Big Cave Camp

Big Cave Camp: Our full report

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

Blending in amongst the boulders on top of a large granite whaleback, the A-frame chalets of Big Cave Camp enjoy stunning views across the rugged terrain of Matobo Hills National Park. It’s a relatively simple property, offering comfortable if not stylish accommodation, and both cultural and wildlife activities.

Big Cave's seven A-frameen-suite 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.

Zimbabwe has been through some tough times in recent years, and on previous visits we found the rooms at Big Cave to be in need of urgent renovation. However, on our last visit in May 2016 we were pleased to find that most of the chalets had had substantial upgrades, with just a few remaining to be renovated soon. The chalets are now functional and comfortable, and while they may not be as stylish as one might expect from a lodge in Botswana or Zambia, Big Cave doesn’t share the same price tag as these.

In addition to the chalets, Big Cave has a large campsite behind the main lodge. In recent times , the camp has survived mainly on business from overland trucks that pass through Zimbabwe on their journey between Cape Town and Nairobi or Cairo, though this is beginning to change.

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.

Wildlife in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Matobo Hills National Park has been affected by poaching in recent decades. While game-viewing drives and walks are possible from Big Cave, their focus is less on big game than in other Zimbabwean national parks, and they tend to concentrate as much on the landscape as they do on wildlife. However, a closely monitored population of white and black rhino live in the park, and it’s possible to reliably track these on foot. We did not experience the quality of the guiding on our most recent visit, but when members of the Expert Africa team stayed at Big Cave in 2010 and 2011 they found the standards of guiding to be variable.

There are many rock paintings in Matobo Hills National Park, and even some on Big Cave's own property, and guests who want some cultural activities can visit ancient Khoisan sites on foot or by 4WD. 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.

For more active travellers, Big Cave has a few well-maintained mountain bikes, with cyclists permitted to ride both through the national park and on Big Cave property. Big Cave has a 5km and a 15km route across its granite hills, and when camp owner Dave Waddy – a keen mountain biker himself – is in camp, he can guide enthusiasts along some of his favourite single tracks and trail rides in the area.

Our view

After some difficult years, Big Cave Camp is now looking better after much-needed refurbishment. The camp offers a low-cost way to see the Matobo Hills, and a unique chance to mountain bike across the granite hills. However, the service and style of the camp may feel slightly below par when compared with other properties in Zimbabwe.

Geographics

Location: Matobo Hills National Park, Zimbabwe

Ideal length of stay: 2 nights

Directions: Self-drive or fly to Bulawayo and transfer by road to lodge, a 30 minute drive 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 a previous 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, but high-end liqueurs, champagne and imported wines (except most South African wines) and spirits are not. Clean drinking water is provided in camp, and bottled water is available upon request

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

Notes: This area doesn't have elephant, buffalo or lion – but there is a very healthy leopard population and both snakes and scorpions abound. Parents must therefore be vigilant at all times.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Mains Electricity

Power supply notes: Mains electricity with a back-up generator.

Communications: There is limited cellphone access at Big Cave. WiFi is available in the main area at an extra cost.

TV & radio: No

Water supply: Mains

Water supply notes: All bathrooms are fully plumbed in with hot and cold water.

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 US dollars cash only; credit or debit cards cannot be used.

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