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Trip Report - Makalolo Plains, Victoria Falls Hotel, Matetsi Water Lodge

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Oct 1st, 2005, 07:19 AM
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Trip Report - Makalolo Plains, Victoria Falls Hotel, Matetsi Water Lodge

Zimbabwe September 2005

Our entire trip was booked through Wilderness Safaris with Borton Overseas being our local contact. I was highly impressed with Wilderness Safaris, they were there for every connection, transfer, or question we had. Everything went so smoothly and I credit this to them.

Makalolo Plains, Hwange National Park:
We spent our first 4 nights on safari at Makalolo Plains. We could not of picked a better spot to start our first safari experience! After about a 50 minute flight from Vic Falls, it was about a 20 minute drive from the airstrip to the camp. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon, and on this 20 minute drive is where I saw my very firsts elephants, zebra, hyena, and various antelopes. I was already hooked and dreading my departure from this amazing place.
Upon arrival in camp, we were welcomed by over 100 elephant, along with several giraffe and a couple of ostrich – all taking a drink in the large pan in front of camp. The tents are set up on raised wooden walkways, each one having its own small deck in front overlooking the pan. I was amazed at all of the game we could see right from our own tent! It was delightful to sit on the deck after lunch and watch the parade of animals coming through. From camp we saw the following game throughout our stay: Hundred and hundreds of elephants, along with zebra, giraffe, ostrich, baboon, warthog, waterbuck, hyena, jackal, and one day a herd of over 1000 buffalo walk right in front of the lodge! Of course we also had the amazing experience of having the elephants come and drink out of the pool as we were sitting with our legs dangling in the water. The elephant’s heads were only a few feet away from me! They came to drink every afternoon and by evening the pool was empty! Each morning the day started with refilling the swimming pool.
My friend Patti and I were the only individual travelers at Makalolo Plains throughout our stay. The rest of the camp was full with a group from Overseas Adventure Travels (OAT). There had been some rumors that Makalolo Plains might be closing or be up for sale earlier this summer. The staff assured me that this is in no way true. However there are some changes in the camps. Makalolo Plains is going to be reserved for tour groups. They said that OAT has reserved the camp for all of 2006, and might be signing a 5 year contract. Independent travelers will all be at the sister camp Little Makalolo. When we arrived we were asked if we would like to transfer to Little Makalolo because of the tour group. We were OK with the group being there and declined this offer. This worked out great for us actually. Since they don’t mix individual travelers with the tour group, we were treated to private game drives our entire stay!
Our guide was Tendai, and we thought he was excellent! We learned so much from him, and his personality was wonderful. The highlight of our game drives was following a pride of lions as they were hunting one evening. They first went after a buffalo – a failed attempt. Next they tried for a giraffe – another failure. The third time they went after another buffalo – success! It was amazing to watch as they were trying to take it down. It was also a bit gruesome I must say. The buffalo put up quite a fight, and he bellowed out and kicked for a good 40 minutes before dying.




Other animals we saw throughout our games drives were:

Elephant, Giraffe, Zebra, Wildebeest, Cape Buffalo, Kudu, Ostrich, Baboon, Hyena, African Wildcat, Porcupine, Sable Antelope, Roan Antelope, Eland, Aardwolf, Bushbaby, Duiker, Gemsbok, Red Hartebeest, Hippo, Jackal, Mongoose, Vervet Monkey, Springbok, Springhare, Steenbok, Warthog, Spotted Genet, and Impala. We also so lots of different species of birds, I just wasn't very good about remembering what they all were.

Coming soon - Vic Falls Hotel & Matetsi

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Oct 1st, 2005, 08:16 AM
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beept,

Welcome back!

Sounds like the gameviewing at Makalolo Plains was amazing. I do think next time, rather than going to the Sabi Sand, that I will consider a South Luangwa/Lower Zambezi/Matetsi/Makalolo Plains visit, starting and ending in Vic Falls or Livingstone. Makalolo Plains has long been on my list of must-visit places.

How did you like the accomodations and food at Makalolo Plains? Also, I know that Wilderness Safaris does not use a spotter on night game drives in Botswana, but how about in Zimbabwe?

Lastly, were you lucky enough to get your own vehicle, or did you share a vehicle with members from the large OAT group?

Thanks and looking forward to Matetsi and Victoria Falls Hotel info.
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Oct 1st, 2005, 09:03 AM
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Rocco - Please try to keep up. She said they had their own vehicle! ;-)

I'd like to add my own welcome back! I wanted to include Makalolo in my trip next year but decided it would add too much cost and hassle. Glad to hear you had a wonderful time!
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Oct 1st, 2005, 09:23 AM
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Great report, and interesting news that the camp may be reserved for the exclusive use of OAT.

Looking forward to rest of report (especially since I stayed at Vic Falls Hotel in Aug 2001 and I'm curious to see how its doing).

Thanks, Michael
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Oct 1st, 2005, 11:09 AM
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Beept,

Sounds like a great trip -- very interested to hear what you think of Matetsi and VFH as I've been struggling to decide on my VF accomoodation.

Cheers,
Julian
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Oct 1st, 2005, 05:05 PM
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Roccco,
1)I really liked the accomodations at Makalolo. The rooms were tents on raised wooden platforms. Nothing overly fancy but more then adequate. Comfortable beds, nightstands with lamps, ceiling fan above the bed, bathroom with indoor and outdoor showers, and a deck on the front overlooking the pan. The lounge, bar, and dining room were very nice. I will post some pictures soon.
As far as the food goes, I am a very poor person to rate this since I am a super picky eater. I don't eat any fruits or vegetables at all, and if the meal strays much beyond a cheeseburger and fries I probably won't eat it! (of course that is a cheeseburger hold the lettuce/tomato/onion/pickle etc!) All I can say is the presentation was excellent, and my friend and all of the OAT group raved about the meals.
2)No spotter was used on night game drives. I don't think one was needed, as Tendai did an amazing job - I swear that guy has night vision! I couldn't believe how far off he could spot an animal, and know exactly what it was. He did a far better job then the guide and tracker did together at Matetsi.
3) And yes, as I said in my report, we had a private vehicle and guide the entire time at Makalolo.

Jasher,
I should have the rest of my report up soon so you can see my reviews of Matetsi and Vic Falls Hotel. I will forwarn you- dispite the wonderful accomodations, the rest of my report on Matetsi is not too positive.

Cooncat and Michael,
Thanks for your comments and the welcome back!

Renee


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Oct 1st, 2005, 05:24 PM
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beept

Welcome back and I love your comment about dreading leaving Africa after just arriving. Africa just does that to you.

How cool (no pun intended) to be in the pool with the elephants drinking. So is that really a common occurrence at Makalolo? Nightly? Once in awhile?

Can you elaborate on your roan and sable sightings?

Thanks!
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Oct 1st, 2005, 06:20 PM
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hi beept,
thats great that you had such a great time at makololo. my wife, father and i visited there back in january and we were the only 3 at the camp. we too had tendai as a guide and really enjoyed him. we had the eles drinking from teh pool also but our encouters happened at night right after dinner. we sat right beside the pool and were amazed to listen as the jumbos sucked down volumes of water. it's definitely the best deal for a camp in the southern africa safari circuit. i reiterate your thoughts on how amazing the setting of the camp is in front of that enormous pan. we saw more than 20 different species from camp including a pack of 8 wild dogs. truly amazing.
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 05:18 AM
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atravelynn,
As far as the elephants drinking out of the pool, it has come to be a regular nightly occurance. I will never forget the sound it makes as the elephants are sucking up all of the water with their trunks!
There were lots of Sable sightings at Makalolo. We would usually see them in groups of 8-12, and very often they were hanging out with Zebra. As far as Roan, we didn't see alot - but they were there. It was usually only a single stray Roan mixed in with a group of various other animals at a water hole.
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 08:08 AM
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Victoria Falls Hotel and Activities in Vic Falls:

We spent 2 nights at the Victoria Falls Hotel. The hotel is absolutely gorgeous. You could easily imagine Royalty staying there, yet I felt perfectly comfortable dressed in my safari khakis. (The majority of the guest were dressed just like me) Our room was beautiful and the grounds and gardens were outstanding. The only meals we ate at the hotel were breakfasts, and they were included in the room price. The breakfast was supurb, with an amazing selection of foods. It was also quite delightful eating breakfast out on the veranda overlooking the beautiful gardens.
We arrived at the hotel late in the afternoon. We made a quick stop at the Wilderness Safaris desk located in the lobby and booked our activities for the evening and the following day. After getting settled in our room we headed out to the Boma Dinner. It was an enjoyable evening with African dancing, fortune tellers and witch doctors entertaining us. After passing on the appetizer (which looked like sun dried minnows), we went right for the main course. There was a large selection of many types of African game. I tried Eland, Kudu, Ostrich and Warthog. Since I am an incredibly finicky eater, I am probably not a good judge of how great these really were. I found most were tolerable. I had heard that Warthog tasted like pork, and I have to strongly disagree – I thought it was disgusting. As for the Mopane Worms covered in a nice peanut sauce, I had to pass. I just couldn’t make myself try a single worm! Overall, I would recommend the Boma Dinner. Even though I didn’t care for the food, the experience of it all was worth it.
The next morning we headed out for a tour of a local village and school. This is another activity that I would definitely recommend during a visit to Victoria Falls. I am so glad we did this. We learned so much about the African people, their customs, and how they live. We were able to stop at a home, and the family was more then happy to talk to us and show us around their place. Of course they were hoping you would buy some of their handcrafted items, but we were more then happy to. The prices are incredibly cheap, and they expect you to bargain. The majority of the craft items you could buy in Zimbabwe were wood or stone carvings. There were beautifully carved bowls, utensils, animals, instruments, masks, etc. At the village school there were about 400 students in grades 1 – 7. Many of these students had to walk up to 7 miles to get to school each day. The school day was long as well. The day started at 7:30 and went until 4:00. You could easily tell how poor of an area it was, as the school had nothing. No electricity, no running water. The rooms were very dismal in appearance. There were no books, no brightly colored artwork on the walls, and often not even enough chairs for all of the students to sit down at a table to do their work. Students had notebooks and pencils and they would copy off their lessons from the blackboard. Lunch was not served, and very few children even brought a lunch to school. One thing I did notice- despite these children having nothing, they all seemed very happy. I guess if you don’t know any different, you can be happy with what you have.
That afternoon we did the Elephant Safari, another wonderful experience that I would highly recommend. The actual “elephant safari” was probably about 90 minutes long. Although we did not see a huge amount of game, we did see Giraffe, Buffalo, and Kudu throughout our ride. I must admit I was more focused on the experience of riding an elephant then looking out for any game! Afterwards you get time to feed and interact with the elephants.
The following morning we went to see Victoria Falls. There is a nice path that leads from the hotel to the falls. It is about a 10 minute walk. You have to pay a $20 park entrance fee to get into the falls area, as it is within a national park. We walked around unescorted, stopping at the many lookout areas along the way. Although the falls were probably near their minimum output for the year, it was still an impressive sight. Many areas were almost completely dried up, yet other areas you still needed an umbrella to keep dry from all of the spray.
Our driver from Wilderness Safaris would be picking us up around noon to take us to Matetsi Water Lodge, so this was the end of our stay in Victoria Falls. Although many people say 1 day is plenty in Victoria Falls unless you are going to do adrenaline activities, I didn’t find 2 days enough. There are so many different activities to do that don’t fall into the “adrenaline” category. I would have loved to have an extra day there just to visit the many craft markets in the area, and maybe just relax by the pool for a bit.

Next:
Matetsi Water Lodge – Zimbabwe
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 04:52 PM
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beept,
Enjoyed your trip report. I am going to be staying at Victoria Falls for 3 nights (River Club) next June and I was wondering if 3 nights was too many. After reading your report, my doubts are gone. I would also love to visit a school as I am a teacher and I was thinking I could bring pencils to donate to the school. As we are staying on the Zambia side do you know if that would be possible or would we have to go to Zimbabwe. It was good to hear that you enjoyed the elephant safari as I also would like to do that. Do you have any information about doing a day canoe trip on the Zambezi River?
Thanks.

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Oct 2nd, 2005, 04:52 PM
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Great to here from someone who chose to go to Zim. Glad you had such a wonderful time.
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 06:01 PM
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raelond,
I am glad you enjoyed my report. I think you will be glad to have the 3 days in Vic Falls. You should be able to visit a village in Zambia as well as Zimbabwe. The teachers would be very appreciative of anything you brought them. Pencils, crayons, markers are always great. They also said they could really use tape, so they would have some way to hang things up on the walls. We were hoping to do the canoeing on the Zambezi while we were there as well, but ran out of time. Hope you have a wonderful trip!
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Oct 3rd, 2005, 02:18 PM
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Here is the link to photos of this trip:


http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLan...68_23113383309
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Oct 3rd, 2005, 02:35 PM
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Nice photos Beept -- I've never seen so many sable! And wild dogs at Matetsi -- what a great sighting!

What sort of room did you have at the Vic Falls hotel? Would you recommend it?

Look forward to hearing what you thought of Matetsi.

Cheers,
Julian
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Oct 3rd, 2005, 03:37 PM
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Ouch...I should have stayed an extra night at Luangwa River Lodge and then flown down to Livingstone to finish with three nights at Matetsi Water Lodge instead of Puku Ridge!
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Oct 3rd, 2005, 03:41 PM
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I also had Casper as my guide while at Matetsi 3.5 years ago. Glad to see that he is still with CCAfrica and seems to be doing well. Alexsandra and I really enjoyed his guiding.

Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos.
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Oct 4th, 2005, 08:42 AM
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Jasher,
I would recommend Victoria Falls Hotel. I am sure we had one of the least expensive room, but it was very nice. It had large windows that look out onto a garden, and we entered the room from a beautiful courtyard. The bathrooom was very nice with a large tub and separate shower. There was also a fridge stocked with drinks. As we walked through the halls, we would pass open rooms that were obviously more pricey - but the decor was outstanding. Very elegant.
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Oct 4th, 2005, 03:44 PM
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Matetsi Water Lodge – Zimbabwe

It was about a 45 minute drive from Victoria Falls to Matetsi Water Lodge. Upon arrival in camp we were greeted by the staff and some resident warthogs. The warthogs have seemed to make the area around the main camp their home. We were escorted to our room (#2), and were immediately impressed. The rooms were outstanding! Large bedrooms with huge doors that opened out onto a deck. Electricity with outlets, air conditioning, and refrigerators were in each room. A huge bathroom, with two separate sink areas, a toilet area, a large tub, and both an indoor and outdoor shower. Outside, each room had its own private plunge pool. What a treat! There was a big disappointment with the rooms however. They advertise that you can sit on your deck, or in your plunge pool and look out at the river, watching animals come to drink. Maybe this was true at one time – but not when we were there. The area between the rooms and the riverbank was very overgrown with tall brush. We could not even get a glimpse of the river from our deck.

Our first game drive was by far the best of those we were to have at Matetsi. Although there were many others staying in camp, we once again ended up with a private vehicle throughout our entire stay. This was manly due to many people just choosing to skip the game drives. I was for-warned from many people on this board not to expect to see much in the line of predators at Matetsi, but I should see a good amount of Eles and Giraffe. I was OK with that, since I never tire of watching elephants and giraffe. I was soon to discover how few and far between even the elephant and giraffe sightings would be! After driving around for over an hour, all we had seen were a few impala in the distance. Then all of a sudden out of the blue – there is a pack of 10 Wild Dogs right in front of us in the road! I definitely was not expecting this at Matetsi – I don’t think our guide was either! We sat and watched them for about 10 or 15 minutes, until they wondered off, never to be seen again during our stay. We continued on our drive and came across a couple of elephant, 1 giraffe, and 3 zebra before heading back to camp. I was satisfied with what we had seen and quite happy for the Wild Dog sighting. From then on out game drives at Matetsi were pretty dismal. The next morning our entire game drive consisted of seeing a herd of impala and a group of 6 giraffe. The evening drive was worse yet, the only thing we saw was 1 Kudu! The next morning wasn’t any better either. I guess now I know why everyone was passing on the game drives! We had a guide and tracker on all of our drives. Their names were Casper and Rubuen. Casper was pretty good, but I wasn’t too thrilled with Rubuen. One thing that bothered me about both of them is that they spent the majority of the drives talking to each other in their native language. We had no idea what they were talking about or saying, which I found to be rather rude. As far as game sightings right from the lodge, it consisted of Bushbuck, Warthog, Baboon, and Monkey.

One of the reason we wanted to go to Matetsi was the chance to go tiger fishing and canoeing. (they advertise both of these activities) When we asked about fishing, we were informed that fishing is terrible in the area, and if people want to fish they now have to bring their own gear. So no tiger fishing for us! We did get to canoe, but it was also disappointing. I was expecting to see a fair amount of animals coming to drink in the river – no such luck. We saw a few birds and one crocodile. I had been really hoping to get some Hippo pictures at Matetsi, but never saw a single one!

As I had mentioned before, I am a finicky eater and not a good judge of food. All I can say about the meals is the presentation was excellent, and before each meal the chef would come to your table and tell you everything that was about to be served. Everyone else thought the meals were wonderful – I am just too picky to even try most of it.

Personally I would not go to Matetsi again. Yes, we saw Wild Dogs, but I was told this is very rare. I was disappointed in many things. No scenic river views from the room, no fishing, very poor game viewing, and the staff just didn’t seem as welcoming as they had in other places I had been. I also don’t feel it is very convenient if you want to do many activities in Vic Falls. After the game drives you can take a complimentary shuttle into Victoria Falls, and arrive back in time for the evening game drive. This works if the only thing you want to do is see the falls. As far as doing other activities in Vic Falls the timing just doesn’t work. Most activities started earlier or ended later, so you would have to pay for your own private transfer, and would miss the game drives anyway. I would avoid the hassle and stay at one of the many beautiful places right in Vic Falls.

As you may have seen on my other postings, my camera was also stolen while I was at Matetsi. I feel this was just an unfortunate event, and it could have happened anywhere. I would not avoid Matetsi for this reason.

This was my very first trip to Africa. I have dreamed of taking an African Safari since I was a little kid, but never thought I actual would go. It was going to be my once in a lifetime dream vacation. Now that I have gone, my new dream is to somehow find a way to go back. It was an amazing experience – I’m hooked!






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Oct 5th, 2005, 03:17 PM
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Hello Beept,

Thanks for your report -- it's a great read!

Your room at Vic Falls sounds very nice -- do you have any pictures of it?

I decided against Matetsi because of the trasfer problems (prohibitively expensive for a single person) and your report indicates that I made the right choice. I'm surprised to hear about the other problems you encountered though -- I've stayed at several CCA camps and had very good experiences with the staff and guiding.

Do write to CCA with your comments about your experience at Matetsi -- I did this after my first trip with them, and found that the issues I raised were most definitely addressed.

Cheers,
Julian
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