Thanks to Dick and Sally Pitman from Zim4x4 for this detailed account of what’s available in Chirundu for self drive tourists. Chirundu is only 355 km from Harare, although the road requires caution and certainly should not be driven in the dark. Chirundu is a fisherman’s paradise, but also offers excellent birding and wildlife. The Zambezi Valley never fails to invigorate your soul with its remote beauty, and more often than not, has a few surprises in store to keep you coming back…
Nyamuomba has both chalet and campsite accommodation and, although there is wildlife in the area, it is primarily geared to angling, mainly for tigerfish. Downstream, the habitation on the Zambian bank can be uncomfortably intrusive at times. Upstream, though, lies the 20km Kariba gorge, for which there can be only one word: spectacular. We were lucky enough to be offered a ride on one of the camps fast fishing pontoons, all the way upstream more or less to the foot of the Kariba dam wall, where I simply had to have Sally photograph me casting a tiger spinner (although I didn’t catch one there, but had more luck a few kilometres further down the gorge). Believe me, you really do need to do this gorge trip, although we’d strongly advise you to use the camp’s boat and skipper, even if you have your own boat, as some sections can be tricky and need local knowledge; the water is fast-flowing and rock-strewn in places.
The 46km access road is also fascinating. It turns off the main Harare-Chirundu tar about 0.5km short of the Marongora Parks Authority station (where you must check in anyway) and uses the old single-track Chirundu tar for the first 9km or so before turning into an easily-negotiable bush track with a number of riverbed crossings along the way. The total distance to the camp from Marongora is 46km, and we had the best wildlife sightings of our visit along the way.
Note, however, that – although there is a so-called ‘river road’ eastwards out of the camp – we had to backtrack the Marongora road to get out again; the river road traverses a famously tetchy hunting concession (which, incidentally, also seems to have opened a self-catering fishing camp; we’ll try to report on it in future, if they’ll let us in!)
Further downstream, we looked in on three more facilities, all within 5km of Chirundu itself, and therefore in easy reach for people entering or leaving) Zimbabwe via the Chirundu border post. Chirundu, incidentally, is a world-class dump, but at least it’s a reasonably well-confined dump and – all things considered – the nearby visitor facilities are remarkably pleasant.
Tiger Safaris, which lies almost in the shadow of Chirundu Bridge, is long-established and already quite well-known to regular travellers on this route. It offers the usual boat hire facilities (skippered only – no self-drive) and has pleasant chalets and self-catering campsite. Meanwhile, 3km downstream of Chirundu (but a little further by road) Jecha Point has opened up as a specialised fly-fishing camp, guided by Zimbabwean fly-fishing fundi Danie Coetzee. Jecha Point offers fully-catered chalet accommodation, and also has a self-catering campsite.
There are several other fishing camps between Chirundu and the Mana Pools boundary; we haven’t visited them for some years, but hope to do so in the near future, and will report as and when. Meanwhile, though, our own hearts lie in a little-known facility some 4km upstream of Chirundu. It’s not right on the Zambezi, but lies some 800m south of the river, overlooking a lovely little Mana-like floodplain. Tourism isn’t even its main business. It’s called Rifa Camp, it’s run by the Zimbabwe Hunters Association, and its overriding goal is holding week-long wilderness courses for Zimbabwean schoolchildren. And it does a very fine job of it, too.
In between, it can sometimes offer some limited accommodation to members of the public. They have a little cottage, ideal for up to four people; it’s very basic and rustic; but it has all the essentials, including fridge, deep freeze, stove, utensils, and comfortable beds. You will need to take your own bedding, toilet rolls, and washing-up liquid &c. It’s managed by Dave Winhall and Elspeth Baillie, both of whom have guiding qualifications, and who are two of the most interesting and knowledgeable people in the Zambezi Valley.
We know this, because we’ve just spent a week there with Dave and Elspeth, and had a magical time (as always, because we’ve done it before). It was like having our own private wildlife concession, with beautiful Zambezi sunsets thrown in. And it certainly isn’t expensive. All in all, I think it’s best described as a “wilderness connoisseur’s camp”. There’s wildlife, especially in the dry season – not at Mana Pools densities, maybe, but we sighted a group of 25 elephant cows, which is not an everyday thing even at Mana. Lions are regularly seen. A few hours before we arrived – a masterpiece of mis-timing – Elspeth saw four wild dog moving through the camp. And the birding was excellent.
Sally and Dick Pitman