The Sunday Mail
“Welcome aboard, ladies and gentlemen. This is going to be roughly a three hours’ drive in the wilderness. As this is a game drive in a game park, we do not guarantee that you will see any animals, though our wish is that you see the animals. This is a game drive in a game park. Only at a zoo do you get guarantees to see the animals,” was the brief introduction from Peace Madora, the tourism services manager for Hwange National Park.
As Madora sat down, Roger Mupakaidzwa stood up to introduce himself and lay the rules for the game drive. Mupaikadzwa doubles up as a driver and tour guide for Gwango Safaris, which lie just at the entrance to Hwange Main Camp.
Just as life in the sprawling ecosystem that is Hwange National Park, such is the symbiotic relationship between Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) and several service providers in and around the Hwange National Park, Gwango Safaris included.
Gwango Safaris, a fairly new baby in the tourism industry, having entered only three years ago, is bubbly with the response that the market, especially the international market, has responded to their entry into the safari industry.
“Though our wish is to be hosting more of local tourists, the truth is that we are having to host more of the regional and international tourists. I think locals should move away from the tradition of thinking of a holiday as only taking place in the rural areas.
“I understand that we have our rural roots, which we need to be in touch with from time to time, but of all the holidays in a year, we should develop a culture of reserving one of the weekends for a get-away, and get to be intimate with nature. There are many locals who have never seen a live elephant, a live lion, a live buffalo or a live kudu, yet these animals walk freely here in Hwange.
“Yet some people are having to spend thousands of dollars to fly from far-away places, just to come and see how beautiful our nature is. We need to change our perception. And if you look at the cost structures, maybe some people spend even more when they go to their rural areas, as compared to what they could spend if they had gone on holiday,” explained Mupakaidzwa.
Whilst Mupakaidzwa was trying to impress on why locals need to take up domestic tourism more seriously, Madora was keen to emphasise on the diverse ecosystem that is Hwange National Park, the country’s largest game reserve.
“Hwange is not about animals only. Some come for the insects, some for the bird life, some for the trees and some just for the weather here. We have such a diverse ecosystem, which is vibrant. Even if you don’t love birds, by the time you are done game viewing here, your perception of birdlife would have changed,” said Madora.
At about 14 600 square kilometres in extent, which is about half the size of Belgium, Hwange National Park offers the wildlife lover so much more to experience and memories to savour for life.
“This three-hour game drive is just a sneak preview, you need more than just a day to take in all of what Hwange has to offer. A day or two is not enough just for the Main Camp, and you need more time for Sinamatela and even more time for Robin Camp – the three sections that make up Hwange. That way you will get a full and intimate experience with our wildlife.
“The reason is very simple, there are some animals that you might not find here at the Main Camp, which you might catch up with at either Robin or Sinamatela,” explained Madora.
Because of the conservation efforts around the rhino – both black and white – which has seen the two species being moved inland for their safety and security, a game drive in and around Hwange will have tourists seeing the Big Four: elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard.
Those who want to see the rhino will have to visit the Matopos, where the biggest concentration of rhino is in the country, or the several other conservancies dotted around the country.
Besides offering game drives into Hwange National Park, Gwango Safaris strategically positioned itself at the mouth of the game park to feed off the increasing interest in Zimbabwe’s tourism.
“This year has seen many changes in our tourism, most notably the upsurge in arrivals, especially internationals. Since we opened three years ago, this year has been different, with the green season, which is usually the low end of arrivals here, seeing an increase in numbers. The activity in and around Hwange, to include the Victoria Falls, has been increased and if this trend is to continue into the coming months, tourism is sure back on the rebound,” enthused Mupakaidzwa.
He also paid tribute to the reduced presence of police on the national highways as one of the reasons why tourists are coming back.
“It is difficult to point to one particular area, but I think the perception around Zimbabwe has changed and tourism is a perception-sensitive market.”
Gwango complements, or rather feeds off Hwange National Park, by providing decent and affordable accommodation, catering from the backpacker to the discerning traveller.
“We haven’t limited our source markets, we want everyone to come and stay with us, from the camper to the one who wants their holiday as exquisite as it should be.”
Madora explained that just as the ecosystem in the Hwange National Park feeds each other, service providers in and around the game park also survive on each other.
“This is a huge game park and to assume that ZimParks can cater for all the tourists by itself would be stretching imagination, hence these kind of relationships with have service providers like Gwango.”
He said the coming months, the dry season, will see more arrivals as most tourists who visit Hwange do so for the wildlife. “The dry season is when it is easy to view animals, so naturally the number of arrivals increase. Also, this is the peak of the hunting season and we hope to feed off the hunters.”
Madora explained that although hunting is not allowed in national parks, there is always a downstream flow of benefits when the hunting is on as the hunters need accommodation, food as well as sight-seeing.