Two National Parks & Two Armed Men in Camouflage

The sun was slowly rising over Victoria Falls, as we drove across a bridge above the Zambezi River from Zambia to Zimbabwe, a country that had always intrigued me.  And from my vantage point in Zambia, I had been eyeing up Zimbabwe for days, just amping to get across.

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Mosi-Oa-Tunya Victoria Falls National Park 

From border control, Victoria Falls in less than five minutes’ walk.  For an entrance fee of $30 paid in USD, you can stroll the pristine pathways of the park, in order to find the best vantage point to soak up (literally) the atmosphere of the gracious and bellowing Victoria Falls.

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Having seen Victoria Falls from both sides, I can say with confidence, Zimbabwe is the more spectacular side, and even for the entrance fee and the cost of a visa into Zimbabwe, the view is still worth every penny!  The Zimbabwean side is less crowded, more peaceful and completely breathtaking.

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Matobo National Park

Walking with Wild White Rhino
As we stopped on the side of a gravel road, we were greeted by two heavily armed men wearing camouflage.  ‘What on earth are the rifles for,’ I thought.  In the heat of the morning, we walked single-file through swampy grasslands, one armed man at the front, the other at the back, holding rifles at the ready.  Up we went over a rough rocky hill face, dodging acacia thorns and slippery rocks, and finally we made it to the nice flat top.  There they were huddled under a tree no more than ten metres from us.  Seven wild White Rhinoceros.  My heart was pounding so hard, it was resonating in my ears to the point I thought I might need to sit down.  I kept thinking about that scene in Ice Age where the Rhinos start to fight over a dandelion.  I expected I was about to become the dandelion.

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But they just huffed and puffed in the hot sun, trying to get comfortable in a big pile.  My unnecessary anxiety attack started to ease off.  ‘I know White Rhinoceros aren’t vicious.  They are calm, peaceful and just have bad eyesight, that’s all.’  I crouched and watched them bang about as the Crash tried to get cosy, and keep an eye on us at the same time – it was in fact, very cute and quite comical.

‘But what are the rifles for?  And where have the men with the rifles gone?’
The rifles were not for us, nor were they for the Rhinos, but more so as a precautionary measure in case we came across poachers on the reserve.  The rifles were to shoot the poachers.  In order to save the dwindling population of Rhino on the reserve and throughout Zimbabwe, the government has implemented a shoot-to-kill policy.  The two men that escorted us are heroes – they are the only thing standing between a poacher’s machete and a Rhino’s certain death.  While we were marvelling at seven of the precious animals they are trying to defend, they slipped off into the trees to patrol the perimeter and save the species from extinction.

Nswatugi Cave, Bush Botanicals and A Road-side Market
Atop a smooth rock face, in the Nswatugi Cave lies the rock art of the San (Bushmen) who lived in these hills 2,000 years ago.  The paintings tell a story of daily life, rituals and beliefs of the San, as well as the ecology of the area.  I found my experience in the cave humbling and poignant, as I thought about the San and contemplated what their life might have been like here many generations ago.

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On the way down, our guide, Ian, gave us a lesson on bush botanicals.  Typical Westerners, the first thing we asked was “can we eat it?”  Turns out most of the plants were trying to kill us!  He showed us wild marijuana and khat plants, as well as a whole range of medicinal botanicals.

After our don’t-eat-anything-in-the-bush-unless-you-know-what-it-is-because-it-might-kill-you lesson, we drove to a little market place where locals were selling dyed clothing, seed beads, and wooden sculptures.

World’s View (Malindidzimu Hill)
A breathtaking sight of epic proportions, and a spiritual peacefulness like I have never felt before, it is easy to understand why Malindidzimu Hill is sacred to the Ndebele people.

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Atop Malindidzimu Hill lies Cecil John Rhodes at his final resting place.  Rhodes, a British Colonialist and Empire-builder, founded the Southern African territory of Rhodesia (which was later split to form Zambia and Zimbabwe.)  In 1902, Rhodes died of heart failure and was buried atop the Matopo Hills, as per his wishes.   I can fully understand why he wanted to be buried here, as it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen.  With a 360° view of the rugged, grandiose landscape of the Matopos and surrounds, the View Of the World is a perfect place for quiet contemplation, and an amazing view of the sunset.

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Zimbabwe Tips

Have US cash ready upon arrival
Zimbabwe solely uses US currency.  You will need to pay for your visa, as well as entrance to the Victoria Falls National Park and there is nowhere to withdraw money from in this area.  However, the town of Victoria Falls has all the facilities you need – we stopped there to get cash and supplies, but the majority of the group had trouble getting cash out.  Even with a specialised travel card with USD preloaded into the account, it took me four ATMs and nine tries to receive my money.

But don’t have too much cash – You won’t need it
After the rigmarole of trying to get cash out, I withdrew $200 so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the trauma of Zimbabwean ATMs again.  I popped down to the supermarket to buy some fruit, a packet of Simba chips, a chocolate bar and 2lts of Mazoe Orange Crush (an all-time favourite of the Zimbabweans, and a must-try for tourists) expecting to have to pay through the nose for such luxury items.  Altogether it cost me $2.30.

-Take a tour with African Wanderers
My experience at the Matobo National Park was probably one of the best days of my life, thanks to Ian Harmer, of African Wanderers.  His story-telling was impeccable and captivating, he was funny and informative and the experiences of the day were something I will never forget.  However, if you want to explore Matobo National Park alone, for an entrance fee of approximately $10USD, you will receive entry to the World’s View and Pomongwe and Nswatugi rock art caves.

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