So, on that sunny Saturday, 26 Sept 2015, we made our way by transfer bus from Chobe in Botswana to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe; a distance of about 55 miles. (To read Part 1 of this trip covering Chobe, Botswana click here).
This venture into Zimbabwe was the fifth day of our African adventure. We planned to stay at an Elephant Camp with interactions with orphaned elephants and an orphaned cheetah called Sylvester .... and to explore the famous Victoria Falls on foot and by helicopter. This is how we got on. Enjoy!
Sat. 26 Sept 2015
Border Crossing at Kazungula
We would have to cross the border at Kazungula. OMG!! I never want to relive that experience ever again. I’ve done many border crossings in my day but this took the biscuit. For starters, in 2015 there was a apparently lots of "paperwork" involved in vehicles crossing the Botswana/Zimbabwe border so it was common practice to disembark your bus on the Botswana side, walk the short distance across the border from Botswana and then board another bus on the Zimbabwe side as many tour companies chose not to bring their vehicles across.
That sounds simple but it wasn’t at all …..because first we had to queue FOREVER on the Bots side in the blazing heat with no shelter and no water to get our passport stamped for exit, then we had to purchase a VISA on the Zim side which took FOREVER (you know the drill, one guy takes your money, another sticks the paper VISA in your passport, then another stamps your entry…..all at a snail’s pace!). Only for the intervention of our Wild Horizons transfer driver who provided us with water and tried to move things along, we would probably be buried at Kazungula. Charlie still turns white whenever I mention the K word 😂
Thankfully, I understand that nowadays the crossing at Kazungula has improved hugely. The Kazungula Bridge opened in 2021 across the Zambezi River, connecting Botswana to Zambia which takes some of the pressure away (here). The governments concerned are also aware that they need to “up their game” to make access easier for tourists. But improvements shouldn’t just be for tourists!!. That day we saw several local commercial vehicles also caught up in the mayhem so these delays cost local people time and therefore money.
So hours later and at the end of the palaver, we got the coveted VISAS and passport stamps and were on our way to the town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe:
The Elephant Camp
Eventually, our transfer bus was on the road from Kazungula to Victoria Falls. Our stay for the two nights of 26 and 27 Sept 2015 was at The Elephant Camp (Victoria Falls). This camp is a gorgeous and intimate lodge under canvas (large tents) within easy reach of the town of Victoria Falls with all of its attractions and activities, yet allowing us some up-close encounters with the rescued and orphaned Elephants and Sylvester the Cheetah.
From the moment Bradley and his team welcomed us off the transfer bus into The Elephant Camp, we knew this was no ordinary camp. We arrived in the middle of the day to be given a cool drink and then ate a really tasty lunch. Our tent was number 12...a bit of a trek away from the main area but it had a beautiful view of the Batoka Gorge and the spray rising above Victoria Falls Waterfall 10 km away. We felt really in the wilderness out there.
The “tent” had everything you could ask for…..private viewing deck with plunge pool, private lounge area, bath, inside and outside showers, mini-bar and tea/coffee stations. The “tent” was mosquito proofed with mosquito nets, air-conditioning and fans; certainly not like any tent I’ve ever stayed in before!! 🤣
The main complex had a spacious deck, lounge, a bar and dining area in a tented structure leading onto a sun-kissed pool offering more views of Batoka Gorge and the magnificent spray of Victoria Falls. All meals were included, local brand beverages and house wines and two transfers to Victoria Falls per day as well as laundry.
It was really hot when we were there so we drank a lot of water...great to have the minibar. All of the staff without exception were wonderful...Moses, Vusa and the others around the bar area and all of the staff from Wild Horizons that did the bus transfers were also great. We stayed the two nights and it felt way too short for such a wonderful experience.
The first thing I did was jump in the plunge pool at our “tent” to cool off. It was delicious! And then to the bar for refreshments. Nothing like sipping "White Lady" and "Jupiter" cocktails with a view of the Victoria Falls spray!
Cruise on the Zambezi
That first evening we did a sunset cruise on the majestic Zambezi River, one of the most stunning African rivers on which to cruise. I was imagining myself in The African Queen with me as Katherine Hepburn to Charlie’s Bogie 😂.
The Zambezi River is the fourth-longest river in Africa, the longest east-flowing river in Africa and the largest flowing into the Indian Ocean from Africa. The 2,574-kilometre-long river (1,599 mi) arises in Zambia and flows through eastern Angola, along the north-eastern border of Namibia and the northern border of Botswana, then along the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe to Mozambique, where it crosses the country to empty into the Indian Ocean. The Zambezi's most noted feature of course is Victoria Falls but we would visit it up close the following day.
We cruised past the Zambezi National Park which has 40km of the Zambezi River frontage and a spread of wildlife, rich inland mopane forest and savanna. Zambezi National Park is conjoined with Victoria Falls National Park and both parks cover an area of 56 000 hectares. A wide variety of larger mammals may be found within the park. We were so lucky to come across hippos, elephant, crocodiles and kudus as we cruised on the Zambezi River.
We watched the sun slip below the horizon on our 2-hour cruise of the Zambezi River and gazed in awe at another spectacular sunset that we had come to enjoy in Africa. We enjoyed the complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on deck as Zimbabwe’s diverse animals flocked to the water's edge. We saw beautiful birds as they swooped and glided across the sky, we soaked up the last rays of African sunshine and slowed down to the gentle pace of life on the Zambezi. I have to say it was a really romantic experience, perfect for couples.
Sunday 27 Sept 2015
We woke up very excited on that Sunday morning as today we would spend the full morning at the nearby Elephant Sanctuary…..but first we had to have a cup of tea in the open air at our tent taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Africa:
One of the main attractions of The Elephant Camp is that it offers close interaction with animals – in particular elephants at the Victoria Falls Elephant Sanctuary. The Wild Horizons Wildlife Trust is a non-profit organisation whose mission is to advance and promote environmental conservation through hands-on wildlife research, management of a wildlife medical care facility and orphanage. It works on the education and empowerment of indigenous resources through active involvement in conservation training and community outreach programs. Projects include rehabilitation of injured or orphaned animals, anti-poaching and veterinary assistance and a children’s education program.
So on morning of Sunday 27 Sept 2015 we got to visit the elephant sanctuary. I was a bit apprehensive at first about the whole “elephant safari” aspect as I had seen in other countries how cruel this could be. But once I had seen the set-up there, the fact that there was no coercion involved, the babies could walk beside the momma elephants on the safaris, the route was chosen by the elephants and they could graze along the way and the obvious love the handlers had for the elephants, I was happy to take part. Of course it costs money for feeding and upkeep of such large animals so going for a short walk once a day to fund that didn’t seem overly stressful on the elephants.
Meeting Jake the Elephant & his Friends
We had a presentation about the work done by the sanctuary when we arrived and then went to interact with the elephants. After being introduced to each elephant we had time to talk and interact with them. Then it was time for a short safari ride on the back of an elephant. “Our” elephant was a gentle giant called Jake and Stan was his minder. I remember hanging on for dear life as it seemed we were up so high. We had a short walk around the bush on his back. It was amazing to see everything from Jake’s perspective and to be able to admire his amazing ears.
After dismounting I got to feed Jake and ask questions about his care to Stan!! It was a really memorable morning. And I came away appreciating the work that the Sanctuary does and also appreciating elephants even more.
Victoria (Water)Falls/ Mosi-oa-Tunya
We then headed up to have lunch and spend the afternoon at Victoria Falls Water Fall and had a wonderful guided walk all around the Falls. Victoria Falls/The Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders) is the largest curtain of falling water in the world; it is 1708 m wide and with up to 500 million litres per minute descending at 61 m (Devil’s Cataract), 83 m (Main Falls), 99 m (Rainbow Falls), 98 m (Eastern Cataract).
Eight spectacular gorges of igneous origin (i.e. comprising basalts) and several islands in the core zone serve as breeding sites for four endangered and migratory bird species, such as the Taita Falcon and Black Eagle. The riverine ‘rainforest’ within the waterfall splash zone is a fragile ecosystem of discontinuous forest on sandy alluvium, dependent upon maintenance of abundant water and high humidity resulting from the spray plume of about 500 m (at maximum height) that can be seen from a distance of 50 km and 30 km from Bulawayo and Lusaka roads respectively. A direct frontage viewing of the falls is possible from both Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Because it was the dry season when we were there in Sept 2015, the level of the Zambezi river was quite low. Although it made for less spectacular Falls, on the plus-side it meant we could get right up to the Falls without getting soaked with spray and we could also see the rocks that form the falls much better. It was a scorching day and we drank loads of water.
We saw several people swimming in the Devil’s Pool, the natural pool formed at the very waterfall top edge of the Falls. You would never catch me doing that!!
We also watched people white water rafting and canoeing on the Zambezi near the Falls and saw people zip lining over a gorge nearby (below):
We finished off our evening at the Victoria Falls by walking to see the famous bridge. This links Zimbabwe with Zambia over the Zambezi.
We came back to the camp that Sunday evening excited about what we had seen and were further amazed to see and meet Sylvester the Cheetah (more about him below) and his minder for the first time. We would get to see more of him the following day.
To cap it off, that night we were so lucky to see and capture the very rare Blood Moon when we were in Zimbabwe. The moon passed through Earth's shadow late on Sunday, Sept. 27/28, in a dazzling total lunar eclipse during a perigee full moon, better known as a "supermoon." Supermoons occur when the moon reaches its full phase at or near the satellite's closest approach to Earth, and appears abnormally large and bright as a result. The Sept. 27 event was quite special; the previous supermoon eclipse occurred in 1982, and the next won't take place until 2033!!
Monday 28 Sept 2015
Sylvester the Cheetah
Sylvester the Cheetah was just four years old when we saw him in 2015. He came to the Trust as an orphan when a lion killed his mother and four siblings. Alone, hungry and dehydrated, Sylvester was discovered by a game scout who brought him to a family where he spent the next 6-months of his life. Norman English was ex-National Parks and Wildlife Management and Penny English was a registered nurse. Sylvester’s survival was a direct result of their skills, wildlife knowledge and care. Eventually, Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust was asked for help. Given that a cheetah’s physiology and diet are very complex, the veterinary capacity and resources there would ensure that Sylvester would thrive.
Unfortunately, by the time Sylvester came to the Trust, he was imprinted on people, thus making the chances for his successful release to the wild questionable at best. Most likely, he would have found comfort being around people, thereby causing problems in rural communal areas that surround the national parks in the Victoria Falls area. It is highly probable wildlife managers would have had to put him down. However, because he was a specially protected animal on the endangered species list, National Parks and Wildlife Management and the Trust decided to give Sylvester a career as an ambassador animal to champion a message of coexistence with rural and urban neighbours. And that’s how Charlie and I got to see him in 2015.
First thing after breakfast we got to meet and walk in the bush with Sylvester the Cheetah and his minders Gift and Shelter. It was wonderful to see such a powerful cat up close. We were aware at all times that by nature he was still a wild animal and so could be unpredictable. He still laughed at Charlie’s jokes though:
Sadly, since that morning in 2015 an altercation between Sylvester and a leopard occurred on the evening of 26 Jan 2019. . A team of vets and Sylvester’s team of animal care specialists worked around the clock to provide care and monitor his condition. Unfortunately, during the following days, his status deteriorated as his kidneys began to shut down, likely a result of the stress. With his team of devoted animal keepers by his side, he was euthanized on 30 Jan 2019. We were privileged to have met such an amazing animal.
Helicopter Ride Over Victoria Falls
Our final adventure before we left the Falls was to experience a bird's eye view of the magnificent Victoria Falls, Zambezi River and Batoka Gorge on an epic Victoria Falls Helicopter Flight. The 13 minute or so flight was aptly names Flight of Angels.
Definitely, a helicopter flight over the magnificent Victoria Falls is a once in a lifetime opportunity not to be missed. The sight of the thundering waterfall from sky left us awestruck. We soared above the towering wall of mist and as I said because it was the dry season and the river was low we could actually see the Falls better. I was sitting in front beside the pilot!!
We were still mesmerized by the largest sheet of falling water in the World. We took a moment to appreciate this natural wonder and to absorb the scenes that will not quickly fade from memory. And we took lots of photos that really don’t do it justice. Here is a piece of a marketing video that captures the essence:
All too soon our time at Victoria Falls and The Elephant Camp were over. We had thoroughly enjoyed our time there and still remember the wonderful people and the wonderful animals. We were transferred to Victoria Falls Airport by Wild Horizons for our midday flight to Johannesburg connecting with a flight to Cape Town. We were looking forward to the next and final leg of our African adventure!!
Part 3: TO FOLLOW (Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain, Penguins & More)
Bucket List Items Ticked Off in the above Blog 71
Number 9 - Nature & Wildlife - Feed an Elephant in Africa
Number 16 - Nature & Wildlife - Visit 8 Stunning Waterfalls
Other Blog Posts
Blog 11 - Sydney, Australia
Blog 12 - Hong Kong, China
Blog 17 - Beijing, Xi'an & Shanghai, China
Blog 19 - California, USA
Blog 27 - Scotland
Blog 28 - Barbados
Blog 29 - Canada
Blog 30 - Alaska
Blog 31 - Everglades, Florida
Have you ever been to Zimbabwe? Tell me about your experience in the comments section below.
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My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!