Mighty Cape Gauge Garratts in Zimbabwe

Steam in Zimbabwe for photographers 2. – 13.6.2022

Garratts in Simbabwe

Even after four years away from Zimbabwe, the difficulties of the trips to there still linger, but with a few Garratts still operational, it would be a shame not to see them in action. We have worked out, and negotiated over several months, a completely different itinerary for June 2022. We will only make a short stop in Hwange but we will experience a line that hardly sees any photo charter trains: The former West Nicholson Branch is rarely visited although it has spectacular sections to offer.

South Africa will act as a short extension to the Zimbabwe tour with a chance to see another mighty Garratt. AND because the Umgeni Steam Railway is so close, we will call in there too. It currently has "only" one 19D operational, but they are working on a 3BR. And although it is not yet clear whether this will be ready by the time of our visit, we’re quite hopeful.

Garratts in Simbabwe

The current pandemic might flare up again in the coming African winter, which is why we timed our trip for the beginning of winter, when case numbers in southern Africa are likely to be comparatively low. The population of southern Africa has also largely achieved immunity from Covid by now, not so much through a vaccination program, but through contagion and herd immunity. Nevertheless, we may expect some travel restrictions with additional forms to be filled out.






Flight to South Africa


Connecting flight to Bulawayo, arrival in the afternoon. Transfer to our hotel in Bulawayo. Every evening we will return to our hotel in Bulawayo for the first part of the tour, as there is no adequate hotel close to our line. As the roads are empty it’s an easy drive. If you want, you can come along to the Bulawayo depot in the evening and take some night pictures. A class 15A locomotive will be in steam.


On the slightly undulating tine from Figtree to Plumtree we will try to photograph both, sunrise and sunset. We have chartered a passenger train with a Class 15A, the fast and beautiful 4-6-4+4-6-4-Garratts for this purpose.


We set off with a freight train on the double-track main line towards Harare from Bulawayo to Heany Jn. In the evening we let the train stay overnight in Heany Jn.


The former West Nicholson branch line branches off from the main line at Heany Jn. We have a typical 1980s goods train on the hook, hauled by one of the 2-8-2+2-8-2-class 16As often used on this line. We’ll continue to Colleen Bawn, from where our charter buses will take us back to Bulawayo.


We use the morning light to take pictures on the gradient at Gwanda. Afterwards our locomotive run light engine back to Mbalabala to be turned. It returns in the early afternoon and we can take pictures of the photogenic gradient south of Gwanda in the afternoon light.


Today we deal with the Gwanda – Mbalabala – Esigodini section and will experience the winding line around of the mountains as well as the considerable gradient in the Mulungwane Gorge. This gradient was the reason why loaded trains always have been rather short on this line.


From Esigodini we return to Bulawayo with a focus on the morning light. The track climbs almost all the way to Heany Jn.


In the morning we will visit the depot of Bulawayo where a 14A will be in steam and shunting around for our group. Around noon we will leave for Victoria Falls by our charter buses. Hotel in Victoria Falls.


With Bushtracks' 4-8-2-locomotive we will run a photo charter train over the famous Victoria Falls Bridge at sunrise. We plan to photograph it from the Zambian side of the bridge. As we have to take their dinner train into consideration we unfortunately cannot go on the bridge at sunset. But the national park is worth visiting from both sides. We will also visit the railway museum in Livingstone in Zambia and have a look at the locomotives of Bushtracks. Hotel in Victoria Falls.


We will again take pictures at sunrise at the bridge by the falls, this time from the Zimbabwean side. We will then drive to the airport and fly on to South Africa, arriving in Durban in the evening (VFA 13:20 – 18:50 DUR). If you only want to do the Zimbabwe trip, you can fly back home from South Africa. Flights from Victoria Falls to Johannesburg take you to the major international hub in Southern Africa, from where you can fly on to many cities in Europe and America.


Arrival at home.


Line description

The railway line to Plumtree leads through hilly savannah landscape. Many thorn bushes, the reddish brown earth and the vastness of Africa surround it as it parallels the road to Botswana. Despite some gradients, the line is rather less interesting from a photographic point of view, BUT it runs in an east-west direction, which is why we will concentrate on sunrise and sunset shots. Sunrise is a difficult time for the NRZ but together I’m sure we can help to make it work. This line was the route of the NRZ's "flagship train", the weekly train to Johannesburg, with a well-kept and polished 15A and the best-maintained and newest carriages the NRZ could offer.

Garratts in Simbabwe

The former West Nicholson branch line now runs to Beitbridge and on to South Africa and is operated by a private company. The line has some really steep gradients and many curves. It is famous for its huge monoliths and the Mulungwane Gorge, which is not a deep gorge, but rather a hilly landscape that the railway crosses in a sharp, winding gradient. There is some freight traffic on the railway, partly transit trains to and from South Africa, and some serving the large industrial site at Colleen Bawn. The triangle at Colleen Bawn is no longer usable, but there is a working triangle at Mbalabala, where we can also turn our locomotive.

Garratts in Simbabwe

The West Nicholson branch line used Classes 14A and 16A in the last years of steam operation.

The famous bridge at Victoria Falls needs no description. It is very photogenic, especially in the morning. We will let trains travel over it in both directions to be able to take photos from several different angles.


Small print

We are likely to see three different Garratts in use on our trip in Zimbabwe (Classes 14A, 15A and 16A). The refurbishment of Garratts for shunting service and safari trains that was started more than a decade ago was never consistently followed through. Therefore, the technical condition of the locomotives is rather poor to very poor. The cylinder valves and the stuffing boxes will probably leak, sound recordings will be impaired, and in cool morning air the locomotive can sometimes completely envelop itself in steam. For good reason, we will therefore have a diesel locomotive on the train most of the time, as we did for the first time in Zimbabwe in 2007. For the photo stops, the diesel locomotive will of course be detached.

Garratts in Simbabwe

Despite some press reports to the contrary, as tourists we will find a peaceful country with friendly, open-minded and very helpful people. The railwaymen will do their utmost to accommodate our wishes. Despite a run-down economy, the crime rate is very low, food and beverages are readily available. Most people speak at least some English, many even fluently, which makes communication very easy. Despite poverty, there are almost no beggars. Nevertheless, one should not have any illusions. Zimbabwe is in difficult political and economic waters. Our visit will support the efforts of the state railway to keep some of their Garratts running.

The hotels chosen are mostly of an acceptable standard and all have hot showers and toilets. However, inadequacies cannot be ruled out due to the African mentality and the difficult economic situation. In relation to the quality, they are all overpriced, but due to the lack of real alternatives, we have no other choice.

The economic situation can be the reason for strikes. As always, we cannot guarantee anything that we do not have under control and it is equally impossible to guarantee a particular locomotive or train composition. Severe delays due to all sorts of reasons may even lead to the cancellation of some charters. One has to accept that the maintenance of the Garratts is aimed at shunting duties and it is a miracle that they can still perform at all. Look closely and you will see why we must be cautious in our expectations!

Garratts in Simbabwe

The visa for Zimbabwe is issued at the airport upon entry. Please be sure to buy the so-called "UNIVISA", as this saves you time and money when entering Zambia. You do not need a visa for double entry plus a visa for Zambia, but have everything in one visa. Visa fees vary according to nationality and must be paid at the airport on arrival.

There is a low risk of Malaria in Hwange and Victoria Falls. Usually a mosquito net and Malaria tablets (such as Lariam) are sufficient as stand-by medication, but you should consult your doctor or a tropical medicine institute before travelling if you’re unsure. As we are travelling in the very pleasant dry season, the risk of Malaria is very low. Apart from the vaccination against Covid, there are currently no vaccination requirements for entering Zimbabwe or Zambia.

In the country, you need US Dollars for all payments. You can't do too much with the Zimbabwe Dollar. The South African Rand is also accepted in certain places, but the US Dollar gives you more flexibility. You also need US Dollars for food and drinks.

Garratts in Simbabwe

To get in the mood for the country, it is advisable to read the old travel reports available on the FarRail website.

We expect temperatures between twelve degrees in the morning and 30 degrees in the afternoon in Victoria Falls. In Bulawayo it will hardly get above 27 degrees. Mostly it is sunny.

Electricity supply is reasonably reliable with some interruptions but recharging batteries was not a problem on previous trips. Where there is a mobile phone network (Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, Hwange), you can also make phone calls with a normal Central European or American SIM card in your mobile phone.

Garratts in Simbabwe

We guarantee that we will try everything to make the trip as successful and enjoyable as possible. We try to work out many good photo opportunities. Nevertheless, you can only take part in the trip if you accept that things may go differently from what you wanted, ordered and paid for. There is no possibility for compensation or refund of money in case of delays (even drastic ones), changes or cancellation of services, unwanted train compositions, lack of coal or water, etc. Claims of any nature whatsoever cannot be made against NRZ, the local tour operator or FarRail Tours. So in short - locomotives, wagons, lines, journey times etc. cannot be guaranteed in any way.

Bear in mind that we are travelling to a country with difficult economic and political conditions, where the mentality of the inhabitants and their culture is clearly different from the Western European one. If this were not the case, we would have little chance of running such authentic trains with the fascinating Garratts at all. The trains and almost the entire railway have not changed much for decades. Such a journey would not be possible had Zimbabwe continued to develop since the end of the scheduled use of steam locomotives. The only way to experience one of the mighty Garratts in front of absolutely authentic-looking trains is to accept the risk of train cancellations and delays with good grace and good humour. Usually, quite a few good shots have been taken even under adverse conditions. We therefore think it is well worth taking the risk and visiting Zimbabwe one more time. The economic situation is better now than it was ten years ago. If you can live with the fact that not everything will be done with Swiss precision, then you are very welcome on this trip.

Garratts in Simbabwe

Environmental standards in Zimbabwe differ from those of many developed industrialised countries. Nevertheless, it is forbidden to simply cut down trees and bushes. Please note that the hotels, buses, trains, in fact everything we will encounter, are by no means EU compliant. That is why we are travelling there. Please bear in mind the dangers that can arise from using and staying near railways. Everyone travels at their own risk. It is recommended that you take out travel cancellation insurance, foreign accident insurance and the always important (and cheap) foreign health insurance. Neither the local organiser, NRZ or FarRail Tours are liable for accidents of any kind, damage, losses, theft or inconveniences, additional costs, etc., which may arise, for example, from necessary rebooking or delays of individual modes of transport.



Elephants on Rails: Garratts 26 to 48 participants £4,310
02.06.2022 – 13.06.2022 Single room surcharge £620
Registration Deadline: 01.05.2022

In addition you need to calculate with the following expenses:

Expenses for meals, approx.

25 US-Dollars
25 US-Dollars
30 US-Dollars
Bottle of Beer (0.3 – 0.5 l):
2 US-Dollars
Bottle of Water (0.3 l):
1 US-Dollar
UNIVISA (multiple entry to Zambia included):
50 to 75 US-Dollar

The price includes:

Not included are:

Garratts in Zimbabwe


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