Camelthorn

Camelthorn: Our full report

Rooms
8 Forest Villas
Traveller's rating
Excellent (93%) From 3 reviews
Children
Best for 12 yrs +
Open
All year

Situated in a private concession outside Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park on the extreme south-east corner, Camelthorn Lodge, opened in 2014. Hidden in a forest of mature camelthorn, which soon gives way to open plains and a network of waterholes, the camp is well situated for game viewing, and is only a ten-minute drive from the national park. Into which it has a private gate.

Camelthorn shares its concession with its sister lodge Bomani Tented Lodge, although it is a rather more solid and upmarket prospect. A stay at Camelthorn would combine well with one of its other sister properties within the National Park, Jozibanini Camp and/or Nehimba Lodge.

Given the density of the forest it is surprising to discover that there are eight large forest villas at Camelthorn. Each in its own secluded setting well separated from the next by thick vegetation. The villas are constructed of concrete with high ceilings and mod-cons’ such as AC that are often missing from safari camps – perhaps giving a not to the luxury aspirations fot he lodge. Each villa is fronted by a patio, with a couple of iron chairs and a table. A spiral staircase leads up to a cool, shaded balcony where a comfy sofa/daybed is perfect spot to relax.

The villas themselves are accessed through sliding glass and mesh doors. Inside they are very spacious and comfortable, with high ceilings and plenty of windows letting in both the breeze and the light. A large fireplace helps to counter the cold winter evenings that are not unknown in Hwange, while further warmth and colour comes from polished concrete floors covered with decorative mats and carpets, dark teak furniture, and wooden railway sleepers. However ion our last stay ion Novemebr 2017 it was the AC that rally came into it’s own cooling the villa to a pleasant temperature in the heat of the afternoon.

As well as double or twin beds each room has a couple of comfy chairs and a coffee table set with wildlife magazines in front of the fireplace. A further thoughtful touch is a wooden cubbyhole built into the wall, with doors both on the inside and outside of the villa. At the time of your morning wake-up call, tea, coffee and cookies will be placed here to help kick-start your day – with no fear of the birds or squirrels helping themselves first!

The villa's en-suite bathrooms are very stylish, with clean lines and a rendered finish lending a modern feel. Each contains a large shower with very good pressure and plenty of hot water, an elevated bath, and his and hers washbasins. The toilet is in a separate room, with a lockable door for privacy. As at most top safari camps, complimentary toiletries are provided.

The villas are linked to the main area by a series of sandy pathways though the bush. The centerpiece here is a large camelthorn tree, encircled by a platform dotted with tables. Meals are served al fresco under the tree, or in the large indoor dining room housed within a crescent-shaped thatched building. This is also home to the bar and open-plan lounge area, with dark wood furniture and a few comfortable chairs. The overall the lodge has a ver solid and permanent feel.

Perhaps surprisingly, given its remote feel, Camelthorn is situated just next to the Bulawayo–Victoria Falls railway line, which acts as the boundary between Hwange National Park and the adjacent communal lands – and which explains the subtle railway theme to the lodge. This is most noticeable in the bar where black-and-white historical photographs of Zimbabwean locomotives adorn the walls, along with a few old maps and some fantastic shots of the local elephant population.

As for the railway itself, there is precious little rolling stock moving up or down to disturb the stillness nowadays, but it comes into its own for Camelthorn's Elephant Express, a purpose-built rail-carriage designed to transfer guests from Hwange Town to Ngamo Siding, not far from camp. On a previous stay we were able to leave the park using this restored tram, which has been built with a high attention to detail; we particularly liked the teak tables and the elephant-head handrails. The Elephant Express now combines beautifully with the Stimela Star over night rail service from Victoria Falls to Dete or vice versa. This rail combination makes an unusual and rewarding means of getting to and from Hwange either together or separately.

Camelthorn and Bomani, both have high-quality guiding teams. At Camelthorn, head guide Sibs Sibanda brings an enormous amount of experience to the role as well as being a very personable and courteous host.

Activities at Camelthorn include 4WD and walking safaris in Hwange National Park, reached through a dedicated gate across the railway line, where the thick vegetation soon gives way to the more open Ngamo Plains. A network of pumped waterholes here means that game viewing is generally very good, especially during the dry season (July to around October). To make the most of this, the team at Camelthorn have created an original 'look-up hide', made from a sunken shipping container that's been modified to include narrow blinds, enabling those inside to look out onto the waterhole from ground level. Added to this is a clever system of pumped troughs next to the main pan which, by allowing different troughs to be filled depending on the time of day, affords the opportunity to photograph elephants in the best light.

Camelthorn also offers guests the chance to engage in a 'pump-run'. Pumps at all the artificial waterholes in Hwange National Park require maintenance, but in recent years, many have fallen into disrepair, and as a result the surrounding game has all but disappeared. In this southerly region of the park, Camelthorn has not only taken on the maintenance and upkeep of these pumps, it has turned it into an activity in which guests can participate. A full day is spent travelling by vehicle from pump to pump, game viewing with your guide along the way and taking in a visit to a local school and village. This is a great opportunity not only to get into a more remote area of the national park, but also to contribute in a tangible way to the upkeep of its vital waterholes.

Our view

Camelthorn has a very solid structure, and though it's well designed, it certainly won't suit those looking for a bushcamp. The guiding team is very experienced and knowledgeable and the variety of activities is diverse. We particularly like the camp's unique sunken hide, and the opportunity to take part in a pump run where you will help with the upkeep of southern Hwange's waterholes.

Geographics

Location: Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Ideal length of stay: We'd recommend a stay of three or perhaps four nights at Camelthorn. It's remote so takes a little longer to get to than many other Hwange properties, and there's plenty to keep guests entertained on arrival.

Directions: Most guests who travel to Camelthorn will arrive by road, usually from Victoria Falls or Bulawayo, via Halfway House. This small service station acts as a staging post on the main road between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo , and is where guests will meet their guide before continuing onto camp – a drive of a couple of hours. Another option is for guests to transfer by road to Hwange Town. Here they will be dropped at the railway station where they board the Elephant Express for Ngamo Siding, where a game-drive vehicle will be waiting to drive them to camp. The Express is not recommended for guests with an onward flight connection to catch, but even fly-in guests can still enjoy 'game-drives' up and down the line on this novel feature.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Imvelo Safari Lodges

Staff: Head Guide: Sibs Sibanda

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: On our last visit to Camelthorn in November 2017 we were impressed by the standard of cuisine, and we certainly felt well fed throughout our stay.

The day begins with an early breakfast around the campfire. There was a simple but varied spread of yoghurt, toast, cereal and fruit, accompanied by tea, coffee, and fruit juice. Cooked options are also available, with bacon, sausages, tomatoes, and eggs prepared to order.

On return to camp, lunch is served, which for us was a tasty and filling spiced tomato and mushroom chicken, served with salad and pesto pasta.

Before departing on our afternoon activity, our high tea included a delicious cake (although we were too slow to the table and missed out). During the afternoon game drive there is always a stop for some drinks as the sun sets, accompanied by some nibbles – we missed these on our last stay due to rain shortly followed by the prospect of tracking a leopard which we eventually saw fleetingly.

Dinner is usually three courses, although occasionally a South African style braai (BBQ) is put on. On our last visit we were treated to a curried squash tartel to start. A generous portion of beef medallions with roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables followed. For desert we just about had space left to enjoy a peach and custard sponge.

Dining style: Group Meals

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: Bottled water, soft drinks, local beers and spirits, and a selection of South African red and white wines are included. Champagne and imported wines and spirits will cost extra and may need to be requested in advance.

Further dining info: Room service is not available

Special interests

Photography holidays: For guests looking to get shots of elephants on a photographic safari in Zimbabwe, Camelthorn’s ‘look up hide’ gives great angles and up-close and personal photographic opportunities.

See more ideas for Photography holidays in Zimbabwe

Children

Attitude towards children: Camelthorn accepts children of all ages, but children under the age of 7 are only allowed by special arrangement, and may be subject to restrictions such as private dining, and having to book a private vehicle.

Property’s age restrictions: Camelthorn accepts children under the age of 7 by special arrangement only.

Special activities & services: There are no special activities and services for children provided by camp.

Equipment: There is no specialist equipment provided for children at Camelthorn.

Notes: There is quite a mature feel to Camelthorn. The lack of a swimming pool or any other amenities that would appeal to children may also mean this isn't the best camp for a family safari. We would recommend this camp for older children and teenagers rather than anyone still in single figures.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Generator

Power supply notes: Camelthorn's generator runs during peak times: in the mornings, at lunchtime and in the evenings. Once all guests have gone to bed, the generator is switched off but each chalet has lights supported by a battery so guests will rarely notice any difference from the camp being on mains electricity.

Communications: There is cell phone signal at Camelthorn.

TV & radio: There is no TV or Radio at Camelthorn.

Water supply: Borehole

Water supply notes: Each chalet at Camelthorn has an ample supply of water. The showers are plumbed and the toilets are flushing.

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: The guides at Camelthorn are all first aid trained and for anything serious there is a doctor in Hwange Town. Medical Air Rescue Service (MARS) is available for any cases deemed serious enough for evacuation from camp.

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Security measures: A nightwatchman patrols the camp. There is an electronic safe in each villa to store valuables.

Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers placed around camp.

Extras

Disabled access: Not Possible

Laundry facilities: Full laundry service is included, except for underwear, for which washing powder is provided in the bathrooms.

Money: No exchange facilities offered. There are safes in all the rooms.

Accepted payment on location: Cash payments may be made in South African rand, US dollars, pounds sterling, euros and Botswana pula. There are no card facilities at Camelthorn.

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