From waterfalls to safaris
From Victoria Falls, it’s surprisingly easy to get around to the neighboring countries so it makes a good base to start out on your Southern African adventure, or to finish off with. (If you choose to end your trip in Victoria Falls, it will probably strike you as a metropole if you’ve spent a few days out in the bush!)
Despite its political instability and shattered economy, Zimbabwe still has some good safari spots but you’ll need to move away from Victoria Falls to see the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant). Some say that the country’s wildlife has suffered from the poor shape of the economy which has led to increased poaching and more animals “emigrating” to the neighboring countries. However, it’s difficult to measure this and it depends who you talk to.
Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s largest with 14,600 square kilometres of sandveld, forests (including teak), grasslands and saltpans, and, according to some tourists we met, is “awesome” (no need to guess where they were from!).
Wilderness Safaris has three luxurious eco-friendly camps in Hwange – Davison’s Camp, (named after the park’s founder and its first warden Ted Davison) is one of the best with its nine tents overlooking a waterhole. The six-tented and solar-powered Little Makalolo Camp offers great guided walking tours even though its concession boasts a healthy population of predators like lions, cheetahs, leopards and wild dogs. Makalola Plains Camp, slightly raised on teak platforms has a small bunker hide by the waterhole so you can watch animals drinking close-up. What’s nice with Wilderness is that even if their rates might seem pricey at a first glance, it’s worth every penny of it for the service and quality, and, most importantly you won’t be disappointed with the experience. It’s also nice to know that some of the hard-earned dollars you spend at Wilderness camps are reinvested in local projects, part of the company’s focus on sustainable and eco-friendly tourism. It’s refreshing in today’s money-hungry, commercial-driven society to know that some companies don’t just talk about their dedication to the environment and their “green” best practices to make it look good on paper, but actually proactively do something about it. In Hwange alone, Wilderness support the local anti-poaching, water supply and white rhino reintroduction projects.
If you want to get a Botswana stamp on your passport, then the famous Chobe National Park, renowned for its large elephant population, is within an hour’s drive of Victoria Falls. It is considered to have one of the best concentrations of game in Africa, right up there alongside the likes of the Serengeti; it was also Botswana’s first national park. The road connection is good and the Kazangula customs post hassle-free. Visas for Botswana are free and are given at the border. Apparently the Botswanans are paranoid about foot and mouth disease as we have to walk across a manky wet mat to cross the border, while the trucks have to drive through murky-colored water. I wonder if this dirty water isn’t more dangerous than the slight risk of spreading foot and mouth disease.
This border crossing is an important trade route as there are lots of trucks lined up doing their paperwork – some nice sparkling Volvo ones from South Africa, a few MAN diesel ones from Namibia and a handful of battered rusty ones from Zimbabwe. This reminds me that Kasane is close to Africa’s “Four Corners” – the point where four countries meet – Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. It’s also a gateway to the Chobe National Park.
Kasane is also – along with Maun - one of the gateways to Botswana’s Okavango Delta where we, like other safari-hungry tourists, will board a small plane bound for the swamps of the delta.
Beckie, our chirpy and entertaining Zimbabwean driver, picks us up amazingly punctually at 7.45 a.m. at our hotel in Victoria Falls … too punctual as we expected a 7.45 pick up in Africa would give us about 15 more minutes to finish off our breakfast.
On the road to Kasane, which runs through a national park, we see quite a few local animals, including a male elephant in must sauntering along the roadside. At one point Beckie pulls over and picks up a chameleon which runs up his arm. “African people,” he laughs, “are afraid of chameleons as they think they bite.” Not this one.
Hiding in the ditches at the side of the road are hornbills, or “oversized turkeys” he calls them, referring to their black and red neck plume. “We associate them [hornbills] with the rains. If you see them, it’s going to rain or get cold”. We almost crush a dung beetle rolling his massive ball of dung across the road and a troop of baboons who insist on sitting in the middle of the road. “In the morning they like to sit on the road to avoid the morning dew on the grass,” Beckie tells us, before we say goodbye to him at the border to Botswana.