Zimbabwe & South Africa: Rovos Rail & Safari

Tim & Caroline DeGavre

06 Mar 2017

Discovering Zimbabwe and south Africa

I must say it has been a great joy to go back over those halcyon 18 days and relive the fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime adventures we experienced, ones that exceeded expectations.

Victoria Falls

Our arrival at the airport was our first contact with the folks you engaged to look after us. Every single one of them at every place we needed transportation, without exception, was waiting for us, with signs, smartly dressed, courteous, with a clean car — just very professional. It was a great comfort to us to know that we were not adrift in a foreign land, but looked after. Top marks.

The hotel at Victoria Falls was a real treat. The room we were assigned could not have been better nor more comfortable. At the top of a circular staircase decorated with heads and horns of a multitude of animals, it overlooked the gardens and park with its warthogs and baboons running around.  Every modern convenience was there, all set in a hotel that transported us back to the early 1900’s.  

The Falls were at their low volume which meant we could get quite close without getting soaked.

Great meals, with one being a coat and tie occasion (not too impressed with that; we could have passed that one by).

Very efficient system of notifying us of changes to our itinerary which you had to do (something about a change in our next stop.)

We did sign up for a river sunset cruise (not through the hotel which would have charged us twice what we paid). Spectacular!

Zambezi River Camp

This was to be our first safari camp, but as luck would have it, the camp was being renovated so you lined us up with a neighbouring camp, the Zambezi River Camp. No way that Pioneer could have matched this one!

What an introduction to a safari in Zimbabwe. We could not believe the accommodation with its spacious rooms, luxurious netting-covered bed, outdoor shower, plunge pool… We were roughing it in the bush???

The guides were so friendly and really did all they could to find animals. We knew animals were there by the profusion of their droppings but they were still hard to find.

Not much luck, but we learned so much about the trees…and birds…and did meet up with a couple of “Rangers” trying to catch poachers. That was interesting and it gave us an appreciation for the impossible task they had been assigned.

We had our first taste of Kudu for dinner. Wow! Could have had that every night.

The canoe trip down the Zambezi was exhilarating as we went over a few rapids and as the guides scared the hell out of us with warnings about hippos coming up under us and flipping the canoes over. If they did, we were to swim ashore where the crocs were waiting.

Luckily, the only thing waiting ashore for us was a tall glass of gin and tonic. We had seconds.

Rovos Train

Now we were really sent back a few decades to when life was really opulent and people travelled in style. Our cabin was very well appointed and cared for by an attentive steward.

Our only fuss was that instead of the sleep-inducing clickerty-clack of the rails, we were kept awake with the loud noise off the coupling just outside our cabin that joined our car with the next one. The steward did bring us ear plugs which were of some help.

All of which we forgot about when we sat in the drinks car at the back of the train and when we sat down for those incredible meals so professionally served.

During the day, it was fascinating to watch the countryside and the people passing by; children lining the rails as we travelled through villages.

Some passengers knew about this, and had planned ahead so they were able to throw candies and goodies to the youngsters. Great joy.

The Courtyard Arcadia Hotel

Such a friendly staff working in a classic hotel where I fully expected Stanley or Livingstone to come up and greet us.

The staff arranged to take me to a mall to get a camera battery without which there would have be no further photos — a disaster. That was really special, as was the breakfast, probably the best of the trip.

As were the drinks we enjoyed in the overstuffed chairs in the library.

Timbavetti and the Zambaku River Camp

Yet another incredible camp! Where do you find them?

Amazing accommodation — and we had kudu again.

We were the last group to stay before they do a major remodelling of the main eating/drinking/meeting area; why, I have no idea. It all looks fabulous, especially the bar with its iron wood posts and braces.

We lucked out with our fellow ‘safarites’ — great companions who were fun to be with. Guides, as usual, were knowledgeable and outgoing — and found us a few animals! And we could go “off-road” to get up close and personal.

We did enjoy the stops in the evening when goodies and drinks were offered as the sun was setting. Super memories.

Rhino Post Safari Lodge, Kruger National Park

Our amazing cabin overlooked a dry river bed where the owners had constructed a large concrete watering hole; certainly was a great draw for the thirsty elephants.

It was disappointing not to be able to just chase off into the bush when an animal was spotted, but Kruger's rules prevail and all cars stay on the roads. This, unfortunately, causes ‘Lion Jams’ where cars back up and clog the roads as tourists try to stick their cameras right in a lion’s face. (As I did. Shame).

Evening drives were better; it seems that most of the tourists disappeared as the sun started to set.

More great food; more super companions. And more animals — even meeting up with several lions one evening…

Plain’s Camp

Now this is what safaris are really about! Sleeping in a tent, walking out among the wild beasts, wonderful meals… What a way to bring our trip to an end. How clever of you!

The hike out to the Sleep Out, where there would be a raised platform with tents and a floor mattress, was quite an adrenaline rush since Cape buffalo and rhinos were seen lurking in the bushes not far from where we were walking.

We were assured that if they charged, we should just stand still and they would stop. Sure. Our leader, in twelve years of leading these walks, had to shoot only five that would not stop. We were not looking for #6; neither was he — too much paperwork.

After a couple of hours, we arrived at the Sleep Out. 

Very Out Of Africa-ish, but a wee bit disappointing in that the promised plethora of animals at the waterhole did not appear — there was no water in the hole. Dinner cooked over coals complemented the atmosphere of being out in the bush.

We had carried along a fine bottle of Amarula which was dispatched before turning in.

I am sure we heard lions roaring in the distance; what a sound.

Back at Plain's Camp, we were lucky enough to experience a huge thunderstorm that swept suddenly across the open field at dark. Never heard such sounds nor seen such brilliant flashes of lightning. How the tent withstood that onslaught, I’ll never understand. 

A perfect conclusion to our African Adventure.


The next morning, it was a sad journey to the airport and home.

Everything worked like a precision operation — on time, on schedule, no hassles, seamless transfers. We could have asked for nothing more. Everything was taken care of by our hosts, guides, drivers, attendants.

Even the animals cooperated. Many tourists are fortunate to see three or four of the Big Five; we saw all of them several times, sometimes up close and often too close.

Many, many thanks!
Tim and Caroline 

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