One of the greatest safari experiences that I’ve ever been lucky enough to have, happened to be in an almost deserted national park in Zimbabwe. Hwange National Park lies about four hours by road from Vic Falls and at the time of my visit in 2009, Zimbabwe’s political turmoil had driven away the truckloads of tourists that used to visit here.
Facilities were falling apart and the rangers spoke of the lack of funding for conservation efforts, but the shining ray of hope here extended far beyond the lodge I stayed at, and glistened rather from the people who chose to stay and fight for their cause, despite the hardships of doing so.
The Hide Safari Camp is a small lodge, with only about ten rooms extending out in two wings from the main reception area. At the time, it was immaculately maintained in comparison to the state-owned units in the same national park. The rooms were big, comfortable and had an incredible view over a watering hole where I got to watch the giraffes stop by twice a day for a drink. The outdoor baths conjured romantic images that involved candles and rose petals.
When I mentioned the park had been deserted earlier, it really did feel like that in a number of ways. We were a small group of media and were the only guests at The Hide. On game drives and heading in and out of the park gates, we never saw another soul.
The staff at the lodge were incredibly optimistic despite all of this. A trait that I would soon learn to be inherent in all Zimbabweans. They clearly had a sense of pride in the upkeep of a property that showed it’s age a little around the seams. They also spoke of how they believed tourism would turn around for them, that the travellers and adventurers would come back to this forgotten corner of the country.
Although I spent a good few family holidays in the national parks of South Africa when I was young, Hwange was the first game drive where I got to see lion as close as we did. A gorgeous couple sunning themselves in the cool of the morning seemed to be waiting for our arrival, only to saunter off a few minutes later. The male looked back as if shooting us a dirty look for interrupting his morning ritual.
What I found incredible about being the only guests of this park, was that it truly felt as if we had the run of the place, we could go anywhere and see anything. Our guide drove us all over to find anything we asked of him. We even stopped for a morning coffee on an open plain, and spent time wandering just far enough away from the vehicle to start feeling vulnerable.
We stopped at water pumps so the ranger could show how they kept the park in survival mode. We drove past old building and nests, and our guide spoke of how the park could be, and will in time be, magnificent. He spouted romantic notions for the park, which we drank in like non-fiction for the future of Hwange.
I’d love to go back to Hwange and The Hide. I’ve heard of renovations and changes and life moving back, just as the locals had said it would happen. This is an incredible place with its blazing sunsets and truly wild animals. I loved Zimbabwe on my two trips there. The people make a destination, and this is a pure and encouraging example of this.