“Safari in Africa is something I’ve always wanted to do ever since I was young, so going out in the jeeps for the first time was incredibly exciting. It was hard to know what to expect, but the overwhelming feeling I had was how friendly the people are. They want to welcome you, they’re so happy that you want to visit their country. And of course the wildlife is amazing. I visited when the water levels are particularly low, so all the animals congregate around the waterholes. There are giraffe, zebra, lions, but in Zimbabwe the big thing is the elephants; they’re everywhere, so you go two minutes out of camp and it’s almost as though they’re waiting for you! There’s definitely a different feeling looking at animals in a zoo compared to watching them in the wild. Just witnessing them living their lives and behaving as they do naturally, without being behind bars. That’s a really thrilling experience.
We spent our first couple of nights in Gonarezhou National Park; the second biggest national park in Zimbabwe, it’s still very wild and unspoilt. Here the animals aren’t used to people, so if you get too close to them there’s always the possibility that they will chase you – it’s a bit scary at the time but exhilarating to get so close to something so wild. Plus you always feel safe with the guides and rangers – with twenty or thirty years of experience, they’re so good at what they do. They spend all their time out on the plains with the animals, so you can’t help but feel at ease when they’re around. Gonarezhou also has a huge range of varying scenery – we had breakfast at the top of some sheer cliffs one morning, and just sat and watched the world go by below. You can see elephants meandering across the woodlands at the foot of the cliffs – it’s an amazing feeling.
One of the things I was surprised about was how much I enjoyed going out on a canoe on the Zambezi River. When you think about safari in Africa, you naturally think of the jeeps, but canoeing on the river was actually one of the highlights for me. It’s a great way to experience the landscape at a really relaxed pace. You have to watch out for hippo, of course!
Another thing I really loved was the sundowner experience – after a day out exploring, you unwind by the waterhole with a cold drink as the last of the sun’s rays light up the sky with deep, vibrant purples, reds and oranges; the colours are just unbelievable. It’s nothing like a sunset in England, where there might be houses or buildings in the way. Especially in Hwange National Park – it’s so open, with just the odd tree here and there, and hundreds of elephants, so watching the sun set over that kind of landscape is just awe-inspiring.
And then once the sun is down, the stars come out – there’s no light pollution so they’re exceptionally clear. The guide points out the constellations and you realise just how many stars we aren’t able to see over here. The nighttime in general is an experience all of its own; the animals all walk through the camp at night and you can hear them through the canvas walls of your tent. On my first night there was an elephant just behind my tent, which was unnerving at first but the thought of being so close to such a truly wild animal is quite incredible.
I fell in love with safari in Zimbabwe; I could quite happily do the whole holiday to Africa again from start to finish, it was just spectacular. For me it couldn’t have been better.”