When one mentions going on safari in Zimbabwe, three words spring to mind: gin, sunsets and elephants. This is the safari goers dream – one which becomes a reality at Nantwich Lodge in Hwange National Park. Nantwich Lodge, akin to craft gin, is an experience with a twist. Set in a remote corner of Hwange National Park, bordering both Chobe and Matetsi National Park – the location is a veritable wildlife corridor. Elephants, buffalo, a myriad of plains game, as well as cats wander through the veld below towards the dam, a life-source for the area. Normally elusive in nature, the carnivore population of the national park seems to make an exception for northern Hwange – their sightings and presence prolific.
The lodge encourages an immersive African safari experience, beyond the game drive. The team collects ideas on how clients can be more hands-on with their journey – from making breakfast pancakes in the bush, to learning how to concoct a delicious craft gin, perfectly paired with sunset.
A recipe for the perfect experience was laid out in front of us late one afternoon; craft gin, mint, peppercorns, rosemary, tonic and sunset. These ingredients, paired with the gold and gracious evening, made for an irresistible invitation to partake in a gin making session, raising the concept of immersion and placing the gin table on the fringe of the bush, diagonal to the waterhole. Unbeknownst to us, the final ingredient was still on its way, rustling gently through the grass, low rumbles rising to greet dusk.
The bush in Hwange is currently still thick from the recent rainy season, accompanied by tall golden grass covering the landscape. This gives the lodge a mysterious atmosphere, with sounds and movements of the wild just beyond, unveiling its magic only as the grass parts by the dam or fresh waterhole on the boundary of the lodge lawns. Unbeknownst to us, the final ingredient was still on its way, rustling gently through the grass, low rumbles rising to greet dusk. As we were selecting our favourite flavours, ambitious in quantity and eager to taste the final result, Adonis – master crafter and guide, silenced us in awareness of emerging gentle giants from the golden grass.
A herd of elephants had quietly made their way towards the waterhole, mighty in stature but minimal in sound. Gin making on pause, we stood in awe as the herd drank deeply from the fresh water, communicating amongst themselves, taking turns in natural hierarchy. We could almost feel the vibrations of their low rumbles, deep with gratitude, mere metres away from the lodge lawns. A baby elephant stole the show, stumbling ungracefully between the herd, trunk and legs clumsy with youth.
A baby elephant stole the show, stumbling ungracefully between the herd, trunk and legs clumsy with youth. With their gentle and familial nature towards their young, the females guided as well as guarded the infant, making sure it was safe as well as hydrated. Playfully spraying water, mirroring the adults with relative success, our hearts melted in a way only baby elephants can manage to do. The females slowly moved off to allow the males to drink, lingering behind the herd in patient anticipation. Two bulls navigated their way to the water in a playful battle for dominance – the older teaching the younger the ways of the wild. They too, drank in succession of age and respect, the younger bull the last to quench his thirst.
We stayed frozen in wonder for a moment, watching the elephants disappear one by one, enveloped by gold. It was certainly time for that gin. Continuing where we left off, excited chatter replaced the low rumbles of the elephants, and we too were filled with deep gratitude for such an intimate encounter with these mighty creatures.
Overflowing with stories and gin, we relived the moment amongst ourselves as we sat around the campfire that night, weaving our tale into the African night sky. That evening we understood that two things had irrevocably changed; our connection with the wild as well as knowing that gin would simply never taste the same if not paired with sunset and a herd of elephant.