A 2500km journey across Zimbabwe

2012.10.29 11:00:49 by andy category : travel Tags :Ken Road Trip Travel Zimbabwe

This entry is from Ken’s blog, “Tokyo Life”

A 2500km journey across Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe, located in Southern Africa.
It is infamous for the exponential hyperinflation that continued through 2009, as well as the continuing regime of president Mugabe. However, Zimbabwe is gifted with a lush landscape and a gentle people. Historically known as South Rhodesia during the English colonial period, the area is still home to many of European decent. With the Victoria Falls National Park, Zimbabwe has also been a tourist destination for many.
In June of 2012, I decided to drive myself across Zimbabwe. (and venture a little into Botswana)

From the capitol city of Harare, I stayed at the Great Zimbabwe ruins for two nights, and at Bulawayo city for one night while I toured the Khami ruins. The next two nights I spent at the Nyanga National Park, followed by two nights at Victoria Falls. During this time I crossed the border into Botswana and spent the day at the Chobe National Park on a safari tour. I returned to Bulawayo and stayed one night at the Matobo ruins, and proceeded to Harare the next day. A total of 8 nights and 9 days, traveling over 2500km.

The Great Zimbabwe ruins, which is also the origin for the name of the country. These ruins were once the largest sub-saharan city between the 11th and 15th centuries. During it’s peak, it is estimated that there was a population of 10 to 20 thousand.

These stone walls measuring 11m were built without mortar. The walls were nice and cool.

During the Rhodesian period, these ruins were speculated to be originating from Arabian, Jewish, or Greek culture. However, it is now known to be the ruins of an unique African culture. It is said that the culture died out sometime in the 15th century due to unsustainable resource use.

The hotel near the Great Zimbabwe ruins was designed to look similar to the ruins, with stone walls.

The Great Zimbabwe ruins are located near the Kyle Lake. The Kyle lake is the 2nd largest dam in Zimbabwe. (Kariba dam is the largest)

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Khami ruins. A settled area from the stone ages, it became the capitol of the Torwa kingdom after the fall of Great Zimbabwe in the 15th century. It flourished until the Rozwy kingdom invaded in the 17th century. (it seems that the Torwa kingdom was a descendant of the Great Zimbabwe culture, or at the very least had strong influences.) It is near the 2nd largest city of Zimbabwe, Bulawayo.

The largest national park in Zimbabwe, Hwange National Park. It is apparently as big as Switzerland. This picture is of the campground that I stayed at. It is near a water source and so animals gather nearby, particularly during the dry season.

The water source near the campgrounds. Taken from a wooden deck while sipping wine…With all of the vegetation it is easy to forget you are in Africa, but a herd of elephants can suddenly cross your path while driving.

The coconut trees are not native to the area, but no one can remember who, or why, they were planted here. Apparently the monkeys will eat the coconuts and climb the trees, so it has been adopted by the local wildlife.

About 70 km from Victoria Falls town, this area is the Chobe National Park of Botswana. The other side of the river is Namibia. So many elephants, giraffes, impalas, buffalo, and other wildlife.

Hippos along the river.


A swimming elephant, going after the plants on the other shore.

And of course, a lion. According to the guide the male lion patrols his territory, and so can only be seen here about once every three months.

The highlight of this trip, Victoria Falls! 1.7km wide, and over 100m high at the tallest drop. It seems more like a crack in the earth that the Zambezi river falls into, rather than a waterfall.

Just seeing the image doesn’t quite convey the awe you feel when you see it in person…

Around sunset.

An areal view from a helicopter. The water mist can be seen from quite far away, along with the roar of the water falling.

Zambia is to the left of the waterfall, and Zimbabwe is to the right. The bridge over the valley was built by the Scottish over 100 years ago, and serves as the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. You can bungee jump from this bridge, as well.

The sunset over Victoria Falls, as seen from the hotel bar.

The beer is a local brew called Zambezi.

On the return route to Harare, we visited the Matobo site. The rocks are pretty large, but that’s not the only reason this site became a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Several thousand of wall paintings like these decorate the area, and there are probably more that have not been found. The San people, who had lived in this area, painted these walls around 6,000 years ago. The area was abandoned afterward, and not populated again until 2,000 years ago.

The bones of a young woman found in this cave were dated to about 9,000 years ago.

Another reason for the Matobo site becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site is that this area is a sacred place for the indigenous Ndebele people, as well as being a burial site for several important colonialists.


*   *   *


Zimbabwe. Because of its history as a colony, there are many visitors from Europe. In addition many areas have the traditional safari camps and colonial style hotels. There are 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites, (I visited 4 out of the 5) and there is a golf course large enough to host a world tournament in Harare. It was never too hot, and never becomes too cold, and it is a great place to go on vacation.

For me, it was a little far away from Japan. The most common package was a tour of Victoria Falls and Capetown, in South Africa. For anyone from Japan it would be a bit difficult to travel on their own, especially as there is very little public transportation.

I had visited Southern Africa before, however, so I was able to invite some friends and rent a car. It was definitely not easy to plan, but it was definitely worth it and I would recommend it.

Author: This article is originally in Japanese, from Ken’s blog『Tokyo Life』

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