Whenever I've had an incredible time somewhere, I find it incredibly difficult to find a place to start talking about it. My second time at Imire, Zimbabwe was once again such a situation. Maybe I'll start with how I was received. It was just so overwhelming. Although I had been to Imire for the first time almost a year earlier and only stayed for two weeks, almost everyone remembered me. The welcome was so warm and welcoming, as if I was coming back home. All the other volunteers who were already there and who I didn't know yet were also extremely friendly, open and warm. We got on really well straight away, but that's almost always the case when you meet people who have the same interests.
Read about Luzi's previous visit to Imire: Volunteering with wild animals and horse riding in Zimbabwe, Africa.
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I went to bed early that night, I was really tired from the trip, but not before dinner. What you need to know is that Imire is worth a visit for the food alone. It's cooked fresh three times a day and it really is outstanding every time. They also cater for vegetarians and all kinds of intolerances and every meal is a little highlight. So of course I didn't miss out on dinner and went to bed afterwards.
I had an early start the next morning, leaving for the horses at 6am. But I didn't miss out on my morning Imire ritual, or rather it has now become my Africa ritual. It's simple, but the most perfect start to the day: a cup of ricoffee (the cheapest soluble coffee you can find in southern Africa, but also the best in my opinion) and watching the sunrise outside in nature, all alone. For me there is nothing better and as I stayed at Numwa House again in Imire, there is no better place than the lakeshore. You can hear the morning songs of the wilderness, there is still a bit of mist hanging over the lake, you have a wonderful view of Kopjie Castle, a beautiful rock formation in the distance and after a while the sun emerges from behind the horizon, huge and bright red, between the trees. After that, I'm really ready for the day.
So at 6 o'clock I went to the horses, where the next surprise was waiting for me. Two, actually. It was Tuesday, which meant it was cattle drive day. In various sections of the reserve, the cattle were herded together and put in a crush for dipping. This is how Imire regulates the tick population on the reserve, a really clever and very effective method. The cattle roam freely in the countryside all week, picking up a large number of ticks, which are killed and fall off during dipping, thus reducing the burden on the wildlife living on Imire. And rounding up the cattle is a lot of fun. And not just the riders, the horses love it too. So I was very happy to start my week at Imire with the cattle drive. And the second surprise was that I was allowed to ride Lundi again. Lundi is a small, very sweet gray mare that I already rode last year. It was love at first sight. Last year she was still very green, very insecure and needed a lot of support. This year I could see her development from afar, she was much more mature, confident and fit. And this was also evident when riding. She was extremely willing to work, she especially loved rounding up the cattle and she was now also very good as the leader of the group. She didn't particularly like that last year. The cattle drive itself was incredibly fun for both of us. Lundi definitely understood the task and galloped after every cow that got out of line. I was actually able to leave the whole thing entirely up to her, only telling her here and there which direction she should drive the cattle in. In the end, we had crossed a large part of the reserve, seen lots of zebras and antelopes, even a monitor lizard and had rounded up around 200 cattle.
At the very end, I almost lost my horse because I left so many decisions to Lundi, so a cow tried to run off, we galloped after it and I was sure we would go straight and then turn left behind the bush, but Lundi thought it would be a better idea to make a full stop and then turn left before the bush. Well, I almost flew over her neck, but only almost. Luckily I was able to hold on at the last second and Lundi, who always looks out for me, quickly moved back under my centre of gravity to keep me in the saddle after all.
As usual at Imire, each day consists of three activities, between which we always have breaks and our meals. In the morning we go to the first activity before breakfast, then we have breakfast, followed by the second, then lunch and after the third activity we have dinner and then usually sundowners, either at the house or in some beautiful place from where you can watch the sunset perfectly. And there are quite a few of these magical places in Imire.
The activities always vary and you never have two of the same thing in one week. One of my absolute highlights is walking home with the elephants, which is always absolutely fascinating and never gets boring. Our volunteer coordinator Brian then invites us all into the game drive vehicle and looks for the rangers with their two elephants, Mac and Mandebvu. When he has found them, he throws us out of the car and the whole group sets off with the rangers and the elephants to the elephants' boma. There are rules that you have to follow, such as always walking behind the elephants. They really are very proud creatures and simply overtaking them would be more than disrespectful, to which they can react somewhat irritably.
But walking behind the elephants is also absolutely fascinating. Mac's size in particular is almost incomprehensible. He must be 6 meters tall and his trunk is twice as wide as an average woman's torso. No matter how long you look at him, you never get used to these dimensions. So while you walk home with the elephants, you have more than enough time to ask the rangers questions and I can only strongly recommend this. There are few people out there who have as much to tell as they do. The things they have experienced in the wild, with or without elephants, are simply unimaginable and I think I could listen to their stories forever. Especially because they are really good at storytelling and know exactly how to embellish a story. But I won't tell you the stories themselves in advance - you'd better go and hear them for yourself.
Another highlight for me was riding horses among the wild animals, but especially with the rhinos. As Imire is strongly committed to the conservation of rhinos, it is not necessarily a rarity to encounter one. However, watching them from horseback is something completely different. These giants always remind me of tanks from the dinosaur era and even if white rhinos in particular seem very peaceful at first glance, you should never underestimate them. And that's what makes meeting them so incredibly exciting. It is fascinating and almost meditative to watch them graze, but the thrill and the tension of whether you are already too close or not yet close enough is always with you. In the end, don't forget that one little nudge with their horn is enough to make short work of you and your horse. But of course we always have a guide with us who knows the rhinos, the wilderness and of course the horses so well that you will never find yourself in a dangerous situation.
There is also a huge herd of buffalo on Imire, which decided many years ago to follow a female elephant and recognise her as their leader. This herd lives on a part of the reserve where there are also black rhinos, so riding here is particularly exciting for me. Both species belong to the Big 5 and are known for not always having the most jovial characters. When we are out and about on this side of Imire, you feel so alive, your senses are heightened, you try to listen out for every rustle in the bushes, every noise, so that you can spot a black rhino or the herd of buffalo at the earliest opportunity. Because you really don't want to surprise a black rhino in the bush. And when you finally do find them, the joy and fascination are endless. Above all, observing the behaviour of the herd of buffalo with the elephant cow is simply extremely exciting and never gets boring. Even if you only understand a fraction of their communication, it is super exciting to see how two completely different species communicate with each other without any problems.
Even though I only stayed in Imire for a week this time, one highlight followed the next. One of my favourite evenings was at Castle-Kopjie from where we enjoyed the sunset with a few sundowners while we could watch giraffes, rhinos and zebras in the landscape around us. The community service projects in the garden of the neighbouring school are extremely fun and give so much back as the children are so grateful for the help and are happy to see us every time. Even the tree felling and debarking was fun, simply because the group dynamic was so much fun. It was really sweaty, but with a bit of country music, even that went by quickly.
And on Sunday, just like last year, I grabbed a canoe, took one of the other volunteers with me and paddled out onto the lake for lunch, because every Sunday at the same time the rangers come there with their elephants. It's the perfect farewell for me every time before I leave the next day: Sitting in the canoe, enjoying the absolute tranquillity of nature from a safe distance, watching the elephants graze, bathe and play. I already can't wait to go back this year!
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