The difference is noted even before you arrive to camp. A “Sundowner” shelter, hard by the bumpy airstrip, welcomes newcomers to Linkwasha, and three other Wilderness Safari Camps in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, with bowls of hand-made potato chips, wine, beer, hard and soft-drinks. You haven’t even seen one animal yet, but you’re now aware that this is service above and beyond. And the best is yet to come.
It’s an hour ride from where the bush plane lands (50 minute flight from Victoria Falls) to Wilderness Safari’s newly renovated camp, Linkwasha, reopened in May ’15 to great fanfare and acclaim.
With all the qualities of a superb game drive, the hour flies by, with expert, engaging guides, like the smiley professional photographer, Sam, and the brilliantly eloquent ecologist, Robert, pontificating on a variety of animals doing a variety of things, and, if you’re lucky, an incredible sunset.
First Impressions of Linkwasha Camp
Linkwasha Camp is classified within Wilderness Safari Camps as a “Classic” camp, meaning a step below “Premier.” But if Seba Camp in the Okavango Delta is a Marriott, then Linkwasha is a Ritz Carltonized Kimpton Hotel – a funky fun, boutique, designed in the David Rockwell style of grays, earth tones, natural light and big picture windows. It’s stunning – and at just half a year old, already a hit with trendsetters, having garnered a place on several “Stay” Lists.
Experienced Wilderness Safari Camp guests know to expect iced washcloths (in hot summer), cool drinks and a warm welcome from the staff at arrival. This was no different, but the physical beauty of the camp awed us.
A lap pool, surrounded by upholstered chaise lounges on the gathering/eating deck, overlooks a watering hole several feet away, and glows with indigo-colored light at night. We were told that elephants drink from the pool, just be aware.
The “living room/bar” enclosure is an aesthetically pleasing assemblage of local arts and crafts and eye-catching furniture that would fit just right in a chic NYC hotel lobby. There’s a separate library tent and an enclosed dining structure in case it rains.
Rooms at Linkwasha Camp
Each “tent” is a canvas-walled loft-like cabin, with a wall of windows and glass doors that open on to a deck overlooking a sweep of plains, rain shower with a view (one wall is a window), shelves for clothing, cushy chairs, table, fans and an extravagant king-sized high-thread-count sheeted bed, encased in mosquito netting at turn-down. Bathroom is en-suite. The whole space is larger than many city apartments.
Guest cabins are quite a walk away from the main camp area, and after dark, guests must be escorted by a rifle-carrying guide (and then can’t come out again until morning). One night, a potentially aggressive male elephant “in musk” blocked our way, and so the guide had to back us up, put us in a vehicle, and drive us around the back way to get us safely to our rooms. That’s the bush.
Linkwasha’s main deck is the perfect perch from which to watch a Dung Beetle, the sacred Scarab of Ancient Egypt, bury his precious ball of elephant poop, which we did one evening before retiring to bed. Guides take great pleasure in showing guests both big and small creatures, and it’s satisfying sometimes to shrink attention down to nearly microscopic levels.
But of course, it’s the larger creatures that draw visitors to these African countries. And there is no shortage of those in Hwange National Park. Even before reaching the camp on our first day, we saw jackals, baboons with babies, and a collection of elephants beneath a large, clear rising moon.
There are two game drives per day: daybreak and sundown. You’ll be woken up at 5, scarf down a quick breakfast and be off at 6.
In the afternoon, after 3:30 tea, you’ll once again go out – stopping for a leg stretcher and drinks while watching the sun go down.
On our drives, we saw rainbow-colored birds, cheetah brothers (“excellent hunters”) chillin’ after a kill, zebras, giraffes, and Cape Buffalo.
At one point, we witnessed every kind of animal from buffalo to giraffes, sables to wildebeest (each female with one baby), warthogs and zebras in vast numbers, grazing on a large plain. The wide open area was so teeming with herds of a variety of animals, it looked absolutely biblical in the dwindling sunlight.
A good guide will find an unfolding story and stay for awhile to narrate. Our guides, Sam and Robert (on alternate days), were experts in this. A pride of lions had taken down a sable and one early morning we watched as 22 of them took turns eating. Male dominant first, females second, and offspring last. And then, we witnessed the casting out of a young male who, by age 2 had to find his own pride. This adolescent sulked off, walked within inches of our vehicle, looked back longingly, and then over the course of 45 minutes, tried to slink back to be with his siblings. As the mother of kids who recently began their own lives, I found this scene both heartbreaking and fascinating.
Linkwasha Camp offers a tour of a remote village of roughly 70 homesteads right outside Hwange National Park borders, which provides an intimate look at how people live in the bush and an opportunity for cultural exchange.
We met with the Headman, Johnson, who oversees this village and three others in the area (and reports to a regional Chief). Though villagers still farm with ox and plow and the settlement isn’t wired with electricity, one solar panel provides enough energy to charge batteries, which are used to power some lights and two computers in the village school.
The Headman’s homestead consists of houses for his extended family, a kitchen building, and a beautifully decorated dining hut fashioned from dead termite mound material. According to Johnson’s daughter in law, women visit other dining huts for decorating ideas much like people here consult lifestyle magazines. Building roofs are thatched with dense grass bound by tree limbs. The headman’s house is thatched, too, but more modern looking and landscaped like a patio home in Tucson.
We sat down with Johnson for a chat. We were stunned by how informed he was about world affairs (more so, I’d wager, than the average American), especially news from the USA. He conveyed his surprise that our country would be so open minded as to elect a Black president. He was a fan of Hillary Clinton, and he followed our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the “Arab refugees.”
You’ll want to bring US dollars if you sign up for this village tour – there’s plenty of shopping to be done at the Market, where a dozen or so merchants sell beautifully carved bowls, figures, salad spoons, textiles, bags and jewelry – all laid out on the ground. Village income from selling these goods can mean the difference between eating and going without food, especially in this drought year when crops are scarce, so it’s imperative for visitors to support them (and come home with incredible souvenirs, a win-win).
Just the Facts
Rates for Linkwasha Camp are all inclusive with all meals, local wines, laundry, two game viewing drives per day and accommodations included. It will cost you from $550 per person per night in “rainy season,” to $950 per person per night in dry season (June-October). End of December through beginning of Jan is around $570 per person per night.
To get the most out of a Photo Safari trip to Southern Africa, have an expert tour company, like Love For Africa, make arrangements. Though Wilderness Safaris is one of the best companies in the region, there are other camps and activities to choose from, depending on your time and budget. Love For Africa, based in Victoria Falls and helmed by former Wilderness Safari Camp Guide and Manager, Blessing Munyenyiwa, who also has experience in the USA as guide for Disney Animal Kingdom and Director of Kid’s Programming on Disney Cruises, provides top notch expertise and service.