Wow, so it’s been 7 months since Botswana, and many moons since my last post, which can only mean one thing: I’m already planning my next safari! This time round, however, I’ve decided not to self-drive for a couple of reasons:
1. I wanted to do a multi-day canoeing and a walking trip, so hiring a car would work out less cost-effective as I wouldn’t be using the vehicle for transport or to sleep in whilst on the paddling and walking trails; and
2. While in Botswana, I’d heard that roadblocks were rife in Zimbabwe as the local cops were pretty keen to supplement their income any way they could. Now, I often take such stories with a grain of salt, but a top guide at a safari camp in Bots corroborated that the situation was still quite dire.
He recounted a short work trip to Vic Falls from Botswana, where he got stopped – in his vehicle with South African plates – every few kilometres. The cops at each roadblock would accuse him of ridiculous things such as having “incorrect number plates” or for some minor driving infraction. The best one: “not putting a seatbelt on his bag”, which was placed in the front passenger seat!
I’ll report back on the roadblock situation for sure, once I get home.
Given how little travel information there is online for both countries and the current political uncertainty in Zimbabwe, this time I left the bulk of our trip logistics to two highly recommended local companies.
With an office in Harare, these guys have run a canoeing (and walking) safari operation for decades, taking intrepid travellers through Zimbabwe’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Mana Pools National Park. Natureways trips mostly take place north of this remote park, along the broad Zambezi River, which also forms the country’s border with Zambia.
For many years, I had yearned to visit Mana Pools, as friends of mine who were experienced African travellers raved about it over other great parks on the continent. I badly wanted a trip where I could be active – our last safari through Botswana was very sedentary, and canoeing would be a more physical way to view wild game.
This style of exploration also meant that I’d still get to sleep in a tent and hear hyenas yowling through the night, have dinner by a campfire and enjoy a good measure of solitude outside the confines of a permanent lodge.
Better yet, I wouldn’t have to organise any campsite and national park permits myself, locate fuel, food and firewood or figure out how to get somewhere before sundown – this was going to be a “lazy” holiday!
Tip #1: Whilst not cheap, everything is taken care of on an Odyssey canoe safari with Natureways, from ensuite tents being set up on shore when you arrive, to all food being cooked for you. Your luggage is also schlepped from site to site, so you only need to carry a small daypack each day.
As with any epic wilderness adventure, part of the thrill for me is figuring out how to get there. Given how hard it is to find detailed maps of the region, I had to figure out how to get to Kariba or Chirundu (where the canoe trips began). Failing to work this out on my own, I had to call the Natureways office for help.
Tip #2: Flights from Vic Falls or Harare airport (both in Zimbabwe) to Kariba are extremely expensive (almost USD700 one-way per person) given how short they are in duration, so the most cost-effective way (right now, at least) is to fly into Lusaka in Zambia and then cross the border into Zimbabwe.
In our case, we would fly into Lusaka from Johannesburg, with South African Airways. To save us having to overnight in the capital, we booked the earliest flight out of Jo’burg, 0635hrs, which would see us arriving – if everything went to plan) at 0830hrs.
I arranged an airport pickup on arrival through Hersov Tours, a local company recommended by Natureways. They would take us by road out of Lusaka to the river, where we would be seen through customs before getting on a boat. The vessel – hired for our group privately – would take us to the starting point of our canoe trip.
Just the transfers with Hersov would work out to be around USD1700 in total return – but split between our group of five, would work out much cheaper than flying.
Tip #3: Bear in mind that aside from transfer costs, national park fees aren’t included in Natureways’ nightly rates. For 6 nights, we were looking at park fees of around USD370 per person, with Natureways advising that this could go up in 2019. Also, Aussies are up for a USD50 visa (total) into both countries at the time of writing. Exxy!
For the second part of the trip, I wanted to go to the renowned “birthplace of the walking safari” – South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Organising this was a much easier proposition due to logistics being far, far simpler.
On completing our canoe safari, Natureways would return us to Lusaka Airport, where we would then fly (with Proflight) to Mfuwe Airport.
There are many camps in and around the South Luangwa NP, but I chose Flatdogs for a number of reasons – fantastic reviews, great prices and a convenient location just at the edge of the park. For the first two nights at least, we could hang out here and enjoy all the comforts of a permanent complex such as a bar and swimming pool!
Tip #4: To avoid having to rush on our final day canoeing with Natureways and/or waste a night in transit in Lusaka, I booked the latest flight out of Lusaka into Mfuwe (departing 1630hrs, arriving 1740hrs).
This meant we would arrive after dark at Flatdogs. Airport transfers were included in our tariff, and the camp even provided a reduced rate for our first night there as we would not have time to participate in an evening activity.
Tip #5: This might be obvious but I’ll say it anyway – schedule the more “luxurious” portion of your trips last so the experience isn’t anti-climactic!
Halfway through our stay, Flatdogs reservations staff would arrange for us to go out on a four-night walking safari with another highly respected operator. This sector would involve us making our way on foot between two bush camps – Crocodile River and Chikoko Tree – known collectively as the Chikoko Trails camps. Nestled deep inside the South Luangwa NP, these two properties would be all ours during our stay, as they accommodated a maximum of just 6 people.
From what I’ve heard of these camps, the majority of our time will be spent traipsing about on foot, getting up close to buffalo and other big game (which are prolific as per the photo below). However, I promise to report back with photos and videos, once I’ve completed the trip.
©Remote Africa Safaris
After Chikoko Trails, we would go back to Flatdogs for a final night before making our long journey home.
Bonus Tip: Book in the “shoulder season” to save significantly on the nightly rate. In the South Luangwa, this would be late June or early November, when the gameviewing is still good (as the grass is short).