By Julie Havercroft
Images by Tiger Safaris
On this cold school winter half term break in Harare, there was the usual mass exodus flocking out of the capital city in search of rest and relaxation. Some went to Nyanga, some to Umfurudzi or Kariba, to get away from the hustle and bustle, whilst some of us headed north to Chirundu.
Five hours later, (this included paying our National Parks entry fees at Marongora National Parks office), we reached Tiger Safaris, our destination and home, for the next three nights.
Chirundu, Zimbabwe’s northernmost border post, is an assault on the senses. As you go over the Zambezi Escarpment and descend into Chirundu, the heat hits you and the bright blueness of the sky leaves you squinting. The road is lined with stationary lorries waiting to clear their loads with customs at the Zambian border post. Vendors on foot, hawk their food and drinks, baboons casually saunter along, looking for easy pickings whilst lorry drivers sit in their cabs to escape the sun and heat. You could be at any southern or Central African border post.
Bumper to bumper, the lorries are parked on the left lane which means we have to take an unplanned, bouncy but mercifully brief, off-road dusty detour along the right hand dirt verge of the main road until we get to the Tiger Safaris turning. It certainly adds to the adventure of getting out of town for the weekend. After this, Tiger Safaris is just a two kilometre drive off the main road. It is cool, shady, green and inviting and a world away from the hustle and bustle of Chirundu town. The minute you get there, the tension that comes from driving for any length of time on your average Zimbabwean road, slips away. For the weekend ahead, the outside world ceases to have any relevance. The most important thing, after deciding which bedroom you’re going to sleep in, is unpacking and deciding what you are going have for supper and taking a stroll to the river bank, sitting down on a camp chair to enjoy the view whilst the river rolls by lulling and mesmerizing you.
Tim and Michelle Ballance, have owned Tiger Safaris since 2002 but have only in the last few years taken on the day to day running and management themselves. Michelle makes it a point of checking in with each and every guest at the end of the day. This hands on approach has seen Tiger Safaris survive lean times in a depressed local economy and it is now growing into a sought after resort. No more dreaded police “road blocks” extorting money means that not only local visitors are coming, but more people are crossing our borders and braving our roads again, to catch a tiger fish or just to relax.
There are seven speed boats and a pontoon, each with a driver who knows the river inside out.
Our driver Tendai, I have to quietly confess, had a lot to do with our successful landing of some very decent sized tiger fish. The drivers know how to fish as well as knowing the locations of the best spots. They also play a huge yet unobtrusive role in making sure your trip goes as smoothly as possible.
Whilst it is marketed as a fishing camp establishment, it’s much more than that.
My husband is a fan of the river and has been to Tiger Safaris more than once on fishing trips. It took some persuasion on his part to get me to come and see Chirundu for myself. I’m glad I did. It’s not fenced off anymore (an electric predator fence did surround it a while back, but Michelle and Tim took it down) so wild visitors to the property are not uncommon. Every day, elephants and baboons quietly come and go as they pass through to drink from the water hole at the edge of the property. Monkeys patrol the grounds, always on the lookout for a spot of mischief making. Our nocturnal visitors included genet cats and also hippos which efficiently mow and fertilize the rich green lawns. Elephants casually meander through the camp, munching on the vegetation and as long as you are careful and respect these animals who have as much right to enjoy the facilities as you do, then you will be safe! It is, after all, the African bush and a big part of the charm of Tiger Safaris is this very special experience. I took my binoculars and enjoyed spotting the abundant bird life around the camp.
The riverside property is shady, cool and spacious. Unlimited water means lawns are green year round. There are five river front chalets (two-bedrooms and a kitchen) and one three bedroomed air conditioned chalet also with a kitchen. There also are now two single ensuite bedrooms with air conditioned units. All the chalets and rooms are serviced daily so no making of beds or washing up for me on this trip! A campsite is under construction and should be finished as we go to print. A bar and restaurant are available should you feel too lazy to cook your meals or make your own drinks and it is also worth mentioning that the chef at Tiger Safaris is Dylan Taylor, who won Zimbabwe’s Masterchef competition last year.
Chirundu and Tiger Safaris may fly under the radar as a local getaway for many of you reading this, but it’s really worth a visit, just for its relaxation value alone.