You’ll arrive into Zim’s sleepy capital, but before you escape to safari yourselves silly, have a quick refresh and stay the night at Pevensey House, a private home decked out in an eclectic collection of art, from Mozambican to Congolese. There’s an elegant charm to this secluded residence – think lofty palms and emerald lawns, plus thick, cooling walls for the hot summers and grand fireplaces for winter nights. After a pot of rooibos under cobalt skies, you’ll be ready to be thrust into the sub-Saharan swing of things. From £95 per person, per night, amanzi.co.zw
Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve
Touch down: in a 130,000-acre expanse, on a private-charter light aircraft, beside soaring tawny eagles and red-billed hornbills – aka The Lion King’s Zazu. From the moment your feet touch the cinnamon-like dust, you’ll be agog at the nature. This is a biodiversity hotspot, with rhinos, hippos, leopards and elephants under the 24-hour protection of an anti-poaching squad.
Stay at: the recently refurbished Singita Pamushana Lodge, which reopened in May. This thatched hilltop property has an earthy, ochre texture throughout, with dashes of ceramic and fabric flare. Snuggled among jagged sandstone cliffs and rotund baobab trees, this intimate safari retreat of just eight suites looks north-east across a glassy lake where crocodiles and hippos bask. If you’re feeling brave, the ‘sleep out’ is a must – just you, the Milky Way and the occasional roar of the wilderness. From £1,250 per person, per night, all inclusive; singita.com
Hwange National Park
Touch down: at Manga Airstrip, in the heart of Zimbabwe’s biggest national park, Hwange. It’s here that you’ll find the largest concentration of elephants in the country, and enjoy brilliantly boozy lunches beside watering holes crammed with crocodiles. This is the total antithesis of some national parks in neighbouring South Africa, where wildlife encounters can often be shared with dozens, if not hundreds, of other tourists. In Hwange, you’ll certainly feel like you have this wild country entirely to yourself.
Stay at: The new Verney’s Camp (opened in May), to experience authentic Out Of Africa textures, such as hefty mahogany furnishings, grand chandeliers and teak cabinets, set beneath khaki canvases. This tented camp exudes an earthy-hued opulence, while hiding state-of-the-art technology behind the scenes – the solar farm is big enough to provide ample power for the entire camp, and then some. Almost all of the furniture has been created especially for the property, but the 1915 Louis Vuitton steamboat suitcase is certainly the showstopper. This is classic safari elegance, defined. From £344 per person, per night; machabasafaris.com/verneys-camp
Explore: the private concession directly surrounding Verney’s, before heading even further afield into the vast, almost 6,000-square-mile national park of staggering biodiversity. Hwange is a landscape practically vibrating with big game, myriad bird species and reptiles – from herds of 40+ elephants, to packs of endangered wild dogs. This is the stomping ground of lions including six-year-old brothers Humba and Natsai. If you’re really lucky, you might stumble across their scruffy faces as they laze by a fresh kill. Hwange really is a backdrop devoid of mass tourism – wild and seemingly never-ending across every rusty, dusty horizon.
Matobo National Park
Touch down: at Bulawayo Airport and head for the Matobo Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage site of precariously balanced granite formations, dense ironwood forests and lifelong pairs of love-struck klipspringers (tiny antelope) that dart excitedly between spinneys of sun-dried brush. Spread across 1,200 square miles, this is also the only place in Zimbabwe where you can see both black and white rhinos living side by side.
Stay at: Khayelitshe House in Matapos, a luxury private home hidden in a valley of sandy boulders and eucalyptus trees. There’s an air of steampunk here, with exposed copper piping, weathered teak railway sleepers and armchairs welded together from gnarly rusted machinery. It’s also the perfect place to bring in Dean Dowdney, aka ‘The Safari Butler’, who’ll rustle up thick slabs of steak over hissing mopane coals, washed down with South African wine. From £1,825 for the entire lodge, per night, sleeping up to eight people; africanbushcamps.com
Explore: this landscape of perplexing natural beauty, where you’ll find one of the highest concentrations of rock art on the planet. It’s impossible not to be amazed by Stone Age illustrations of giraffes, wildebeest and zebra, many dating back over 13,000 years, as local historian Paul Hubbard wows you with his encyclopaedic knowledge.
Touch down: at Victoria Falls International Airport. As you circle in to land over the mighty Zambezi River, you’ll make out plumes of mist swirling into the sky. Wait ’til you hear this monster roar; your earlobes will shake with the rumble.
Stay at: Matetsi Victoria Falls, a secluded bolthole in 135,000 acres of concession, with nine miles of private Zambezi frontage. There’s a fitness centre, lap pool and library just metres from the river where hippos grunt in the evenings and baboons swing mischievously through the trees. You’ll probably get closer to the wildlife here than anywhere else in Zim – on some evenings, you might even find an elephant stripping branches right beside your glass-fronted bedroom. Not to worry – time for another nightcap. From £540 per person, per night, all inclusive; matetsivictoriafalls.com
Explore: Victoria Falls, with the help of your private guide. But be warned – you’re likely to get totally drenched. It’s all part of the fun, though, and after spending time in Zim’s parched hinterland, the sensation of cold water on your skin will be a welcome relief. Matetsi’s sunset Zambezi cruises are life changing – accompanied by a glass of something icy and delicious as elephant calves lope in the shallows. Southern African sunsets are nearly always mind blowing, but these may well be the best on the planet; indigo turning mauve, then pink, before reaching a tangerine crescendo.
This article was originally published in the January/February 2019 issue of BRIDES. Simon's itinerary was arranged by Mavros Safaris.