Big Cave Camp

Big Cave Camp: Our full report

Rooms
7 A-frame chalets
Children
8 and above
Open
All year

Blending in amongst ancient boulders on top of a large granite whaleback, the A-frame chalets of Big Cave Camp enjoy stunning views across the hills of Matobo Hills National Park. It’s currently a fairly basic camp offering simple accommodation and both cultural and wildlife activities.

Big Cave’s seven A-frame chalets – a triple, four twins, one family chalet and a honeymoon suite – are solidly built with stone walls and timber frames. Thatched roofs and tiled floors help to keep them cool in summer and warm in winter, and outside each is a balcony with metal chairs and a wooden table. The views from the front of the chalets are fantastic, especially in late afternoon when the sun hits the rocks.

Although the bedrooms are well lit, and local objets d’art adorn the walls, on our last visit in late 2011, these chalets were looking dated and in need of an upgrade. For example a window in our room wouldn’t shut properly and had clearly been in this state for quite a while. Tiled showers with hot and cold running water, flush toilets and a ceramic sink all functioned, but didn’t come close to the standards one might expect from lodges in Botswana, Zambia or Namibia. That said, Big Cave doesn’t share the same price tag as these – and now that Zimbabwe’s economy has turned around, we’re assured that the owners will start to put some much-needed investment into the lodge.

Behind the main lodge is Big Cave’s large campsite. Over the last decade or so, the camp has survived mainly on business from overland trucks that pass through Zimbabwe on their journeys between Cape Town and Nairobi or Cairo.

The main area at Big Cave Camp has a natural rock pool with a sundeck, a perfect spot to relax after a day exploring Matobo Hills National Park. A well-stocked teak bar, comfortable lounge and communal dining area are incorporated into the Leopard’s Lair, which features a large boulder as a centrepiece. Before dinner, guests are invited for drinks around a campfire in a cave-style boma, softly lit by lanterns. The lodge also has its own small library, and a pool where cold drinks are served – although on our last visit this was filthy.

Wildlife in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Matobo Hills National Park has been affected by poaching over the past decade, but the park still boasts one of the highest concentrations of leopard in the world. Birds of prey are also particularly prevalent here; especially raptors. Guests at Big Cave Camp can take part in many activities, including 4WD game drives, both day and night, and walking safaris to view both black and white rhino.

Members of Expert Africa’s team visited Big Cave twice in in 2010 and also at the end of 2011; the standard of guiding was variable. On our most recent visit, the camp had a new guide who had only been in the area for just five days. He displayed a very good general knowledge of trees, and birds in particular, but was very much still training up on the area.

Guests who want some cultural activities can visit ancient Khoisan rock-art sites on foot or by 4WD; there are many paintings in Matobo Hills National Park, and even some on Big Cave’s own property. One of the most popular sites is Nswatugi Cave, with its red and gold animal paintings, which can be visited in conjunction with Cecil Rhodes’ grave at World’s View.

Big Cave also offers tours to a nearby Ndebele village and a local school. The camp has in the past supported Whitewaters Secondary School and has helped them to build a library, as well as donated equipment, furniture and building materials to them. Some of Big Cave’s guests have even sponsored children through their education.

Our view

After a difficult decade, Big Cave Camp is need of a complete refurbishment. Matobo Hills offers a unique experience and this camp’s prices are low, however Big Cave’s infrastructure is still below par and its guiding needs to be more consistent. We’ve seen relatively little sign of the required investment to date, but we’re still optimistic that it will be forthcoming and are keeping a close eye on Big Cave; call us for an update.

Geographics

Location: Matobo Hills National Park, Zimbabwe

Ideal length of stay: 2 nights

Directions: Self-drive or fly to Bulawayo and transfer to lodge 65km away

Accessible by: Self-drive or Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: The Waddy Family

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: On our last visit to Big Cave we were served good, hearty food which, while not cordon bleu cuisine, was very acceptable.

Breakfast was a cooked option including the usual eggs, bacon and sausages as well as a continental buffet offering miniature pancakes, toast, cereals and fruit.

For lunch we had chicken wraps with a walnut salad and freshly baked bread.

Dinner was a starter of pumpkin soup, followed by beef in a red-wine sauce accompanied by rice and roast potatoes. Dessert was a very nice crème brûlée.

Dining style: Group Meals

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: Soft drinks and wines, spirits and beers are included in the price. High-end liqueurs, champagne, imported wines (except most South African wines) and spirits are not.

Further dining info: No

Children

Attitude towards children: Big Cave welcomes children of all ages.

Property’s age restrictions: None

Special activities & services: None

Equipment: None

Infrastructure

Power supply: Generator

Communications: There is limited cellphone access at Big Cave. There is no internet.

TV & radio: No

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: The nearest doctor is in Bulawayo, about 30 minutes’ drive from camp.

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Security measures: None

Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in the main area.

Extras

Disabled access: Not Possible

Laundry facilities: Included

Money: None

Accepted payment on location: Big Cave accepts payment in cash only; credit or debit cards cannot be used.