Today was the first of the shorter travel days that we had been promised and it made a huge difference. We left Harare at 7am and were at tonight’s campsite – Clever’s Lakeview Resort near Masvingo – before 1pm. This meant that we weren’t as exhausted as on previous days and it also meant that we could see some sights today and not just the inside of the truck.
Clever’s Lakeview Resort
Clever’s is a great place. It mainly caters to regular coach tours and individual (ie richer) tourists but there are plenty of facilities for overland vehicles including lots of showers and shared cooking facilities with a fire pit. It’s situated on the hills overlooking Lake Mutirikwi and the views are spectacular which, combined with the sound of Lions roaring in the nearby Lion Park, makes for a very unique setting.
We spent a couple of hours here setting up camp, having lunch, and resting before heading off to the main attraction for the day – the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.
The ruins of Great Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe, after which the country takes its name, is thought to have been the capital of a great trading Kingdom that spanned the region for several centuries until the Middle Ages, although very little is known about it. The little information that we do have comes from sporadic documents detailing the travels of traders and explorers in the region.
What is known is that the city was ruled by a King, who resided in a fortress on the top of the hill overlooking the site, and that he had a large number of wives who all lived in a compound in the city below. The site covers almost 3 square miles, which would have been home to a large number of people at the height of its power, and it is recognised as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
We were given a guided tour of the site by one of the local guides who gave us a lot of information about the history of the site, at least the bits that we know, and about its rediscovery and investigation in modern times.
The Great Enclosure
Our first stop on the tour was the Great Enclosure which, it is reported, is where the King’s wives would have lived. It has walls of up to 11 metres tall that were put together without any mortar or cement and the fact that they are still standing after so long is incredible. We spent around 20 minutes here before being taken to our next stop, which was a recreation of what the buildings that regular citizens lived in may have looked like.
I’m generally not a fan of recreations or re-enactments, but we were treated to a song and dance performance by some people showing us some traditional dances from the region. During this time we were free to wander the area, check out the buildings, and stock up on souvenirs if we wished.
The final stop, and by far the highlight of the tour, was a climb up to the hill complex where the King is believed to have lived. Usually this is the first place that people go on a visit to Great Zimbabwe but we asked if we could go there at the end so that we could watch the sunrise over the site.
The Hill Complex
The climb up is not easy, and you need to be reasonably fit to do it, but it’s well worth the climb. You are treated to some amazing views and have a chance to wander the complex at leisure to see where the King would have lived, including his throne overlooking a small courtyard. This is where he would have held court and heart petitions from his citizens.
We weren’t the only ones who had the idea to watch the sunset from the hill complex and, after a short time, we were joined by a family of Baboons which sat just down from us enjoying the view. When you travel, especially to destinations like this, there will be moments that stick with you forever and this is definitely going to be one of those moments.
It turns out that there are two routes up to the hill complex – the old route, which is the original, and a newer route which has stairs and railings. Our guide took us up the old route so that we got the authentic Great Zimbabwe experience but we descended by the new route which was a LOT easier.
Dinner tonight was in the shared cooking area over the glow of a campfire and the tastes of my last remaining cider. It was a really enjoyable evening, but I’ll definitely have to stock up on cider again soon.