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The Big Christmas safari to Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia

The trip stats: 5 border posts, 10 passport stamps, 4000kms, heat!  That just about sums up our last self-drive adventure that went like this: Johannesburg – Martins Drift – Kasane – Victoria Falls – Livingstone – Siavonga – Kariba – Mlibizi – Hwange – Beit Bridge – Jozi. We departed December 23rd arrived back home January 9th!

We are in the safari and adventure business, so was this a holiday or work? Well our work is our passion and our lives, we had a choice, brave the madness that is Jozi or get the “hell out of dodge” and enjoy the less crowded more enjoyable Africa that we love and know. The real challenge was to cope with the heat that was to be expected but a few little “Maplanga” toys sort this out, one being an air-conditioned Landy Defender (a new thing!), the other handy items a Snomaster 40lt fridge and a water spray gun!

We find that the madness that surrounds just one day (25th), is not worth it, the squabbles, unappreciative lunchers, grumpy adults, niggly kids and that’s just our side of the family….nuff said. But this was an experiment, is it good to leave all behind in the pursuit of self pleasure……HELL YES!!

This adventure took us from Jozi through Martins drift into Botswana to avoid the horrible Beit Bridge which we saved for the return journey. Our accommodation was lodge on this occasion, space in a Land Rover 90 is limited and the heat up there does not make from great camping which we will save for autumn and spring.

Where we stayed

1) Cresta Francistown As an overnight, recommended.

2) Imbabala Lodge – Zambezi River (90kms from Vic Falls), the perfect bush and river combo, we love it there and once again the Wild Horizons team made things happen. Tiger Fish were caught and the special river side brunch brought home the fact that it was actually Christmas Day! 

3) Eagles Rest  Siavonga Zambia Side of Kariba – great chill out spot, best beach pub on Kariba, highlight for us a braai on our veranda featuring Yabbies or Crawfish to some, hmmm yumms! 

Since I was last at Eagles Rest in 2001, it has thankfully been updated. The lodge has a terrific view of the lake and an equally terrific beach bar to relax over a couple of drinks.
Chalets are en suite and most importantly air conditioned.
Food can be bought as required at the restaurant. Nothing fancy but wholesome stuff.
Recommended for self drive clients.

4) Bumi Hills – Bumi Peninsula Kariba – Get there, do this! Great game viewing, awesome tiger fishing, food! It’s going to be one of the top Zim lodges in the years to come, easy to get beds available now, but when Zim comes right (fully), you will have to book way in advance. 

Bumi was the unexpected highlight of our trip. The existing shell of the old lodge has been updated with the rooms now beautifully furnished. We were in standard family room which had two bedrooms, albeit a tiny second one. The main bedroom is air conditioned which is an essential in the hotter months. Both rooms have fans.

The swimming pool is a real feature with a jaw dropping view over the lake and forehore which is often frequented by ellies. Each afternoon when the generator was off we alternated between lolling in the water dozing in the shade on a sunbed. OUr only worry was if we actually had enough tummy space to eat the delicious dinner that would be coming our way.

5) Caribea Bay: Old and outdated the hotel is shabby and the prices for extra meals astronomically expensive. Avoid until there are improvements.

6) The Sea Lion Kariba Ferry – Yes! it’s back and better than ever, book your passage, it’s more than a ferry, it’s an adventure, they feed you and feed you, service extreme, and you get to stop half way and swim in Lake Kariba. 

The ferry is wonderful. You get fed (a lot) real food which is prepared by real cooks in the galley kitchen.  The rate includes lunch, dinner, afternoon tea and breakfast. I would absolutely include this into any extended self drive trip to Zim and you could perhaps even include this into a fly in trip for budget adventurous type clients. There are set departures on their website which they guarantee to depart for even if there is only one client booked. 

7) Sikumi Tree Lodge Hwange – This game reserve is our special favourite, Sikumi is situated outside the park but will all the game viewing you could wish for, we saw Lion, Cheetah, Elephant and all the usuals, just from the open air dining room. 

Sikumi Tree Lodge lies within the Sikumi Forest Reserve which borders Hwange National Park. It’s some way from the main park entrance but since there are no borders to the park resulting in loads of game coming into the forestry area. Sikumi has had a softs upgrade since we were there some years ago and the rooms are now pretty comfortable. The bathrooms however need some refurbing. The game viewing vehicles are also not up there BUT the lodges position in front of a waterhole on a large vlei is amazing - we saw incredible game from the comfort of our dinner chairs: Lions on the first night and a herd of elephants on the second. We also saw cheetah and a huge herd of buffalo on game drives plus a variety of the usual stuff such as zebra, giraffe and bokkies. 

Marleen and Bryan are an amazing couple, who go out their way to make guests welcome. For instance I noticed Marleen cooking marshmallows with a Canadian child one night next to the fire, wow!

Food is good fare wholesome type fare plus they offer real coffee in the morning. Definitely a great place to be if décor is not an essential.

8) Miombo Safari Camp – An old favourite but with a new owner, great style, fantastic food and close to the park (it’s on the unfenced boundary of Hwange), our favourite spot with new life and offerings.

We have a long history with Miombo. It was bought recently by an old industry friend, Mike Sherren, who has transformed it. Three new beautiful new wood and canvas stilted chalets have been built with two more in the pipeline.

The lodge lies right on the boundary of the park with the railway line in between. The lodge is not in a huge concession so all game drives must be done in the park until concessions are signed (soon). They have game viewing vehicles on order so until they receive them, game drives are done with Froggs – a local operator. This company can also do drives in the forestry vlei (mentioned for Sikumi) which runs in front of Hwange Safari Lodge and I would definitely recommend this as an option as the drives in the main camp area of the park can involve long forested stretches of road before you get to open areas and see game.

Miombo has a small waterhole which is frequented by ellies, buffalo and more the dry winter months. Currently the two old chalets are in front of it but Mike has plans to remove these once the two new chalets are completed and build a game viewing deck.

The interiors of the new chalets are beautifully decorated with light wood and smart bedding in line with new lodge décor trends. The two standard ones have single beds and an indoor shower only but the honeymoon chalet (set a bit way from the main area for privacy) have an inside and outside shower and a bath plus a HUGE king bed.

We were treated to a traditional entertainment group who are all orphans brought up by the Zimbabwean lodge manager. Besides the usual tribal dancing they also did a routine that mimics animals of the bush. This part of the repertoire was fantastic even for jaded South Africans who are rather ho hum about this type of stuff.  

Overall:

More than ever before we came across a large number of ex Zimbos living in the diaspora who brought along their partners to experience Zim. They are enthusiastic about where Zim is going and all seemed to be having a wonderful time in their home country. They will definitely be going home to ‘spread the word’

Zimbabwe is back, everyone knows this but we are still seeing a lack of self-drive lodge clients moving around the country. The camping fraternity is back and supporting the National Parks this one can see when you take a quick look at the visitors books.

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