Nature's wild grandeur on show in Zimbabwe
THE long drive to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins is broken up only by the countryside. Bitumen stretches in front, lined with an abundance of trees and villages. Green of all shades blend to a gradient of cream to create the landscape.
From the road The Great Zimbabwe Ruins don't look like much, but once inside the immensity of the site is astonishing.
Extraordinary grandeur built up over 300 years has broken down over centuries of decay.
What was once the hub of all trade in this region in the first half of the last millennium is now merely an historical monument.
We watch the sun glow through the cracks and old doorways while listening to our guide speak of a king with 200 wives and the style of living that thrived in each of the three distinct architectural groups: the Hill Complex, the Valley Complex and the Great Enclosure.
Our guide over the next three days is Andy. Andy's excitement at the African wilderness is infectious.
We spend three days tracking lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffe, zebra, hippo, crocodile and many species of bird life in national parks the size of European countries. Matobo National Park is largely made up of enormous granite rock, built up and eroded down to create pillars reaching up to the sky.
Andy has us wandering through the bush following rhino tracks and we sound like a herd of elephants ourselves. I am doubtful we will see anything with the racket we are making, but Andy doesn't seem bothered.
After spending a life in the Zimbabwe bush, he is at one with our surroundings and - as we walk voicelessly through the scrub looking for large wild beasts - I am not even slightly concerned for my safety.
I am a little unsettled with the gun slung over Andy's shoulder and hope it is only there for decoration. Knowing he will use it if needed upsets me. Considering we are the fools who are choosing this dangerous path, it hardly seems fair the animals protecting their territory should be penalised. Andy's knowledge is a valuable asset to our group and even though we are not lucky with our rhino spotting today, it is interesting to listen to his wealth of bush knowledge and wild stories.
As the sun lowers to the horizon we are slowed by a flat tyre which puts us behind schedule and creates a rush to get to World's View.
Large boulders stand atop this reach to heaven. As the sun falls below the horizon, a rainbow of colours becomes the backdrop to the valley of rocks and I wish to freeze time and let this peaceful moment last forever. Quietly, I appreciate World's View and its beautiful, breathtaking panorama. The breeze whispering in my ears, the hard rock surface below my feet and the gorgeous scenery before my eyes give me a feeling of bliss.
Darkness falls and we are given a history lesson on Cecil John Rhodes and the large marble memorial set just beyond his grave.
Rising before the sun, we set off to our next destination - Hwange National Park. The park is the largest game reserve in Zimbabwe, spanning 14,651sq km.
Natural waterholes in this park are no longer a large part of the scenery. Instead, water pumps keep a constant water supply for the wildlife. Without these pumps, during the dry months water would be extremely scarce and the animals would die.
Elephant herds pound the earth to have their fill at the waterhole and when a new herd comes in, there is an unspoken protocol where the herd already drinking moves aside.
Close by, we watch up to four herds of elephant drinking at the same waterhole, hippos cooling in the reeds, crocodile on the far side and giraffe tensely standing by waiting for a clear moment where they can join in.
The sun sets on another day but our travels continue with a late-night game drive. Chilled to the bone and wrapped in our sleeping bags, we head out in our open vehicle hoping to spot some of the nocturnal species in the park.
The park comes to life in the darkness. Silence surrounds us and with our senses heightened we hear elephants munching in the shadows to our right. Galagos jump from branch to branch and disappear into the darkness beyond. A giraffe standing proud on the bitumen is chewing on an acacia tree. As our open vehicle moves forward, the majestic beauty slowly moves off to find a new tree to call dinner.
Golden morning light bathes a pride of seven lions we spot sitting in the grass. Our guide quietly drives our open vehicle within 5m of the cats and we sit motionless in awe of our find. Yawning from their slumber and staring at the odd beings next to them, they have obviously been well fed, which I am thankful for.
Moving off we end our last game drive on a high and head back to camp.
The thunderous roar of Victoria Falls can be heard long before it's seen and I watch the scenery change from dry bush to tropical forest within 50m.
Drenching mist drowns me as I lean toward the falls, trying to get as close as possible to one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
As part of the Zambezi River, Victoria Falls is the divide between Zimbabwe and Zambia and reaches 108m at its highest point. An intense feeling of peace overcomes me as I enjoy my time in silence watching the water fall to the depths below.
Waking up early on my last day isn't something I would generally welcome, although as the chopper blades lift us into flight over Victoria Falls, I am immediately grateful.
Watching the magnitude of water flow down the river and plummet over the canyon below makes me feel like a bird in flight.
Rainbows shimmer through the mist as we circle gracefully and I feel a tug urging me to visit this beautiful continent again.