All posts by Ant Bown
For many, Zim remains the final frontier for Self-Drive. With Botswana and Namibia approaching capacity, Zimbabwe presents a diverse and wild alternative for the more adventurous. There are some specific challenges that remain. My view is that most self-drivers over-estimate the severity of these challenges and are put off far too easily.
FALLACY 1: Lets start with safety & security, a question I am often asked regards self-driving in Zim. In short, Zim does not have a problem with violent crime like some of our more-visited neighbours. Sure, there is petty theft (don’t leave cash or cellphones lying around) but hijackings and gun violence are rare. Despite (or maybe, because of) the economic challenges, the fabric of Zim society remains intact and most people have respect for each other and common human decency.
The cops were a problem 18 months ago when they were trying to raise fine revenue by enforcing ridiculous regulations. Under the new dispensation, they are back to directing traffic and giving public transport drivers a hard time about their un-roadworthy vehicles and reckless driving. Fact is, the average cop’s heart was never really in it when they were ordered to extort motorists in the past, the average Zimbo is much more happy solving problems than causing them.
FALLACY 2: Lets get this straight, FUEL DOES NOT COST US$3.32 PER LITRE! This is just inaccurate journalism. Either the writers do not understand mathematics, or they are just looking for sensationalist headlines. This fallacy was created by the original official insistence that government-issued local currency was 1:1 with the USD when in fact it trades at 4-4,5/USD on the black (real) market.
The resultant official Z$3.32/l fuel price cannot be said to be equal to USD 3.32/l and is actually around USD 0.73/l, making it the cheapest in the region by some way. This naturally results in excess demand and some rather impressive fuel queues! Unless you are an under-employed amateur fuel arbitrage trader, don’t waste your time in a 2km fuel queue trying to buy a tank of the cheapest fuel in Africa. For people who have hard forex, fuel hovers between $1.20 and $1.40 per litre and you can buy coupons meaning you don’t have to stand in a long queue. If you are still not convinced, don’t worry, we can help you get coupons and fuel from Harare and Kariba and for goodness sake, don’t cancel your trip because of some financially illiterate journalist’s opinions.
FALLACY 3: Food is horrendously priced and the supermarket shelves are bare. Same cause as fallacy 2….imported food is approx 30% more expensive than neighboring South Africa but Supermarkets are still full of stuff you don’t need (my local Spar has about 10 types of cooking oil) and local brands remain affordable and more than good enough.
These 3 common misconceptions go a long way in explaining why Zim remains an undiscovered Self-Drive gem where you can have wild Africa to yourself in safety. There is however, one under-rated risk to visiting Zim in my opinion:
THE ONE HOME TRUTH : The standard of driving in Zim really is poor! The proliferation of cheap imported 2nd hand vehicles and aforementioned cheap fuel means many people are first-time motorists who have never sat in the back of their parents car as children hearing critical analysis other motorists’ driving technique. These new drivers do not yet understand their own mortality. Speed, poor maintenance and no insurance are a potent combination. You need to be aware of this, maintain following distance and assume all other road users are Kamikaze pilots. Try think ahead for everyone else and take it easy on the speed.
Hopefully, this explanation of these 3 Fallacies and one home truth will help you better understand the true risks in Self-Driving unexplored beautiful Zimbabwe and make a quality decision.
Please do contact us if you need assistance planning your trip or with 4×4 Rentals and Campsite & Kariba Ferry Bookings.
In the 12 months since Mugabe left power, Zim has seen a definite uptick in tourist numbers. Bribe-seeking Police roadblocks are gone (their hearts were never truly in it anyway!) and many forgotten corners of the country are dusting off the cobwebs and getting ready to welcome tourists back to Africa’s self-drive gem.
Mana Pools bookings have increased dramatically and we can foresee a time in the not-too-distant future when these will be hard to come by. The airing of the new David Attenborough BBC documentary “Dynasties” will no doubt bring further international interest in Mana especially. At Manapools.com, we are steadily growing our 4×4 rental fleet and opening up new and exciting self-drive routes further off the beaten track via our new site www.selfdrivezim.com.
Life at our Sunbird Guest House base has been busy with our long-standing team of hospitality professionals welcoming Godfrey Phiri to the hospitality side of the business from his previous support role. We are proud to say that we retain every single team member we have ever employed and are proud of our team’s entrepreneurial service ethic.
Zim remains a challenging country to operate in, with Fuel and Foreign Exchange crises meaning we have to use our wits and wiles to ensure that our clients experience seamless service. We believe it is this “feet on the ground” resourcefulness that set us apart from other regional 4×4 rental companies who will rent you a vehicle from a neighboring country, then essentially wash their hands of you once you cross our borders. Zim-based Zim-Specialists continues to be our mantra, there’s plenty to see here without driving around the rest of Africa like a mad-man. Believe us, we can keep you busy exploring the beautiful, dusty back-corners of this forgotten land for many months!
We wish all our clients and associates a very Happy Christmas and look forward to building our country up in the year ahead with service, commitment, class and a dash of humor!
Ant Bown and the team
Zimbabwe 2018 – Day 1: Harare
Having cleared immigration & customs in Harare International Airport (straightforward with no hassle at all) we took a prearranged taxi to the Sunbird Guesthouse (http://sunbirdguesthouse.net/) which we had pre-booked a few months earlier. Sunbird is owned by Sally Brown and is in a part of Harare with wide avenues lined with Jacaranda trees. We went with Sunbird because Sally also offers to help out with other aspects of your trip, such as arranging car hire, buying in provisions for your trip, purchasing bus and train tickets, etc. This is particularly useful as, for example, train tickets can only be purchased on the day of travel and sleeper cabins can sell out early.
Sunbird is a quiet and comfortable guesthouse in a secluded area with a large garden. Within minutes of arriving Shereen very painfully turned her ankle over. Holiday over, we immediately thought, but she’s made of tough stuff (Black Country girl and all) and she soldiered through. It was several days before she was comfortable walking on it, however, and even now, four weeks later, she still insists “it isn’t right”. We drank a few cold beers on the veranda while chatting to Sally, then went to bed. Daylight hours take a bit of getting used to in the tropics. Dawn begins around 05:00 and sunset is more or less on the dot of 18:30. So we westerners are always a bit shocked to see so many people out and about in Africa from first light. Harare, incidentally, despite the impression you get from our media, is actually a busy working city. It has problems. The country currently has economic issues that it is trying to work through, but overall, people manage. There was an outbreak of cholera in one of the southern high-density (ie poorer) suburbs shortly before we arrived (caused by a burst sewer pipe that wasn’t repaired quickly enough by the council and which led to a borehole becomming polluted), and we had come armed with hand sanitizers, rehydration salts, etc; but, in fact, the outbreak was contained around its original source and, while still taking sensible precautions, we were never directly aware of the problem on the ground.
At no point in our stay in Zimbabwe (in the cities of Harare and Bulawayo, in smaller towns on the way, on the train, at bus or roadside stops, etc, did we ever feel uncomfortable or in the least bit worried or ill-at-ease. The people of Zimbabwe are friendly, welcoming and helpful.
Day 3: Driving From Makuti to Mana Pools Camp (100km including 74km on corrugated road)
Our alarms went off at 5am. This quickly becomes more or less normal in Zimbabwe. It was still dark, but there were the very first hints of pale blue light in the eastern sky, and the first birds were just beginning to stir. Our aim was to get to Marangora, where the Zim Parks and Wildlife Office was situated, about 20 minutes further down the road. This is where you get your permit to enter the Mana Pools National Park. We wanted to get there and have the formalities done and dusted as soon as they opened at 6am. Wrong. They actually open at 7am, so we strolled round the area for and hour and a bit while the sun rose and the countryside slowly turned golden.
The office opened on the dot of seven, and we were cleared to go about 10 minutes later. Marangora is on the southern Zambezi escarpment, and the road, though still well tarmaced, was full of tight bends as it worked its way down to the the level of the Zambezi River. The heavy trucks here travel very slowly, sometimes at no more than 5km/h, as they inch their way carefully down, but the drivers do their best to let you know when it is safe to overtake by indicating with their right indicator (Zimbabwe drives on the left).
Just as you get to the bottom of the escarpment you come to the Mana Pools turn off. From now on the road is untarred and is what they call corrugated (see attached image). But before you get a chance to get a feel for the new surface you come to the first of two checkpoints. We showed our permits and were about to get going again when the inspector told us our front number plate was coming off. Sure enough, one of the two screws holding it in place had dropped off and it was hanging down at a 45 degree angle. We tried to fix it up, and to tighted the remaining screw, but there was little we could actually do and we resigned ourselves to having no front number plate in the near future. With hindsight I think we should probably have undone the ramining screw and stored the number plate for fixing later. The problem was that the Zimbabwe police set up regular checkpoints on the main roads (we had passed through four on our way from Harare, though we were always casually waved through). In the last years of Uncle Bob’s (Mugabe’s) rule the Zimbabwe police had a reputation for finding faults when it suited them and issuing dodgy on-the-spot fines. However, since Emmerson Mnangagwa came to power the police now only look for genuine faults and tax and insurance issues. We couldn’t help but think that no front number plate would be a notifiable fault, however.
We set off again, with Shereen Worth at the wheel. The road surface was dry, hard, and, as already stated, corrugated. Even at crawling pace the car vibrated, rattled and juddered like it was about to fall to pieces at any instance. We slowly increased out speed to 10km/h, by which time we were convinced that, regardless of what happened to the car, we ourselves would have no teeth left by the time we made it the the Mana Pools camp. We had heard that the 74km drive took about one and a half to two hours. At our current pace it was going to take us more than seven hours. We speeded up slightly and things just got worse. Even holding onto the steering wheel was difficult. After about twenty minutes of this we were overtaken by a car that seemed to be more dust cloud than metal, glass and rubber. And that, it turns out, is the secret to driving on corrugated roads. Speed. The first and second gates into Mana Pools are some 40km apart. We upped our speed to 40km/h and driving became easier (though not actually easy) and we started counting down the kilometers one by one.
Why would anyone corrugate a road, you ask. Apparently they don’t. According to an engineer we met during our stay the corrugations are a function of cars’ suspensions. The first car hits a small bump, the wheels rise up, the suspension smacks them back down again, and so on, and over time the corrugations just evolve. Then we found out that you should reduce tire pressure o 1,6 bar to reduce vibration.
We made it to the second gate, where we signed the book, showed our passes and then strolled around for a while while we tried to shake the shakes out of our jellified bones. One of the gate staff asked us if we would mind giving a lift to her boss, a lady called Mavis, who was heading for the Mana Pools main reception office. We were happy to oblige and set off again. Miraculously, we still had our front number plate as we set off.
Things were getting easier as our confidence grew. We were bombing along at a steady 40km/h, only slowing down for the narrow bridge crossing. Occasionally the road surface would change form corrugated hardpan to soft sand for a short stretch of a couple of hundred metres of so. When this happened the car would stop juddering, but now the rear wheels, instead of going roughly in the same direction as the front ones, would start swerving randomly from side to side. The first time this happened we were convinced we had a puncture. We pulled up and I got out and gave each of the tyres a good old-fashioned manly kick. No puncture. Another bullet dodged, so to speak. A little further along we had to pull up again, but this time because we encountered our first serious wildlife. A large bull elephant was slowly crossing the road ahead of us.
Not long after we were in Mana Pools proper. We dropped Mavis off, then headed the last 2km to Goliath Camp. We had navigated all the way from Harare using Google Maps in offline mode. It actually managed to take us to the entrance of the camp even though it didn’t know the names of half the places we passed through and designated all the tracks in the park as “Unknown Road”.
We drove into the camp and parked up. Nobody noticed our arrival, so we strolled over to the river bank, took a few deep breaths, and let our eyes remind us of what the world used to look like when it was still at its best. And we still had our front number plate.
Zimbabwe 2018 – Days 4,5,6,7,8,9 all at Goliath Camp in Mana Pools
Mana Pools is a World Heritage Site and National Park in the north of Zimbabwe. It is about one third the size of Wales (standard unit of measure). It sits between the Zambezi Escarpment in the south and the Zambezi River in the north, with the latter also acting as the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. It is completely unfenced, inside and out, and a vast area around it is also largely protected and animals freely move across the entire area.
It is hard to describe why Mana Pools is so special. On our first visit to East Africa we went to Selous National Park in Tanzania and had a wonderful time. We loved it. But on our first visit to Mana Pools last year we saw things differently – you could say our eyes were opened. You feel like you’ve escaped into something more fundamentally real than anything you’ve experienced before. And fundamental is the right word. In Mana you feel like you’ve stepped into a demi-Eden – the kind of place where it all began. It is both thrilling and, at the same time, profoundly calming. It is also, of course, very beautiful albeit not without genuine danger. And it changes you.
There are no mass migrations at Mana, nor are there great open plains or vast herds of animals. However, the wildlife is both rich and prolific and includes many species that are rare and getting rarer, such as the painted wolves (aka African Wild Dogs) and Lilians Lovebirds. But Mana is primarily about walking unfettered among the wildlife. It is one of the very few places left in the world where anyone can walk unguided and without restriction in a wilderness with lions, rhino, leopards, elephants, buffalo, etc. The rules are simple: leave only your footprints behind and don’t get killed. Of course, most people find a guide who knows and understands the place. But not everyone – while we were there a 78-year-old English woman hitch-hiked her way from Harare with a rucksack and a tent which she then pitched in one of the basic campsites ($45 a day).
For the second year running we stayed in Goliath Camp on the banks of the Zambezi. This is run by the legendary (he truly is) Stretch Ferreira. I can’t really say any more about Stretch. Shereen came across him when we were thinking of going back to Africa after our first visit in Tanzania. With Stretch it is all about the animals. The camp itself is comfortable, consisting of seven large tents, each with an outside loo and shower. There is a communal area on the river bank where you have breakfast, lunch, and where you chill out for a couple of hours in the high afternoon. There is no telephone, tv or internet access.
A Day in the Life: They rouse you around 04:45 in the morning. It is still pitch dark and the generator doesn’t get turned on until midday so you fumble yourself dressed by torchlight. Drums (i.e. food ready) at 05:00 – coffee, tea and energy biscuits are available, as is a pot of hot porridge over a small smokey wood fire. You have about half an hour to get yourself sorted. As the first pale hint of dawn begins to lighten the sky you get ready for the first trek of the day. You head out in a 4×4 vehicle with Stretch at the wheel as he slowly scans the ground for tracks that animals have left overnight. When he finds something that interests him, you get out and start following him on foot. These walks can last several hours. At about 09:30 someone from the camp will meet us at a prearranged location with a bush breakfast (tea, coffee, scrambled egg toasties and some cake or biscuits). What happens next depends on what Stretch has found so far. Generally we spend the next 2 or so hours in a mix of driving and walking. We return to the camp between 11:30 and midday as the sun and heat peak. A chance for a bit of a freshen up. Drums around one o’clock – i.e. lunch. Then we amuse ourselves (rest and snooze, and maybe read or chat to others) until drums for tea. Back out for a couple of hours more trekking. Then find somewhere on the banks of the Zambezi with hippos or elephants or buffalo, etc for sundowners and to watch the sun set as it turns the sky and flowing river deep shades of red. Then a dark drive (no car headlights) back to camp. The generator is running so we can now recharge our camera batteries and any of the few modern gadgets that make sense out here. Into the tent for a shower and to change into long sleeves and long trousers before drums and supper (maybe fresh bream from the river, or a traditional South African braai/barbeque). A glass or two of wine and then straight to bed by nine o’clock, wgich is when the generator goes off. But make sure you have enough water to last through the night as it is genuinely dangerous to wander through the camp after dark.
IMPORTANT: watch out for The Painted Wolves program in the new six part David Attenborough series “Dynasties” which was filmed over the course of two years in Mana Pools and which will air over the next six weeks. Painted Wolves are now seriously endangered – there are at least twice as many Blue Whales as there are Painted Wolves. https://paintedwolf.org/.
Manapools.com is pleased to announce the launch of our new Equipped Vehicle Rental joint venture with Zimbabwe Car Hire. Backed by Zimbabwe Car Hire’s fleet of Toyota Prado and Pajero vehicles and Manapools.com’s equipment and know-how. This is a first for Zimbabwe that allows you to fly into Harare, collect a fully equipped vehicle and self-drive Mana Pools, Kariba, Kariba Ferry, Victoria Falls, Hwange, Matopos and Gonarezhou. With competitive rates and top-spec equipment, your next Zim Self-Drive Safari is safe in our hands. Manapools.com can also help with Zimparks Bookings, catering and Harare Accommodation at Sunbird Guest House. Now is the time to contact us for a quote.
Just got back from 4 glorious days in the valley between Christmas and new year at RIFA camp just upstream from Chirundu. We had 92mm of rain the day we arrived and the second half of our party arriving the next day had to leave their car at Jecha point and get ferried to Rifa by Nick and Iona who run Jecha Point. This was all arranged in typical Zim fashion at short notice and without any hastle . Solid bunch of people.
Many people shy away from the valley in the rainy season and I must admit we didn’t see much game as it had dispersed inland with all the rain. As always, though, the Valley surprised us and the lack of game made it safer for our party which included the young at heart as well as the just plain young to dispense with shoes and wallow in glorious mud. The morning after the big rains found the RIFA hot springs flooded with brown water at just a safe enough depth to exclude crocs. This gave us 100m of muddy supertube and hours of fun were had running upstream and then drifting back down in the stream down in various creative ways.
We heard lions every night and in the mornings, the kids planted their bare footprints over lion spoor that had been left only a few hours before. A solitary Hyena snuck into camp in the dead of one night and Hooped once loudly before sneaking off again. The seasonal lack of big game made us look carefully at the flowers and small things. We saw many beautiful bush plants and flowers that appear to be just dry sticks in August. We located a black Arum lily plant and observed Mopane bees in their hives. The macro lens came out for the velvet mites but the pic of a tiny pipistrelle bat on a mopane leaf was captured best by the cellphone camera!
All it all, much fun was had in the mud for the team who’s ages spanned 7 to 70. Thanks Zambezi, you did it again, walking in the valley always throws up surprises
Zimparks have opened their 2 Makuti hunting camps for use by the general public outside of the winter hunting season. These camps are permanent tented sites situated 2-3km of the Great North Road near the Kariba/Chirundu turnoff. Each tent sleeps 2 and rents for usd100 per night. The Rate includes a chef but not food, which you have to book yourself. A great option for those who leave Harare late and are scared of missing the Marongora check-in time for Mana, just overnight at Makuti in the escarpment bush and drive through in the morning. It is advised that you book ahead through Zimparks reservations and remember these sites are not available in hunting season (winter).
What do I need to bring? This is a common question I get asked by people about to visit Mana for the first time. Mana is off the beaten track and even those with experience in self-driving the well-beaten tracks of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia will find that Mana is more remote and requires more planning ahead, there is no shop or garage down the road. But hey, that’s one of the things that makes Mana so special and a treat for those who are prepared to go the extra mile.
Our website contains some useful downloadable PDF checklists that can help you make sure you have everything you neeed:
Remember, the Zambezi Valley is a Malaria area and you will need to consult your doctor about prophylactics before your visit. We suggest you bring mosquito repellant as well as light, long-sleaved shirts and trousers with closed shoes and socks to keep mosquitoes at bay in the evening (mozzies love ankle flesh!).
The African sun is also often underestimated by visitors. From our ai-conditioned offices, we forget how burnt you can get from a day in the sun. Wide-brimmed hats and lots of suntan lotion are a must. I often find a light long-sleaved collared shirt of the type worn by test cricketers is very effective against the sun.
Other items to remember include fishing kit and bait, binoculars and camera kit. Hope this helps you ensure you have all bases covered.
Police roadblocks are pretty common in Zimbabwe at the moment and can make road-tripping a time-consuming experience. It appears to me that some people suffer more than their fair share whilst others manage to dance through roadblocks most of the time without too much hastle. It got me thinking if some of this might not be related to different strategic approaches to ZRP roadblocks. I have never had much problems with them myself, so here are some strategies that I reckon may have helped me. They might be worth a try (if nothing else they are games you can play in your own mind):
Get in the right head space…. sounds a bit Zen but you are on holiday now, try see the journey as part of the holiday. Somehow the ZRP can sense if you are in a hurry or stressed. My rule is, as I cross Beitbridge, I switch to Africa time and try adjust my mindset accordingly. Best do it quickly because within 2km you will find your first roadblock.
Obey the laws….our website outlines the requirements in terms of paperwork and equipment, make sure you have everything and it is accessible. Observe and obey speed limits and the rules of the road.
Time your approach speed…. slow enough to be respectful, but fast enough to appear self-assured and preferably just fast enough to be difficult to stop. The optimum approach speed is difficult to judge but about 40km/h is generally about right. Often you will be waved through because you are halfway through anyway!
When you do get stopped:
Own the conversation….most Southern African languages have a greeting ritual of question and response, you can use this to your advantage. Stop the car, turn down the radio, wind down the window and greet the policeman first with a cheery but respectfull “Good morning officer”. You have started the conversation politely and now the obligation is on them to respond to your greeting. When he/she does, ask another question, any question will do, I usually go with “Is this the right road to Cairo?”, this usually brings some humor to the situation and he will explain that you may be a little off track. Keep asking questions, “how far is Karoi”, “what condition is the road?” “hows the rainy season been?” . Nine times out of ten the whole thing degenerates into a friendly conversation and they will wave you off with a smile – it would be rude to end it any other way.
If the worst comes to the worst and you do end up being asked for a bribe, try play dumb and ignore the hints and keep chatting around the issue until they realise that you have plenty of time to talk and the y will invariably wave you on your way eventally.
Zimparks tariffs can be hard to work out remotely, we have compiled a summary of Zimparks tarifs to help you with estimating costs for your self-drive trip. Manapools.com are not travel agents and cannot book on your behalf, however, we can help chase up your enquiry in person and collect/courier permits for you. Please note that as of 1 Jan 2018, Zimparks has done away with the discount previously offered to SADCC residents and reverted to a 2-tier pricing model foreign vs Local residents.