Whispers of history: Solo exploration in Masvingo

Melissa Mpofu, [email protected]

WHEN was the last time you embraced the solitude of a solo expedition? 

Picture yourself, accompanied only by your trusty backpack and a cooler box, venturing into the allure of a destination that carries the excitement of the unknown.

Over the Valentine’s Day weekend, I stood apart from the crowd. Not one to be overly enthused by the exaggerated celebrations of love, I charted a distinct course. Instead of getting caught up in the frenzy, I dedicated that time to pampering myself.

Thus, I orchestrated an excursion to Masvingo, a notable tourist hub serving as the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Great Zimbabwe. While I had visited this city multiple times in the past to see my late grandfather, I had never truly delved into its attractions.

During my initial visit, my cousin Lala took the time to guide me through some of the prominent attractions in Masvingo, including Hippo Creek Resort, Lake Kyle, Clevers Hotel, Caravan Park and the Lodge at Ancient City. As we explored, she particularly praised the Lodge at Ancient City, emphasising its allure for the elite. 

Positioned atop a wooded granite outcrop near Great Zimbabwe, the lodge’s distinctiveness was evident at first glance. We captured numerous images, capitalising on its picturesque surroundings. At that moment, I vowed to myself that one day, I wouldn’t merely photograph the lodge but would indulge in the experience of staying there.

Fast forward four years later, and the Lodge at Ancient City was the first thought that crossed my mind when contemplating where to embark on my solo excursion. 

Eager to turn this aspiration into reality, I reached out to Marvelous Sengwe, the point person for the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (Masvingo province), for assistance with contacts. With her prompt and efficient help, I swiftly secured a reservation, paving the way for my upcoming adventure.

The thrill was unparalleled; it felt surreal that my long-held dream was on the verge of becoming a reality. With my bag packed, the car fuelled, and my Spotify playlists meticulously curated, I was ready for the adventure ahead. Music, for me, is an essential companion during travels, particularly when going solo. I made sure to have a diverse selection of genres, starting with mellow tunes to set the journey’s initial tone and gradually intensify the rhythm as I progressed. As the accelerator responded to the beat, I couldn’t help but monitor the fuel gauge, witnessing its gradual descent, a subtle reminder to temper the excitement. The constant concern of encountering cows and donkeys, freely wandering on the highway, added an extra layer of caution to the journey.


Two hours later, having departed from Bulawayo, I found myself in Zvishavane. The transformation was striking, witnessing the town’s continuous expansion and the emergence of intriguing developments. Notably, a new complex had taken shape, proudly hosting the city’s inaugural Steers restaurant. The landscape was adorned with an increasing number of top-class restaurants and boutiques, adding a touch of sophistication to the town’s evolving character.

Having stretched my legs in Zvishavane, I resumed my journey to Masvingo, a smooth one-hour drive. The road was generally good, albeit with a few potholes as I approached the city, prompting me to navigate with added caution. 

Similar to Zvishavane, Masvingo showcased signs of rapid development. My arrival was greeted by the city’s latest addition – the inaugural KFC restaurant branch, which had recently opened its doors.

Without wasting any time, I proceeded directly to the Lodge at Ancient City, situated just 24 kilometres out of  Masvingo. The excitement at this juncture had reached fever pitch. Within moments, I arrived at the venue and was greeted with a warm reception from cheerful staff and traditional dancers. 

As I checked in, a refreshing beverage was promptly served, accompanied by a moist towel to ease the impact of the high temperatures. 

Ropa, from the front office, extended a warm welcome and graciously led me on an insightful tour of the lodge. Our first stop was the restaurant, elegantly themed for Valentine’s Day, creating an inviting atmosphere. The tour then led us to the showstopper – the raised pool deck. From this vantage point, I marvelled at the breathtaking views of a valley enveloped by Msasa trees. Utilising binoculars, I could even catch a glimpse of the distant Great Enclosure.

Throughout the tour, Ropa shared intriguing details about the lodge’s design and construction, underscoring its commitment to harmony with the immediate environment and its reflection of the essence of Great Zimbabwe. 

The architectural marvels unfolded as stone walls gracefully arched over colossal granite boulders, and rock monoliths emerged seamlessly from retaining walls. Everywhere, emblems and motifs of ancient Zimbabwean origin adorned the space, adding a touch of historical richness. 

The accommodation at the lodge embraces the charm of traditional design, featuring thatched chalets scattered amid the well-wooded grounds. Each chalet, hand-painted in traditional style, presents a unique and authentic experience. 

The interiors are adorned with paintings of various animals found in the city on the floors, while the walls boast intricate designs, including depictions of spears, adding a touch of cultural richness to the living spaces.

The lodge has curated a collection of original artefacts from various corners of the continent, adorning the walls in a celebration of African artistry and innovation. 

Fate took an interesting turn when a group of ladies checked in shortly after my arrival. To my delight, it was revealed that we would be exploring the city together, accompanied by the lodge’s highly experienced guide, Ernest Mlambo. The prospect of sharing the experience with fellow travellers brought a sense of relief, as some adventures are truly enhanced when enjoyed in the company of others.

Completing the comprehensive lodge tour, I retreated to my room, rejuvenated and ready to unwind. Seated on my chalet’s balcony, I indulged in the peaceful symphony of chirping birds, immersing myself in the serenity of nature. This solitary interlude perfectly encapsulated the true spirit of my solo journey – a cherished time for self-reflection and connection with the tranquil surroundings.

Afterward, I made my way to the dining area, ready for a much-needed meal. The fine dining experience exceeded expectations, presenting a delightful three-course menu featuring a selection of meats for the main dish. I opted for butternut soup as my starter, given my fondness for soups. Despite my usual travel mantra of trying unfamiliar dishes, I succumbed to a craving and chose the familiar comfort of isitshwala and beef stew for the main course, bypassing the tempting chicken and fish options. I abandoned the formalities of cutlery, opting to savour the meal with my hands. The flavours were exceptional, providing the satisfaction I sought. Concluding the evening on a sweet note, I indulged in a refreshing fruit salad and ice cream before calling it a night, feeling content and fulfilled. 


On my way to the chalet, an unexpected encounter awaited – a herd of impala blocking my path. Hesitation gripped me, a moment of fear realising I was truly in the heart of a jungle-centric area. Summoning courage, I proceeded, each step tinged with nervousness.

The following morning brought the anticipation of exploring the Great Zimbabwe. Initially, I envisioned a leisurely stroll around the Great Enclosure and perhaps a visit to the museum. However, the reality proved different. This highlighted the distinction between exploring sites alone and with a guide. With a knowledgeable guide like Mlambo, the experience transcended mere wandering; it became an educational journey. Every corner of the site was unveiled, each area explained, turning the visit into a comprehensive exploration enriched with historical insights.

Discovering the existence of the Hill Complex was an unexpected revelation for me, learned as we arrived at the site on that morning. Mlambo informed us that the tour would take about four hours, but it eventually extended to five due to various stops and recesses along the steep hike. The climb, standing at about 262 feet, proved to be no easy feat, especially in the sweltering temperatures. Nevertheless, we persevered and reached the summit.

The Hill Complex, formerly known as the Acropolis, is now widely recognised as the area where royalty resided. Dating back to approximately the 11th century, it was likely the first part of the entire complex to be developed. As we explored, we encountered the compacted remains of numerous huts, constructed atop one another. These structures were believed to have served as the residence for the king, possibly his personal medium, and an audience chamber.


The journey was not just a physical ascent but a step back in time, unveiling the historical intricacies of the site.

Descending from the challenging ascent of the Hill Complex, we regrouped for lunch in readiness for the next leg of our exploration – the Great Enclosure, a site I was somewhat familiar with. 

As we delved into its history, Mlambo shared that the Great Enclosure has been a subject of archaeological debate. 

One school of thought suggests its involvement in sacrificial practices, medium activities, and national ceremonies, while another posit that it functioned as an initiation centre for young girls.

At the heart of this archaeological controversy stands the prominent Conical Tower, a towering structure that serves as a symbol of Kingship. Our tour unfolded, unravelling the mysteries surrounding the Great Enclosure and providing diverse perspectives on its historical significance.

Continuing our exploration, we moved from the Great Enclosure to tour the Valley Ruins as well as the museum. 

Adding a delightful touch to the visit was a performance by the Nemanwa Cultural group at the cultural centre. Additionally, the availability of affordable curios at the site allowed for the opportunity to take home mementos that captured the essence of the journey.

After concluding our exploration of the Great Zimbabwe site, we proceeded to the Lake Kyle recreational park for a game drive. It proved to be a relaxing experience as we gazed out of the vehicle windows, eagerly anticipating the sight of wildlife. Among the listed commonly spotted animals were buffalo, common duiker, eland, impala, kudu, warthog, white rhinoceros, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, squirrel, black-backed jackal, leopard, hippopotamus, ostrich, crocodile, and porcupine. Our luck was in, as we encountered a group of rhinos, zebras, and an ostrich that, while not particularly interested in entertaining us, added to the thrill of the drive. The rhinos graciously approached us, providing an up-close and immersive experience.

After a series of rounds scouring the park for wildlife, we concluded the game drive and made our way back to the lodge. By this point, fatigue had set in, and the allure of a hot shower and a comforting meal became a pressing need. 

I truly appreciated the culinary experience during my stay at the Lodge at Ancient City. The meals were exceptional, prompting me to inquire about the chefs. I learned that they undergo in-house training and also receive training from other hotels, which undoubtedly contributed to the superb quality of the dishes. 

Dinner served as a buffet, offered a variety of delectable meats, each one proving to be scrumptious. During the meal, we were joined by Mlambo whose captivating storytelling skills added an extra layer to the dining experience. It felt reminiscent of my childhood in rural areas, gathering around the fire after supper to listen to folktales from the older generation. 

Mlambo’s wealth of information and engaging narratives enhanced the overall atmosphere, making the evening not just about the delicious food but also about the shared stories and cultural richness.

Regrettably, the tempting array of board games including Monopoly and 30 Seconds, offered at the reception remained largely untouched during my stay. The frequent exhaustion from the day’s explorations and activities left little time or energy to engage in these leisurely pursuits.

The final day was dedicated to exploring various rock painting sites and the renowned Lake Mutirikwi.

Upon our return to the lodge, we began the process of checking out. After completing the check-out formalities, we sought solace by the swimming pool, savouring the last moments of our stay. As we relaxed, lamenting the imminent parting, we had the unexpected pleasure of meeting gospel musician Janet Manyowa, who was also enjoying a weekend visit to the lodge. 

As I soaked in the atmosphere and interacted with the people who had captivated me during this trip, I decided to preserve the memory by ordering ribs and chips for a takeaway. This was my way of relishing the fantastic food even after leaving. With this last delightful taste of the experience, we wrapped up our time at the Lodge at Ancient City, bringing a fulfilling end to this memorable solo journey.

Undoubtedly, the Lodge at Ancient City proved to be an ideal haven for embarking on an exploration of one of Africa’s most esteemed archaeological gems – Great Zimbabwe. The lodge emerged as the perfect Launchpad for an immersive and unforgettable experience. 

A central lesson drawn from this adventure emphasises the vital role of regular communion with nature. Nature, akin to a magnificent purifier, offers sanctuary from the clamour of our bustling world, metaphorically transforming into a haven. It plays a pivotal role in rekindling our connection with the essence of what truly matters in our lives.


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