Raymond Jaravaza, Showbiz Correspondent
IMAGINE experiencing the spectacular scenery of the Hwange National Park aboard a luxurious train hauled by diesel or steam locomotives enroute to the world’s famous Victoria Falls from the City of Kings (Bulawayo).
Although most tourists (locals included) travel around Zimbabwe by road, those with deep pockets and more time may prefer to ride luxurious trains that offer a series of epic journeys across the spectacular scenery of the country.
With the much-awaited New Year’s Eve, Zambezi Lager Victoria Falls Carnival – touted as one of the biggest parties of the year in Africa nearing, a local tour operator is offering tourists the true definition of travelling on the ‘Zimbabwean railway’ in style.
Mbira Tours and Safaris has come up with a package for those attending the carnival to experience the joy of train travel coupled with sightseeing adventures along the route that cuts through the Hwange National Park – home to the famed Big Five. The concept is akin to the renowned Rovos Rail, a luxury steam train company that offers top class accommodation, five star cuisine, the finest wines and top shelf service while exploring the South Africa landscapes.
“It’s not everyday that tourists get an opportunity to explore the country’s vast landscapes including the Hwange National Park in the comfort of a luxury train and we’re offering just that to our clients as part of the Zambezi Lager Victoria Falls Carnival package,” said Mbira Tours and Safaris spokesman Engelbert Karombo.
“The destination is the Zambezi Lager Victoria Falls Carnival where there will be a big explosion of local and international artistes, award winning DJ’s and phenomenal acts spread over three days — but Mbira Tours and Safaris believe the journey must start in Bulawayo, in a luxurious train headed north.”
Thousands of people from all over the world descend on the resort town for the annual carnival and the huge numbers leave hoteliers and lodge owners with more headaches than solutions when trying to give the multi-racial guests decent roofs over their heads. Even home owners who rent out their properties to the partygoers for the duration of the event fail to meet the extraordinarily steep demand for accommodation.
“This is where we come in. NRZ has availed premium coaches for the carnival which our clients will use as accommodation in Victoria Falls. The train basically becomes our clients’ home for the duration of the carnival and we’ll also have a nurse on board in case of medical emergencies,” Karombo explained.
“We’re targeting at least 100 people for the trip to Victoria Falls from Bulawayo and NRZ has promised to have more premium coaches on standby in the event the trip is over subscribed.”
Steam locomotives, NRZ public relations manager Nyasha Maravanyika said were a major hit with tourists.
“Foreign tourists always inquire about our steam locomotives because they are still a hit in travel tourism and we have added luxury features to our coaches by refurbishing them to meet the highest standards.
“The premium coaches are in excellent condition and the same goes for the sleeper coaches,” Maravanyika said.
As part of the parastatal’s turnaround strategy, NRZ is partnering private players such as Mbira Tours and Safaris to resuscitate its operations especially in travel tourism.
“Mbira Tours and Safaris approached us with the idea of hiring our luxury coaches for the Victoria Falls Carnival and we embraced the concept as it resonates with NRZ’s strategy to work with private partners in order to revive its operations.
“NRZ is not just a bulk goods carrier as we also charter trains for parties, church conferences and any other private functions,” he added.
The approximately 12 hour trip has been pegged at $285 from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls (return) including accommodation on the train, meals, a train party ticket and musical concert ticket in the resort town.