This was my first trip to Africa since Covid and boy, was it amazing and very special to be back. We all met separately and met at the Wallow in VF (Wild Horizons), a perfect start to our trip. The lodge is new, beautifully done, a touch of bold, African art in the guest areas which is very bright but not too much. Unusual and different fabrics used in the soft furnishings. Very attractive. Variety of main/guest areas on different deck levels to relax in and a lovely pool overlooking the river.
16 rooms; eight either side of the guest areas. The river runs all year round which is a real bonus and winds itself around the camp. Very large tents with lovely balcony facing the river and two leather planter chairs. Super king bed with extra thick mattress. Two leather armchairs on one side and a dressing unit with tea coffee, home-made rusks on the other. Bathroom much bigger than expected. Double sinks, huge inside shower lined with corrugated metal which looks slightly industrial but very effective. Large outside shower. Loo that you can close off, vanity section with hairdryer, safe and lots of storage space, bathrobes. Really impressive. I don’t think my image does the tent justice to be fair but The Wallow is a perfect start to an Imvelo itinerary, it fits well product wise.
Whilst staying in camp, we had a short brief on their Elephant Experience which sounded very good and the guide, Zenzo, was certainly impressive. We did a Tour of the Falls in the afternoon which I had not done in the afternoon before and feel strongly that it was for the better. The Falls are much less busy in the afternoon and it was a much more enjoyable experience.
On the second day, we travelled by road to Dete to meet the Elephant Express. We had Domi and Walter as our drivers and Operator as our waiter. He was superb and nothing was too much trouble, he really was on it. The service was excellent. Pete joined us at Dete, to be our guide throughout. Charming, friendly and great fun. We had a cold lunch of kebabs, sun dried tomato bread and salads before setting off, absolutely delicious and very fresh. Saw leopard within 20 minutes of setting off and then a good variety of game. Everybody really enjoyed it and got to drive the train which was a real highlight. A very enjoyable experience and a great way to start a safari.
Several G&T’s later, we arrived at the siding close to Bomani and there was a surprise sundowner stop on the way into camp, right by one of the waterholes just as the sun was setting. When we arrived in camp, we had a huge welcome from the team with singing and dancing which was just lovely. Big Boy was there to welcome us of course, Vusa was there and a host of other familiar faces. Really excellent service throughout our stay, commented on by the group as well. The quality and presentation of the food at all the camps has been amazing with good portion sizes, all vegetables very well cooked and seasoned, not overdone, full of colour and meat dishes very tender. In the evening, we had an ISL presentation by Butch. It was really impressive, everybody was bowled over and learnt a lot and other guests in camp came over to listen as well. We were so fortunate to have him there for a few hours. Lots of elephant and lion came around the camp waterhole which was pretty spectacular. After dinner we did a very short night drive just to showcase what it was about but we kept it short as it had been a long and exhausting day. The game drives the following day were amazing: lion, a very large number of vultures on a big kill, I think the biggest Buffalo herd I have seen here, giraffe and plenty of plains game.
We also drove past the treehouse which I didn’t know about or perhaps had forgotten. No extra charge for this and very basic. The agents loved it. Guests can climb the treehouse which is in a big ebony tree and spend the night under the stars armed with a mozzie net and radio. Security guard and car stationed just beyond throughout the night. There is no bathroom – it is a wild bathroom downstairs. Definitely not for everyone but looked great fun.
The group loved all the activities available to guests: the walking to school with the local kids and watching the assembly, talking to the kids in the classroom, meeting the Head Man of Ngamo village, Mr Johnson and supporting the local ladies with a shopping opportunity (or 5!!) at the little local market. The group learnt so much about how much Imvelo have achieved for the community and conservation for the animals, it is very humbling. Especially the incredible achievements throughout the tough times during the Pandemic.
After a couple of nights at Bomani, we had a night at Camelthorn which is now within the new rhino sanctuary which is very special – the chance to see rhino from the room! The fence is now highly charged and runs from the corner of park gate which is now the entrance for CT. Small animals can still get in and out under the wire. There is a Cobra (anti-poaching team, trained to British Military standards) manning the gate 24/7, rotated every 6 hours and two Cobras with the rhinos, rotated every 3 hours, making notes every 15 minutes! Incredible. Daniel, who heads up the Cobras unit, was incredibly inspirational and so proud of what has been achieved and the ever evolving plans for the future. Imvelo are just facilitators of this project – 100% of the money donated through the Sanctuary Fee goes to the local community (to spend it as they choose – which has been the newly opened and staffed clinic) and to the training and keeping of the Cobras unit. The experience was hugely uplifting and loved the Hotel Charlie visit, the talks, maps and learning about the new expansion plans.
After Camelthorn, the group really enjoyed the Pump Run activity down to Jozibanini. They said it was educational, fun and definitely a USP. Loved it. The drive is usually 6.5hrs down to Jozi but this is interspersed with visits to the remote pumps that Imvelo have set up and maintain to sustain the wildlife in this part of the Park. Two attendants live in these remote areas, looking after and maintaining the pumps, for 6 months of the year during the dry season. Guests love stopping and meeting them, handing them their pay and delivering fresh produce and necessary parts for the pumps. We stopped two thirds of the way down at a waterhole full of ele for a picnic lunch. Perfect.
At Jozi, we had truly incredible ele sightings. There were so many elephant at the look-up blind that it was almost overwhelming! Just wonderful to sit and photograph or just take it all in whilst sipping a cold Savannah! In the morning, we all took the mountain bikes along the trails which everyone enjoyed although it was very hot, we had to leave early. We also did a lovely early morning walk too, focussing on the smaller species of the bush. The group said the look-up and biking were the real highlights. Unfortunately, there had been so many lion sightings recently in camp, it was deemed not safe enough to roll the beds out onto the platform and sleep under the stars. Such a shame.
After the second night, we took a short flight up to Nehimba in the north. Guests must definitely do this rather than the long drive on very unused roads. Seeing Hwange from the air really does put into perspective just how vast the Park really is. It was a 15 min drive to Labuti airstrip, 15/20 mins flight. Half hour transfer to NEH.
Nehimba now boasts a completely new pool area. The ele can’t get as close to the guest areas as before but it is better as only adult ele can drink from pool now, young ele can’t (apparently a female fell in head first when there was no water which was awful). There is also new ele fencing all round rooms with gates to stop ele damaging water pipes/outside showers as they were breaking the water pipes several times a day. Totally understandable but has taken a little of the wild/magic away.
We had a beautiful drive in the morning and sightings up towards Sinamatella at Mandavu pan but the HNP roads are pretty awful. There had been some rain before our visit so it was great to see a little water in some of the pans. The animals were a little more spread out. Lovely welcome back cold towels offered etc. Such a lovely camp, the staff and food were amazing. The sundowner on the last night with ele and lion were a true highlight and the real USP was dinner with the ele. Pete (right) was our guide throughout the trip (posing here with Harris from NEH). He was outstanding. Bags of energy, a fantastic sense of humour and a great guide. The group were hugely impressed by him and it was great that he could stay with us for the duration of our stay. He deserves an extra special mention and is a huge credit to the Imvelo team.
We took a road transfer to Mtoa gate the following morning on truly terrible park roads and after 2 hours, it was boneshaking and tiring. The road transfer to the Falls was then 2 hours road to VFRL with Batoka.
The final night of our trip was at Victoria Falls River Lodge. VFRL is very much an international standard 5 star. Huge tents, plunge pool overlooking river, stunning guest areas, beautifully decorated. Separate bar. However, although a stunning lodge, it felt much more like a hotel rather than an intimate safari camp . No fire pit, no coming together of guests. Rather formal 4 course meal with French/Italian background music which completely changed the atmosphere in the evening with everyone sitting in couples and off early to bed.
The activities were great – small luxury boats for river cruising. Lots of bird life, crocs, hippo, ele drinking. They said Saturday would be busy in the Park with queues for game drives (??) so we went on the river again. Very special. We also made time for a quick SI of the tree house rooms which we all thought would be a much better fit for a finale finish after staying with Imvelo. A real luxury.
All in all, it was a wonderful, magical and very special trip. The agents who know Zim said they had forgotten how wonderful it was. They totally accepted that the camps were a bit tired post Covid with so little tourism but bednights are looking healthy for 2023. he team who put the trip together and the team on the ground were fantastic – from the res team to the support staff, the waiters to the guides, the managers to the housekeepers and maintenance. Thank you all. It was wonderful to be back.