Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

In search of adventure

Graeme Sharp and his two friends, Buck Odonoghue and Jo Craig, were on a mission to explore the wild and remote parts of Zimbabwe. He shares their travel diary and a few handy tips for others considering a similar adventure.

Day 1: Harare – Karoi – Magunje Gache

It was great to finally get going. This was one of the longest days on our itinerary, but it was necessary as we were eager to reach the Zambezi Valley and get off-road. Our route included 55km of tar from Magunje. Although the road was in fair condition down to Gache Gache, there very some very bad sections. Caution is advised if you’re towing a trailer and be on the lookout for motorcycles and vehicles coming out of the valley. We spent a wonderful evening at a great campsite. The facilities are still being developed, but the hot showers and flushing toilets were a treat.

Day 2: Gache Gache – Kariba – Matusadona (Kanjedza via Fothergill Island)

After a hearty breakfast we bid our hosts farewell and tackled the 62km drive around the eastern basin of Lake Kariba to Chawara Harbour. We were glad to see that there are new shops in Kariba that cater to the needs of overlanders by selling generic vehicle spares, oils and fluids, tools, torches, batteries, and such. Boarding the ferry was a smooth process and we set sail at 11:30 for the three-hour crossing to Fothergill Island. Jo prepared a fantastic lunch on the ferry while we made the most of the brief connection to 3G for communications and social media updates. We enjoyed a late afternoon fitness session in the riverbed in front of our campsite before taking a bucket shower under a large leadwood tree. We ended a fantastic day with sundowners around the fire and a fine meal cooked over mopani coals as a very vocal leopard roamed around near the camp.

Day 3: Matusadona (Kanjedza Area)

Two nights in the Kanjedza gave us the opportunity to stretch our legs and get out into the park. We did a long bush walk up the Nyamuni River and spent most of the rest of the day laying low as the rising August temperature hit 34 degrees. We put our pump and filtration system to the test and were able to refill our drinking water from the nearby river. Matusadona is arguably one of the most scenic parks in Africa thanks to the combination of water, mountains,
and wide-open vistas. We enjoyed a short game drive and enjoyed sundowners overlooking the lake as the setting sun brought an end to a great day.

Day 4: Matusadona (Kanjedza – Tashinga)

We were up at 05:00 and took a dirt track heading east towards Sanyati West. Our mission for the morning was to locate Rupert Fothergill’s plaque below a rock face about three-quarters up the escarpment overlooking Matusadona. After a serious one-hour scramble over 1.5km we located the rock face and shortly thereafter, the plaque itself.
What goes up must come down though and the descent was quite hair raising. We made it back down for tea at Sanyati West before heading back to Kanjedza to pack up before taking the escarpment road to Tashinga. It took over three hours to complete the 32km and let’s just say that our axe and saw came in very handy, as did low range! There were several challenging crossings, as well as road works to contend with.

Day 5: Matusadona (Tashinga – Rhino Island – Maronga Campsite)

It’s a park reborn, and the energy, pride and professionalism are tangible and was constantly on display throughout our stay. The new team is made up of mostly ex-Zimparks staff and we were given a rundown of the considerable progress that has been made and huge amount of work that still lies ahead. This includes the complexity of controlling illegal fishing and the progress made with community self-policing of designated fishing grounds, the issue of human/wildlife conflict outside the park, dwindling wildlife corridors and the ever-increasing demand for protein from a growing population surrounding the park. Along with this, there is also a bold plan to reintroduce rhino to the park in 2024.

It’s clear that most of Matusadona National Park’s focus lies outside the park and in the surrounding communities. For conservation to have any hope going forward, this is surely the only way… The tourism offerings available for self-drive visitors to Matusadona include wilderness campsites with no facilities and serviced campsites with basic ablution facilities. There is also tented accommodation with full ablutions. We spent the night on the Maronga River, halfway to Chifudze gate. Sitting around the campfire we contemplated the state of the park, and we were all in agreement that it needs to be on everyone’s list of must-see self-drive destinations.

Day 6: Matusadona (Maronga Campsite – Chifudzi Gate – Chizarira)

It took us roughly six hours to get from Maronga to Chizarira via Chifudzi. The road is in relatively good condition and although there were a few rough sections, the drive was pleasant enough. We filled up our 120-litre water tanks at the Maronga Causeway and had a refreshing swim in the shallow pools upstream. There are many natural springs in the area and as such there is plenty of water. We then stopped at Chifudzi to see the transit campsite for travellers needing to overnight between Chizarira and Mana, or who are going to Tashinga but won’t reach the Chifudzi gate before it closes at 15:00. It’s a beautiful spot in a shaded grove of mahogany trees. We arrived to a late afternoon sunset over Mucheni View and were greeted by a pair of black eagles hovering below and then above us. What an incredible experience to be virtually eye to eye with these great birds of prey. They must have had a nest below us as they returned just before dark.

Day 7 & 8: Chizarira (Mucheni View)

We had a lazy start to the day and sipped coffee on the edge of the gorge as the sun rose over the escarpment. Things would soon take a turn for the worse, though… The park staff had delivered water in 200-litre drums to our campsite by vehicle. They later returned on a rickety tractor and trailer with a 1 000-litre tank full of water and were using buckets to decant the water into a JoJo tank at the campsite. A Herculean task at best of times, let alone at midday in the scorching heat. Somewhere between the 20-litre bucket versus the 1 000-litre tank, lunchtime hunger, and a blazing African sun the task was suspended… but alas, the tractor had other ideas and refused to start.

After almost an hour the message was clear – the battery was dead. At this point, the sun was even hotter and the hunger pains even stronger. So, said tractor (named ‘The Beast’ I might add) was left parked on the slope near the water tank and the crew disappeared on foot. We were about to walk to the vehicle with our binoculars, snacks, hats, and cameras bags in hand, when fate pounced. The tractor jumped out of gear and rolled down the slope, gathering momentum as it went. Sadly, our vehicle was in its path. Seconds earlier Buck had been at the vehicle, plugging in chargers and camera accessories. I hate to think what would have happened if one of us had been wedged between the two vehicles.

Our afternoon game drive plans were obviously cancelled, and we headed to the campsite office to initiate insurance
procedures and arrange incident and police reports with the area manager. A policeman from Siabuwa was required to
complete the process and we realised we could be there for another few days. We settled in for the night, still waiting for the policeman who was now expected to arrive at 06:00 the next day. The Eezi Awn rooftop tent stood tall above the wounded Hilux, which was still entangled with the tractor.

Day 9: Chete (Ruzilukulu)

We all had a thoroughly restful 10-hour sleep at Chete Camp as the howling winds down the gorge had drowned out the sound hundreds of kapenta rigs. We went in search of the National Parks area manager to check in and pay our fee (having missed him the day before). Yet again we failed to find him, and formalities were taken care of by his subordinates.

Our allocated campsite was on the banks of the Ruzilukulu River, just as it enters the gorge. We set up camp metres
from the edge of the water and soon realised that we were being actively pursued by a decent-sized and hungry-looking crocodile. This forced us to re-evaluate or water collection process and it was unanimously decided that using a rope and bucket was the safest option. The croc looked dejected. A relaxing afternoon followed and an hour of spinning for tiger fish was fruitless. We managed a short climb up the ridge to get a view of our surroundings. There was plenty of game around, with kudus, impala, civets, warthogs, hippos, and hyenas all making an appearance. The only negative was the evidence of fish poachers camping along both sides of the river. One has to wonder how much freedom they have in such a remote and challenging environment, especially with close to 1 000 Zambians living on an island just outside the mouth of the Ruzi.

It has been said that the Chete was once home to the largest concentration of black rhinos in Zimbabwe. It’s clear why – it’s a harsh barren paradise suited to only such an animal.

Day 10: Chete – Maabwe Bay

We headed out of the Chete safari area to Binga, where we refuelled and stocked up on supplies from the local supermarket. Our next stop was Maabwe, an hour or so away. It’s a beautiful facility on the shores of Lake Kariba, and
an ideal stopover between Hwange and Chizarira. It caters specifically for campers and fishermen and is one those
places where you arrive for one night and end up staying a week!

From here we would tackle the last stage to Victoria Falls, where a few days of down-time were on the cards…
and then… onwards into Hwange.

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