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Distances in Zimbabwe
In Stewart’s Quotable Africa you will read the following phrase about Zimbabwe: “Raise a bucket of chibuku to your lips and toast your good luck in being there.”
Once you have visited Zimbabwe, you will know why these words were written: beautiful landscapes and scenery, a climate ranging from sub-tropical paradise to crisp mountain air, wildlife in abundance, a strong presence of the mysteries of the past, as well as the friendliest locals you are likely to find in many a country.
Contrary to what one often reads in the news media, Zimbabwe is among the safest countries on the planet. Since the economic recovery programme was set in motion in 2008, food and fuel are in steady supply. So, pack your bags and start compiling your list of must-see places in Zimbabwe.
If you are travelling from South Africa through the Beit Bridge border post, the first place you might want to visit is the Matobos (also known as the Matobo Hills or Matopos). Cecil John Rhodes, who was the most well-known figure from the British Imperialist era in Southern Africa, chose to be buried in the Matobos, because he regarded this spot as the most beautiful and serene place on earth.
Although the Matobo National Park is the home to game such as black rhino and sable, it is the exquisite natural scenery that you will remember long after returning home. One of the characteristics of the Matobo Hills is the huge worn granite boulders. The boulders are stacked on top of each other in a haphazard way – almost as if a child giant had been interrupted in a game of block-building. One or two nights in the Matobo Hills will be the highlight of your holiday.
If you are travelling on a smallish budget, the state-controlled Matobo Rest Camp is a good choice. Here you will find basic self-catering (self-contained) accommodation with a beautiful view of the dam. Granite Ridge (previously known as The Farmhouse), is located in a very beautiful part of the Matobo Hills. Granite Ridge offers self-catering (self-contained) accommodation, as well as delicious home cooking, and is a good option for a family or the average traveller. The Matobo Hills Lodge is a world-class destination with exquisite views, service and cuisine. This is the perfect destination for those with a purse deep enough to pay for the finer things in life.
Bulawayo is the first Zimbabwean city you will come across and is quite unlike the concrete jungle so characteristic of some Western cities. Many of the streets are tree-lined, there are quite a number of parks and a number of Victorian buildings have been carefully preserved – all the legacy of Cecil John Rhodes. If you enjoy visiting museums, art galleries and the theatre, Bulawayo should appear on your itinerary.
The Cresta Churchill Hotel, with its Tudor architecture reminding you of an era long gone by, is situated 6 km from the CBD in a quiet part of Bulawayo. If you don’t have your own transport, the hotel has a courtesy bus. The Rainbow Hotel is a bigger establishment and is located in the CBD. Both the Cresta Churchill Hotel and the Rainbow Hotel offer all the amenities one will expect in a hotel, including air-conditioned rooms, room service, good restaurants, and so on.
Near Masvingo, to the east of Bulawayo, you will find the Great Zimbabwe Monument (previously known as the Zimbabwe Ruins). This is Zimbabwe’s most well-known UNESCO World Heritage Site and dates from the Late Iron Age. Here you will tread in the footsteps of a civilisation long past – that of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe (1100 to 1450 AD). Scientists can but speculate about the reasons for the demise of this Kingdom: famine, climate change…?
If you want to spend a few days in the vicinity of the Great Zimbabwe Monument, you have a choice of accommodation establishments. The Lodge of the Ancient City is a unique hotel, designed to emulate the Great Zimbabwe Monument. This is perfect for couples or families who want to experience something different. Think firelight and soft mbira music after dusk. The Great Zimbabwe Hotel is a bigger establishment and offers accommodation of a more conventional nature. Norma Jeane’s Lakeview Resort (previously known as Inn on Great Zimbabwe) is a smaller, more personal establishment and offers a bigger variety of accommodation – from full board, self-catering (self-contained) family units, to budget rooms and camping facilities.
The Vumba Mountains (also known as the Bvumba Mountains) and Nyanga Mountains form part of the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. If you thought that the genteel art of fly-fishing was only part of the Scottish Highlands or the Highveld region of South Africa – think again. During the early mornings, the Vumba Mountains and Nyanga Mountains are misty and the air is crisp and fresh. The region is quite different to the ‘usual’ picture you see of Africa…no wide open savannah with herds of migrating game. Instead, you’ll see towering mountains, foaming waterfalls and mysterious forests of ferns and moss.
Both Bvumba (or Vumba) Mountains and Nyanga Mountains are sites where evidence of age-old previous inhabitants have been found. The Bvumba Mountains still form part of the cultural and religious life of modern Zimbabweans, because it is used for healing, rainmaking and divining rituals to this day.
In the Bvumba Mountains the Leopard Rock Hotel is famous among the world’s rich and famous. Offering old world charm reminding you of the colonial era (the British royal family is on record as saying this is the most beautiful place in Africa), the Leopard Rock has stood its ground to remain one of the firm favourites among tourists. The Inn on the Vumba is a smaller, newer establishment, where you will find value-for-money accommodation as well as peace and quiet.
The Troutbeck Inn, Pine Tree Inn and Inn on the Rupurara in the Nyanga Mountains remind of gentlemen’s country clubs in the Scottish Highlands. Settling down beside a roaring log fire, while sipping a whiskey or cocktail…life cannot get better than this. The Inn on the Rupurara has won a number of tourism awards in Zimbabwe, while the Pine Tree Inn seems like an Alpine resort. The Troutbeck Inn has a well-stocked lake with three species of trout.
To the west of the country lies the Hwange National Park (previously known as Wankie). The scenery of this area stands in direct contrast to that of the Bvumba Mountains and Nyanga Mountains. The Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s largest game reserve, and has many man-made waterholes because the area is dry. At dawn you can watch animals sauntering down to a waterhole for a drink, while listening to the African bush waking up. The smell of freshly-brewed coffee mingling with that of dewdrops on grass and shrubs will stay in your memory forever.
You can choose between three camps in the Hwange National Park: the main camp, Sinamatella Camp and Robins Camp. In addition to these three camps, you can also camp on platforms overlooking the man-made waterholes. Outside of the Hwange National Park, you will also find the Hwange Main Camp. The Hwange Main Camp offers a choice between self-catering (self-contained) lodges, chalets and cottages, as well as a camping and caravan site.
To the north-west of the Hwange National Park lies the Victoria Falls. Called “Mosi-oa-Tunya” (the smoke that thunders) in the local language, the Victoria Falls still inspire awe in those who witness the spectacle of water tumbling over cliffs, raising clouds of spray that are visible from a distance of kilometres. The Victoria Falls is nearly 2 km wide, and between 90-100 m deep. If you are really brave (or really foolish, depending on your point of view), take a swim in the Devil’s Pool. Nothing will ever be the same after this experience! If this experience is not enough to get your adrenaline bubbling, try river rafting, bungee jumping, flying in a microlight or float plane over the Falls…the possibilities are endless.
There are quite a few accommodation establishments in Victoria Falls. First and foremost is the ‘grande olde dame’ – the Victoria Falls Hotel. This hotel has been serving its guests with the best of the best for more than 100 years and is a Member of the Leading Hotels of the World. Say no more. The A’Zambezi Lodge is 5 km from the Falls and situated on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River. The Elephant Hills Resort is located on a hilltop overlooking the Zambezi River and the plume of mist emanating from the Falls. This is a bigger hotel offering 4 restaurants and a golf-course designed by South African golfing legend, Gary Player. The Kingdom Hotel is situated around a man-made lake which is home to a number of baby crocodiles. The Ilala Lodge offers affordable, yet stylish and warm accommodation and is situated closest to the town centre and Falls. The Vic Falls Rest Camp is the ideal option for a family or group of friends intent on having an unforgettable holiday while visiting one of the most special places on earth. The accommodation is clean, neat and close to town and the Falls.
Lake Kariba (or Kariba Dam Zimbabwe) is the largest man-made lake on earth, and this African Riviera is the playground of the rich and famous. The fiery sunsets on the Kariba, together with the haunting cry of the African Fish Eagle, capture the spirit of Africa. Here, at Lake Kariba and the Matusadona National Park, you will be able to combine game viewing with water sports, while still having plenty of serious rest and relaxation.
Zimbabwe is a place of many legends, and Lake Kariba is no exception. According to the local Tsonga people, the construction of the lake upset the Nyaminyami (River God of the Zambezi River in which the dam was constructed) to such an extent that 86 workers died during tremendous floods following the completion of the dam. Since then tremors have been heard in the area. Scientists say these are due to the large body of water in Lake Kariba. However, the local Tonga people say that they are due to Nyaminyami planning his next revenge.
Around Lake Kariba there are a number of hotels and lodges, all overlooking the Lake. The Caribbea Hotel and Resort resembles a Sardinean fishing village and is the ideal spot for a family holiday, with a number of restaurants and leisure facilities. The Cutty Sark Hotel is a smaller, more homely, and more affordable establishment. Tamarind Lodge offers clean, basic self-catering (self-contained) accommodation – ideal for those who want to determine their own holiday programme. Spurwing Island is a luxury lodge, right on the banks of the dam, which captures the essence of Lake Kariba. This resort is popular among people who enjoy fishing, and the chefs at Spurwing Island are experts at preparing mouthwatering dishes from any catch. Fothergill Island is closed until further notice. Another lodge on the banks of Lake Kariba is Mlibizi Lodge. Here you are also very close to the Lake, with the thatched bungalows and flats located in the gardens of the Lodge being only a few metres from the water’s edge. There is one self-catering (self-contained) villa at Mlibizi Lodge, where up to 15 guests can be accommodated. Guests staying in the other lodges enjoy their meals in the restaurant.
Harare is the capital city of Zimbabwe. You will most probably only overnight in Harare, but if you want to spend a day, try to visit the National Botanical Gardens. Like Bulawayo, Harare is also no concrete jungle, and the city’s people take much pride in the Mukuvisi Woodlands where 227 hectares of indigenous trees have been preserved.
The Cresta Lodge is 3 km from the CBD of Harare, and is a smaller, more personal establishment, ideal for families. The Jameson Hotel is centrally situated, and its architecture reminds of the Art Nouveau era. The Rainbow Towers is a luxury 5-star establishment. The Rainbow Towers Hotel has won a number of awards, and the reasons for this will be obvious if you book in.
If you are travelling from Harare to Lake Kariba, don’t miss the Chinhoyi Caves. Another of the attractions in Zimbabwe that is teeming with history (and quite a number of legends added to the story), it is also a serenely beautiful place. The “Sleeping Pool” is almost surreal in its beauty, so it is difficult to imagine the Caves being the scene of bloody battles.