the park, and hidden by foliage, Norman also showed me examples of San Rock Art of which there are thousands in this part of the world.

On a historical note it was in this region that Baden-Powell, who was in the British army at the time, learnt his skills and used them as the basis for the Boy Scout movement which he founded in 1907.

Another feature of the park is the Matopos Hills with its unique rock formations known as granite kopjes. I climbed up one to not only get a wonderful panoramic view but also to see the grave of Cecil Rhodes. It was Rhodes, a controversial figure, that gave his name to the country and to its neighbour before both were renamed Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Hawange, the country’s largest National Park

elephants wander by where I was staying in Elephant Eye. Image © Kris Griffiths

The evening started well when I arrived at the safari lodge, Elephant Eye, apparently just outside the park but as there are no boundaries I had no idea how to tell. Dinner was served in an open thatched lodge positioned opposite their swimming pool. As I was enjoying my steak, cooked to order, I was able to make out the outline of an elephant that had stopped to drink from the pool.  Also under the lights in front of me, and probably not more than twenty feet away was a group of impala.

Early next morning on an organised game drive, I saw, half hidden in the foliage, a spotted hyena and was shown the tracks of a hippopotamus. There were lots of birdlife too including a Southern yellow-billed hornbill, and several wattled, iridescent starlings in a tree. The open landscape around the park’s numerous pans, pools of water, makes spotting animals reasonably easy. At one of the bigger watering holes, on the far side, sitting by the water’s edge were antelope, impala and zebra. While trying to make out exactly what animals were there – binoculars are a definite must so don’t forget to pack them in your luggage – a hippopotamus suddenly semi-emerged from the water.

For more about Zimbabwe click here or go to http://www.zimbabwetourism.net/

 Natasha’s story continues on the 9th of May

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