Bushman Rock Safaris: An Elegant Affair

by Jean Dollery

Vistas of vineyards, world-class polo fields and a distant lake melting into the bracasthesia-clad granite hills beyond instantly sets Bushman Rock Safaris apart from other safari outfits in Zimbabwe.

A smiling Sharon bearing homemade lemonade greeted us warmly on arrival and we were seamlessly settled in no time.

Enter Johnathan Passaportis (or Jono) – a gentle giant of unaffected charm – our host and the managing director of Bushman Rock Safaris. We lunched on

a freshly prepared platter of cold meats, salad and cheese. Jono is passionate about their vision and has a game plan. Ultimately the owners want Bushman Rock Safaris to be a horse riding safari and polo tourist destination. It is a long and arduous road.

“Polo is pretty niche, and for this operation to work initially it needs broader appeal,” Jono says. Luckily, the owners are patient and creative people.

Bushman Rock Safaris offers a whole lot more than just horse riding. This estate happens to be one of only two vineyards in Zimbabwe. The winery is a massive building with a hung floor suspended above the wine making vats and with striking views across a floodlit polo arena to a lake and the rocky ridge beyond. Flanked by vines and iceberg roses, the scene is the Cape Winelands meeting the bushveld. The smell of oak and fermented grapes is strong. The owners plan to utilise this space as a farm-to-table restaurant and tasting venue, the perfect function for such a grand area.

We head into the cellar and settle into some animated wine tasting. Bushman Rock has 14 hectares of vines, primarily noble varieties, carefully planted above the lake (for the cooling breeze) in granite rich soils which make for a unique Zimbabwean-styled wine with a more European flavour than the South African varieties. The range of wine is impressive and Jono is clearly proud of what is produced here. Nelia Kanyasa is the wine maker at Bushman Rock Winery – she is one of the few black female wine makers in the world.

Dinner was a sophisticated but casual affair with deliciously prepared and well presented food in the ambient dining room. Wine from the cellar, with a small selection of alternatives was on offer.

Bellies full and contented, we retired and tucked into our thatch cottage, (one of five), charmingly appointed in park-like gardens. The cottage has two large bedrooms en suite, individually styled, each with leafy outdoor showers. One bathroom has an inviting post-polo-soak bath. Comfortable furniture is arranged around a little jet master fireplace in a lounge large enough to sleep several children, with sliding doors onto the veranda.

An early morning walk led me to the wedding chapel, a simple thatched structure tucked between the trees. Bushman Rock is understandably a popular wedding venue. The reception area, which doubles as the polo club, is just across the full-sized polo field and by all accounts, the weddings are well-planned, intimate and memorable affairs.

I strolled on to the stable yard, keen to check on the horses and what I was about to let myself in for. Being incredibly nervous to mount a horse again for the first time in over five years, my fear was quickly allayed by the thrill of sidling up to wild game astride a well-behaved bay.

Jono had read my fear and mounted me on a horse upon which he knew I would be comfortable. Clearly this is his passion; he knows horses and speaks of them as one would about a person.

Jono started riding at the age of four, first as a show jumper and then when he discovered polo. He decided after finishing university in Exeter that he should learn to speak a second language and thus worked on a horse ranch as a guide in Argentina. Not only did he learn to speak Spanish; he also wrote the business plan for Bushman Rock Safaris while he was there. When Jono returned to Zimbabwe he shared his vision with local businessman, next door neighbour and mentor Afaras Gwaradzimba, together they created Bushman Rock Safaris.

“I came back to set up an African version of what I was doing in Argentina, which is basically taking people out on horse safaris and playing polo. Polo has always been part of the plan.” “We do special events safaris – for example if five riders come out to Africa, we will organise a multi-day horse safari. Guests breakfast in the lodge, ride out for a picnic lunch in the bush and a hammocked siesta, and then ride back in the evening. Guests ride every day, with a game of polo in between,” says Jono.

The owners are keen to encourage both riders and non-riders to play polo. Anyone is welcome to play at Bushman Rock provided their riding skills are proficient. Jono gives a couple of lessons in advance to assess the rider’s ability and to match horses to players. Even non- riders can have initial lessons with a riding instructor until he is confident the rider is ready to play. Horses are leased out at $35 a chukka.

Bushman Rock has a Polo Club which is affiliated to the Zimbabwe Polo Association.

“We are trying hard to grow the game of polo in Zimbabwe. We are doing it by being open and focussing on the international way of playing polo where there are patrons and professionals. Everyone in between hires horses to play.”

If “all things equine” is not your thing, and you don’t like wine, all is not lost. There are fascinating rock paintings to explore with knowledgeable guides who can share a fascinating insight to the history of this area.

Take a bush walk or a game drive through the 750 hectare estate and see buffalo, eland, sable, kudu, zebra, giraffe and many other species. Just walking through the bush here is a treat.

Theo’s lake is a prominent feature at Bushman Rock Safaris. Bird life abounds and the fishing is good. There is a small beach to chill on and canoes to paddle. A pontoon is also available for those of a more social nature.

Day trippers are welcome by prior arrangement so those who live in Harare wondering what to do on a Sunday… your problem is solved. My advice, however, is take a day or two to explore this remarkable estate and experience all it has to offer.

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