Imvelo Safari Lodges is all about the unique, experiential safari activities and right at the top of this list is their Elephant Express safari train! This lovingly restored Zimbabwe Railways open-air trolley makes for a totally novel transfer between their camps in southeast Hwange (Bomani and Camelthorn) and Nehimba in northern Hwange or Victoria Falls.
Comfortably kitted out with captain’s chairs, teak tables and even a toilet(!), guests can enjoy game viewing while riding the rails and sipping G+T’s. The experience definitely transports travelers back to the heyday of rail travel in Africa, and its open-air design is perfect for game viewing and also for current conditions with COVID. We spotted sable(!), kudu, warthogs, impala, myriad birds and more during our train ride. It’s a great way to get out of the vehicle and into a very unique and fun experience!
We took the train northbound, departing the Ngamo siding (a wide spot in the tracks with a side rail) near Bomani and Camelthorn lodges around 11am and arrived in Dete station around 1:30pm (if heading southbound, the return trip leaves at 2pm from Dete and arrives at Ngamo around 4:30 or 5pm). Dete is an actual train station (vs a siding) and has a crumbling, rustic charm to it (see pictures below from Tad’s trip several years ago). From Dete, we were picked up by Imvelo’s safari vehicles for the 2.5-3hr game drive to Nehimba lodge in north-central Hwange.
The team at Nehimba welcomed us warmly and we got an even warmer welcome at the cocktail hour with the arrival of elephants in camp. Nehimba is a seasonal camp (open April through November), and the real highlight of a stay is that the wildlife comes to you. Skipping a game drive can be as rewarding (or more!) than going out. While we’re nearing the end of the season, we still had some lovely game come into camp including Cape buffalo, impala, and of course elephants. The eles come for the water and are known to guzzle great quantities of it not only from the waterhole out front of camp, but also the swimming pool.
We had a fun surprise on one of our evening game drives. We came around the corner to the beautiful Nehimba Seeps – a spot where elephants dig for water and minerals and dubbed the ‘cathedral of elephants’ for the frequent presence of the giants and the quiet, serene setting. While we didn’t have elephants that evening (the recent rains had clearly dispersed the herds), we did find the lodge staff had set up surprise sundowners for us! We enjoyed a beautiful sunset as drinks were poured and we tucked into delicious snacks. Our guide Sibs, along with the camp staff, regaled us with funny and crazy stories about life in Zimbabwe. It was a lovely end to a great day, but more was yet to come!
Dining with the elephants at Nehimba is probably one of the most memorable experiences in Hwange if not on the planet. It’s a great surprise for guests when the eles arrive in camp, especially in the evening. It’s pure enchantment to watch them materialize from the darkness at the waterhole. The elephants are subtly lit by the lodge’s lights, as well as star or moonlight from above. As we celebrated our last night in Hwange with a festive braai (barbecue), we had six hulking males along with a few females and babies join us for cocktails and dinner, drinking their fill and silently moving around in the darkening evening just meters from our dinner table. There was the occasional tussle as the eles fought for the closest access to the freshest water being pumped from the borehole, making it all the more exciting. After dinner, we spent another hour in front of the campfire sipping Amarula and watching the elephants shuffling around the waterhole, then slowly disappearing into the night. What a way to cap off an incredible safari!