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near Cement Bulawayo

Elephants on Rails and in the Wilderness – Garratts in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe 09.06. – 24.06.2007

Our trip combines exciting steam photography based on chartered freight trains with wildlife and the wonders of African scenery. This is an excellent trip for railway photographers and spouses or other family members who want to experience the real Africa!

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 respects. Last but certainly not least, Zimbabwe still offers commercial steam services. 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 that we will see are probably the largest working British steam locos (Beyer-Peacock) anywhere. We strongly recommend that you do not delay in seeing these wonderful locomotives while steam is still in daily operation.

on the way to Zanguja

We have chartered several freight trains on the most interesting sections of National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ). For a few days we’ll have our own Garratt based in the shed at Thomson Junction. From there we’ll pass through the one and only tunnel on the NRZ network, swing through the curves along to Dete and climb up the gradient to Zanguja.








Flight Europe/America – Johannesburg, arrival next morning



Noon flight Johannesburg – Bulawayo, arrival in the afternoon, by chartered minibuses to our hotel, probably the Holiday Inn



Visit to the steam shed of Bulawayo in the morning, guided tour to the P15 shop, where overhauls on Garratts are undergoing, visit to the shunting operation in Bulawayo, (probably) Holiday Inn Hotel Bulawayo



Charter freight train from Bulawayo to Sawmills, continue by chartered mini buses to the Hwange Safari Lodge near Dete



Relax in the lodge and watch passing elephants, giraffes, zebras and other animals, optional visit to the Hwange National Park (you can book a guided tour or take one of our minibuses), hotel Hwange Safari Lodge



Morning charter freight train from Dete to Hwange and return in the afternoon to Dete, hotel Hwange Safari Lodge



Early morning from Thomson Jn. to Zanguja and return, in the afternoon another steam charter freight from Thomson Jn. to Hwange on the main line, return over the old line, overnight in Victoria Falls probably in Sprayview Hotel (alternatively you can book in the Victoria Falls Hotel for an additional price)



Early morning by mini bus to Hwange, charter steam freight Hwange – Dete, in the afternoon return by charter steam freight Dete – Hwange, probably Sprayview Hotel



In the morning charter freight train from Thomson Jn. to Hwange, afternoon we’ll wait for a train on the Hwange colliery line, evening continue by our charter buses to Victoria Falls, probably Sprayview Hotel in Victoria Falls



Visit to the Victoria Falls National Park, early afternoon visit to a crocodile farm, in the evening sun-downer cruise on the Zambezi river, probably Sprayview Hotel in Victoria Falls



Morning charter train from Victoria Falls to Livingstone and back, optional helicopter flight over the Zambezi river and the Victoria Falls, probably Sprayview Hotel in Victoria Falls



Return to Bulawayo, afternoon visit to the depot at Bulawayo, probably hotel Holiday Inn Bulawayo



Early morning visit to the Bulawayo depot, watch shunting operations with Garratts in the station and the yards of Bulawayo, noon visit to the railway museum of Bulawayo, afternoon visit to the Rhodes Matopos National Park, evening return to Bulawayo and night photos in the depot, (probably) hotel Holiday Inn Bulawayo



Charter freight train from Bulawayo to Cement, (probably) Hotel Holiday Inn Bulawayo



Optional morning visit to the Steam depot of Bulawayo, Afternoon return flight from Bulawayo to Johannesburg, evening flight to Europe/America

  23.06. Afternoon by charter bus to Botswana, Hotel in Selebi-Phikwe



Arrival in Europe/America

  24.06. Linesiding along the railway lines of the BCL copper mine, hotel in Selebi-Phikwe
  25.06. Visit to the BCL copper mine and linesiding, later afternoon return to Zimbabwe, hotel in Bulawayo
  26.06. Return flight to Europe/America
  27.06. Arrival Europe/America


Details of the tour

We have arranged a number of charter freight trains over the most scenic sections of the National Railways of Zimbabwe. We will try to arrange trains of at least 15 wagons with different freight wagons. We have not attached passenger coaches to these trains as we’re trying to avoid wasting money on non-authentic trains. We’ll travel by these trains in the service car and the brakevan. To get the best photographic results we’ll use the early morning light whenever possible as well as the late afternoon light. At noon, when the sun is high on the sky, we won’t try for photographs or videos as the results are often very disappointing. We need to mention that it is not possible to leave Bulawayo early in the morning as we need to wait before the commuter trains re back in the station. So the earliest departure from Bulawayo is around 7.30 am.

Bulawayo steam shed

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, we guarantee you’ll 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 years ago, but the commuter trains could well be switched back to steam again (as has already been done occasionally). 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.

Bulawayo steam shed

Due to lack of coal supply there are days with no steam activity at all. National Railways of Zimbabwe have agreed to stockpile some coal so we’ll probably see steam in regular use.

Our special freight train to Sawmills (with attached service coach) will give us an authentic feeling of freight service as it was 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 for the villagers.

beyond Nyamandlovu

Beyond Nyamandhlovu the line is winds up to Highfields, offering several good photo opportunities.

The line between Thomson Junction and Hwange is not very long, but offers plenty of the best photographic opportunities. Christine’s curve, the only tunnel on the NRZ and curving around the Baobab hotel hill are some of the best spots. Further on, the line to Dete offers many curves including the famous “404 curve”, baobabs, cuttings and embankments which offer very good positions. As there are so many good positions we have arranged four charter trains over this section of the line, each direction one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Train compositions will change from day to day as we have ordered different stocks of wagons.

towards Cement

Our train from Thomson Junction to Zanguja will lead us to the famous high embankment in a photogenic S-curve. The climb up to Zanguja is a highlight for sound records as well as for photographers. We’ll start early in the morning and try to get a glint shot with the rising sun beyond Thomson Jn.

beyond Thomson Jn.

The line from Bulawayo to Cement just takes us to the outskirts of Bulawayo. Mentionable on this line are the lonely palm tree as well as the pedestrian bridge crossing over the railway linking platforms. The line is double tracked and offers a real main line feeling.

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 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. The staff and volunteers are very knowledgeable and will help you appreciate the history of this fascinating railway system and Zimbabwe today.

Hwange Colliery

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 use 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.

As they have increased the entrance fee to the loco shed by 250 % from 2005 to 2006 we haven’t applied for a permit to visit the washery and the depot this year. The procedure for pay this money has proved very time consuming on previous tours too. We’ll focus entirely on seeing a train on the line.

Victoria Falls bridge

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. We can charter a helicopter for about £75 (110 Euros) per person. If you wish to take a shot from above, we’ll arrange everything. 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 two days 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.

Hwange National Park

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. You can either book a local guide who will guide you through the park and will know the best spots for meeting animals or you can take one of our minibuses and explore the park on you own. It’s easy to go around and enjoy the wildlife. There is a more relaxed version as well: from the terrace of our comfortable hotel you can watch animals at a large water hole. While this latter version is free of (sur) charge, travelling to the park requires an ever increasing fee. This unpredictably growing fee is the reason why we didn’t include it in the tour price. In 2006 it was 50 US-Dollars for a guided tour and 15 US-Dollar for individual travellers plus 15 US-Dollars for the car.

Hwange National Park

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

Victoria Falls National Park offers fantastic water cascades, rainbows, tropical vegetation and a large variety of birds. 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 Ladies’ Detective Agency” are a must! There are also several excellent books available on Zimbabwe Railways and their locomotives (you can purchase some of them in the Railway museum in Bulawayo).

Victoria Falls

Photography opportunities in Zimbabwe are boundless, and everyone should get excellent photos or video on the trip. We will have the necessary permits 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 the case of a coal shortage, there maybe one or two days with no steam operations 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. The selected hotels in Zimbabwe offer a good standard but are 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 must be avoided after your arrival 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 steam development program. We will also contribute to preservation at the Bulawayo Railway Museum.

depature Mpopoma

Of course, there are some difficulties caused by the dire economic 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 be troublesome getting the right cars on the dates we want them. However, 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.

The visa for Zimbabwe will be issued at the airport. You have to pay 30 to 45 US$ (2006) for the single entry visa (depends on your Nationality). There is no Zimbabwean double entry visa requirement for our day trip to Livingstone in Zambia. However, you do need a visa for Zambia (issued at the border) which was 10 Dollars in 2006. The visa fee is not included in the tour price.

In the African bushland

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$, £ or Euros. One US$ has an official value of 250 new Zimbabwe $, while on the black market exchange rates were 1: 400 in mid 2006. Credit cards are accepted in tourist places and big cities. Changing money on the black market can cause big trouble if officials become aware of it. It’s better to avoid it.

We expect temperatures between about ten 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 February 1st, 2007.


Land Only Price

Elephants on Rails – Garratts in Zimbabwe from 31 participants £1,695
09.06.2007 - 24.06.2007 from 23 to 30 participants £1,940
  Single room surcharge £494


from 5 participants £340
23.06.2007 – 27.06.2007 Single room surcharge £130

As there are huge differences in flight prices depending on date of booking, preferred airlines and port of departure we haven’t included the flight in the tour price. We’ll calculate a price for you on request according to your preferences.

Minimum number of participants   23
Maximum number of participants: 38

The price includes:

Not included are:

an impressive Baobab at sunrise


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