This spring, Expedition Zimbabwe is travelling around Zimbabwe to map its overlanding appeal. We meet the three adventurers exploring the country’s wild spaces and gathering info for Tracks4Africa. The Expedition Zimbabwe team share their camping background, expectations and hopes.
Departing on 12 August 2022, Expedition Zimbabwe is an initiative to unearth unforgettable overlanding experiences. Along the way, the Expedition Zimbabwe team will gather vital traveller information to contribute to the Tracks4Africa database. The trio behind the expedition – Graeme Sharp, Buck O’Donoghue and Joanna Craig – share their outlook.
What is your overlanding background?
Graeme: My parents were stationed in Gonarezhou National Park when I was born. So I spent the first six months of my life in an old camp cot under canvas. I’d go bouncing around the park in an old series 3 Land Rover while my father carried out his research duties. Ever since then, it’s been a passion.
Buck: I grew up on a game farm in Karoi (the final stop before Makuti, leading to Kariba in one direction and the Zambezi Valley in the other). I spent much of my childhood in the bush, camping. Every year my family would book out one of the hunting camp spots on the Zambezi River. We would spend three very happy weeks eating around campfires and sleeping in canvas tents. My dad was a keen bushman and absolutely passionate about birds of prey. I went all over the country with him, looking for specials and climbing trees to photograph eggs. I was one lucky boy.
Jo: Five years ago, Buck and I drove through Zambia and Malawi on a short wheelbase Land Rover. The vehicle had a top speed of 80km per hour on a downhill. It needed water poured over the engine to get started (it’s embarrassing how little we know about mechanics!). There were high moments, like Lavushi Manda, Likoma Island and Sampha. And some lows: a nine-hour lake crossing on a boat with double its max passengers, malaria… We were on the road for a month and the trip tested us in many ways. But it was epic! I can’t wait to spend even longer – with all the highs and lows – travelling around Zimbabwe.
What motivated you to take on this expedition?
Graeme: A desire to explore parts of Zimbabwe I haven’t visited before or in a very long time. I want to explore in detail areas that have been neglected and forgotten by the tourism industry for various reasons.
Buck and Jo: We had just finished up a two-year film and book project in Gonarezhou National Park when Graeme approached us. The timing was perfect, there’s so much of Zimbabwe we haven’t yet seen. For us, we want to share this experience with others and celebrate this country, its landscape and its people. Zimbabwe can be off-putting to outsiders; we suppose we want to dispel some of the myths.
What will your roles be on this expedition?
Graeme: This is the first time we have all travelled together on a long trip. Buck and I went to school together and have done some remote camping trips over the years. Our roles will probably develop as we go along. At this stage, I am taking care of budget, navigation and vehicle maintenance. Jo will oversee our supplies, menu planning and communications while Buck will handle campsites, packing, fire and ablutions.
Buck: Graeme is definitely a planner, we are not. We have been known to have very little in the way of a plan or final destination. So that’s been a nice change, having someone who enjoys the details! Although we haven’t assigned camp duties as such, the vehicle care will fall to Graeme (for reasons explained above). I’ve refined my skills in fire making and moka coffee pot duty. Jo is known for her cracking shakshuka and is adept at making good use of dried beans, tomatoes and onions. Washing up will no doubt be contested on a regular basis!
What challenges do you expect along the way?
Jo: We’ve done a lot of driving in Zimbabwe and so know the quirks of its roads pretty well. You’re never far from a friendly mechanic or a milk bottle of fuel so we are not too worried about those aspects. The police culture has changed drastically since 2017. There is far less corruption so long as you’re following the rules of the road, you shouldn’t have a problem. Our biggest challenge while driving is snack food. There are sugared biscuits, crisps and fizzy drinks aplenty but healthy snacks are hard to come by. That said, it’s always possible to get a freshly cooked sadza or rice with green vegetables, beans and free-range, free-of-everything ‘road runner’ chicken. And it’s always good!
Graeme: I’m a guide and have a background leading safaris and remote expeditions – on both motorcycles and on foot. So from the trip management and wildlife side of things it’s familiar territory. However, complacency is dangerous, so we will need to remain vigilant. We are going to be very remote at times and will have to be self-reliant for long stretches. The temperatures will be getting warmer throughout the course of the trip. Therefore, adequate hydration and limiting the daily distances to a manageable 4–5 hours will be key.
How has your experience of exploring Zimbabwe changed over the years?
Graeme: My exploration of the Zambezi Valley, and then Zimbabwe, has been more motorcycle orientated. But plotting routes for back-up vehicles and other expeditions has evolved into a passion for wild open spaces. That isolation and sense of wilderness fuels all of our travel inspiration. Like most things, the more you travel, the more confidence you gain in your abilities to go further and more remote. So I would say my overlanding has evolved to be more efficient, more streamlined and with better planning. Certainly compared to the early days when we just used to wing it…and could afford to.
Jo: As filmmakers we often have the opportunity to experience places and meet people far off the beaten track. We travel a lot for work and have been very spoilt in having some of the country’s best bush destinations and lodges open to us. It is work, we promise! When we are travelling for pleasure, we like to do physical things. For example, white water rafting down the Zambezi and wild camping in Chimanimani to hike up the highest peak in Mozambique. And yes, we can highly recommend both experiences. We’re keen mountain bikers and would like to start bike packing later this year.
Which destinations are you particularly excited about visiting?
Buck: Honestly? I am excited for the large tracts of wilderness where I will hopefully see very few people!
Jo: I’ve never been to the Chizarira and Sengwa area so I’m really looking forward to that. I am also excited to cross Kariba on the ferry. If it’s anything like the Ilala Ferry on Lake Malawi, it’ll be a big adventure!
How can overlanders follow the expedition?
We are going to be running regular in-trip updates – as and when network connectivity allows – on our personal social media. Check out @badrabbitstudio and @overlandadventureconsultants on Instagram and Facebook. We will also be sharing updates with @Zimparks and @tracks4africa. The documentary will likely be completed towards the end of the year – keep an eye on these channels for an update.
In addition to Tracks4Africa, we have also partnered with several like-minded individuals and companies in the 4×4 and overland industries. The guys from Eezi Awn, Bushtech Canopies, National Luna, R&B Offroad Accessories, Terrain Tamer and Paul Marsh 4×4 have all played a valuable part in getting this expedition to the point where we are ready to turn the wheel. It’s great to have them on board and share this adventure with them.