The Matopos National Park lies
to the south west of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city and capital
of Matabeleland. It is a wild rough rocky area with high granite
kobjes thrusting high into the sky, huge boulders one on another,
or high round granite hills. Between these there are narrow
valleys filled with grass and bush, these valleys contain rocky
water courses, in the time of rain, filled to capacity with wild
water, but at the time of our visit generally dry, the rapids and
waterfalls seen as rocky walls rather than wild waterfalls. These
valleys widen in some places to provide flat open grassy areas,
these have narrow paths and tracks, generally animal trails, but
sometimes becoming single tracked dusty sand and gravel roads
which link the interior to the settlements within the communal
areas that surround the Park.
It was in this area that we decided we would carry out the independant self-reliant expeditions that would hopefully qualify us for Queens Scout, Queens Guide and Duke of Edinburgh Expeditions, a harsh demanding but worthwhile expedition area. Lord Robert Baden Powell wrote of this area during Matabele Campaign "I suppose there is no more damnable country in the world for Scouting than the Matopos". This was not Scouting as we know it but Scouting for a military campaign - but an experience which gave our founder an idea - Scouting for Boys, and the greatest youth movement in the World.
Our Zimbex base in the Matopos was Gordon Park Campsite, a superb campsite set among the hills and valleys. The Warden and Provincial Scout Commissioner for Matabeleland, Norman Scott made us very welcome. We had the use of a bungalow to support the Base CAmp team leaders, and the adjacent kitchen area with its superb alter fire and integral ovens. Nearby stainless steel sink units provided hot water. Paul Jenkins provided sterling support to the seven expedition groups that passed through Matopos from this base.
Group 1 - Isabel Coulling, Cathryn Bell, Rob Cranfield, Oliver Gates
Group 2 - Andrew Holder, Sarah Burgess, Amanda Beecher, Nicholas Tobutt
Group 7 - David Rea, Stephen Patchett, Gillian Salvage, Simone Neville, Vicki Risley-Settle
EXPEDITION GROUP 1 - 26th August -> 29th August
Day 1 - In our
group were Ollie, Rob, Cat and myself and we walked from a cross
roads near Fort Usher to Togwana. In the morning we all got up
early and packed our rucksacks and made lunch, then after
breakfast we all piled into the mimi bus and set off.
On the way to drop the others off, the mini bus became stuck and we all had to push, once we had over come this little problem it was all plain sailing. We were dropped off at a cross orads and all we had to do was basically follow the road. Before we left we had some photos and then got started.
It was amazing how much the scenery had changed between here and Hwange, it was still very dry and dusty yet the ground was firm and we were surrounded by mountains. We or the boys mostly sang all day, different things to keep us going. Some of the time they walked either side of me and held me hands to keep me going. We worked well together and made good progress in the morning.
At about twelve, as it started to heat up we stopped on some large rocks by the side of the road for lunch. Rob and Ollie were checking the map when all of a sudden water started spraying all over Ollie. As his water bottle had burst, we decided that between us we had enough water for the rest of the day and after one of Robs video diary moments we set off again.
In the afternoon we stopped for a biscuit break as we did we saw some baboons on the rocks. At first they did not bother us but later they seemed to move down and then there was a horrible noise and the bushes moved and we ran off. Rob and Ollie tried to get video shots of them, but we did not wait around for long.
Just as Iwas giving up hope of finding the campsite it appeared and after talking to the camp warden we found a site. When the other group returned there, we all moved down to the Dam and then we went for showers. It was a long first day and so afterthe leaders went, we had dinner and went to bed. It was quite a strange experience sleeping under the nets and I was surprised at how warm it was.
written by Issie Couling
Day 2 - Today
we walked from Togwana Dam to Maleme Dam. We were supposed to go
via some cave paintings that were fairly close to Togwana but
although we searched for the path it seemed to have disappeared,
so we walked to Maleme.
We had to start really early so there was no time for breakfast, we ate Wheatabix while walking, it was truly horrible. As we didnt find the cave paintings we got to our campsite early and we decided that we should walk a bit further to make up the distance for the day. The place we were going to the next day was Silozwane Cave and as it didnt look to be too far, we thought we could try to walk there inthe afternoon. There were about four hours until sunset so we were going to walk for two hours and then turn around even if we hadnt reached the cave. The camp wardens let us leave our bags in their living area which was fenced off - this didnt make me too confident about sleeping in the open! and they also showed us a footpath that led through the woods to the main road to Silozwane. WE walked up the road for quite a while but we had a few problems that meant the caves were a bit out of reach so in the end we turned back.
When we got back to the dam the othergroup had arrived - Sarah, Andy, Nick and Amanda so we had quite a lot to talk about and company when we cooked dinner. After looking at the map for the next days walking we thought it would be last if Issie had a day off as she hadn't been well and so could not really manage the walk, it was a shame that the group got split up but it was probably the best thing to do. She would be coming back to main camp with us at Mtsheleli Dam in the evening and keep walking with us for that day. We slept facing the water and I kept looking for it but I didnt see it though.
written by Cathryn Bell
Day 3 - Thank
goodness the night had come to an end. Sleeping next to a cliff
when you know baboons inhabit it is not a nice thought,
especially when your under a mossy net. Gavin and Graham came and
checked on us before we set out, and it was decided that Issie
would not walk with us today. We were talking from Mtsheleli to
Maleme Dam, via Silozwane cave.
As with the previous two days the navigation was fairly easy along the dusty roads. It took us a few hours to reach the foot of the mountain where the caves were to be found. The height was not that of a mountain, but the environment we were in looked just like one.
It was a good 15 minutes climb to the sight of the caves withjust the slight problem ofCatherine not climbing a mountain like this before. It took Ollie and myself to help her up. The view from the top was just out of this world. The cave paintings were amazing animals and pictures of tribes hunting were all over the walls and ceiling. There were layers and layers of paintings so as you looked at them they came into focus.
Our route from the caves back to the main road was supposed to take us behind the caves in a ravine. This was jungle trekking, walking on a bearing, butdue to the immense bush it was not possible to trek through with our rucksacks on, so we had to give up and take our original route to join the main road.
Near to the foot of the hills some locals set up craft stalls, obviously seeing us enter the area, we did not buy anything. Walking back we were stopped by a girl and boy who asked us to take their picture, which we did, and then proceeded to give us their address to send a copy to.
Towards lunch time we stopped under a tree to eat. Rivitas and corned beef / tune is not my most favourite of meals. Nearby some local children were standing asking for sweets. Ollie went to speak to them, and came back with a necklace to give to Issie. He had exchanged this for a 1/2 packet of Sultanas.
After another hour of walking we were again heading off the road back towards the national park. To make conversation we asked some people for directions to the path. Three people showed us, and then proceeded to walk with us for 10km. The D of E expedition is supposed to be unaided. We did not expect more food or anything else from the leaders, but what do you say to locals giving up their time to walk with you, go away you can not walk with us?
They did quite well, we shared nuts, sweets and when we could still not get rid of them, paid money and took a picture for them. During the time the locals walked with us we were becoming dehydrated, it was not easy for us to drink and give none to them. Finally we arrived at Maleme Dam, the most satisfying days walking so far. That night we shared our campsite with wild crocodile, wart hog and Bilharzia in the lake, it was the best campsite so far, and certainly had the best showers in Zimbabwe!!
written by Robert Cranfield
Day 4 - The
last day of the expedition and what an adventure it was! It
seemed as if our luck was running out, the day was off to a bad
start with Rob being ill. This was followed by a Wart Hog
invasion of our camp. It is very hard to roll up a roll mat when
you have a large Wart Hog sitting on it and looking you straight
in the eye. One even ran off with my wash kit, I didnt fancy
using it after it had been covered in Wart Hog slobber. Not that
it had been used much on the expediton anyway.
The second disaster occurred when I casually threw my mossy net into the air, expecting to catch it, but it got stuck high up in a tree. I then threw my plate to knock it down, but that also became stuck, I then threw a bowl, a water bottle and a tin and they all got stuck. We managed to rescue my equipment when aconvinced Catherine to climb up the tree with a tent pole and with somebody else on my shoulders. We got some very strange looks from the other campers.
We only had a short day walking, and after encountering a heard of horses we set off around the dam. Morale was high and everyone was looking forward forward to a hot meal at Gordon Park and our railway journey on the sleeper to Victoria Falls. I used up one of my nine lives whilst we were walking on a bearing through shoulder deep grass. As I took a step I looked down just in time to see a five foot long Puff Adder glide over the grass where I was about to put my foot. My leg froze in mid air as the snake stopped next to me. If I hadnt have looked down at that moment I would have stepped on the snake and it would surely have bitten me. Perhaps it was the luck of the Zambezi Water Spirit (yammi yammi) pendant which Catherine gave me that morning.
The next hour and a half was terrible. We were in the middle of nowhere surrounded by kilometres of deep grass knowing that there were deadly snakes around. Ironically the batteries had run out in Robs video camera so we didnt capturee this moment on video.
We passed a group walking in the opposite direction, we warned them of deadly snakes, they were not impressed. After another half hour of walking we finished at our pick up point at Bambata. Here our bad luck was not over as a swarm of unfriendly Bees descended on us. We were running up and down the road with Bees all over us, frantically trying to light Moss kill which was having no effect, and if anything was attracting them. Paul arrived with the bus just in time and we all dived in. The end of one great adventure and the start of another.
written by Oliver Gates
EXPEDITION GROUP 2
Day 1 - After
breakfast at Gordon Park we were driven to our drop off point and
on the way the minibus managed to get stuck trying to pretend it
was an all terrain vehicle. We eventually pushed it free and were
soon at the start of our expedition and after photgraphs were
taken we were off. The first stop was Bambata Caves and the climb
to them was made so much easier by the arrows painted on the rock
to show the route, which felt like we were playing a huge game of
join the dots. During the climb we experienced our first taste of
the spectacular scenery, which took our breath away just as much
as having to carry the backpacks did and Bambata Caves we saw the
cave paintings and took a breather in the shade.
We then carried on our way, back down to where we started and the beyond towards the main road. This is where our first serious challenge took place as wee had to come off of the marked paths and follow a fence line for about 2k. This took us through some interesting vegetation such as reeds which were at least 8-10' tall and dwarfed the whole group and we could have done with climbing shoes for some of the rock faces we had to climb up (and down). After following the fence we met up with the path again and turned south towards Madinguzulu Dam which was to be our lunch stop. During lunch the Impala at the nearby waterhole watched us eat as closely as we were watching them drink.
After lunch we rested for an hour in the shade as the hottest part of the day passeda and then carried on along the road to the Nsvatuke Caves, having to refuse numerous offers of a lift from passing tourists who thought we were mad but offered us encouragement all the same. We visited the caves in pairs so we could leave our rucksacks at thebottom of the climb, which our legs greatly appreciated. We started chatting to the cave warden about where we were going and he told us about his shortcut which he ues and had marked out with piles of stones which, fortunately was in exactly the right direction so after thanking him we made use of it. This was not the lasy time we were going to be helped on our way by the local people.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on large roads with the only thing slowing us down being a group of Baboons that refused to move from the middle of the road. The problem was solved however, when a car came along and we followed it as it drove through the Baboons, scaring them away. We arrived at Maleme Dam, which was to be our campsite for the night, at about 1600hrs and we were met by some very friendly Wart Hogs and another expedition group which included the rest of our Impi.
After freshening up we had dinner which was surprisingly nice dehydrated pasta followed by illuminous pink strawberry mousse. We spent the evening talking around the campfire being told by the other group, of all the arduous walking that they had finished and we would be doing over the next few days. Everyone slept out under the stars and this was the first time anyone in our group had done this so some were slightly anxious but everyone was looking forward to it - especially as the stars were so amazingly bright.
Day 2 - Our
friendly wake up service was provided by Paul and Tom this
morning at 0600hrs who supplied us with methylated spirits and
drinking water and we starrted walking by 0730hrs. The start of
the journey was slowed by a visit to the shop at the holiday camp
which was on the route, to buy some drinks and to return the
bottles the other group had brought the day before. The delay was
only short though and we were soon stuck into our route which
couldnt have been used that often as we were able to spot the
footprints of the group before us who walked along it.
The morning went quite smoothly except when Nick sprained his ankle but he soon walked it off and then we continued towards the local school which we thought couldnt be hard to find. Everyone felt that was something different about today and it wasnt for a few hours until we realised what it was, which was that for the first time since arriving in Zimbabwe it was actually really cold. Not only that but a short time later it actually rained for about five minutes which was the only rain we saw for the whole three weeks but wasnt appreciated nonetheless.
Finding the schoold was more difficult than we expected because instead of finding five or six paths through the settlements around the school there were hundreds, well almost, which made the job of picking the right one all the more difficult. Some local children came to our aid, however and walked with us to the school where they were duly rewarded with sweets which they had obviously been aiming for.
After a stop for a light lunch by the school we finished the rest of the days walking pretty quickly as it was all along road and made it to Mtsheleli Dam where, because of the cold we decided to have the extra noodles given to us in the morning to warm us up. The other group camping with us that night turned up soon after us and we spent the next few hours exploring the rocks behind the campsite. When we got to the top we were able to see the whole lake and the scenery looked like it was from a fairytale and had been painted different shades of greens, browns and greys.
Dinner was not much of a success as it was dehydrated curried chicken, which doesnt even sound very nice so I wont even describe what it tasted like. Nevertheless it was hot so it got eaten and then we all went about getting warm and going to sleep. We were all in bed by 1800hrs which made us realise the walking was harder than it felt at some times and fell asleep listening to the Baboons on the rocks above us and Ollie fight the only two mosquitoes for mile around which both managed to find their way into his flysheet.
Daay 3 - To our
surprise today we were not woken by any of the leader team,
instead the local hippo decided to pay us a visit and started
snorting in the water about 40' away from us. Needless to say we
were all up, packed and ready to leve before the leader team
turned up, which was greatly to their surprise when they did.
The first section of the day to Togwana dam was not a problem navigationally as all that was needed was to walk along one road until we got there. The only problem was that todayit was very hot, unlike yesterday and it was almost all uphill which didnt help some of our expedition members who were starting to suffer. Again, we had a helping hand from the local warden who told us of a shortcut which, although it turned out it was pretty much the sam distance s our original route, it did allow us to get off the road and onto a path which was shaded by trees. We soon made it to Togwana Dam where we had lunch, relaxed for an hour and then prepared for the walk up to Inanke Caves. We left the bags with Nick who volunteered to stay at the Dam so that we could tackle the climb without our rucksacks as we knew it would be a challenge to get there and back which was 12k before dark.
This was another case of following the arrows which was fortunate as there was no trodden path to follow and there were so many twists and turn it would have been a nightmare to do frommaps and compass bearings. The walk turned out to be more of a climb in some places as it felt like we were defying the laws of physics walking up slopes that were impossibly steep, without having to use our hands or lose our footing, because the grip of our boots on the rough bare granite was amazingly good.
We eventually reached the cave, where we saw the best cave paintings yet and spent half an hour deciding what each painting was. Another group, who turned out to be americans arrived shortly afterwards and we started chatting about Zimbex and the work we were doing at Guvalala Platform and Songwa. To our surprise it turned out they already knew about us as they had seen us working at Guvalala Platform which made us think about how many other people had noticed us and the work we were doing. We said our farewells, as we had to get back to the Dam and we were wished good luck with the rest of our expedition. We started our descent to the campsite which seemed to be uphill again for some strange reason and got back to the camp to be greeted by the last group we would be camping with.
They had managed to organise for the warden to supply us with some bottled drinks from the nearby store while we were at the cave, which we were glad to receive. We cooked dinner quickly as it was getting dark and thentalked around the campfire for quite a long time as it was warm and our spirits were lifted as tomorrow was to be our last days walking. Tiredness soon took over and we fell asleep around the campfire for our last night out under the stars.
Day 4 - There
were mixed feelings about the prospect of the walking that had to
be done today for two main reasons. It was obviiously going to be
an extremely hot day and it was going to be a very labourious
walk as the objective was to keep walking along the road towards
Fort Usher until we were picked up after lunch sometime. Even so
we were still eager to get going as the end of the expedition was
in our sights.
We had a bit of a late start as we were waiting for the leader team to check on us but after they turned up we got going. We met a lot of people on the way as the road went through a lot of settlements and we soon gave away all of our sweets to the children. The weather was as hot as expected but we quickly made guite a good indent into the walk. After we were approaching lunchtime we asked two locals the distance to Fort Usher as we were not sure exactly how far we had walked and were surprised to be told 42k by one personand 6k by another. As the sun was getting extremely hot we stopped for lunch around noon, although our choice of tree was slightly unwise as after sitting down we noticed a strange buzzing sound. After about ten minutes we soon realised it was actually a bees enst but as we were worn out and were only eating corned beef and cracker bread we decided to take our chances and fortunately they took no notice of us.
It wasnt long after we had finished lunch that we were picked up by the minibus and when we were all aboard we were relieved it was finished, happy we had completed it and were looking forward to going to Victoria Falls that evening.
written by Andrew Holder
EXPEDITION GROUP 7
Day 1 - We got
dropped off at the Bombata Cave car park at 0905hrs. Our aim was
to get off to a good start for the first day of our long hike,
which we did. We decided we would take a trek up to Bombata Cave
to look at the paintings, unfortunately about 200 yards from our
goal Vicki could not go on no more so she stayed within sight
looking after the bags while we headed up to the caves. WE only
made a quick visit but htey were quite good all the same.
We carried on back down and off we went on the days trek. It was very hot and our packs were at their heaviest so it was a tiring start with myself convinced we were going in completely the wrong direction and would come out miles off route. I'm glad I was wrong. It was difficult to get the pace right as i'm a quick walker whowants to get to the finish point as early as possible, as is Steve, while Vicki was a slower walker and no amount of trying on my part to convince everyone we should walk extremely quickly as it wasnt hot and we were just imagining it, could get us all to walk together at a faster pace.
About an hour or two into the walk we met up with what was most of Impi 4 on the last leg of their expedition. We reassured them it wasnt far and they returned the favour (liars). The terrain then got very rocky and mountainous before we had to walk through a bamboo field twelve feet high. Numerous cuts and scratched resulted but nothing phased us. Well not much. We were walking more in step when we came to a cross roads at aroung 1230hrs, we stopped for lunch before heading off toget a head start on the afternoons heat.
We visited another cave painting which was also good and spent some time speaking to the young ticket clerk about the cave paintings, what we were doing and how far it was to the dam. We headed off, negotiating large rocks and steep slopes before we got to a road and went in the wrong direction for half an hour. By this time we were vert hot and tired with aching feet and sore shoulders but we werent far off so we continued until we reached the cmp site at 1530hrs where we collapsed. Literally.
Maleme Dam, it was good to be there finally. We set up camp then went to the shop for some refeshments before showering and cooked dinner. Altogether it was a very tiring and challenging start to the expedition.
Day 2 - This
was the longest day and we all knew it. When we got up and were
preparing to go we had to fight the Wart Hogs off in order to get
in our bags. They were trying to get at the food but didnt stand
a chance. The austrian family on the site next to us screamed and
his inthe car when the Wart Hogs came over to them which we found
quite amusing. We set off at 0730hrs when it was most cold at a
very slow "i'm still sore from yesterday" pace.
Tremendous stuff from Vicki who, it turned out had not been well
on Day 1 and was not much better today though she led all the way
and set the standard. Simone had severe feet problems, Gillian
had a sore back, my feet hurt, Vicki wasnt feeling top and if
Steve had anything wrong he didnt say and this was after only one
With me , map reading and everyone listening to me we managed to get lost and when we asked for directions, the man after looking at the map, pronounced we were about 25k from where we started. This just confused us even more and it wasnt until about an hour later, whilst having a break under a tree that Tom's group turned up and we found out where we were. We headed off down the road, had lunch then off into the afternoon heat again. It seemed a lot further that it was as the sun beat down and we walked slowly. When the camp site, Mtsheleli Dam came into sight relief spread across the group, the pace quickened (slightly) and as soon as we reached a suitable spot we just crashed out for the afternoon. Simones feet were a state, I had blisters as did Gillian and Steve and Vicki was the only one who didnt.
We had a similar evening to the night before, I was left without any hot water when I had a shower and then for dinner we cooked a gorgous curried rice meal. Then it was time to bed out in the open under the stars again, mosquito net not needed, whilst Steve and I slpet on the outside row in case anything did attack during the night it would eat us first. We had arrived there at 1430hrs which was very good for the 24-25k we did that day.
Day 3 - We set
off from here at 0800hrs having had a bit of a lie in, watching
the sun rise over the mountains and the lake we were next to. It
was a long hard walk in the morning with the terrain varying
greatly and peoples problems and injuries taking hold. We battled
on together wtih regular short stops and water breaks, we couldnt
have anyone dropping out at this stage. We were rapidly consuming
our rations of raisons, nuts and biscuits and the two litresof
water most of us were carrying were being drunk quite quickly. We
got to the campsite at 1100hrs and again stayed where we fell. We
were near the toilet block so we had shade and water at hand
though we chose to chill out and sunbathe before embarking on the
trek to Inanke Cave that afternoon.
I took a walk arounf the lake and saw lots of lizards, getting some time to myself while the rest of our expedition group did whatever they could to relax and take it easy. After lunch Gillian, Steve and I headed off on the Inanke Cave walk, leaving Simone who couldnt walk and Vicki who wasnt feeling well, to relax and look after the kit.
It was 6k there and the same back but what we were not told was that of the 6k there, at least 5.5k was uphill and 1litre of water each is not enough. It was seriously tiring and a very demanding climb. At each croner we thought this must be it but it wasnt so we went on. In total it took us 3 hours there and back and some time in the cave which we were quite pleased with. Though, for the climb itself it was debatable as to whether it was worth the struggle. This was the day everyones injuries were at their worst and it was very painful for all of us. Overall we must have walked 21-22k including the caves that day which was not easy.
Day 4 - It was
a cold night and the moon was very bright, nobody slept
brilliantly and we were off at 0730hrs. It was a nice day but the
hottest morning so far by a long way. The road was very long and
dry and after about 0930hrs it got very boring. There was no
change of scenery and we all really wanted to be picked up and
taken back to base camp at Gordon Park but we kept going. Singing
songs from West End musicals and Disney films plus looking
forward to going up to Victoria Falls the following day was our
motivation. We had lots of stops throughout the day because of
the heat which completely sapped energies so that all we wanted
to do was lay down, have a nice hot meal that we didnt have to
cook on a Trangia and sleep.
We got picked up at 1210hrs having walked 10k or just over. We didnt make it to Fort Usher and the road being so bland made landmarks difficult to recognise, so pinpointing our location was near impossible. The photograph of us at the end of the hike makes us look surprisingly awake with far more energy than we actually had. It wasnt a great achievement, we had completed the hike, we were all in one piece and we couldnt wait to get into a fresh set of clothes and a comfy pair of trainers. Despite all the difficulties and hardships involved, i'm sure we all enjoyed it deep down and I think everyone sees it as a success.
written by David Rea