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Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport was originally known as Bulawayo Airport, before being named after the founder of the Zimbabwe African People's Union, Joshua Nkomo. On the 1st of November 2013 a new terminal, capable of handling 1.5m passengers was opened, having been 10 years in the making, and costing some USD25m to refurbish.
Only SA Airlink operates direct flights from Johannesburg to Bulawayo. The flights are from O.R. Tambo International Airport; and take an hour and 25 minutes to cover the 678km (as the crow flies).
Johannesburg (JNB) to Bulawayo (BUQ)
non-stop (1h 25m)
The Greyhound bus operates between Johannesburg and Bulawayo, departing from the Park City Transit Centre in Johannesburg Station and arriving at the Greyhound Office in Bulawayo at 47 George Silundika Street.
Claire Madgwick takes us through her overland trip from Johannesburg to Bulawayo (submitted on 2 May 2013):
The alarm going off at 3am is certainly not an experience that I’d want to repeat in a hurry. Although it was well worth the effort as we arrived at our destination that evening as the sun started to set on the horizon. Our destination was the Matopos (Matobo) National Park, just outside Bulawayo. There are several routes to Bulawayo from Johannesburg. With a mere 80km’s difference between the two most direct routes. The first route of choice would be along the N1 past Pretoria onto Beitbridge border, involving one border crossing. The second route of choice was the one we decided to journey. It took us through Botswana and involved two border crossings. We entered Botswana at the Martin’s Drift border, and followed an easy route along the A1 up to the Zimbabwean Plum Tree border.
The South African roads offer double highway on the N1 until the turn off onto the N11 at Mokopane, at which point it reduces to a single road, bottlenecking in the town of Mokopane. We seemed to miss the left turn on the main town road, due to bad signage. This resulted in us dodging all types of obstacles from the four legged kind to the two legged kind - who really should know better! The road was potholed and our average speed reduced significantly to negotiate this phase of the journey. Once through the built up area, the road condition didn’t improve, however we lost most of the traffic at the Mogalakwena Platinum mine and the rest of the way to the border was plain sailing. A sign prepared us that Warthog were around. We were rewarded with a family of Warthog running with that unique tail in the air saunter that sets them apart. We were expecting to see baobab trees along this route and got lucky with a single pocket of them that looked as if they had been planted to line a driveway.
The efficiency and attentiveness of the South African and Botswana personnel at the Martins Drift border was unforeseen. It would be worthwhile choosing this route for this reason alone, as the other border crossings were most definitely not in the same league. Although fascinating this section of Botswana lacks beauty, with kilometre after kilometre of acacia trees and savannah grasslands broken occasionally by the appearance of a quaint donkey drawn carriage.
Watermelons must grow profusely in the area as every few metres there seemed to be a pile of them being offered for sale on the side of the road. Of the two towns that you pass through Francistown is significantly the more appealing, with its tree lined street and many recognisable high street stores found in South Africa. Palapye is a typical African town. A garage attendant summed it up by nearly climbing into the car with us. He was beside himself with excitement meeting South African’s. He informed us simply that ‘it is boring in Palapye’. Palapye certainly wins the most helpful town award. The road conditions which welcomed us, shortly after the border, had a multitude of potholes. However the road did improve, by African standards, providing an easy 6 hr drive through Botswana to the Zimbabwean border. The livestock grazing on the side of the road ended up being our only cause for concern.
The Plum Tree border proved to be an entirely different kettle of fish in comparison to the Martin’s Drift border. Sullen officials and a confusing system left us silently muttering under our breath in frustration. The Zimbabwean side was by far the more disorganised but the Botswana officials were the most dismissive.
Once through the border the A1 is replaced by the A7. Surprisingly for Zimbabwe this was a quality road all the way through to Bulawayo. The road had obviously been newly surfaced and recently painted. It was a pleasure to drive on. The scenery changed markedly. It is as if the granite kopjes wait to reveal themselves once immediately over the border. The experience of visiting Zimbabwe can draw a parallel with giving birth; a painful entry process resulting in something wonderfully unique and deserving of every hardship endured in getting there.
Two hours later we arrived at the paradise of the Matopos (Matobo) national park with its unrivalled scenery. It says something that Cecil Rhodes should chose this to be his final resting place over his stunning home in Rondebosch, Cape Town. With its uncharted granite kopjes, innumerable trees, lakes, bushman paintings, a variety of game, lizards and stunning bird life. Motopos is one of those rare places on earth where the lack of humanity bestows serenity. It is a paradise I’m almost reluctant to disclose. I want it all for myself this hidden sanctuary away from the rest of humankind.
The park accepts day visitors. Should you want to stay overnight the reasonably priced accommodation is dated but able to meet basic needs and very clean. The scenery from the Black Eagle lodge, where we stayed, is worthy of a 5 star palace. It is from one, of the two, balconies that we observed a Fish Eagle glide magnificently in a thermal. Shortly after this display there was a repeat spectacle by the lodges name sake, a Black Eagle. Par for the course a vervet monkey found its way into the kitchen and helped itself to some bread but fortunately got interrupted before it caused any major damage.
Many balancing rock images greet the eye when negotiating the roads in the national park, the most famous being the mother and child rock formation. The controversial Rhodes memorial is a little climb onto a whaleback dwala, but worthy of the effort, if only for the panoramic views it offers. In addition there are the graves of Rhodes close advisors. Moreover the spectacularly detailed memorial for the Shangani Patrol massacre that would hold its own in any first world city.
The attached 100 km square Game Park offers free entry to those staying in the lodges at Motopos. It is home to a variety of buck, white and black rhino, giraffe, zebra, ostrich and leopard. We were met with the welcomed sight of armed rangers shadowing their rhino charges as a physical deterrent to poachers. The White Rhino prehistoric cave drawings transcend time. Here is the hard evidence that animals that once inhabited this part of Africa 25,000 years ago are still roaming the land. There is something reverend in standing this close to a painting that was once drawn by our distant ancestors.
Bulawayo is a 50 km short drive away, and it is still possible to see the remnants of its colonial heyday. It is the second largest Zimbabwean town and home of the Ndebeli people who originated from the Zulu’s in the 19th century. Bulawayo is a vibrant city with a central market near the city hall. For those who know Bulawayo, the Eskimo hut in Hillside Road is still thriving. For the best ice-cream in Zimbabwe we can wholeheartedly recommend crunchy dip, vanilla soft serve coated in a crushed honey comb topping, perfect for a hot African day. Another interesting place worth including in your itinerary is to be found 20 km’s west of Bulawayo. It is a Unesco World Heritage site in the form of the Khami ruins, the second largest ancient rock ruins to the great Zimbabwean ruins in the South of the country. The ruins are well maintained and credit a visit.
Our ride, the Kia Sorrento 2.5 Diesel Auto was solid and reliable. The total miles door to door, from Johannesburg to Bulawayo, is give or take 1000 km’s. Fuel consumption averaged around 10 km per 100 km. We had trouble getting hold of 50 ppm diesel in both Botswana and in the southern part of Zimbabwe however 500 ppm was available and sufficient for our needs. Leaded and unleaded petrol were attainable. In both countries some service stations didn’t accept credit cards so we advise carrying enough wads of cash to fill up your tank.
There are no visa requirements for South African passport holders into Zimbabwe or Botswana. If a visa is required, for other passport holders, it can be purchased at the border in cash. The car entry requirements involve a cross border letter of authority from the owner of the vehicle plus the vehicle registration documents. On entry into Zimbabwe and Botswana road tax needs to be purchased in cash, at customs. The driver is then issued with a TIP (temporary import permit) which has to be produced, along with a drivers license, at the inevitable road blocks.
Be prepared to get stopped regularly by the police in Zimbabwe and have to pay on the spot fines. You can be fined for speeding, lack of reflectors on your car and for not carrying a yellow reflector jacket, triangle or fire extinguisher. These rules change and it is worth checking the requirements before setting out on your journey. Either way it is best practise to have on hand enough US Dollars to handle these occurrences. We were fined $12 for having no fire extinguisher and spent R100 at the border for car reflectors and a reflector jacket. There are tolls to be paid both in South Africa and in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean tolls tend to be $1, at the time of writing, and is payable in cash. There was a total of six SA tolls vary in price from R8.50 to R40, at the time of writing. Credit cards were accepted. There were no tolls in Botswana.
There is a cash entry fee into the Matopos National Park in addition to the price of the accommodation. The rate is significantly reduced for Zimbabwean residents. It is also extra to visit the Rhodes grave and Shangani memorial.