For my first trip to Africa, I was thrilled to be able to go on WT’s The Great Elephant Migration, and even better, to do so with my two teenage sons. Having worked closely with WT’s Africa team for years, I had heard countless stories of the excitement of going on game drives, and the indescribable beauty and energy of life pulsating in Africa, but I wasn’t sure how my two very active skateboarders would do on such a trip…it turned out to be the most incredible experience ever for all of us!

tana and her sons in zimbabwe

Besides the thrill of seeing amazing wildlife up close, enjoying a wide variety of activities, plus the wonderful hospitality of everyone we met along the way, we felt like it was all just for our group, as we only saw one other safari vehicle during the entire 11 days of the trip!

On our way to Camp Kuzuma in the Kuzuma Forest Reserve, Chobe District, we saw our very first elephant on the side of the road and we were beyond excited! By the end of the trip we had seen hundreds of elephants, and we still can’t believe how lucky we were to observe so many of these magnificent creatures.

elephant at lodge in zimbabwe

In Kuzuma we not only saw many elephants (nothing like swimming with a herd of elephants behind you!), but we also saw giraffe, zebra, baboons, blue hartebeest, and countless birds. We also enjoyed the warm welcome, hospitality, and delicious locally grown food from the wonderful staff at Camp Kuzuma.  zebras in zimbabwe giraffe in zimbabwe

On the beautifully scenic and adventurous drive across the border to Zimbabwe, we saw hippo, wildebeest, baboon, roan, crocodile, plus plenty of bird life.

hippos in zimbabwe

At our second lodge, the lovely Nehimba Lodge situated on the edge of the mopane woodlands in the northern part of Hwange, we learned about the ecosystem on walks with our extraordinarily knowledgeable trip leader Mark “Butch” Butcher.

group and leader on bushwalk in zimbabwe We enjoyed sundowners with elephants, plus many game drives—one which allowed us a close-up view of the lioness the guides nicknamed “horse” because of her giant stature (they call her cubs “ponies”). lioness in zimbabwe

After a short bush flight (my sons loved this and got to sit in the cockpit with the pilot!), we arrived at Jozibanini, our most remote camp, located amid ancient windblown fossil sand dunes separated by shallow valleys. We slept in cozy, comfortable beds outside under the stars, and ate delicious meals cooked over a campfire in the evenings, while the days were full of excitement. We road mountain bikes and had lunch with elephants, and got to experience the “toe nail” view of several large elephant herds. We observed their fascinating behavior and interactions from inside the special blind constructed right next to camp, made out of a shipping container sunk into the ground, complete with cushion seats and a bathroom.

bike safari in zimbabwe group eating meal under tree in zimbabwe elephants drinking water in zimbabwe baby elephant in zimbabwe

As everyone else was snapping photos while the elephants drank, milled about, and interacted with each other, I decided to do some sketching…drawing is such a wonderful way to really observe details, and being so close to the elephants I could notice such particulars as the shape and size of each individual’s ears, ankles, slope of the back and trunks, etc.

elephant sketch

While we thought nothing could top that experience, we had the opportunity to visit St Joseph’s school on the border of Hwange National Park, which turned out to be one of our entire group’s favorite activities. We shared in the children’s infectious joy while playing soccer and frisbee, and while hearing them sing their favorite songs. We brought school and sports supplies donated by WT staff, as well as frisbees donated by the Bay Area Disc Association (WT supports this school, as well as Ngamo School farther north, through the school lunch program made possible by generous donations from WT travelers).

school group in zimbabwe school kids in zimbabwe kids playing soccer in zimbabwe kids at school in zimbabwe

While we were all sad to leave our wonderful remote camp in the desert, our mood soon changed as we arrived by bush flight into Victora Falls. After a lovely walk viewing the famous cascade of water with its ever present rainbows, we drove to Zambezi Sands, located on the shores of the mighty Zambezi River inside Zambezi National Park. On the way, we came upon a pride of lions hanging out right next to the sandy road—what a sight!

lions by road in zimbabwe

We enjoyed the gorgeous lodge complete with outdoor showers and plunge pools (nothing like showering in the company of monkeys!), canoeing on the Zambezi followed by a riverside brunch, tracking lion on foot, and game drives.

canoe safari in zimbabwe

In addition to  lion, we saw hippo, crocodile, bushbuck, giraffe, zebra, ostrich, kudu, elephants (of course!), and my personal favorite: warthogs (they’re so funny when they run, with their tails sticking straight up!).

We never wanted to leave, but took consolation in the hope of returning one day to both Zimbabwe and Botswana!

—Text by WT staff Tana Hakanson, photos by Mateo Hakanson Monsalve and Mark Butcher, The Great Elephant Migration.

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