We always planned to take a holiday within our overlanding trip in Zimbabwe, we had booked a guided self-drive fully catered trip with Bhejane and would give us a welcome break from putting the roof tents away early in the morning, relive me of stress on the road and allow Edwina to take a deserved break from cooking.
We departed Francistown early heading for the Plumtree border post where we would be met by our guide Cronje who with help us through the border process on the Zim side, the border which can be chaotic was quiet and we sailed through, Cronje then gave us directions to the camp and off we went. It wasn't long before we hit our first police stop, we had heard nightmare stories in the rest of Africa on the number of police checkpoints and the fines that were issued so we approached with caution expecting the worse, to our surprised we were waved through. After a few more police checkpoints we made it to our camp Motopos Farm House, where our tents were setup, fire going with coffee and lunch being prepared, it certainly did feel like a holiday. We spent the afternoon meeting our follow travels and were pleased to find out there was only 6 cars, because Bhejane is a South African based company the majority of people on these trips are South Africans. Cronje heads up the Bhejane team with support of Pete and the cooks, multitaskers Rooijan and Gilbert. We slowly get to grips with introductions over brews of coffee meeting Pieter and Tracey who were travelling with Pieters parents Bobby and Magreet in separate vehicles, Joe and Corine who we met at Woodlands, and Chris and Tessa. We were pleased that there was another child "Tinneke" for our kids to play with, Tinneke is accompanied by a lovely couple Henk and Teresa whom we end up have numerous chats around the fire with. There is also Charles a journalist who is travelling with the guides to write an article in Drive Out, Sept 2016 issue.
Just before dinner Cronje gathers the group around the campfire and gave an overview of the trip, our main concern of the trip is that we would be doing everything as a group but Cronje explained that the majority of our time we would be driving solo and only travelling in convey between main points.
After a freezing windy night we gladly wake to a hot cuppa and breakfast, we make a packed lunch and headed into Motopos National Park, although there is game most have been poached in the troubles in Zimbabwe and now only 15 rhino exist in the park, for me Motopos isn't about game we didn't see much, but the spectacular granite outcrops that litter the park along with two to six thousand year old cave paintings. Motopos is also the resting place of Cecil Rhodes, we go to worlds view to see his grave, talking to others there are mixed comments as to whether he was regarded as good man or bad but one thing for sure he now has one heck of a view smack in the middle of the park surrounded by hills littered with granite boulders. For me, anyone who believes that the Anglo Saxon race is the master race and should conquer the world is not a good person not matter what else he did, many also blame him for starting the Boer war and the black Africans we spoke to also see him as creating the blueprint for the Apartheid regime that was to come.
After enjoying our pack lunch with head to Nawatugi Cave our 3rd and final cave and certainly the most spectacular, it was down a rocky track which meant most people didn't visit here and therefore was better persevered, the must of been over 40 rock paintings depicting bushman, giraffe, rhino, zebra and impala. After a full day in the park we headed back to camp where a cooked dinner was waiting for us, after nearly 3 months camping it feels luxurious having meals cooked by the crew it really is something we all enjoy.
The next day we headed out on our first convey, we had all been issued radios so we could communicate with each other, we hit the road heading for Great Zimbabwe via a stop in Bulawayo for fuel and snacks. We go through numerous police checkpoints on the road, we are stopped and questioned a few times but waved through most.
We arrived at Great Zimbabwe ruins early afternoon where Zimbabwe got its name from and headed in with our guide, the guide was mandatory but I feel they really help bring the ruins to life and certainly give the kids an educational session. First impressions wasn't great, it just seemed like another hill covered in granite boulders, but as we climb up the hill the hidden ruins from below start to uncover and are quite impressive, the ruins are a maze of corridors and rooms and the kids enjoy weaving in and out.. We love how the guide describes the history of this great African empire stretching across southern Africa from the 11th century to the 15th century, little is known of this empire but there are over 200 sites in Southern Africa dating to this period built in the same architectural style. In the end we were the last to leave, in the car park we met a French family travelling Africa and then South America in a Fortuner and trailer tent, they had 4 children aged 1, 3, 6 and 8 and some people think we are mad, hats off them though, not sure we could do it with children aged so small. They had not had an easy time at the police checkpoints and been issued a number of fines, they were so fed up that they were going to leave Zimbabwe at the nearest border the next day, they were going to head into Mozambique not sure that's the best idea since some trouble has started in the north. After chatting with the family we head to Norman Jean Campsite, with a lovely lush green lawn campsite, the kids are filthy not an uncommon site but Edwina grabs the opportunity to give the kids a treat a bath whilst diner is being prepared. Cronje on his nightly talks parades some rhinos the emblem of Bhejane, the kids adore them and pushed on by Edwina (think she liked them more) buy a souvenir from the trip, since all the money goes to help stop rhino poaching it was and easy sell for me. Bhejane has a tradition of saying grace before dinner, Edwina on the drive to Zim ruins suggests that Luca should volunteer to say grace one evening and suggests "2,4,6,8 dig in don't wait", oblivious to the humour Luca memorises it word perfectly and eagerly volunteers to say grace when Cronje offers the opportunity and he repeats Edwina's sentence, needless to say it goes down like a lead balloon, but Luca still had a smile on his face and the other guest look dumbfounded.
It is a long drive to Harare the capital where we would be staying in the Kuimba Shiri Bird Park, all the kids were excited at the prospect of watching the bird show especially Luca who kept asking the whole way whether we would make it in time, Pete and Cronje had been telling the kids all about days earlier adding to the excitement. Again there was numerous police checkpoints and the group picked up its first fine, $20 for not having front reflectors. We got to the bird park with ample time to spare before the bird show and decided to walk around the sanctuary. The numerous scary stories about Zimbabwe has put a lot of tourists off coming and we were only the second group in 6 months to camp here, the lack of money showed in the bird park, it was very dilapidated and needed a cash injection, although we felt initially sorry for the caged birds all of the birds have been either orphaned, injured or are abandoned birds, the bird park helps them back into the wild. At 4pm we head over to the arena for the bird show, Gary Stafford owner and falconer is our host, Gary is very passionate about the birds and his energy levels are high, he is very knowledgeable about the birds and has been involved in a number of BBC wildlife documentaries including "Eagles " and "The Life of Birds". At one point he describes a scene out of "the life of Birds" which he staged for them, in the scene a fish eagle swoops down and takes a fish out of the river, although the BBC make out that it was in the wild it was one of Garys eagles which he trained to catch bait thrown into the river from the side. Gary brings out owls and to the kids joy lets them land on their arms, it was also amazing to see the peregrine falcon the fastest animal in the world, Gary swings the bait over our heads and the falcon flies right over so quick nobody is able to take even a photo of it in flight. Show over we let the kids play with Tinneke in the playground whilst we have a beer with Henk and Teresa.
The next day we had an early start as we had a long drive to Mana Pools and since we wanted to get there before dark had to leave at 6am. Again there was numerous police checkpoints but again where waved through most of them, it was Henk and Teresa turn today to be fined, they didn't have a cargo net on their luggage at the back, petty considering in was rammed to the roof. Enroute we stop at Chinhoyi Caves for lunch a beautiful setting, there a path from the carpark leading down some steps to reach an open air cave with a dark blue water inside.
We continue up the road to Mana Pools National park and take the 30km badly corrugated road into the park and then proceed on a better 45km track into camp. After our experience on the drive from Moremi to Chobe we found camping in unfenced camps exciting and addictive and was looking forward to spending 3 nights here. We get to camp and find our tents erected close to the river and again fall asleep to the noise of hippos grunting and lions roaring in the distance.
The next day with no tents to put away we head out early on our first game drive in Mana, we are not in Mana Pools at the best time for game viewing as with the abundance of water the game don't need to come down to the river but we do spot some hippo, but we just enjoy driving the wild tracks of Mana. Mana Pools is unique as you can walk and get out of your car anywhere in the park if you dare. Since we saw so little on the western side of the park we decide in the afternoon to drive on the eastern side, Charles who is taking photos for Drive Out magazine decides to come with us and Edwina enjoys being able to talk about photography with a likeminded individual for the drive. Maybe Charles brings us luck as we do spot more, we see Elephants, hippos, zebra and impala, at each stop I feel Edwina is determined to get better shots than Charles, but both take great photos. We arrive back in camp and the crew have prepared a 3 course dinner for us tonight and are told we missed an elephant walk into camp and along the river, gutting.
The next morning we were woken up by baboons fighting in a nearby tree and decide to head out on a morning drive, just out of camp we spot some fresh lion tracks on top of the tyre marks and follow them down the sandy track but the lion tracks soon head into the bush, we meet some lion trackers who tell us that they will probably remain in the bush all day and will probably head down to Mana Mouth at sunset as there is a known lion crossing there, we continue on with the plan to return at sunset. We spot more elephants, hippos and crocodiles and just as we headed back to camp Luca shouts out from the back, he has spotted a Kudu carcass, we get out the truck and observe, someone tells us that a pack of hyenas killed it about 2 hours earlier. When we arrived there was a pack of vultures circling but none on the carcass as the red meat was still clearly visible, we watched as the vultures came in one by one and by the end there must have been over 40 vultures all fighting to get to the carcass to rip the flesh off the bones of the kudu.
Back in camp the kids play freely in the afternoon but we have to constantly tell them not to stray and stay close by to the campfire, it seems they are no longer phased by the unfenced camps certainly a different attitude to the first unfenced camp at 3rd bridge. The kids are constantly on a mission to find marble's hidden amongst the dirt and dust, Pete tells them that they are used with a slingshot to ward off baboons who get to close to food supplies and Gilbert is a dab hand with a slingshot, Luca is very impressed. Charles and Luca head off for a walk out of camp down river to see what they can spot, Luca returns with skeleton parts and a variety of leafs, he enjoyed his time heading off out on his own with Charles feeling all grown up.
Late afternoon we decide to head to Mana Mouth in the hope of seeing the lions whose tracks we spotted this morning. On the way we spot an elephant do a remarkable thing and we believe Mana Pools is the only place where elephants do this. The elephant is under an acacia tree with branches high above, the elephant leans back and gets onto two legs like a circus elephant and reaches up and brakes the branches off with his trunk, we observe and photograph and then move on to Mana Mouth. When we get to Mana Mouth the lions are nowhere to be seen, we get out of the truck and walk around trying to spot any footprints, throughout this trip we have been making a list of dumb ways to die and certainly walking to find lions made it onto the list. We head back to camp just on dusk, Edwina decides to shower the kids, after spending a few days in the camp it's easy to get complacent, Edwina lets the kids run back from the shower to the campfire just as it's getting dark. Within minutes Chris and Tessa come back from their drive and tell us there is a lion nearby, we all quickly jump in our cars and follow, we don't realise it's so close, there is an old solo lioness just behind the shower block waiting for some easy prey like some children running back from the shower block! Edwina felt sicken by the thought of what may have been a lovely meal for the lion and it re-established the importance of no becoming complacent. There are some local Zimbabweans camping right next to the shower block but they seem completely unfazed when we tell them the lion is just behind the bush and carry on making their dinner, I guess there quite used to these situations.
When we get back to camp and sit for dinner Cronje warns us all not to run around camp, keep the children quiet, no high pitched voices etc, as the lioness has her eyes focused on the camp and not on the impalas behind, the kids eat their dinner quickly, just hearing the scrapping cutlery on plates and plea for us to take them to their tents safe from the lion, it was a very quiet dinner time and yes the milk container and flowery pot were once again put through their paces overnight by all.
The next day after the excitement of seeing the lioness last night we were satisfied and we decide to have a lazy start and not go on a game drive in the morning, instead we chill round the campfire, pack up and head to Kariba. We get to camp and let the kids run around relived that we don't have to look over our shoulders for Lions, Hippos and Crocs.
The next day we go out and see the sights of Kariba, Kariba is a border town with Zambia where you can see elephants and people intermingling, we head up to the viewpoint and Luca buys a slingshot eager to learn techniques off Gilbert and Pete, he has wanted one ever since he saw the guides using them to keep the baboons and monkeys out of camp at Mana Pools. After the viewpoint we head down to the dam and hydro station, the dam is the border post with the dam sitting in no mans land, we have to leave our passports at immigration, get our stamp fromm customs and then proceed to the gate. When we get to the gate we are told we need another stamp from a shack in the car park, not sure what it was for Charles heads over to find an official looking man in a car with his seat flat down having a snooze, he briefly opens his eyes, grabs the ticket and in true African style stamps it on the windscreen, he then send us on our way and lies back down again. We drive down to the dam and walk across taking photos and relaying the history of the dam to the kids.
After the dam we head down to the harbour with all the group to enjoy a sundowner boat trip on Lake Kariba, we see a Croc farm, hippos and fishing boats looking for kapenta. On board there are freshly cooked boxes of kapenta to try, the kids enjoying eating the small salty fish body, head, eyes and all. Luca is showing off the most in front of the guides and posses with a fish in his mouth, head sticking out for photos. Back in camp we head to the camp restaurant to sample another local fish, Bream, a very meaty fish and since it's battered the kids eat it without complaints it was delicious and a nice change to have fresh fish.
It's a super early start, a 10 hour drive ahead of us to Binga, the track over the initial mountains is rocky and slow going and when it smooths out random pot holes, corrugated areas and is extremely dusty, you must keep your distance to the car in front as a couple of times it was a complete whiteout and you end up hoping the road keeps going straight. Also the area we are driving is quiet populated, when the dam in Kariba was built the local people were rehoused in the surrounding area where we were driving and it was explained to us that they still kept the traditional house build method on stilts, we passed loads of schools, and people going about their daily business it wasn't a dull drive by any means, I found it really exhausting having to be on guard for what lay ahead. With relief we get to camp with no punctures or problems just on sunset and again have a fantastic view of Lake Kariba. We are surprised not just on the Binga drive but in general how the kids cope with the long drives, I guess they are just used to them and accept there is no other option, they pass the time colouring in and reading, they are not allowed on their computer tablets as we want them to look out of the window and watch Africa passing them by. The kids are starting to talk about going back and seeing friends but at the same time are disappointed that the adventure will end for them soon and how they would like it to continue.
Much to the delight of everyone we all have a leisurely start, it's only a short drive to Hwange National Park where we will spend our last 2 nights with the group. The kids make full use of the late start and head to the camp swimming pool for a well-deserved rest bite. Luca ever since getting his slingshot has used every opportunity to play with it, it's great watching Luca and Tinneke who have formed a great friendship and are often together when we reach camp and this morning they are competing to who could sling a stone the furthest.
Mid-morning we leave Binga and myself and Edwina are glad it's our last convoy. We get to camp after a few hours, it's a nice camp with a waterhole where elephants normally gather but since they were drilling a bore hole for water, it unfortunately scared any wildlife away, so we head down to the bar and the kids really enjoy feeding the pet buffalo whose mother was killed by a lion and swimming in the pool.
The next day we are woken early by an overland group leaving, we don't mind as we want to head out early anyhow, Charles joins us again and we head out to the park. When we arrive at the gate we are told of a breeding pair of lions at Dom waterhole, there are signs advising to stay clear as male lion called Mopani has been charging cars. "Where is Dom waterhole from here" I ask the receptionist, "Are you not scared", "No, that's what we have come here to see" I reply, she gives us directions and we set out to Dom. We park in the waterhole parking area, switch off the engine and observe, then Maddalena starts shouting from the back "Over there, over there", she was so proud of spotting the lions first, we drive around and try and get closer, unfortunately we can only get within 100 meters, Edwina still manages to get a few shots off on her camera. We leave the lions and continue driving around the park, like other parks in Zimbabwe at lot of poaching happened at the height of the troubles but game population has started to grow over the last few years, we spot elephants, zebra and are treated to a rare sighting of Sable, an antelope with a mane. Sable are bred and a good male has been known to fetch 1 million US dollars. We stop for lunch in Ngwethia picnic area, an elephant walks up to an Acacia tree and starts shaking it until the pods drop down, he then proceeds to pick them up with his trunk, it's an amazing site to witness standing within a stone's throw only separated by a thin wire. Hwange is vast and on our 200km drive we only cover a small area but are pleased with what we have seen and head back to camp for our last night. Every evening the crew make fresh bread on the fire and we have been desperate to watch, luckily on the last night they are late and when we get back Edwina gets the opportunity to make the pot bread tonight whilst I write down the recipe. We sit round the fire for dinner where Cronje gives his last speech rapping up the tour. We have really enjoyed the break, it was indeed a holiday for us but we are looking forward to being on our own again.
The next day we say our goodbyes to the group, pack the car and head off to Victoria Falls one of the natural wonders of the world.
Pot Bread Recipe
Size 10 pot
1kg of self-raising flour
2 handful of sugars (you can use less)
1 dessert spoon of salt
1 dessert spoon of butter
1 litre of Luke warm water
Mix flour, butter, sugar, salt and luke warm water in a bowl until all the lumps are out, the mixture will be fairly runny. Grease pot a lid with a further dessert spoon of butter. Pour mixture in pot and ideal leave it to rise, although they don't on the trip. Heat around 20 coals, when hot place 2 coals in middle and 3 each side on a triangular base around 10cm high or use stones, then place 7 on top. Leave for around 45min to 1 hour, don't lift the lid before 45min and test with a knife, it should come out clean.
There are lots of alternatives to this recipe, add herbs, garlic etc with less sugar or add raisins for fruit bread.