3 kids and a coffee machine. Family of 5 doing over 6000km around Zimbabwe part 2…

Article: Cath Conradie

Images: Lance Conradie

In the last Nzira edition you journeyed with us, a family with three kids aged 8, 6 and 2, as we evaded a lurking lion in Mana, had heaps of family fun in Kariba, explored the giant fig trees of the Vumba, and walked with a pangolin in the Save Conservancy, and drank lots and lots of coffee along the way to keep us going. Now we’re looking forward to taking you on the rest of our adventure around Zimbabwe…

There’s nothing like going to Chipinge, from the Save Conservancy, VIA Chimanimani. If you’re not so familiar with your map of Zimbabwe let me tell you, there is nothing ‘via’ about that route. But after shooting down several of my husband’s quiet pleas for little adventurous detours, I finally gave in to this one. We were going to ‘quickly’ take the kids to see Bridal Veil Falls in the Chimanimanis before stopping off to stay with friends in Chipinge for a couple of nights. So as I waved goodbye to the ‘almost-at-Chipinge-sign’, upward we zoomed on a very meandering road, into what looked like ominous rain clouds, and an awfully LONG “only-1-hour-detour”. Nevertheless, we made it, and the Bridal Veil Falls and its surrounds are beautiful…even if it’s raining and the picnic is ruined (don’t tell the husband I owned to that). The braver ones in the family took a dip in the pool, we ate our picnic lunch in the car, and then turned around and went back to Chipinge via via again. 

Our highlight in Chipinge (after catching up with good friends) was definitely the locals’ secret “Crystal Creek”: a beautiful hike along the river to a large waterfall where we could swim and picnic. And then, after stocking up on all the delicious fresh fruit Chipinge had on offer, we made our way to Masvingo. 

Masvingo was one of the places I really struggled to find decent self-catering accommodation. We ended up staying in an Air BnB in Masvingo which was fine, but we have since heard of ‘Romelda’ which looks really nice and is situated on Lake Mutirikwi (formerly Lake Kyle). 

Our first morning in Masvingo we set off fairly early to explore the Great Zimbabwe Ruins. It had been many years since my husband and I had seen them, and we were all impressed by their size and the skill involved in their building. It was a really fun outing, with lots of hiking, great views and well-deserved snack breaks along the way. On the way home we decided to take Mac Doogles road all the way around Lake Mutirikwi, another via via trip. It was very scenic, but also rather long and a bit tedious for the kids. 

That afternoon we made our way into Lake Kyle National Park. The Lake is stunning, and what a treat to have 2 sightings of White Rhino with young, and another great sighting of a herd of 5 rhino. There’s a stunning campsite there, on a peninsular, that we would love to go back to and try our hand a bit more seriously at some bass fishing. 

It was rumours of good fishing that lured us to our next spot. Mteri Dam, in the Hippo Valley area, is well known to be one of the best bass fishing spots in Zimbabwe and we thought we should try it out. We sadly didn’t catch any fish, but we did have a really great stay. The self-catering lodge is lovely, situated right on the dam, with a swimming pool and a chef to do your cooking for you. There is a small game park around the dam with plains game. While we were there they had an orphaned baby buffalo walking around which was quite sweet. 

From Mteri, we finally got to go to our favourite place in Zimbabwe…the place of the elephant, Gonarezhou National Park. Gonaz never disappoints with its beautiful landscapes, wild encounters, and diverse flora and fauna, and this time was no different. On our drive through Malalangwe we saw almost all the plains game, bar sable. We were staying at the Chipinda Pools National Parks tented camps. They had just been redone, with lovely linen and all the kitchens restocked – so they were really good value for money. The site is beautifully situated on the Runde River, and it’s always lovely to be able to sit comfortably on the veranda and watch the game passing by. 

On our first afternoon there, we decided to take the kids to see the Chilojo cliffs. There were ominous dark clouds rumbling on the horizon, but the wind was pumping so we thought it would skirt round us. But alas, we were in for the storm of our lives! After passing an inquisitive leopard resting on an anthill watching the storm, and 2 antsy lions, we should have been more cautious. But off we went and the rain started pelting down. It was one of those white-knuckle moments for me as we passed more and more rising streams from the flash flood, and were stuck in an electric storm that was just growing in intensity. After watching a lighting bolt explode on the ground a little way from us, we neared yet another torrent of water, and I finally pleaded for an end to the afternoon’s adventures and prayed for a safe return to camp. Which we got and my prayers were answered in the most beautiful way. That night after the storm had passed we watched as thousands of fireflies rose from the river bed and danced like fairies among the trees, (by far the prettiest Christmas lights I’ve ever seen), creating an almost magical moment I’ll never forget. The next day dawned brighter and blue-skied, and we managed to get to and enjoy the cliffs, uneventfully this time. 3 days in Gonaz was too short, but it was time to head on to the next leg of our journey – Bulawayo and the Matopos. 

Again I was hesitant to brave the National Parks lodges in Matopos, as I’d heard rumors of them. We ended up spending 2 nights just at the Travellers Lodge in Bulawayo which was clean and comfortable. Our first afternoon we spent at the wonderful Bulawayo museum. Their geology displays in particular are excellent! It was also great for the children to get a little background history lesson before heading to Rhodes Memorial the next day. 

We headed out nice and early the next day into the Matopos hills. We did some lovely hikes up rocks and through streams and enjoyed the cave paintings at Nswatugi Cave and the White Rhino cave, as well as Rhodes’ grave. Unfortunately, some heavy afternoon rain prevented us from actually entering the park and looking for the rhino, but all in all, it was a fun day. 

The next day we headed out to Hwange National Park. Just as we turned off onto the Hwange Main Camp road, the car lost power and we slowed to a halt on the side of the road. 3 kids, 4,000 km of travelling, and a poor tortoise we’d rescued off the side of the road, and here we were. Stuck! At least we could release the tortoise into the safety of the Park, as Dad did some bush mechanics to fix a fuel line into the common rail. The bush mechanics worked…for a little bit…it got us as far as the Painted Dog Conservation hub where we found a very kind mechanic who helped us out. 

Hwange was magic. We saw 19 lions in 2 days. Our highlight was staying at Kapula Camp, a private tented camp near the Masuma Dam picnic site. It is very wild, with a pride of resident lion, so yes it was also a bit worrying with the children, and we had to be on high alert. But it was worth it and we had a fantastic view of the watering hole from a comfortable deck in camp, chefs to help with preparing meals, and it’s always exhilarating listening to the call of the lion at night…and seeing their paw prints right outside your tent the next day! 

Our final destination was of course the mighty Zambezi and majestic Victoria Falls! We got lucky and managed to get a spoilt grande finale to our trip by staying at the new and gorgeous Insika Lodge over the Christmas period. With delicious food, beautiful decor and a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere, Insika is the perfect getaway spot and the perfect Christmas present. 

Vic Falls has so many activities vying for your time. We did the normal: view the Falls, Lookout Cafe, 3 Monkeys restaurant, and Zambezi Park game drive and picnic, which are all great fun for the whole family. Our novel activity this time was a sunrise trip on the Bamba Tram. It was a fantastic experience for the kids. They loved the tram ride, stopping on the bridge and walking around the little museum in Zambia. 

Thankfully we also found a proper mechanic in Vic Falls who, although he raised his eyebrows and undid our bush-mechanics, he fixed the car up so we could do the long trip back to Harare. What a wonderful 5 weeks of travel and happy memories we had. 

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