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Hwange

I puttered into the township of Hwange, just slightly off the main road, trying to see if there was a caravan park. Nope, none. Hotels? Only the Baobab Hotel back out the road a ways. I'd ridden straight past the turnoff sign for it, as it looked a little too posh for me, high up on a hill overlooking the area. But beggars can't be choosers, so off I went up the winding road to the top of the hill overlooking the town of Hwange.

I was pleasantly surprised with the "weekend special price" of $57 with brekky, down from $94, apparently. An English guy wandered up and asked if I was from NZ or Oz. Whaaaat, with all those Oz stickers etc all over the bike?

Once checked in, I sat in the lounge reading for a while. Another English guy, a mate of the first one, comes over and starts chatting, then goes off. Some time later, security come to my room and "strongly" suggested that I remove the bike from around the back near the rooms to right outside the reception office, where it will be safer.

The only problem with this was that there is a high kerb to traverse, and the Wee generally drags the bashplate on anything higher than a few inches. I pottered around the circular driveway looking for the lowest kerbing, while hearing shouts from the now rather inebriated English guys sitting outside having a few. So, of course, I just HAD to join them for a drink, didn't I? The upshot of this is that Nick promised faithfully (he was pretty drunk) that he'd come and collect me the next morning at 10, to take me on a guided tour of the colliery and the local area.

While I waited for him, I wandered around taking photos of the hotel.

Above and Below: The baobab tree over the back, all of 600 years old.

Above: The Braai (BBQ to the Aussies) area.

Above: Don't really know what these birds were for, although there were lots of them around the braai area.

Above: The indoor/outdoor bar.

Above: The road leading into the township from the highway.

Nick said I may as well stay there at their house for the night as one of the guys was holidaying back in UK, so there was a spare bed. So I jumped into the ute once we'd got the bike safely parked at the guys' house in town, and we set off for the colliery. The town is almost wholely owned by the colliery, by the way.

Above: The 4-mile straight leading out to the colliery.

Fortunately, Nick had strongly advised that I not ride the bike to the colliery. I soon found out why - thick, thick, soft, silky, dirty coal dust all over the roads, even the bitumen ones. Yuk!

Above and Below: One of the boilers had broken down, probably through lack of correct maintenance since the transition to local ownership and management, so they'd brought in this old steam engine to take the load, and it was puffing out filthy smoke everywhere.

Nick is the project manager for Otto Simon Limited, who are contracted to repair the ovens where the coal is converted into coke, and he gave me a detailed explanation of what happens to the coal before it becomes coke, utilising this board. Some of it sunk in, some didn't, so I won't go into any technical detail here!

So it was on with the hard hat, after greeting the other UK guys again in the office, then off out into the guts of the works. Nick, of course, has entry to all areas, so I went places I shouldn't have been!

Above: The steam rising from the load of new coke when it was drenched with water in the squelch tower.

Above: These are the ovens which process the coal into coke. There are 32 of them, and each one takes 17 tons (tonnes?) of coal, and produces 12 ton/tonne of coke, after 14 hours of airless processing/cooking at incredibly high heat. The three on the left are the ones currently being rebuilt by OSL, which means replacing the fire bricks and also the silicon blocks which line each oven. You can see where the flames are escaping from a couple of the ovens on the right, where the seals have degraded.

Above: The silicon blocks used to line the ovens.

We climbed up to the top of the ovens, and watched the coal being loaded into the huge hopper which then trundles back across the top of the ovens and deposits it into the correct receiving ovens. The heat up on top escaping from the ovens was amazing, so I didn't go too close, naturally!

Recently, a rogue elephant had come into the workers' village making a nuisance of itself, so the National Park rangers had to come and shoot it. The rangers took the tusks for accountability purposes, and the villagers were permitted to help themselves to the meat. The whole carcass was gone by the end of the day. Ellies are commonplace here in the township, wandering wherever they wish. The sign above has been slightly damaged, I think, as there is no left foot.

Above: Looking up at the Baobab Hotel from the highway below. Below: An old train at the township entrance.

Then we left the colliery, and headed off to "the river" for lunch. "The river" is the Zambezie, about 100 kms downstream from Victoria Falls, and 42km from Hwange.

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