The road to Hwange

After an exciting 7 nights in Mana Pools it was time to move on to the next part of our foray into Zimbabwe. Having decided not to take the ferry through lake Kariba because of the price and the fact that it only may or may not run on the specified day, we opted instead to make a 3 day drive mostly along dirt roads. Our trip would take us from Mana Pools to Gache Gache lodge on the first day. Then from Gache Gache to Chilila Lodge in the town of Binga on day two and from Binga to Ivory Tree lodge and Tuskers Campsite, just outside Hwange on day 3. Seems like a nice, easy, relaxing, drive: so we thought.

Taking the 75 km drive out of Mana Pools it was like we were on a different road then we came in on. The massive mud holes had dried out after 6 days without rain and the road was relatively easy except for the ruts left in the hardened mud. We quickly found ourselves back on tar roads cruising at 100km/hour on our way towards Kariba. After getting passed by a bus careening around a corner pushing the definition of “in control” we had to step on the breaks. Another road block. This time instead of the police trying to give us obnoxious fines (ask Cheryl about how much it costs to carry luggage in the passenger compartment. Answer USD 15.) we were halted by two lions who decided it was the appropriate time to cross the road. We watched the male/female pair scamper up a hill on the other side until they disappeared back into the bush and we were back on our way. We weren’t even in an official national park at this point. Incredible.

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The lioness looking back over the road after she scampered up the hill a little way. Maybe 15 meters from us.

Our GPS told us to turn off the nice tarred road onto some gravel. After 20 kms the wide gravel road that lead to a mine ended and became a single track path that lead through the thick bush. We still had over 100kms to go. Since we figured we’d be going 60+ km/ hour the whole way the steep hills and washed out roads took us a bit (read: a heck of a lot) longer then expected. We did make it to Gache Gache in time for sundowners and a hot shower (which felt heavenly after 7 days in the bush with at most cold showers, at medium a bush “shower” where we washed our feet and faces with our trusty solar-heated water bag, and at worst a baby wipe when necessary). The girls made a delicious chicken pasta dinner and we headed to bed early after a couple of beers and our remaining white wine.

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Relaxing after a tougher drive then expected

The next day saw us back on dirt tracks which eventually turned back into a wider dirt road. We cruised passed many villages and homesteads and passed a total of 6 cars during our 10 hours of driving. We brought two boxes of old clothes with us that we handed out along the way. People were often quite confused or nervous when we first pulled up next to them in our rumbling rigs but that quickly turned to excitement once we handed out some clothes.

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Passing some people along the way

The road went from being very nice gravel to treacherous rock outcroppings back to gravel, then red clay, sand, and something that resembled tar but you really had to stretch the imagination to believe it. The roads for the day were summed up by the GPS. One of the directions read: “In 500meters, leave the road.” Another read; “Drive 130kms on ‘4wd required – gravel’ then turn right onto ‘potholes’” Luckily we only had around 15kms on ‘potholes’ before we turned off for camp.

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Michael and Lisa needing a tire pressure check

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Most infrastructure was still quite good. Luckily this bridge was one of those that wasn’t collapsed like we came across in Hwange a few days later.

We definitely wouldn’t recommend staying in Chilila’s “cabins” as they look like they haven’t been kept up since the 70s and have fallen into disrepair with moldy mattresses and bathrooms filled with spiders. This is why we’re glad we’ve got our own rooftop tent and kitchen setup. We did leverage the thatch roof of one of the patios to shield ourselves from the rain and used the restroom inside but we didn’t hang around in there for long.

The next morning we were off for Hwange after a quick tour through Binga to stock up on provisions. That was the plan at least. We found the one working fuel station in town and the grocery store had meager supplies. (At least that was our opinion at the time until we saw the amount of supplies in other stores the next day. Only then did we realize how good this store actually was. They had boerewors, for example.) We bought what we could but only bought a half night’s worth of vors. We should have bought more as it was the last place that stocked anything resembling edible meat that we found in Zimbabwe.

Tuskers campsite at Ivory Tree lodge was really nice. We had hot showers again and they gave me a hose to clean out all the mud from under Fiona (name for our Hilux). We had sundowners at a hide they had built overlooking a water hole and were greeted by a heard of 40+ elephants that came for a drink and a nibble on some fruits and salt that lodge put out for them. We were literally two meters from some of them. It was awesome to see them interact and to be so close to such powerful animals. Having watched them for almost an hour just on our own, we left the hide when another group of tourists came in. What a sighting.

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Elephants at the hide.

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A little dark but you can see how close we were.

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Elephant close-up. I have 100s of these photos.

After a great night’s sleep we were off into Hwange the next day.

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