Camelthorn is a brand new camp situated on the southeast edge of Hwange National Park
Camelthorn: Our full report
Situated in a remote spot beside the extreme south-east corner of Hwange National Park, Camelthorn Lodge is one of the newer camps in this region of Zimbabwe, 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.
Camelthorn is a very well-designed camp, with a great deal of thought and attention put into creating a stylish but authentic safari feel. The centrepiece of its main area is a large camelthorn tree, encircled by a platform dotted with tables. Meals are often served here al fresco, 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 style of this main area is very solid and permanent, feeling much more along the lines of a lodge than a camp.
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 camp's main area. Black-and-white historical photographs of Zimbabwean locomotives adorn the bar, 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 our last stay in May 2016 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.There are even plans to transfer guests all the way from Victoria Falls to Camelthorn via the Express in future, which would be a fantastically novel way of arriving on safari.
Back at camp, sandy pathways meander through the dense woodland to Camelthorn's eight Forest Villas, each in a secluded setting and well separated from the next by thick vegetation. The villas are constructed of concrete with high, corrugated-iron roofs, which may not sound very attractive, but they are actually quite charming; we'd recommend that you take a look at the adjacent slideshow to gain a fuller picture.
Each forest villa is fronted by a patio, where a couple of iron chairs and a table look out onto the surrounding bush, and a free-standing hammock swings over a patch of cleared ground. A spiral staircase to one side of the patio leads up to a cool, shaded balcony where a daybed is set up, a perfect spot to relax after lunch.
The villas themselves are accessed from the patio through sliding glass and mesh doors. Inside they are very spacious and comfortable, with high ceilings and 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.
Central to each room is a double bed, or twins, with a dressing table alongside and an electronic safe on the floor. In front of the fireplace are a couple of armchairs and a coffee table set with wildlife magazines. 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.
Camelthorn and its sister camp, Bomani Tented Lodge, 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 viewThe remote location of Camelthorn makes this a real favourite of ours, with good game densities on the nearby Ngamo Plains. The camp 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.
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
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 May 2016 we were very 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 chicken korma, served with rice and homemade popadums.
Before departing on our afternoon activity, our high tea included a delicious banoffee pie. During the afternoon game drive there is always a stop for some drinks as the sun sets, and on our most recent visit these were accompanied by some small and tasty meat pies.
Dinner is usually three courses, although on our last visit we had a South African style braai, with beef steak cooked to order, chicken wings, boerewors, vegetable stew and nshima – a kind of maize porridge.
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
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
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.
Generally recommended for children: We would recommend Camelthorn for children over the age of 12 years.
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.
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.
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.