Expedition Zimbabwe: unlocking an overlanding hotspot

Natural beauty, untouched wilderness and unlimited adventure – that’s what Zimbabwe promises overlanders. But in recent times the country has fallen off the traveller map. Now three adventurers are tackling an epic 4×4 trip to show others where to find the best experiences. Expedition Zimbabwe is a circuit of the country’s iconic wilderness areas – and you’re invited.

Mana Pools. Lake Kariba. Hwange. Just the mention of these names is enough to spark wanderlust in the heart of any overlander. But for far too long, Zimbabwe didn’t top many bucket lists. Some self-drivers find the idea of exploring Zimbabwe a bit daunting. Others don’t know just how much there is to see. That is set to change with Expedition Zimbabwe, a 5,000km overlanding adventure that will culminate in a captivating documentary.

Zimbabwe is home to spectacular natural heritage, like Victoria Falls. The expedition plans to bring lesser-known gems to the light.

Departing on 12 August, three adventurous Zimbabweans will take the road less travelled to unearth the top experiences. They will explore some of Zimbabwe’s wildest and most remote destinations, taking in all the national parks. Their goal is to show other overlanders what immense natural splendour, rugged wildness and fascinating culture there is to enjoy. Along the way, they will also gather vital traveller information so other overlanders can follow in their tracks.

Making up the Expedition Zimbabwe team are Graeme Sharp, Buck O’Donoghue and Joanna Craig. The first Zimbabwean to finish the Dakar Rally on a motorbike, Graeme is also the founder of Overland Adventure Consultants. Photographer Buck and writer Jo are the filmmakers of the award-winning documentary Gonarezhou, Return of the Rhino. Between the three of them, they combine overlanding ability, wilderness insight and the joy of storytelling. You couldn’t ask for better guides to Zimbabwe.

Graeme Sharp prepared for the Dakar Rally in remote parts of Zimbabwe. He’s looking forward to more time off the beaten track.

Tracks4Africa asked Graeme to tell us more about the expedition.

What is the inspiration for Expedition Zimbabwe?

Firstly, we hope to get a clearer picture of what Zimbabwe holds for the 4×4 purist, explorer and adventurer. I believe the country has all the key ingredients for a real overlanding adventure. Our aim is to put Zimbabwe back on the map as a safe, diverse and must-see destination.

Secondly, we plan to build on a tourism effort led by the Zimbabwe Professional Guides Association. Their goal is to facilitate an easier and more accessible visitor experience for self-drivers. This involves public and private sector initiatives to streamline border formalities, roadblock and toll clearances, fuel access, and medical and evacuation support. Part of this is an updated accommodation register specifically suited to self-drive adventurers. We hope to release more info on this in the coming months.

Camping in Mana Pools National Park should be on the bucket list of every overlander.

Finally, after the pandemic, many people have re-evaluated what’s important in their lives. Our view of freedom, connection, wilderness and adventure has been challenged. So there is certainly an element of connection and re-evaluation for the expedition team. We’ll be doing something we love in our own country, which we haven’t had the freedom to explore for some time.

How will Expedition Zimbabwe be collaborating with Tracks4Africa?

Over the years, we have found that there aren’t sufficiently frequent and reliable updates on road and travel conditions for Zimbabwe. Countries like Botswana, Namibia and South Africa enjoy considerably more detailed info. This is largely due to a combination of comparatively fewer visitors and limited amounts of local knowledge making its way back to the Tracks4Africa database.

So we have teamed up with Tracks4Africa to assist in capturing updated travel information within Zimbabwe. We will look at road and route conditions, accommodation, driving time and other key info. Essentially whatever helps inform safe and enjoyable travel through Zimbabwe for the self-drive 4×4 enthusiast. There is going to be a particular focus on the national parks, wilderness areas and other tourist attractions.

What are the options for crossing Lake Kariba? This is the type of traveller information the team will record.

[For overlanders this wealth of travel data means that a dedicated Tracks4Africa Zimbabwe paper map and guide book are in the pipeline. We’ll keep you posted here!]

What does your route entail?

The plan is for Expedition Zimbabwe to kick off in Kariba before heading west through the Matusadona and Chizarira national parks. Then a visit to Victoria Falls is on the cards. The first leg will also include Zambezi and Hwange national parks. After travelling to Kazuma Pan, the expedition will head to Matobo, Tuli and Great Zimbabwe. The southernmost stop will be Gonarezhou National Park. The expedition will then explore the Eastern highlands of Chimanimani, Bvumba and Nyanga. The last stretch will cover Chewore and Sapi, before finishing up at Mana Pools.

Expedition Zimbabwe will visit the country’s iconic game parks like Hwange, where elephants abound, as well as wilderness areas where fewer tourists venture.

For the most part, the route we have chosen is a guideline. From previous experience, gained during my long-distance Dakar training in northern Zimbabwe, nothing is set in stone. It’s safe to say that a route on paper differs significantly from a route on the ground. There are cases where bridges may have been washed away and roads overgrown. So there is a big element of the unknown and there will certainly be ample adventure and discovery along the way. Because the navigation and road conditions are more uncertain, we will need to allow for detouring and route adjustments. But that is what this trip is all about: taking the road less travelled.

Also read: 10 reasons to self-drive Zimbabwe

What are your hopes for the trip?

Our goal is to travel as organically as possible with no prescribed itinerary in terms of date. Trips of this magnitude through remote areas need to unfold naturally at their own pace. A calm, cool-headed approach to each kilometre will enable a natural immersion into the journey. We have an opportunity to capture the true rhythm of Africa out there and share this as we go along. We want to highlight key personalities, cultures and attractions along the way in a unique ‘over the bonnet style’ documentary.

Read more: Get to know the team behind Expedition Zimbabwe.

Trip reports from Expedition Zimbabwe

Matusadona National Park

Chizarira National Park, Chete Safari Area and Maabwe Bay

Kazuma Pan and Hwange National Parks

Matobo National Park and Tuli Circle

Gonarezhou National Park

6 thoughts on “Expedition Zimbabwe: unlocking an overlanding hotspot”

  1. Will you bring out a book on Zimbabwe? – similar to the Botswana one which is a great guide

    1. Great to have your feedback, Hennie. The good news is that we are already working on a guide book for Zimbabwe. In the past few months, members of the Tracks4Africa team have undertaken three research trips to the country. Subscribe to the Tracks4Africa newsletter and follow us on social media to stay up to date with developments.

  2. Good luck with the trip and look forward to reading the report. We have recently returned from a 3 month trip to Zim ( Feb to April 2022), and can say that it was great experience with no issues other than the expected odd mechanical problem – no fault of the vehicle. We hired a fitted out Hilux in Kasane, Botswana, crossed over into Zim at Kazangula and then did Vic Falls ( including the park there ), Hwange, Matobo, Harare, Nyanga, Chimanimani, Gona re Zhou, finishing off via Karoi along the bottom of Lake Kariba through Matusadona, Chisarira and out at Binga. So a similar trip.Tracks4Africa worked well throughout.

  3. Have just been to Kariba and Mana Pools. Tracks4africa provided faultless guidance. The border crossing at Plumtree took only one hour, the police roadblocks waved us through and in general the Zimbabwean friendliness was present everywhere. Diesel cost us US$ 1.80/litre and the many road toll stations charge US$ 2.00 about every 150 km. Mana Pools was surprisingly busy, the Zambezi River flowed strongly but the park itself was very dry and dusty. We had good sightings of Wild Dogs, Buffaloes, Lions and Elephants (in the camp). What is of concern is that so many mature trees are dying and there seems to be no replacement. Kariba is a typical little holiday resort with too many houseboats lying idle. Jurgen

  4. Guys you should try and visit Kapula camp at Masuma dam in Hwange, small self catering camp in one of Hwange best game area

  5. I’m more intrigued by this article, as a former Boat Captain on Lake Kariba, this is a dream come true to the 4×4 lovers. We used to host these guys on the Lake from the roaring mighty Zambezi – from DEKA Drum to Mlibizi, where you can jump onto the Kariba Ferry. A chance to enjoy the cruise up to Lake Kariba then enjoy your trip. Driving on the Zambezi catchment area, what an adventure! Wish tourism can be revived, thanks for the team. I’m looking forward to enjoying tiger fishing again, from the fierce fast water experience to the lazy but formidable experience of the Sengwe mouth to Chete island. (comment edited for clarity)

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