Why I'm wild about Zimbabwe          - 16/11/2016      <--Prev : Next-->

The regime is gruesome but this is a beautiful country and you should go.

Zimbabwe has a terrible reputation, and for excellent reasons.

The economy is in free fall, there is mass unemployment and every reason to fear for the future.
So it is understandable that few British people choose to go on holiday to this former British colony. But they are making a terrible mistake.

Whatever its political problems, Zimbabwe is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and its people the kindest and most welcoming.
My family and I first travelled here on holiday five years ago, when we went on an unforgettable safari and visited the breathtaking Victoria Falls.
Ever since, we have hankered to return. So this summer, my wife and four of our children flew via Johannesburg into Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city, where we stayed in Hornung Park Lodge, run by Fredi and Rita Ruf, an Austrian couple.

It's the ideal place to relax after a long overnight flight. They gave us their usual warm welcome and we spent two days exploring the old town of Bulawayo with its boulevards that are wide enough for oxcarts to turn round in.
After a couple of days, we travelled south towards the Matobo National Park, a mountain wilderness which has spectacular rock formations.
These rocks look as if they have been expertly and precisely placed by an artistic genius, but in fact they are all the work of nature. Some of the formations reminded us of the work of the sculptor Henry Moore.

The area is sacred to the local Ndebele people, and Cecil Rhodes, the controversial Englishman who founded Rhodesia (Zimbabwe's name before independence), is buried on the top of one of these hills, with the most wonderful panorama around him. It's called World's View, and is simply magnificent.
After visiting Rhodes' grave, we travelled to the nearby Camp Amalinda, which is built right into the rocks. There was even an ancient cave painting on one of our bedroom walls. We felt comfortable and, at the same time, close to nature.

Our guide, Kevin, took us to the National Park. His knowledge of local animals and birds was encyclopaedic.
As we drove slowly along, he pointed out a white-browed sparrow-weaver, a red-wing starling, the lilac-breasted roller (our favourite), two black eagles, the southern yellow-billed hornbill, the 'go-away' bird, the magpie shrike, the African grey-billed hornbill, the wattled lapwing and some lappet-faced vultures.

It was magical. We also spot a rock dassie (a sort of rodent), a klipspringer, (a kind of antelope) and some beautiful impala bouncing away through the bush as if they had springs on their heels.

One morning, Kevin took us with a tracker through the bush in search of white rhino. Eventually we found some and, approaching them carefully, we were able to get within 10ft and watched them eating, lying down, getting up.
We were quite scared when they all lined up facing us, looking as though they were about to charge. It was a huge privilege to be so close to them.

The following day, we scrambled miles through the bush to visit a cave with paintings on the rocks made by bushmen many thousands of years ago.

In the evening, we ate at a communal table and made friends with many of the guests. None of them was British, though many had come from South Africa.
One, Ros, turned out to be a professional hairdresser and beautician. Following pleas from all my family to tidy me up, she gave me a free haircut.
In the mornings, we swam in a beautiful, but very cold, infinity pool. Camp Amalinda was a wonderful place and we wished we could have stayed longer.
We then drove right across Zimbabwe, a huge 12-hour journey, to reach the Eastern Highlands on the Mozambique border. There we stayed at Leopard Rock, a large colonial-style hotel with roaring fires in every room, this superbly run establishment reminded me of the setting for many an Agatha Christie novel.
In the evening, we would walk out to a viewing point in the bush to watch zebra, impala and ostrich having their evening meal. We went on fabulous walks to the peak of Chinyakwaremba Rock, from where we had amazing views across to Mozambique.

Best if all, from my 25-year-old son William's point of view, there was a superb golf course, wonderfully maintained and also with glorious views. We felt we could have stayed at Leopard Rock for ever, and felt sad to leave and travel to Harare, then home after an utterly remarkable holiday.
However, it would be idle to pretend there were no problems. There are many potholes on the roads, which means it is dangerous to drive fast. There are constant checkpoints and the police inspect your car and will fine you $20 for the most minor infraction.
In several cases, they claimed that we had faults which did not exist at all. This creates a dilemma. Do you stay and argue it out with the policeman, a process which can take several hours, or do you pay your fine and get on with your journey
Do you stay and argue it out with the policeman, a process which can take several hours, or do you pay your fine and get on with your journey
During one incident, I was all for giving in and paying the fine but my 29-year-old barrister daughter was determined for us to stand our ground.
After about 30 minutes of heated debate, during which we tried to persuade them the fine they were proposing wasn't valid in law, they withdrew it.
Some people worry whether you are supporting the corrupt regime of Robert Mugabe by going on holiday to Zimbabwe. I don't think so.
Looked at from a different prospective, you are helping the hard-pressed local people by bringing them your business. We hope to return again and again.