Our affair with Zambia is a fleetingly brief encounter that we barely need mention. We stayed in Eureka camp for the night where a Eureka Stockade flag hung over the pool table (we have no idea why), the All Blacks were playing Georgia in the Rugby World Cup, there are a few local prostitutes at the bar and a Zimbabwean cricket team on tour come in and try to pull all our girlfriends from under our noses. The night results in one of their cars alarm going off for two hours in the middle of the night shortly followed by a huge lightning storm with most of the camp leaping out of tents half naked to secure our tent flies only for it to rain a whole two drops. The next morning there’s zebra grazing in the campsite and five giraffe at the fence, an unusual sight considering our close proximity to the capital city Lusaka.
Another long day is pitted by toilet stops where goats stare and bleat at us in a most unnerving way…like it’s not bad enough for the girls having to find some resemblance of modesty behind vegetation that struggles to grow over a foot tall at times.
Enter Zimbabwean border control. In a blatantly racist move the immigration officers have the lot of us waiting outside in the 40 plus degree heat for two hours whilst they allow pretty much everyone else to pass through with not so much as a pause. We’d been warned about this by our guide and figured that it’s a way of extracting extra money out of the tour leaders so we can pass quicker. Finally getting our turn, rude, sweaty people behind the counter drip beads of sweat onto our passports as the rubber stamp finally makes its smudgy mark.
With Absolute Africa having to shell out USD$100 to cross over the Kariba Dam, Tom our driver enlightens us with an anecdote about how the Zimbabwean government tried to tell the Australian government to pay for repairs to the dam, claiming that if the wall bursts Australia would be flooded! TIA (This Is Africa).
Only three kilometers past the border the dock for our Lake Kariba odyssey is jammed with houseboats though we’re soon out and into open waters. The Osprey is a huge 26 berth vessel sporting an open second floor complete with bar (self-stocking), large dining area, sundeck and jacuzzi. The friendly crew have our rooms ready, the beer cold and food cooking in no time. The final draw card of this particular boat is the huge swimming cage. Why a swimming cage you ask? There’s crocs in Lake Kariba and our boat, from what we could see, had the largest swimming cage of the lot.
Today it was one of our gangs (Ruth’s) birthday so we’d loaded up on rum and vodka to produce some celebratory fruit punch. With the luxury of a full kitchen we don’t hold back and have the chef flipping up some burgers and chips. We all slip into something more comfortable to commence the festivities, having stopped off a week earlier to sift through ridiculous second hand clothing that magically appeared outside the shopping centre where Shaggy parked up.
The birthday girl receives her cake, the candles are blown out and then it’s down to business, Quiz time. Our tour guide Kanyo is sporting a figure hugging sequined number to rival to those of a Saturday night in Newcastle. Fair to say Sarah’s team were great and Matt’s sucked. A few more drinking games later Matt sneaks off to bed while Sarah goes skinny dipping in the jacuzzi with the birthday girl and Kiwi boys.
Our second day aboard the houseboat is for nothing but relaxing whilst the breeze takes care of the heat, and the only thing that gets us all out of bed is the sweet smell of bacon. We can watch the crocodiles on the shores, the hippos wallowing in the water or the fish eagles diving for prey all from the comfort of our bed as there are no windows, giving you an unhindered connection to the National Park surrounding the lake. Stopping in the middle of the lake, where crocs dare not roam, we’re given the chance to wash away the hangover and climb over the railings to jump from the top deck into the refreshing water below.
There’s an option of going out on one of the small boats in tow to fish for Tiger fish or take a boat trip looking for crocs, hippo, fish eagles and such which we opt for. With no fish caught we’re left to eat the food we’d bought on board directing the kitchen to whip up a mean chicken satay. The second night’s a little subdued due to last nights shenanigans so as we moor in lion territory we hear the mating calls during the evening and opt for a movie night. Time is soon up on the boat and feeling relaxed we’re all left not wanting to get back on the truck for the next leg to Antelope Park.
Leaving the cooling shores of Lake Kariba we all under no certain pretenses that getting to our next destination in going to have us endurng two long days in the truck. Our overnight stopover is in Chinhoyi cave camping site, an expansive site with shitty rundown facilities but a lady that cooks mean potato chips. The highlight is the caves themselves, which are similar to the cenotes of Mexico.
Heading down a steep unassuming path you wind up at the Sleeping Pool, where the pre-colonial Nguni tribesmen threw their dead enemies from the Shona tribe to sleep forever (apparently). It’s now a peaceful place and watching the fish swim in the crystal clear waters is hypnotic as it’s impossible to tell just how deep the water actually is. You can dive the caves here and the actual depth is still unknown…spooky. Back up the path with bats scratching overhead, a short walk takes you down another rocky path into the Dark Cave, which is disappointingly well lit. A bright blue pool awaits at the bottom and at first what you’re looking at appears to be a reflection, though it soon becomes clear you’re actually looking deep into the clear blue water at the rocks below the water line.
Into Antelope Park and no sooner have arrived when we’re rounded up and whisked into the presentation room for the spiel on the activities available to us. Game drives, lion walks, cub feeding, snake handling, lion enclosure tours and lion feeding sessions are all on offer here to help raise funds for the release of lions into the wild (click here for more information, we could bang on, though we’d have you nodding off to sleep in no time).
‘It gets better the further south we get’
Kanyo our guide wasn’t lying when he was talking about the campsites. Antelope Park, set on over 3,000 acres, is definitely up there with the most spectacular settings we’ve had yet. From any spot on the river, whether it be lounging by the pool, taking shade on a table under a tree or sipping a brew on the elevated open bar/restaurant, you can view birds drinking, herds of elephants doing the same or bump into the resident zebra that loves to graze the luscious green grass.
The first day the group is that lazy that when the Spanish omelet arrives one hour late for breakfast no one’s fazed. Lucky for Matt (one of the cooking team) the plate gets the thumbs up. We use the remainder of the day to do sweet FA, spending the day by the pool, washing clothes and sitting under a tree on the river bank. We’re even lucky enough to spot several elephant swim across the river before ascending the far bank close to the private bungalows. Armed with only a smart phone we dash across the bridge just in time to grab a few selfies from one of the verandas with the majestic giants within 2 meters of us.
The first activity we’d signed up for was the snake encounter, and by ‘we’ we mean Sarah, Matt didn’t have the balls for it. Heading over to the Snake Room, the guide is informative, passionate and completely knowledgeable about every single snake on site. We’re given the chance to hold several snakes including one which had to be pried from Sarah’s wrist, it’s one week old baby and an awesome juvenille African python as well as a massive Black Mamba skin.
On day two at this heavenly oasis it’s become apparent that we’ve chosen the wrong part in which to pitch our tents. Under a ring of trees laden with bird’s nests the onslaught of shit is turning the tents into miniature snow-capped peaks. Sarah must have felt real lucky when she got shat on twice!
After a quick breakfast and clean up job we’re off to walk with a pair of 15 month old lion cubs as part of an exercise program. The lions are allowed human contact until the age of two years when they are placed into the breeding program and today we’re out with brother and sister. We’re given wimpy little sticks that are meant to beat off the gnarling beasts should they decide to play rough! No chance! Lucky for us the pair of them are more interested in each other than us lot as they race for the closest sand patch and start scrapping. Sibling rivalry at it’s best.
Next she heads up her favourite tree for the perfect photo opportunity as she takes cheeky swipes at unsuspecting victims below. Whether it’s right or wrong, you’re given the chance to get up close and personal with this big lovable cats and you just can’t resist giving them a big scratch on the back.
With barely time for lunch those of us opting for the lion feeding are stuffed into the back of an open Land Cruiser and taken to the feeding pens. A massive carcass of some animal and a dead piglet swarming with flies greets us, thankfully behind a chain link fence that is buried 2 meters below the ground.
We wait in anticipation as the gates at the far end are opened. It only takes a few seconds of mingling until the four ferocious feline fur balls unleash into full stride. One wimps out, one sneaks off with a small prize and the remaining two simultaneously pounce on the huge carcass. The fact that the fence is there makes no difference as we all leap a foot back instinctively, one lady flying back a further meter to fall flat on her rear end. The hierarchy is sorted and the king of the pack is left with a burning intensity in his eyes as he fiercely protects his larger portion of meat. Not happy that we’re watching he spends the next ten minutes parading, growling and charging and digging at the fence. Finally he settles into tearing the meat to shreds. The competition is used to help identify the dominant male for breeding purposes.
That evening we’re treated to both culinary and storytelling delights. Our man Kanyo has prepared what has to be the tastiest BBQ chicken in all of Africa. Toasting marshmallows around a campfire we’re regaled with a history of the migration of tribes within the continent and the affect this had on the development within each tribe. That night we wander off to sleep as the vocal lions roar into the night.
Striking camp it’s unfortunately time to leave another slice of paradise though we’re in for another special wildlife encounter within the Matapos National Park.
Check out Flickr for more pics of our time in Zimbabwe!