The Great Zimbabwean – MUM & SON ROAD TRIP

Article by Laura Taylor
What happens when a mum and son head for the hills? A wonderful adventure, of course! There is no doubt that my son, Nick, and I have a special bond, but put us together for eight days on a Great Zim Road Trip and there is bound to be an adventure or two that only strengthens those ties and creates the memories that make all the miles worthwhile! I am no Jack Kerouac, but when we set off on that chilly Harare morning in March with our nose pointed south, “I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.” Our first stop was Matobo Hills just outside Bulawayo in the Matabeleland province of Zimbabwe, a land punctuated by great “bald domes” of granite (“Matobo”), and characterised by a fiercely proud people. It has a deeply riveting history, one of the world’s most impressive

collections of San rock art, the planet’s largest Black/Verreaux’s Eagle population and a powerful spiritual resonance that is felt throughout the rocky landscape. It is also a land that Nick has never clapped eyes on and being one of my favourite Zim destinations, for its sheer grandeur and historical interest, we rolled happily into one of its finest establishments, Camp Amalinda, just in time for lunch al fresco and a chilled gin and tonic by the stunning pool. On our first evening, we enjoyed a short, late afternoon hike with Howard our guide up to the rocks overlooking the camp, whilst the sun slipped spectacularly behind the horizon and brazen baboons hung around in nearby trees. It was a great first-day activity, getting a “lay of the land” without having to venture far. Cosy fireside pre-dinner drinks and chats with other guests, delicious supper and a good

night’s rest in our comfortable room marked the end of our first day of Amalinda exploration and discovery! The next day, we arranged to pick up two Zimparks rangers and drove into the Matobo National Park to track some rhinos! Intrepid travellers as we are, we very cautiously and carefully took the lead of our guide as he quietly led us up to a beautiful white rhino mum and her calf. (The juxtaposition of me – a mum, right – and Nick, my er, “calf” – was not lost on me!) Such a magical moment, it is hard to even describe. The nearby wildebeest and zebra took fright, even at our restrained approach, and ran off in a very obliging epic movie fashion (Nick was at the ready with his camera!) and the rhinos remained relaxed, eventually heaving themselves up and wandering off to sit in the shade nearby. Bliss all around. An afternoon siesta by the famous Amalinda swimming pool, (my book not holding my interest much as the old binos were frequently lifted to scan the rocks for more captivating birds, lizards and baboons!) was followed by a game drive into the park and a tour that culminated at Cecil John Rhodes’ grave at World’s View.  From the beginning, Howard was brilliant, sharing with us an enthralling but snappy summary of the history of Matobo, from the iconic rock formations that have been shaped through two thousand million years of erosion to the people that have lived, fought, thrived and died there. Like all the Zimbabwean guides, I have met, Howard’s knowledge was impressive and he told a good tale that made all the difference to a World’s View visit. It was only our third day but we had experienced so much already. Early

morning coffee and cookies on our veranda in the bush and then time to pack up and head off again, with more than just a little reluctance. Our next stop was Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest and most elephantprolific park that many compare in size to Belgium. We put up at Robins Camp situated in the rugged northern basalt area of the park. A wonderfully warm welcome from Noncele, (thoughtful and efficient Robins Camp manager, along with her husband Thamu), eased us into our rooms – the original national parks’ chalets, stylishly decorated and super comfortable with ensuite bathrooms. We soon realised you do not need anything else from which to discover this beautiful part of the world. The camp is accentuated by its triple-story tower, quite the landmark in an area where not a lot is tall except for giraffes and trees. Allowing you to see for miles around; after you have stopped huffing and puffing post-climb a breathtaking 360˚ view of the seemingly endless wilderness, which is lush, thick and green at this time of year after some particularly good rains. A great spot for sunrises and sunsets, but also featuring a few relics from Robins’ time, his 2-metre long telescope a highlight, in the soon to be completed museum. Nick had never been to Hwange until now, and although I ideally wanted him to experience its incredible dry season offering of on-tap wildlife and vast, open plains, we dived deep (and a little too literally, for my liking), into the dense, green and often impenetrable bush, where not a lot can be seen because

the animals disperse widely and hide cunningly behind bushes in the wet season! On our game drive activity, valiant and courageous, just the two of us and our little car, braving the elements and going where, actually, (we had to reluctantly admit), probably plenty of others have been before! Some rather too-closefor-comfort moments negotiating tricky road conditions, did, admittedly, get our hearts and minds racing, but we emerged victorious, having added eland, kudu, reedbuck, hippo, impala, zebra, a lone flamingo, crocodiles, lots of water birds and the impossibly coloured lilacbreasted roller to our list. After all that excitement, we were happy to sprawl on sun loungers under wide parasols by the pool whilst sipping on gin and tonics, feeling very glam and a little too smug. The thing about Robins is you can relax completely here, your every need taken care of. Victoria Falls was beckoning, another top must-see on Nick’s bucket list. An easy drive from Hwange’s northernmost reaches got us into the resort town within a couple of hours and we swept in through the grand Victoria Falls Safari Lodge entrance along with some perky warthogs, feeling excited and so fortunate to be spending some time there. Africa Albida’s superb Victoria Falls estate extends from the main Lodge right through to the Club,

Suites, Lokuthula and The Boma. We found ourselves amongst a few other lucky guests on the Club deck just in time to witness the Vulture Culture lunch (vultures, which are an endangered species, are fed here every day to protect and preserve them and their role, so critical to biodiversity). Africa Albida includes the feeding as an educational activity, free to view by guests each day at 1 pm. Then our lunch, delicious and beautifully presented, served to us by possibly the wisest waiter I have ever come across; Mathanzima was so taken with the idea that a mum and son were travelling together and he gave Nick some little gems of advice – “Spoil your mum” (my takeaway), but he extolled the virtues of mothers and said, “Sometimes you cannot see the significance of something until it is too late, so do not have any ‘what-ifs’ or ‘wish I hads’, spoil your mum!” Just five minutes from “SafLodge” are the Falls, which were at insanely high levels. March had record highs, in fact, and the volume of water going over the gorge was so gob-smackingly powerful that you really would be lost for words when you saw it. Instead, a simple gape and big eyes will do just fine – as I witnessed in my son when we rounded the corner; even though forewarned by the deafening roar and swirling droplets, we were not prepared for the remarkable sight before us. Phenomenal, unbelievable, staggering, the Victoria Falls can be described with an extraordinary litany of words, but it is immediately clear why it is one of the most spectacular of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were uplifted by its astounding power and volume – and humbled (a bit giggly) in our mere human, pint-sized existence. Apparently, a beer was called for! So we pointed the little car to The River Brewing Company, a wonderful industrial-style designer space with views through to great big vats of on-site crafted beer and delicious it was, too. We were treated to a tasting of each, and a non-beer drinker that I firmly am was quickly convinced that I could be converted. Big cheers for this small group of visionaries who have created a great brand in Zimbabwe’s soon-to-be-pumpingagain tourism hub. Take-home dinner and a movie in our beautiful Safari Suite ended the perfect day. But wait till you hear how our next day went.

Well, it was exciting for us. Probably quite humdrum for Vic Falls residents, but for any visitor, just totally unforgettable. And all within ten minutes of Victoria Falls Safari Suites! After breakfast at the club – the best Eggs Florentine ever – we planned to go to the Zambezi National Park and just explore along the riverside stops. (That is the Zambezi River, 4th longest in Africa and what rumbles over the gorge to make Mosi-Oa-Tunya “the smoke that thunders”!) From the lodge, we turned left and kept going, not far, until we checked in at the park gate. Through the thick vegetation, we were on high alert for any sign of movement, as a passing friendly guide had told us he had just seen giraffe and zebra. Our untrained eyes failed us and so we stopped for a little break at Number 2 along the river. Getting out of the car and just gazing at the mighty Zambezi was a moment in itself and we were both quietly contemplative, until, as we were driving away, I spotted a rather large movement out of the corner of my eye. Elephant! Great excitement. And not just one, but a whole herd of them, making their way down to the water. So, we turned back, as unobtrusively as possible, and parked the car quietly to watch.

The joyous scene unfolded, elephants drinking and taking a dip, newcomers greeting the others warmly, calves rolling in the mud, watchful mums nearby. We could have spent all day there, just watching them. A bull elephant made his way up from the bank towards our vehicle and we held our breaths, ready to close windows. He knew we were there, but he certainly was not worried and proceeded to have a lovely dust bath just four or five metres from us. Almost like he was putting on a show to our front row seats. I looked across at my son, who had never been this close to elephants before, transfixed by what he was witnessing. After we’d had our fill, we trundled back to town and along the “Big Tree” road, named after a particularly large baobab along its path – Adansonia digitata – measuring 22.4 metres in girth and 24 metres tall. Here, we came across a couple more elephants (cars patiently giving way as they pulled and munched at roadside branches) before making our way to our own feast at the rather splendid Lookout Café. As its name implies, this spectacularly located restaurant is perched on the edge of the gorge overlooking the Victoria Falls bridge on one side and the river carving its way through the rocks way down below. It is here that visitors can enjoy high wire activities to their hearts’ content whilst us mere onlookers hold our breaths! Our final evening found us chilling with locally-based friends on our suite veranda, watching warthogs and bushbuck munching nearby; as the sunset streamed through golden grass and the sounds of the night erupted, we just felt so privileged to find ourselves in that very special spot. We hope that it will not be too long before Africa Albida and all the incredible properties, people and operators in Victoria Falls are overwhelmed with excited, happy visitors once more! It is all about the experience here, and boy did we experience – in just two too-short days. Vic Falls was the perfect culmination of a Great Zimbabwean Mum and Son Road Trip. Greatest ever!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top