The birds sing at Kuimba Shiri

Dusty Miller

GIVEN the current cost and scarcity of fuel, a day out in the country has become an extremely rare event for most Zimbabweans.

justify>The golden-tinged days of driving to Mazowe and gawping at the dam — spilling or otherwise — buying a pocket or two of bargain-priced citrus and tins of cheap Bezant, then on to the Umvurwi Club, or through Bindura to the Shamva Club for lunch, returning via the Enterprise Club, Mermaid’s Pool or Ewanrigg Botanical Gardens are, sadly, only fond memories for most folk, other than those in CD vehicles.

So a suggested run out to Lake Chivero, generally, and to the Kuimba Shiri bird gardens in particular, on a bright, sunny May Day — with little else on the social calendar except a bring-and-braai in The Avenues — appealed.

Meeting at “sparrows”, we bought cold canned beers, delicious still warm rolls and outrageously dear imported butter at the Marimba shops, where I noticed the once magnificent restaurant, The Cellar, is now operating again in neighbouring premises, but only as a coffee shop. Shut on that public holiday, it will be re-visited.

We weren’t allowed to take booze or beef rolls into the bird gardens, so slipped out occasionally to munch and sip slyly from the boot in the car park.

My friend Sandy’s Yorkshire Terrier, Dolly, with a heart the size of the RBZ building, but about the size of a cane rat and roughly the same weight as one of our good rare beef butties slathered in hot English mustard, was also banned for fear she might upset the birds. But the owners’ enormous pointers lollopped un-tethered around the lawns!

The car boot snacks essentially comprised a slightly late breakfast and, come 2pm, with hours of unused-to fresh air, lake breezes and burning sunshine, we were ready for a conventional lunch.

I was more than ready: two hours plus of pushing a winsome bright-eyed four-year-old, Michaela, on swings, roundabouts, see-saws and slides and life guarding her as she paddled in a swimming pool with varying depths, was wearing in the extreme.

Immediately before lunch she tried riding on a pony of about 11 hands; then was hooked on travelling in a tiny carriage pulled by a dinky Shetland pony. These rides cost $150 000 and $100 000 respectively and lasted five minutes at most. She has a very generous mum — Charmaine. Not long ago, you could have bought a horse for $100 000!

Michaela had a hotdog with salad garnish at $500 000, two adults ordered quarter chicken and chips at $650 000, two others half-chicken and chips at $850 000, the fifth grown up — still replete from contraband car-park beef sarnies — declined lunch.

The food was surprisingly good and wolfed hungrily. Starters include garlic rolls ($300 000), chicken liver pate on toast ($400 000) as are plain or piri-piri chicken giblets. Fish cakes or fingers with tartare sauce were $500 000 with salads as a main course at $400 000 and $500 000 respectively.

Flame-grilled T-bone or pork chops with chips or sadza were $850 000; all day breakfast $600 000 and help-yourself buffet/carvery $900 000.

Tea, rooibos or coffee was $80 000, milkshakes $250-$300 000.

We had a goodly quantity of icily cold bottled Pilseners ($150 000 each) between three of us and two or three litres of cola for those who don’t like lager.

We waited until 4pm for an expected demonstration of falconry, using some of Africa’s most interesting birds-of-prey, rather than hawks and falcons, but the demo was unfortunately “off” as the birds were moulting.

The bill for food for four adults and one child and drinks for five (Michaela’s the only munchkin I’ve ever known who prefers plain water to fizzy drinks) was about $7,3m. On top of that, entry to the bird garden is $300 000 and a rather hefty $200 000 for children.

Significantly, we used two cars instead of the three or maybe even four which would have been the case a few years ago.

The place was fairly busy, not as packed as it has been recently apparently, with a huge number of Chinese and Asian visitors of all ages, mostly driving neat late registered 4WDs.

Kuimba Shiri (it means “the birds are singing” in Shona) offers budget overnight accommodation in “A” frame cottages, comfortable camping, conference and team-building facilities, a marina, bank fishing, boating marina, horse riding and swimming pool with, of course, a well-designed bird walk where scores of indigenous and a few exotic breeds can be seen in natural surroundings.

It opens daily from 8am until dusk, says director Gary Stafford.

* Kuimba Shiri, Lake Chivero, Norton (Turnpike turn-off). Tel (062) 2309 (fax 2308) or 091 226 635.