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Zimbabwe – by Oasis driver Pete (part 2)

Continued on from Zimbabwe – by Oasis driver Pete (part 1)

After our visit to the ruins on this particular trip we diverted from our usual itinerary and visited the Chinoyi Caves which are about 100km North West of Harare. This is a wonderful point of a interest taking about an hour to explore and conveniently placed enroute to our next destination, Kariba. Originally described by Frederick Selous in 1887, the caves traditional name ‘Chirorodziva’ means ‘Pool of the Fallen’ after a incident in the 1830’s involving a migrating tribe who flung all the locals into the Pool.

The murderous use of the pool continued with Chief Nyamakwere, who used the main pool as a place to murder his enemies. This gave rise to first the ‘Silent Pool’ and now the ‘Sleeping Pool’ as the name for the cool, cobalt blue pool where modern divers access the underwater cave system. Chief Nyamakwere was disposed by Chief Chinoyi, who gave his name to the nearby town and the caves. During what were mostly Matabele raids the cave system was used as a refuge for the Mashona Chief and his followers.

For those who can handle the narrow passages and complete darkness, the Chinoyi caves presents one of the best cave diving experiences in the world. Lacking time and paperwork we headed to a view point higher over the sleeping pool, before heading to the Dark Caves. After enjoying a quick run around the cave which affords another view of the ‘Sleeping Pool’ we headed to the truck for dinner, and a game of cricket in the infrequently used campsite.

The Chinoyi Cave and all our other Zimbabwean destinations are gems which have become forgotten as the country’s political situation prevented many potential tourists from visiting. The currency, the Zimbabwean Dollar, collapsed and the USD is now common alongside South African Rand and Botswana Pula. Neighbouring countries describe the benefit of Zimbabwe’s problems to their own situations as the ‘Zim effect’. It affects all industries and relates to the business and expertise that was or should have been in Zimbabwe going elsewhere.

The next day saw a short hop to Kariba, a town on the artificial lake of the same name which was created in 1958 and finally filled in 1963. A massive lake providing hydro power to both Zambia and Zimbabwe, a quick talk to a local quickly reminds you of what tourist related activities used to operate here. As the only truck to come here and not hop straight on a house boat our reception was enthusiastic if slightly chaotic.

One activity we tried was the game drive. Any cynicism I may have had as our evening began was eradicated by Martins account of a simple Zebra and its habits and lifestyle. His detailed knowledge again and again made the very reasonable fee for the game drive seem worth it and many of us went on a night drive the following evening.

Other popular activities involve hiring a speedboat or sailing boat complete with captain and going for a cruise on the lake. Our hosts, Warthogs Bush Camp, worked hard to make us feel welcome and even built us a shelter since our last visit. This is a fantastic destination which used to boast Jet boating, Paragliding, Kayak trips and others alongside the activities we did.

A long drive day took us to Gweru, a town in between Zimbabwe’s primary settlements of Harare and Bulawayo, which is home to Antelope Park. The objective of the park is to support a wild lion population which has been decreasing in recent years. You can support this objective by participating in the many activities at the park, and the opportunity to observe this most famous of African predators up close is special. You can observe the male lion social hierarchy during the lion feeding, and also see how lions hunt in the ‘stage 2 night drive’ and amongst a long list also see lion cubs which are about the size of a domestic cat!

After this experience another fantastic opportunity to get close to one of the big five is presented in Bulawayo at the Matapos park. The burial place of Cecil Rhodes, the founder of Rhodesia, modern day Zimbabwe, the landscape is fantastic. The Rhino Safari here involves some motorised transport and depending on your fitness and enthusiasm a fair amount of walking. You learn how to track animals, about wildlife and if you are lucky you will find a Rhino, which when viewing on foot is a special experience.

        

Leaving Bulawayo takes us to the most famous of destinations in Zimbabwe, one which has largely survived the slump in tourism that has beset the rest of Zimbabwe: Victoria Falls. Our spectacular final destination is mesmerising and a variety of activities have sprung up around this waterfall. Rafting, sunset cruises, Devils Pool, paragliding, helicopter rides, bungie jumping, zip wiring, gorge swinging, diving with Crocodiles, and when you’re done with all that, high tea at the colonial era Victoria Falls hotel or game meat buffet at the Boma restaurant, ‘the place of eating’.

Zimbabwe has so much to offer that even the two weeks we spend within its borders does not seem enough, the country has so much wildlife that is affordable to reach, a population that welcomes tourism with far less hassle that you find in some other countries (bar the police!) and a variety of destinations and people which makes it culturally interesting too. If you feel reluctant to visit this fantastic country, reading about its history and contemporary travel blogs will be enough to arouse your curiosity and make you change your mind!

Note: most of our trips do not currently visit Chinoyi Caves or Kariba.

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