Tony Park has long had a special spot in his heart for Nantwich. In fact, he was the one who brought it to Garth’s attention as the perfect spot for a new Hideaways lodge in Hwange National Park. He’s been a regular visitor since the 1990s and wrote many of his international thrillers about Africa from the chalets overlooking the waterhole, sometimes being distracted by a lion kill or the urge to indulge in an outdoor bath with no one around for miles. As one of Nantwich’s investors, he was one of the first to visit once the new lodge was up and running. It was a trip with a lot weighing on it, would it live up to his expectations? Would the magic still be there? Find out how he felt in the special piece that he wrote for us…
There’s always a risk, returning after many years to a holiday destination you once loved.
Will that magical location be the same? Will the experiences be as memorable, or did they simply belong to a moment in time?
Now, multiply that feeling by a factor of about 10,000 if you decide to go back to that special holiday place and invest a fair chunk of your life’s savings (and borrow money from the bank), to try and bring back those memories, and you’ll get an idea of how I felt about going back to Nantwich Camp, in Hwange National Park.
Nantwich, once a Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority self-catering camp was, for decades, the hidden jewel of Hwange. Its chalets overlooking a waterhole in the remote north-west corner of the park were famed for their spectacular outlook and fantastic game viewing.
“It was at Nantwich that I saw my first actual lion kill.”
It was here, in the late 1990s and the early years of the new millennium that I wrote large parts of several of my earlier novels (I have written 17 thriller novels set in Africa). The camp has so many memories for me. It was at Nantwich that I saw my first actual lion kill. I came there to rest and relax after returning from military service with the Australian Army in Afghanistan in 2002.
For a variety of reasons Nantwich became a casualty of Zimbabwe’s past woes and after a brief period as a base for big game hunters (who hunted in the neighbouring Matetsi Safari Area), the camp was abandoned. Its fate was sealed when a fire swept through, destroying one of the three accommodation units and damaging another.
When Garth Jenman from Hideaways asked me about possible locations in Zimbabwe to build a new luxury safari lodge, the first place that sprang to mind was Nantwich.
To cut a long story short, my wife and I and a few other friends joined Garth in investing in the rebuilding and redevelopment of Nantwich Lodge.
“It had been more than a decade since anyone had stayed at Nantwich.”
Returning this year, not long before the lodge opened, I was worried. Would the game viewing be as good? It had been more than a decade since anyone had stayed at Nantwich. The waterhole, fed by a diesel pump during the dry season, had dried up before we obtained a lease on Nantwich.
In a pleasing omen – if you believe in such things – good rains two years ago filled the dam in front of Nantwich. This level of water had not been seen for decades and since construction began we have worked hard to pump enough water to keep water in the dam.
My early visits to Nantwich, before rebuilding began in earnest, did not do much to allay my fears. The game, what we saw of it, was skittish, disappearing as soon as a human or vehicle came in sight.
But then something started to happen. The noise and chaos of rebuilding the lodge did not scare the animals away – it had the opposite effect.
“Elephant herds, which had long since learned to bypass the dry waterhole and empty dam, discovered that the return of people meant the return of water.”
Slowly, but surely, the rare roan and sable Antelope that this part of Hwange is famed for, started to return. Elephant herds, which had long since learned to bypass the dry waterhole and empty dam, discovered that the return of people meant the return of water.
Our building team was treated to lions, leopard, and Painted Dogs making kills around the construction site, and herds of 600 to 1000 buffalo began returning to the vleis around the camp to graze.
Not only was Nantwich Camp rising from the ashes, but the game was returning to its traditional haven, a place where tourists, not hunters, were the only visitors, and the water and the grazing were plentiful.
My wife and I visited the new Hideaways Nantwich Lodge just as it was reopening, in August of this year, with friends from the UK. This was to be our first real test – would other people, newcomers to Africa, be as entranced as my wife and I had once been?
To make matters more challenging the British family had already spent time in the famed Kruger Park, teeming with wildlife (and people).
Their reaction after three days at Nantwich, during which they saw a host of game including lions, roan, sable and tsessebe, and the only cheetah sighting of their holiday (three cheetah in fact)?
“Of particular pleasure, for them, was the absence of other game viewers and tourists in the area.”
It was the highlight of their trip to Africa, they said. Of particular pleasure, for them, was the absence of other game viewers and tourists in the area. I felt more than relief (as an investor to a lodge you want your guests to have a good time and see plenty of animals), I felt as though we had achieved something.
It was good that the memories I had of Nantwich were not rose-coloured, and that the game had returned to vicinity of the lodge along with the life-giving water that the animals need. It was great that Nantwich was once more providing employment opportunities for local Zimbabweans and would help boost the economy.
“…it genuinely felt like I was coming home,”
More than all of that was a feeling that surprised me. I was not just returning to an old holiday haunt; it genuinely felt like I was coming home, to a place I loved and that had always been there, somewhere, in my heart.
Come share that feeling with me.