great train adventures! - luxury train train safari holiday which eliminates all those hours and...
Post on 28-Jul-2020
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Great Train Adventures! A Journal of explorations through Africa Before we left... When we told our travel agent that we wanted a relaxing but interesting trip to Africa, he immediately recommended Shongololo Express. It’s a unique train safari holiday which eliminates all those hours and kilometres you spend in the bus on a traditional bus tour, and it also means that you don’t need to pack and unpack every day. The train travels at night, passengers are safe and secure and they arrive each day at a new and exciting destination.
What’s more, the train carries its own fleet of air-conditioned mini buses on board together with a team of multilingual guides (we heard English, French and German spoken, as well as Afrikaans – just one of South Africa’s 1 1 official languages!) Our travel agent told us that there would be a choice of excursions every day – all included in the price! If one of our group wanted adventure, they could choose a different excursion from someone else who wanted to experience history, or culture, or wildlife – we could all do something different and meet back up in the lounge in the evening! For the energetic amongst us there would also be a selection of additional tours, including something I’ve always wanted to do – hot air ballooning. There would be helicopter flips, elephant back riding – we couldn’t wait!
Breakfast and dinner would also be part of the package – we would only need to pay for our lunches, drinks and other personal expenses such as laundry. So we did some more research on Shongololo Express and found that they have more than fifteen years’ experience in operating these train safaris in southern Africa and that some of their staff have been with them from the beginning! We all agreed that in Africa, nothing beats hands on experience and so we were comfortable that these guys know what they’re doing! We were warned though that things in Africa don’t always go as planned and that after all, Shongololo Express calls their journeys ‘Great Train Adventures’ and that’s what we should expect!
We were sold! Now all we had to choose from was one of their four different routes...
All aboard! South African Hospitality
After a long day’s travelling we finally arrived at Victoria Falls International Airport, Zimbabwe. Not quite what we’re used to in an ‘International’ airport – it’s tiny by European standards but it meant we cleared customs and immigration quite quickly. A smartly dressed Shongololo Express guide was there to meet us – between his kindness and the sunshine – it was a warm welcome in every sense!
We were glad to arrive a day before the actual tour started – it gave us the opportunity to unpack, and because we arrived quite early in the day, we were able to choose an optional extra.
These were our choices: Flight of Angels in a helicopter over the Victoria Falls, a White Water Rafting trip down the mighty Zambezi, an Elephant Back Ride or a Bungee Jump off the Livingstone Bridge.
Here’s some pictures of our first afternoon...
Our extra day included dinner that evening and breakfast the following morning. Just about everybody taking this trip arrived for the pre-day so we all got to know each other after an excellent dinner.
Day 01 – Victoria Falls A couple more people arrived this morning, just in time to join the day’s tour. We were glad to have arrived a day earlier, because timing otherwise is a bit tight. We were taken to see the full splendour of the Falls from the Zimbabwean side – the locals call them “Mosi O Tunya” or the “Smoke That Thunders” because the spray looks more like smoke but its light mist cooled us down!
We were happy to learn that in the afternoon we could choose one from the same optional tours as yesterday, so we were able to do a second activity. Some folk returned to the train to rest, or to walk around the local markets. The train stayed overnight in Victoria Falls Station. Dinner on board.
Distance travelled: +/- 15km
Day 2 – Chobe National Park, Botswana Day 2 and already we’re on to our second country! We travelled by road (about 70km) to the border and crossed into the famous Chobe National Park. We swapped from our air-conditioned Shongololo Express bus into an open game vehicle and set off in search of the Big Five! After a dusty but rewarding safari, we went on a river boat cruise and saw the most amazing bird life as well as literally heaps of hippos and plenty of elephants. We had lunch at one of the waterfront lodges and relaxed for a while by the pool, returning to the train a little later.
Dinner and overnight were once again at Victoria Falls station.
The Holiday - The Southern Cross Adventure Southbound
Flight of Ang els
The Smoke that Thunders
Our first sighting of the Big 5!
Day 3 – Livingstone, Zambia Day three, country number three!! Today we crossed the famous bridge spanning the Zambezi which joins Zimbabwe and Zambia. We took in a different view of the falls and then went into the quaint town of Livingstone. The museum is amazing and has original letters written by Livingstone, as well as lots of other exhibits. Shongololo took us again to a great waterfront lodge for our lunch, then on our way back to the train we visited the Fifth Gorge for a truly memorable last view of the Smoke that Thunders!
Some of the guests took an optional boat cruise down the river at lunchtime, and others took off after lunch for an optional night at Sikumi Tree Lodge. They left after lunch to go to the rustic lodge in Hwange National Park. They will have had game drives in open vehicles this afternoon, as well as tomorrow, but they’ll be back on the train at Dete to tell us all about it tomorrow.
As for us – we’re having dinner on the train and then we can’t wait to be on the move to Dete!
Day 4 – Hwange National Park Our first night on the tracks – we slept so well rocked to the rhythm of the train! Just as well as we were up early this morning for our game drive in Hwange but then we were rewarded with a breakfast at the Sable Valley Lodge. After more game viewing we had lunch at Sikumi Tree Lodge where some of the guests spent last night, and then took back off again in search of more animals!
A really full day where we travelled +/- 120kms. Tonight we leave for Bulawayo. Zzzzzzzz!
Day 5 – Bulawayo & Matobo National Park with Art Gallery or Railway Museum Today we could choose between two variations of the same tour. We all were taken first to the majestic Matobo Hills and saw where Cecil John Rhodes is buried. We were also shown an ancient bushman cave, then we went off for lunch. The Natural History Museum was a real revelation – it’s one of the best of its kind in the southern hemisphere and we could have spent ages looking at all the exhibits. After the museum, some of us went to an art gallery, whilst the real train and rail enthusiasts amongst us chose the Railway Museum.
For the conservationists there was an optional trip to Chipangali, where they look after abandoned and orphaned wild animals.
We must have covered approximately 150kms today. Tonight the train travels to Somabhula.
Zimbabwe / Zambia Bridge Safari time Baby Cheetah
Day 8 – Day on the train Today we relaxed and watched the South African countryside roll by – through the provinces of Limpopo, Gauteng and Mpumalanga. We had lots of time to chat to other guests, and the guides took the opportunity to host informal talks on all sorts of subjects! We had lunch on the train – the waiting staff is amazing and never spills a drop of anything even though we travel at quite a speed sometimes!
Finally we arrived in Nelspruit, where we stopped for the night. Tomorrow we’ll be touring the famous Panorama Route.*Highlight of the entire trip
Day 6 – Antelope Park, Gweru We have so been looking forward to today and the opportunity to interact and walk with lions and lion cubs in their natural habitat. There were lots of different activities to choose from – we both went 2 up on an elephant ride which was amazing but here are the other choices:
1. Canoe Hire for a paddle on the river which runs through Antelope Park. 2. Game drives in open vehicles through the Park 3. Horseback game viewing – 90 minutes for experienced riders to see game from a different perspective! 4. Elephant back riding – see our pictures! Amazing! 5. Presentation of the Park’s Lion Breeding Programme – the park releases new generations of lions into the wild, thereby preserving their numbers. 6. For the ‘twitchers’ – a bird watching cruise in an open boat.
After lunch there was an opportunity to visit the Gweru Military Museum and Aviation Display with a Shongololo bus and guide.
One of the highlights of today was our visit to Somabhula Primary School. The staff and children had prepared a show for us – they were adorable and sang so beautifully! We were glad we had been asked in advance to bring any donations of clothes and stationery, but Shongololo Express also manages a fund for the school if guests want to donate money. A well deserving project and a wonderful opportunity to see some ‘real life’!
Distance travelled today was around 50km. Tonight we leave for Bannockburn Station and Great Zimbabwe.
Day 7 – Great Zimbabwe Great Zimbabwe is the largest pre colonial monument in Africa south of Egypt’s Pyramids!! We had