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The Thrill of Meeting Jock

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

Several years ago, a colleague Warren Green, told me about The Elephant Camp and I immediately put it on my to-do list. First politics intervened and then that was followed by our worldwide Covid shutdown and devastation of the tourism industry.

Originally, I was adamant about not going to Zimbabwe as I was opposed to the brutality of the crazy man, Mugabe. Then African friends chided me that I wasn’t hurting him, but the local people who desperately needed the tourism dollars. It is important to remember that the political situation doesn’t always reflect the will of the people.

This Spring I had the opportunity to travel to Zimbabwe for thrilling safaris and visit to one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the magnificent thundering Victoria Falls. I immediately remembered that I wanted to go to see Wild Horizons’ Elephant Camp and reached out to Shane White who owns it with his brother Craig. Beside them making it an easy one call option, the airport at Victoria Falls makes it so convenient, within thirty minutes of arriving and picking up your luggage, you are pulling into Wild Horizons' private conservancy.

It is hard to put into words my magical days at Wild Horizon from first arriving at The Wallow, which is their new 16 private tented suites along the Masuwe River. My first glimpse as I entered the main lodge was a large family of warthogs just grazing on the lawn. Perhaps just waiting for their sundowners around the fire pit. After a wonderful dinner under the stars, listening to my favorite wildlife sounds, I slept like a babe, but was excited for sunrise to come.

Chariton took the wheel, and we headed off. My first sunrise view was to the amazing Batoka Gorge, which has been cut by the Zambezi River to a depth of 400 to 800 feet through the basalt plateau running a distance of some 50 miles from the Falls. The sounds of those tremendous rushing rapids blew me away. Even whitewater rafting was off the table this year as being over-the-top too dangerous. What an impact and this was even before we sited any of the early rising mammals. This gorge is monumental. Once I could tear myself away, we came across the remains of a martial eagle that must have gotten too close to a Hyena and the Water Buffalos that just eyed us from a distance.

If you were able to send up a drone, you would see a rolling land with trees, shrubs, tall grass, and scattered throughout were big black basalt rocks. I was so intrigued by the green and gold landscapes that was cut through with a narrow shimmer of the Masuwe River which at several points we actually traversed it in the 4x4. But at breakfast I had a herd of antelope, water bucks, even a rabbit to entertain me with no need of binoculars. Phenomenal wildlife viewing encounters that are close up is one of life’s most enriching experiences, I didn't realize how true that would be.

I moved over to The Elephant Camp, thinking it was unique canvas tented camp, but in reality, it’s pretty darn glamourous, which I wasn’t expecting. The 12 individual private suites are kitted with every amenity; glorious outdoor showers, deep footed inviting tubs, plunge pools, and all set above teak woodlands. It was super. Later I was told to meet Amos to go out and scout for the Ellies. I was not at all prepared. The biggest shock was coming around a corner to see Jock and his group happily and hurriedly heading down to the river, what a thrill and not knowing that I would later be wrapping my arms about him We drove up to a small herd of five elephants at the river’s edge… and here were four keepers standing nearby with them. I was confused but was told we could approach them at a safe distance. Then we were told their story, Jock was this huge bull surrounded by four females.

The African Bush elephant is the largest land animal on earth weighing up to ten tons. They are very intelligent, with a very strong memory and communicate with both sounds, vibration and body language. They stay in a familiar family group roaming around the huge private reserve.

The government of Zimbabwe, which has the world’s second-largest population of elephants after neighboring Botswana, maintains that the large number of the animals is leading to destruction of habitat needed by other species and an increasing number of dangerous human-elephant interactions. Adult elephants can eat 660 pounds of vegetation a day and often strip bark from trees, killing them. Zimbabwe killed more than 50,000 elephants when it carried out culling on five occasions between 1965 and 1988, which caused a worldwide outrage and outcry of citizenry. This is when Wild Horizons stepped up to the plate to take in and responsibly maintain some herds. They created a trust with a core objective of collaboration with local communities, stakeholder and the local authorities to care and rehabilitate injured animals to release back into the wild. Not just the animals but also the flora and fauna, they have a nursery of indigenous trees and plant over a thousand trees each year. And with the help of a generous private donation, developed a state-of-the-art Wildlife Laboratory and Clinic on the Wild Horizons Sanctuary. It is so amazing.

But like any intelligent animal the Ellies know that 'meet and greets' with guests come with treats, so they gather down by the river. I was beyond ready to meet personally Jock, talk about an immersive experience! I NEVER dreamed that we would be able to interact let alone touch – I was like a total 5-year-old inside buzzing with excitement, hugging Jock’s trunk and running my hand over that textured skin (a feeling I will never forget) I said out loud, “I can die now” – I would have never imagined that I could do that with an African Ellie. That in itself transformed my trip into a joyful and meaningful memory that will last a lifetime.

But my experience with Wild Horizons wasn’t over. A visit to the Falls and lunch at the wonderful LookOut Café provided me with the experience of watching those much more adventurous than myself, screaming as they left the platform on the zip-line, or flying fox or the gorge swing, all hundreds of feet above the gorge. It was terrifying just watching….I needed a second glass of wine.

We drove into the Zambezi National Park entrance and proceeded to Old Drift Lodge directly on the banks of the Zambezi River. Just a short distance upstream from the Falls. The lodge boasts spacious luxury tented accommodations overlooking the Zambezi River with thoughtful amenities, indoor and outdoor showers, and plunge pool and without a doubt the highlight is a high Platform Starbed to sleep under the stars while listening to the river rushing by all within this pristine Park. As I settled into my beautiful accommodations it was alive with bird calls and animals immediately came to investigate me; meerkats by the dozen, two warthogs came from the river’s edge, and I only missed the Ellies drinking from my plunge pool by a day. I know this sounds like I am in Disney’s Wild Kingdom, but this is a non-fenced property and even the walkways are lowered to accommodate the animals so they can easily walk to the river. Life in harmony.

JB, Old Drift’s game warden took us out on our first sunset game drive, not within minutes but seconds we were viewing buffalo, herds of sable, a dazzle of zebra, an amorous eland chasing the girls, kudu and giraffes, this was a wildlife paradise! Then before reaching a stunning sundowner location, we came across the Elephants grazing. JB’s knowledge was so informative, but he also had a way of pulling all of us into the experience. He pointed out useful trees and shrubs, and birds that are an integral part of maintaining the environment. If I recall, he had been there 26 years and his absolute love of the environment and passion for the animals was infectious.

Next, I was spoiled with a sunrise boat trip out on the river to watch the morning sky tinged with pink and then sparkling gold gliding quietly along watching the world awake. My Captain was Kalab, we sat by a group of Hippos snorting, then crocodiles swimming along looking for breakfast, impala coming for a drink, bush bucks, fish jumping to get out of a predator's way, and so many amazing birds. Kalab knew them all.

Sitting at the fire pit looking at the stars after dinner, I was overwhelmed with such gratitude for the treasures Wild Horizon enveloped me with… travelers you are missing out. You must come here! It’s a sense of being that is indescribable, yet undoubtable at the same time you are enveloped in true reality, Africa makes you focus. I felt like I belonged here, the staff seemed to go out of their way, like the chef came to my table as I had complemented a dish. I found out that a typical veggie seasoning he uses from Robertsons, of course that came home with me; he like all the staff were proud of what they did and how they took care of their guests. There was a sense of community with the staff which I believe starts at the top. You can have the most astonishing hardware, but in reality, it is the software that makes a property shine. Here the hardware was far above five stars but, software (the staff) was more like ten stars and off the charts!! The team made such a wonderful difference at each exceptional lodge. Individually each property had its own authentic charms as tented camps, glamorous with an air of grace along with great amenities I could have been happy at any of them, but I am so glad that I got to experience them all. Old Drift did tug at my heart, maybe it was the long history there.

Here is a company that gives back to the surrounding communities, besides providing employment and major conservation there are schools and training. There is a vision to the future. I was so impressed with the use of their solar field that runs run the whole operation.

For me Zimbabwe is a special destination, though I only experienced the area around the Falls; it has less people, the annual tourism figures show 17 million tourists in South Africa, 1.5 million in neighboring Botswana and for Zimbabwe 250,000 only! This is something that is intangible.

From the depths of my soul, I thank Wild Horizons for their kind and generous hospitality.

“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.” Henry Ward Beecher

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