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near Cement Bulawayo

Zimbabwe & Botswana: Elephants on Rails and in the Wilderness

This is a very special FarRail Tours trip, designed for the discriminating rail photographer and the traveller who wants to see some of the natural highlights of this beautiful part of the world. Our trip combines exciting steam photography with wildlife and the wonders of African scenery. Fine accommodations and a relaxed schedule really provide an opportunity to experience both steam and the wonderful natural and cultural experience of Zimbabwe and Botswana. This is an excellent trip for railway photographers and spouses or other family members to what to experience a real part of Africa!

view from the Victoria Falls bridge

Victoria Falls bridge

Zimbabwe is a beautiful country with fascinating wildlife and scenery. The spectacular Victoria Falls, known as "the smoke that thunders!", is one of the absolute musts when travelling to Africa. It truly is a wonder of the world. Friendly, welcoming people and their warm hospitality make a stay in Zimbabwe pleasant in all aspects. Last but certainly not least, Zimbabwe and Botswana offer the last commercial steam services on what was once called the "dark continent". We'll visit it all, the sights of the country, the wildlife, as well as the "elephants on rails", the last mighty Garratts in regular service in the world. The Garratts and 4-8-2s that we will see are probably the largest working British steam locos (Beyer-Peacock, North British, Robert Stephenson) anywhere, and as well there are very similar Henschels. We strongly recommend that you do not delay in seeing these wonderful locomotives while steam is still in daily operation.





10.8.2006 Departure Europe from London and Frankfurt/Main aboard of one of the Star Alliance or One World airlines in tourist class. Business or first class is available if required (please let us know your preferences).
11.8.2006 Arrival Johannesburg in the morning, connecting flight to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. During British colonial times it was called Salisbury and was the capital of Southern Rhodesia. We'll arrive there in the late morning. We'll visit the diesel depot in Lochivar by hired minibuses, which we'll use for the rest of the tour. In the afternoon and evening we'll continue to Bulawayo. We'll stay in the Holiday Inn hotel in Bulawayo, for the first of two nights.
12.8.2006 Today we'll have the first contact with the big Garratts. We'll visit the steam depot of Bulawayo and its massive steam locomotives (classes 14A, 15/15A, 16A). Around noon we have arranged a visit to the wonderful railway museum of Bulawayo where we'll enjoy a barbeque (which on our 2005 tour was fantastic!). In the afternoon we'll have a guided tour of the steam repair shop, where the Garratts are being overhauled. The steam crew, which is English speaking, is highly experienced and very friendly, and will provide a unique insight into the Zimbabwe steam program. We will have more opportunities for photography in the later afternoon and perhaps some sunset and night shots for those who which to take some. Hotel Holiday Inn in Bulawayo.
13.8.2006 Optional morning visit to the big shunting yard of Bulawayo, which is served by Garratts and vintage General Electric diesel locomotives. After lunch we'll visit the Rhodes National park west of Bulawayo, which offers broad vistas over the African bush as well as archaeological sites. In the afternoon we'll continue and cross the border to Botswana in the evening, which is an adventure in itself! If you have never passed through the border check posts into a country behind the iron curtain before 1990, you'll get a slight impression of what you have "missed." It really is a fascinating, but in no way threatening, experience. Accommodation in the hotel Travel Inn in Selebi Phikwe (for a two-night stay).
14.8.2006 Visit to the steam operated railway system of Selebi Phikwe's copper mine (class 19D 4-8-2s and class 14A Garratts). We'll visit the small engine depot and photograph the trains in line service. The steam locos handle heavy, long ore trains from the mines to the smelter. Accommodation at the Travel Inn in Selebi Phikwe, where the food is excellent and we can try some traditional Botswanian dishes.
15.8.2006 In the morning we'll have another chance to see the beautiful class 19D, this time in morning light, in regular use before we'll head back for Bulawayo. We'll arrive there in the evening and stay overnight in the Holiday Inn again.
16.8.2006 Optional early morning visit to the depot and the shunting yard of Bulawayo. Around 10 am we'll head for one of the largest game reserves in Africa, the Hwange National Park (former Wankie National Park). We'll be seeing elephants, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, a variety of birds and many other animals in this vast nature reserve in the late afternoon and evening when viewing is best. You'll be impressed how many wild animals are visible in the game reserve. Overnight at the lovely Hwange Safari Lodge, a beautiful spot where Zebras may well be grazing within sight of the hotel (they were when we stopped by for lunch in August 2005!).
17.8.2006 A full day for watching the animals in their natural surroundings. The best time to watch them is at sunrise (around 6.20 am) and in the evening before sunset (5.30 pm). Overnight in the peaceful and lovely Hwange Safari Lodge for a second night.
18.8.2006 Morning drive to the Hwange colliery where Garratts are running regularly with heavy coal trains. This colliery uses Garratts (class 15A) for shunting and on the two-mile-long spur to the state railway station of Thomson Junction, once a base for Garratts. They also have 4-8-2s. In the evening we'll continue further north to Victoria Falls and stay in the luxury Victoria Falls hotel with a view on the spectacular Victoria Falls bridge.
19.8.2006 In the morning we'll get aboard a colonial style charter train, complete with a dining/refreshment car, hauled by a Garratt class 14A. It will bring us over the spectacular Victoria Falls bridge to Zambia. Many runpasts are planned, including several over the beautiful Victoria Falls bridge. A brief visit to Victoria Falls on the Zambian side and the railway museum at Livingstone will complete our short stay in Zambia, the former Northern Rhodesia. Around noon we'll return to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and then visit the stunning Victoria Falls National Park. Enjoy exciting views of the 300-foot-deep waterfalls from several fascinating viewpoints in a tropical surroundings. In the evening we've planned a sunset cruise on the mighty Zambezi river. Accommodation again in the nearby Victoria Falls Hotel.
20.8.2006 In the morning we'll visit a crocodile farm near Victoria Falls, or you can once again stroll along the rim of Victoria Falls or try some informal railway photography. Around noon we'll head for Bulawayo, dropping by the Hwange Colliery another time to try for some more line shots of hard working Garratts. In the late evening we'll reach Bulawayo. Hotel Holiday Inn in Bulawayo.
21.8.2006 Our special Garratt-powered freight train from Bulawayo to Highfields today will be a highlight of the trip and will take us about 9 hours. Several runpasts will be provided for photography in some great photo locations. Visit to the village of Nyamandhlovu, a typical African village off the main roads. When we return to Bulawayo we'll say goodbye to the Garratts with some late afternoon or sunset shots. Accommodation at the Holiday Inn in Bulawayo for a second night.
22.8.2006 We'll return to Harare by minibus and visit the National Railways of Zimbabwe's depot for their electric locomotives in Gweru on the way. We plan to arrive Harare in the late afternoon. Hotel Holiday Inn in Harare.
23.8.2006 After a relaxing morning and some opportunities for individual sightseeing and shopping, a noon transfer to the airport and the flight back home via Johannesburg (where there is good shopping in the airport).
24.8.2006 Morning arrival in London or Frankfurt and connecting flight to your home airport.


Details of the tour

The amazing African wildlife alone is a wonderful reason to visit Zimbabwe. We'll visit one of the outstanding National Parks with the most animals and a variety of natural habitats. At the water holes you can easily and safely watch elephants, hippos, rhinos, crocodiles, giraffes, zebras, monkeys and a variety of birds. They have installed some viewing towers from which you can take photographs or just contemplate the vastness of Africa and the diversity of its wildlife. We can drive through the game reserve by minibuses and make photographic and wildlife viewing stops along the way. We can easily go around and enjoy the wildlife.

Elephants-hello 1

Elephants-hello 2

Rhodes National Park offers some exciting vistas of interesting rock formations and more opportunities for seeing the African countryside. Some caves with ancient drawings on their walls are open to visitors. It's not possible to reach every point of the park by vehicle, so be prepared to walk around a little bit if you would like to, and really get a feeling for the African landscape.

Rhodes National Park

Bulawayo is a medium sized city that in many ways seems unchanged from several decades ago. It is an important crossing of railway lines with a large yard and two loco depots, one for steam and one for diesel. A visit to the amazing large steam depot is worth the trip alone! If you haven't experienced a sunset in Africa before, you're guaranteed to be impressed by the stunning colours of the sky at dusk. Together with one of the mighty Garratts, as they steam around the yards at Bulawayo, there are many wonderful photographs possible, especially at dusk. Line service was suspended some time ago, but the commuter trains could well be switched back to steam again (as has been done periodically). Moreover, there are freight movements between the railway stations, which are very much like line operations and are entirely authentic, and there is lots of shunting around the yards and industrial areas. There are many Garratts and several other types and classes of engines at the shed and all of the steam facilities are still active including the turntable. Outside of China, this is probably the biggest surviving steam depot in the world.

sunset in Bulawayo, loco driver and fireman of 15A 395 sunrise in the depot of Bulawayo with 16A 612

The Bulawayo Railway Museum is within easy walking distance of the steam shed and has an exceptional collection of locomotives, rolling stock and smaller artefacts from the Zimbabwe and Rhodesian Railways. There are diesels, electrics and beautifully restored carriages and steam locomotives, and all very well displayed. Our visit and barbeque also helps to support the museum and its important efforts at preserving the country's railway heritage. Moreover, the museum gives us an opportunity to purchase books, replica builder's and locomotive name plates, original railway china and other items to make the visit even more memorable. Where else can you enjoy a wonderful barbeque and listen to real working Garratt locomotives in the distance? The staff and volunteers are very knowledgeable and will help you appreciate the history of this fascinating railway system and Zimbabwe today.

Lochivar diesel shed, Harare

The Hwange Colliery in Hwange (the former Wankie) uses one or two steam locomotives daily. The number in use depends on the availability of empty wagons brought in by the state railway. Normally they are using one of their two operational Garratts. Beside these a class 19D locomotive is still serviceable, and several other engines are at the shed or under repairs. The mine railway has an impressive gradient from the state railway station to the washery and there are several good photo opportunities, giving excellent chances for shots of real line work! There are usually two trains during daylight and the photographic opportunities here are many

With our train to Livingstone we'll pass over the impressive century-old, riveted girder arch bridge over the Victoria Falls gorge of the Zambezi River. Our charter train will pass this bridge three times to give us opportunities for taking pictures from a view point in the National Park of Zambia. It's also possible to charter a helicopter to capture the train and water falls in the same scene. Everyone who wants can use this air service. There are some small airplanes and one helicopter available for tourists to see the waterfalls from above. We can charter these for about £70 (100 Euros) per person. If you wish to take a shot from above, we'll arrange the helicopter. [The price for the round trip flight of about 20 minutes is not included in the tour price and the arrangement with the helicopter has to be made one day in advance.] Even with tight planning it is somewhat difficult to be at just the right position when the train is on the bridge, so we can't guarantee you an air photo with the train on the bridge at the perfect location, but it is fun to try and everyone will do their best to help make it possible.

Victoria Falls National Park

Victoria Falls National Park: fantastic water cascades, rainbows, tropical vegetation and a large variety of birds can be observed. It's easy to walk alongside the waterfalls on sign posted paths that feature amazing views and beautiful tropical vegetation. You should take plenty of extra film (or batteries and digital memory cards) inside the national park as there are many exiting photographic possibilities. In the evening we've planned a special event on the Zambezi River for you. Don't forget to bring along some reading about African exploration and history, because this is really a chance to enjoy books about Burton, Speke, Livingstone and Stanley, Rhodes and many others, not to mention the construction of the railways. For something a little more relaxing, copies of Alexander McCall-Smith's books set in Botswana about "The No. 1 Ladie's Detective Agency" are a must! There are also several excellent books available on Zimbabwe Railways and their locomotives.

Our special freight train (with attached passenger coach as well as freight wagons) to Highfields will give us an authentic feeling of freight service as it was until 15 years ago. The African bush land, rural villages without any road connection, some gradients with sweeping curves and a hard working Garratt in front of our train will be the unforgettable sights of this trip. In Nyamandhlovu, a water station, we'll visit the remote village. Enjoy the one and only bar in the village which can be located easily by it's hammer-beat music. It's the meeting point of the villagers.

The Selebi Phikwe Copper Mine in Botswana offers some very impressive pictures with the mine as backdrop, in addition to line service. The traffic is handled by beautiful 4-8-2 locomotives of class 19D as well as Garratts, sometimes. The line passes through bush country with many thorn bushes, for which the area is known. Moreover, visiting Botswana is a delightful experience in itself. Botswana is in many ways one of Africa's success stories and it is a country that has much to interest visitors.

Selebi Phikwe - a long ore train leaves the mine

Photography opportunities in Zimbabwe and Botswana are boundless, and everyone should get excellent photos or video on the trip. We will have the necessary permits in railway and industrial areas and the people are friendly and receptive to photography. Be sure to bring lots of film or memory cards and we recommend a second camera just in case you have mechanical difficulties. A tripod is especially useful for night shots and for wildlife.


Small Print

We'll probably see all the Garratts that are now in regular use. Although NRZ has started a program to overhaul at least ten Garratts for regular use and Safari charter trains, it may be that only a few are operating during any period of a few days. In case of coal shortage maybe one or two days will operating none at all. However, we expect to see some five Garratts in daily use besides our special charters, for an amazing spectacle of steam action. The reason for their survival is the poor economic situation in an anything but democratic country. Despite all the reports in the western press, we as tourists will find a peaceful country with very friendly and helpful people who will do everything possible to make our stay an enjoyable one. The crime rate is low, and food and beverages are easily available (although sometimes the selection may be limited). The people of Zimbabwe harbour no resentments towards white visitors at all. So you can feel relaxed and enjoy what you'll see. Most people speak some English, and many are fluent, and they are usually pleased to talk with visitors. After the most recent elections (with the expected result) we can anticipate that the situation in Zimbabwe will be stable for some time. The selected hotels in Zimbabwe are the best available and very good but expensive compared to European standards. Although many people are very poor, beggars are almost unknown. Please remember that any disapproving statements regarding President Mugabe or criticisms of the regime have to be avoided after you arrive in Zimbabwe. Despite a regime that is oppressive, our visit will help support the National Railways and their efforts at steam operation and it will contribute to their development program. We will also contribute to preservation at the Bulawayo Railway Museum.

Of course, there are some difficulties caused by the dire economical situation and fuel is not easily available. Please note, that we cannot guarantee anything beyond our control such as delays to trains or in obtaining fuel. Fuel is available, but getting it can be time consuming. We've decided to hire minibuses from a reliable international car hiring enterprise (Europcar). Although our booking is confirmed it might cause trouble to get the right cars at the date we want them. We'll find a solution, as always. These buses will be self-driven. If someone is interested in feeling back in the 1950s, as roads are often empty and in surprisingly good condition, (and you can drive safely at 120 km an hour), you may drive one of our minibuses. All you need is a driving licence.

in the Rhodes National Park in the Hwange National Park

Our visit to Botswana will lead us to the Selebi Phikwe Copper Mine where steam is in use for several trains each day. Botswana is economically stable, and a complete contrast to Zimbabwe. We should experience no difficulties here. The people of Botswana are friendly and very courteous, and are very proud of their country and the progress they have been making as a peaceful democratic society.

The visa for Zimbabwe will be issued at the airport. You have to pay 45 US$ for the double entry visa (for our visit to Botswana). If you want to go to Livingstone by train and return, instead of taking pictures from the air, you have to obtain another singe entry visa for the return from Zambia for 30 US$. The visa fee is not included in the tour price.

In Hwange and Victoria Falls there is a small to medium risk of Malaria. Please take either a Malaria prophylaxis or use a mosquito net and long cloths in the evening. At the moment there are no rules for special vaccinations. Our travel in the dry season makes the risk quite small, but it pays to be safe.

For exchanging money it is recommended you use US$, £ or Euros. One US$ is valued at more than 6,500 Zimbabwe $, so please expect to get a bundle of the (largest available) 20,000 Zim$ notes when changing money. Credit cards are accepted in tourist places and big cities. Changing money on the black market is a no-no!

We expect temperatures between about 12 degrees Centigrade (in the early morning) and 30 degrees Centigrade (only in Vic Falls). Normally it's dry and sunny and very pleasant.

Registration period expires May 1st, 2006.

Trip Reports

Please check our trip reports from recent tours to Botswana and Zimbabwe. Just click here for Botswana and here for Hwange.



Elephants on Rails from 10 participants 3,690 Euro £2,520
10.08.2006 - 24.08.2006 Single room surcharge 550 Euro £364

For those who aren't interested in high quality hotels we'll offer a budget version of this program.

Minimum number of participants: 10
Maximum number of participants: 30

Land only arrangements are possible too (please subtract £550), please ask us about other options.

The price includes:

Not included are:

The prices are based on a block booking with the airline and there is a limited number of seats. Early booking is recommended. After the registration period has expired your booking may be accepted for the additional price the airline will ask for.

Special freight train beyond Nyamandhlovu


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