Category Archives: Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s National Parks

Zimbabwe is one of Southern Africa’s undiscovered gems. It has an array of stunning scenery, pristine wilderness and incredible wildlife as well as warm, welcoming people. It is home to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls, as well as mighty rivers, mountains, forests and thousands of miles of untouched grasslands. The 10 national parks of Zimbabwe were established in order to protect these unique areas all of which are of major significance. Zimbabwe was at the forefront of developing the national park system and conservation in general and other African nations soon followed their model. The various parks all have their own character depending on their location, accessability, climate and wildlife populations.  It is worth visiting more than one to get a true idea of the range and diversity of the wonderful wildlife and scenery to be found in Zimbabwe.

Hwange National Park – this is the largest and most popular national park in Zimbabwe. It is easy to self-drive in the park and its location close to Vic Falls makes it popular with tourists. Despite its popularity it is large enough to lose the crowds and it offers excellent wildlife viewing including most of the big safari animals and the Big Five.  Hwange is famous for the large numbers of elephants that congregate round the park’s waterholes during the dry season.  Between 20,000 and 80,000 elephants congregate around the waterholes during this time.  All three of the big cats are regularly spotted and Hwange is also home to a large variety of antelopes. It is also a vital part of the preservation of one of Africa’s most endangered animals the African wild dog who have breeding colonies at Hwange. The park is situated on the eastern edge of the vast Kalahari desert so is mainly made up of sand and scrubland but you can also find teak forest and mopane woodland. We have lots of places to stay at Hwange including Camp Hwange.

Matusadona National Park – this beautiful park is found on the shores of Lake Kariba. It offers excellent wildlife viewing including all of the Big Five. Especially important are the groups of both white and black rhino and this is also where you will find the largest concentration of lions in Zimbabwe. Elephant and buffalo are also abundant in this area and Lake Kariba is home to many hippos and crocodiles. It is a great place for canoeing, birding and walking safaris and it is a great place for those wishing to get off the beaten track to a remote location. If you want to watch the sun setting over the lake with the Matusadona Mountains as the backdrop then this is the place for you! We have a choice of fantastic places to stay on the shores of Lake Kariba including Musango Safari Camp.

Mana Pools National Park – as its name suggests this is a watery wildlife area consisting of 4 main pools and several smaller pools on the floodplains of the Zambezi River. The landscape here includes lots of small islands and sandbanks bordered by lush forest, and also the sharp cliffs of the Zambezi escarpment. This unique riverine habitat and wildlife have been protected as a pristine wilderness and are now also recognised and further protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This park is best explored by canoe or on foot as there are few roads and it really is a true wilderness. This is for those who are looking for a safari with a difference and those who like really getting out of the car and into the African bush themselves.  If you are a keen fisherman, canoer or birder then this is the place for you. There are no rhino to be found here but the other four of Big Five are all here. You should see the Big Cats as well as large herds of elephants and of course large numbers of hippos and crocodiles. There are also colonies of rare African wild dog to be found here. If you want to stay here you can choose from a variety of camps including Mana Pools Tented Camp.

Victoria Falls /Zambezi National Park – this is one of the smallest but one of the most scenic national parks. Close to the spectacular Victoria Falls it can be visited as a day trip for those based at Victoria Falls so it is good for those with families, those not wishing to go on a full safari or those not wishing to go too far off the beaten track. The mighty Zambezi runs through the heart of the park providing lots of great scenery and picnic opportunities.  This park cannot be compared to some of the larger National Parks as it is much smaller and has far fewer species. You are only likely to spot elephant and buffalo who are prevalent in the park as are crocodiles and hippos. The park is home to rarer species like lion and wild dog but you are very unlikely to spot any. We have a range of hotels in and around Victoria Falls but if you are looking for a safari camp then Elephant Camp is the place for you.

  Matobo – this national park is famous for its incredible scenery which offers the unique sight of enormous granite rocks piled high on top of each other towering high above the plains. Like other sites in Zimbabwe (Greater Zimbabwe etc.) this park is also home to their ancient civilisation and there are several well-preserved bushman rock-art sites that you can visit here. There is a good amount of wildlife in the park although no lion or elephant but white rhino is spotted quite regularly. This park is also the best place to see leopard as it is home Africa’s largest density of this elusive big cat. They are really at home in this rocky landscape with plenty of place to hunt, climb and hide.  It is good for self-drive safaris as small and has roads.

Chizarira – this national park is very remote and fairly inaccessible which means there are only a few visitors at any one time. The camps here are remote, the environment is untouched and you will ge to experience the true African wilderness. You should be able to see the Big Five apart from rhino. There are plenty of elephant, buffalo, antelope and a variety of predators including lion, leopard and spotted hyenas. Walking safaris are a big part of the experience here and the scenery is stunning as it is dominated by the rugged and dramatic Zambezi escarpment. The park actually covers 7 different ecological zones from low veld valley savannah to high veld broadleaf woodland.

Gonarezhou– this a huge park (5000 kms2) which is actually part of greater a trans-national wildlife preservation area called the Great Limpopo Trans-frontier Park.  This Trans-frontier Park is also made up of Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park and South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Altogether they make up a vast wilderness area which allows the wildlife to cross national boundaries whilst still being protected. It is a vast area so the density of animals is not strong but there is a huge range of wildlife to be found here including the Big Five. You will also rarely see anyone else out on your game drives. Walking safaris are fantastic here and it is really the chance to experience the untamed bush in all its glory that make this park worth visiting.

Nyanga– this is not a major park for wildlife and safaris in general. The main attraction instead lies in the beautiful scenery, hiking and some interesting rock art and archaeological sites. Nyanga is also one of Zimbabwe’s top birding hotspots. There are over 300 species and there are several near-endemic species to be found here. The park is also part of the globally important Eastern Zimbabwe Mountains Endemic Bird Area (EBA).

Chimanimani– this scenic park is one of Zimbabwe’s finest mountain wilderness areas and a very popular hiking destination. The mountain range lies on the Zim/Mozambique border and the tallest peak is almost 2,500m.  Close to the town are the famous waterfalls, Bridal Veil Falls.  The wildlife is not so important here but it is the landscape and scenery that is protected here.  The park includes the Chirinda Forest, Africa’s southernmost tropical rainforest and home to rare species of plants and trees including the 1,000-year-old Big Tree at nearly 70m tall and 16m in diameter.

Kazuma– this park lies on the border with Botswana and is home to savannah grasslands. There are also a series of seasonally flooded pans in the south-west of the park that provide food and water for lots of birdlife and other wildlife.

Our team at Real Africa have visited many of the main national parks in Zimbabwe and have checked out all the accommodation options in each area so if you would like to find out more then give us a call.

Posted by Ruth Bolton

 

 

Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park

Have you ever heard of a Peace Park? There are several in Africa but the biggest and most established is the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park in Southern Africa. This incredibly vast conservation area  stretches across three frontiers between Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa and is home to millions of animals.

This park was set up as a peace park to join  three countries together in an effort to protect the wildlife that roams across their national boundaries and as such it is one of the most successful conservation projects on the whole of the African continent. The park actually incorporates three seperate national parks; the Kruger National Park in South Africa, the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique and the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe and some of the areas in between.

Conservation Area:

At the moment it is in the first stage and currently it covers around 35,000 kms sq. The aim is to bring together some of the most exciting and well established wildlife areas in Southern Africa and  manage it as one single, integrated unit across three international boundaries, a tricky proposition! The next phase will to be to create a bigger transfrontier conservation area measuring almost 100,000 kms sq.  The larger transfrontier conservation area will include Banhine and Zinave national parks, the Massingir and Corumana areas and interlinking regions in Mozambique, as well as various privately and state-owned conservation areas in South Africa and Zimbabwe also bordering on the park.

Administration:

The adminstration and development of the park needs the various countries to agree unified policies and to co-operate over things such as fees and rates, border crossings, tourism strategy, conservation strategy, future funding and future development. This can only be done by running the park under a single management organisation and this has been done since 2002 when the park was finally created after years of planning.

History:

The park was originally discussed as an idea in a meeting between President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and the president of the World Wide Fund For Nature (South Africa) in 1990.  The 1992 Peace Accord in Mozambique and the South African democratic elections of 1994 paved the way for the political processes to proceed toward making this idea a reality. Feasibility studies initiated by the World Bank culminated in a pilot project that was launched with Global Environment Facility (GEF) funding in 1996.  Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique signed a trilateral agreement in Skukuza, South Africa on 10 November 2000. The Skukuza agreement signalled the three nations’ intent to establish and develop a transfrontier park and surrounding conservation area that, at that time, was called Gaza-Kruger-Gonarezhou. Finally, on 9 December 2002, the heads of state of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe signed an international treaty at Xai-Xai, Mozambique to establish the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Below is one of the first concept maps drawn up for the park in 1993.

Wildlife:

The park is important for several different reasons. It is vitally important to preserve some of the cultural sites such as the ancient cave paintings and the evidence of early man within the park.  The landscape and vegetation area are also vitally important to preserve. Of course one of the most important aspects is the conservation of the rare wildlife that lives in this area. In the GLTP there is a significant and viable populations of wild dog, white rhino and black rhino all of which are significantly endangered. Both these species are increasing steadily and increased range opportunities into Mozambique and Zimbabwe will enhance the conservation of these species and others. There are also significant populations of elephant, zebra, lion and spotted hyaena to be found in the park. As the park grows it will encompass and protect more endangered species and preserve more areas of environmental or cultural importance. It will also offer protected migration routes as most animals travel huge distances in search of either grazing or prey.

This is one of Africa’s great success stories. The park has taken a huge amount of time and effort whilst managing to overcome many hurdles on the way but it is now   a great success with plans to continue its expansion and development.

 

Posted by Ruth Bolton

 

 

 

 

 

Lily in Zimbabwe Part 2: Lake Kariba and Hwange

My first though; Lake Kariba is simply stunning with its islands and sandy shores.

Flying  to Kariba, just a 90 minute journey, saves the 468 kilometre, 5 hour road journey from Harare and is worth every penny for its scenic qualities and sheer convenience.

Lake Kariba and Matusadona National Park

Zimbabwe’s northern border is formed by the Zambezi River which is dammed at Kariba to form the vast artificial  Lake Kariba which was built to harness electricity to feed industry in Zimbabwe and Zambia.  The dam when it was built in 1957-1959 (by an Italian company) was the largest in the world and still today its size and strength remain awesome.  But it wasn’t built without cost to humans from various accidents to heatstroke and the tragic loss of 18 workers who fell into wet concrete during construction.

The greatest tragedy attributed to the building the dam is the uprooting of the Batonga tribe from their ancestral home in the Gwembe section of the Zambezi Valley.  These people had lived here for centuries, making a living from farming and fishing as well as being adept at wood carving, bead work and basket work with their own particular style.  The removal of the Batonga created considerable anguish abroad (not to mention among the people themselves).  Anthropologists rushed to amass details of Batonga society before everything changed.  In 1959, when the last lorry – piled high with evicted villagers and belongings – was on the point of departure from the doomed valley, a small green bush was tied to the vehicle’s tailboard to trail along behind. The villagers explained this was to allow their ancestral guardian spirit to ride until they reached their new home.  It was essential that this spirit remained on the ground during the journey for it to settle comfortably into its new surroundings and maintain a relationship with the ancestors.

The Batonga were removed to a very poor place.

Little of this heritage seems to have found its way back to enrich the Batonga today.  The people no longer engage in bead work because they can’t afford to buy the imported beads.  Many heirlooms have been sold off including beautiful stools and carved hut doors to raise money for the next meal.

The completion of the Kariba Dam Wall in 1958, towering 128m high and 579m across,  had an immediate and drastic effect on the Zambezi Valley.  As soon as the sluice gates were closed, the river level rose and burst its banks.  With rapidly rising waters came a number of serious problems.  The animals living in the valley had not been removed and suddenly became trapped on hilltops which were quickly shrinking into small islands or drowning when low lying land was flooded.  Wildlife rescue seemed to be an afterthought and at the last minute, three men from the Southern Rhodesian Game Department were tasked with ‘taking any measures necessary to save animals from the floods’.  Thus Rupert Fothergill and a team of 10 men set out on rafts with make shift nets, harnesses and catching poles, and a limited supply of tranquilisers and resources to save the wildlife from the ever increasing expanse of water.

Operation Noah is truly the stuff of legends.  Dead barbell and tiger fish were found floating in the rising lake, bloated to bursting from gorging themselves on the swarms of insects driven from the saturated ground.  Birds lost successive broods of chicks as the waters forced them to rebuild their nests in high branches.  The drowned trees were festooned with snakes, moneys and leopards.  Mats of floating vegetation seethed with scorpions.  Mountains became peninsulars and hilltops ever-shrinking islands crowded with game.

The larger animals found swimming in the lake were herded towards shore, or secured to sides of boats with ropes if they showed signs of distress.

To capture the deadly black mamba, the wardens use a fishing rod adapted to pull a noose around the snake’s neck; the snakes is then gingerly deposited into a pillowcase.  Dassies (shrill voiced, rabbity creatures and porcupines are deliberately driven into the water since, despite their small size, dassies bite when cornered and porcupines have quills.  Even in water, it takes ‘three mean to outwit a porcupine’.

Over the next five years, Fothergill and his team managed to save over 5,000 animals, which included 1,866 impala, 585 warthog, 23 elephant and 6 scaly ant eaters. Many of these animals were released in a beautiful area on the lake edge now known as Matusadona National Park.

Nearly 5200 square kilometres of wilderness died with the valley.  Desolate trees, still poking branches from the water, over fifty years later, bear vivid testimony to the destruction.  But a new ecology has replaced the old in a turn of events that show the resilience of the natural world.  Fish eagles and African darter colonies nest in the branches and the decaying wood feeds underwater life.

Fishing attracts many people to the lake particularly for the fierce tigerfish with their razor sharp teeth.  They have great fighting ability, making determined rushes followed by an impressive leap from the water to shake the hook.

Fothergill Island

Back to our arrival on Fothergill Island.  We were met by Simon, a very experienced fellow in the safari industry, born and bred in Zimbabwe. Part of the management team at  Changa Camp set on the shores of Lake Kariba where we were due to stay for the next two nights.  Simon and Saiide, the boatman, made us feel instantly at home as we loaded the luggage into the Bazooka boat, made in UK.  Fast ride on the lake passing Spurwing Island where I stayed 20 years ago.  Wildlife viewing included an elephant watching us from a promontory with impala playing in the shallows.

Twenty five minutes later we arrived at Changa Camp.  This is a recently built camp on a private concession with 4.5 kilometres of lake shore.

The rich wilderness area offers exceptional game drives as well as walking and fishing safaris, all in the company of highly trained professional guides. Healthy populations of predators, including lion, leopard, hyena and cheetah as well as elephant, buffalo and antelope frequent the shoreline. Hippos and crocodiles are abundant in the cool waters. If  you are very lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the last remaining Black Rhinos. Birdlife is prolific, with 350 species having been identified in the area.

I will mention at this stage about Simon who’s positive outlook is classic of the general feeling in Zimbabwe and proves why this country has such a bright future after its catastrophic recent years.  Zimbabweans are definitely a ‘pick yourself up, shake yourself off’ breed. 

So often we heard about safari camps who had struggled to keep open on a shoe string.. owners going to South Africa or elsewhere for instance to earn money to send back to finance the camp.  The philosophy of ‘not closing, keep open and all will come right in the end’ is proving correct.

Lulled to sleep by the honking of hippos just yards away on the lake shore.

Friday, 26th April,  at 0545, coffee and biscuits in mess tent then off on game drive with guide Kingsley and another guest called, Rudi, a very thin German gentleman of advanced years.  Left camp at 0645 and drove about 45 minutes (meeting about 12 elephants on the way) to an open area where we left the vehicle and set off on foot (Kingsley armed with rifle).

Walked for about 2.5 hours and the most threatening mammal we saw were two impalas which suited me fine.  Gone are the days when I thought it would be such fun to have an elephant , buffalo or lion encounter!

However, the bird life was very varied e.g. golden oriole, marabou stork, fork tailed drongo, fish eagle, lilac breasted roller, African darter, eagle owl, grey and red hornbill, bateleur eagle, Namaqua dove, white fronted bee eaters.

We stopped for coffee and cookies about 1000 and I asked Kingsley why we had seen no herds of buffalo (nyati) or big prides of lion that I remembered from my previous visit to Kariba (Spurwing Island) in 1994.  He told me it was all to do with the rising level of the Lake which drowned the grazing areas for the big herds of buffalo.  The buffalo in their weakened state were easily picked off by the strong lion prides then when the buffalo had dwindled the lions had to move to new areas in the Matusadona.

Tasty buffet lunch shared with Simon then relaxed until afternoon activity after tea and cake.

Our afternoon activity was quite memorable… again! We took the Bazooka speed boat across to the Sanyati Gorge which branches off Lake Kariba.

This area of course was flooded in the late 50’s along with several villages now lying submerged beneath the dark waters.

Fascinating sailing up the steep sides gorge decorated with African chestnut trees with white trunks and displaying their beautiful yellow flowers. Occasionally drifting to the sides and on one occasion we saw a well disguised elephant amongst the foliage watching us watch him.  His trunk had been damaged in some way, even shortened but seemed to be healing and it didn’t affect his ability to pick up tasty bites from the trees or ground.  Also saw guinea fowl scampering about as they so often do later in the day.

We motored up the gorge for about an hour, then had sundowners.  I felt all the time we were being watched … maybe the spirits of the flooded villages??

On the way back down the brooding gorge, the light was fading fast but as we burst back onto the Lake the sun was still shining albeit rather muted with sunset approaching.

We speeded back across the lake to Changa Camp.

Freshened up for supper and when we arrived back at the mess area, we found that supper was to be enjoyed on the beach (where we’d see the elephants last night).  There was a long table set up for all the guests with lanterns lighting up the welcoming scene.  We enjoyed a braai with various meats included sirloin steak … all delicious.  Lively dinner chat.. but no word from the eles tonight.

Simon brought out his guitar after supper and serenaded us as we sat round the beach camp fire.  Quite quickly we realised he could sing and play just about any request..  was quite a surreal situation singing folk songs in the moonlight on the shores of Lake Kariba!  All boded well for a good night’s sleep.

Saturday, 27th April, (Kariba to Hwange) 0700, breakfast then said our goodbye’s to Changa Camp and its special people. Down to the jetty and loaded into the speed boat (Bazooka) and whisked across the lake with Simon and Saaide to Fothergill Island and the airstrip.

Our Cessna 205 with pilots Barry and Karl arrived as promised – and off we flew taking 1.5 hours to reach Hwange Main airstrip.

We were greeted on arrival by David Carson, part owner of Camp Hwange in Hwange National Park.  David is a very experienced ZimPro guide who has been running mobile and safari operations for many years.  We found out just how experienced he is in the next 24 hours.

David loaded us into the open top safari vehicle and warned us it would be cool so ‘wrap up well’ and I was very pleased I’d brought my scarf, Andean hat with ear flaps and gloves.

Road very good and maintained well which was surprising given the history of the Park over the troubled years.  David said somehow the money had been found for the upkeep of roads in Zimbabwe although the municipal roads were in a poorer state.

Stopped at National Park barrier by two stern looking lady park officials who gave the vehicle keen scrutiny then arrived at Hwange National Park Headquarters where park fees, paperwork had to be completed.

Pleasant place with relaxed feel.

Wandered around and found a bit of history of Hwange which is interesting to record and set the scene for where we would spend the next 4 days exploring the different areas of the Park and environs.

Hwange National Park

Hwange National Park is the largest national park in Zimbabwe and covers 14,650 square kilometres, about the size of Belgium.. larger than all of Zimbabwe’s other national parks put together.  It is less than two hours’ drive southwast of Victoria Falls and makes a popular add-on safari from the Falls.  Driving from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls, travellers will pass the main turn-off to the gate and is very convenient to make a stop there for safari.

The Park was the royal national hunting grounds of the Ndebele warrior king, Mzilikazi in the early 19th century and was set aside as a national park in 1929.

It was declared by the Rhodesian government as one of the last retreats for game animals not threatened by human encroachment.  Additionally because of the presence of tsetse fly (which kills cows) the land couldn’t be commercially farmed.  The first warden was Ted Davison who held the job for 33 years and developed the roads, camps and boreholes.

The town of Hwange was founded in 1899 when coal was discovered and is located just outside the National Park. The ‘village’ grew to accommodate mine workers and today Hwange Colliery is the biggest coal mine in Zimbabwe, producing over 5 million tons of coal per year..

Hwange boasts a tremendous variety of wildlife with over 100 species of mammal and nearly 400 bird species.  The elephants of Hwange are famous and the park’s elephant population is one of the largest n the world, though they migrate to and from Chobe National Park in Botswana depending on the season and estimates of their number range from 20,000 to 75,000.

Although when we stopped to look at a point of flora or fauna interest, the sun beat down. Marvelled at the teak forests by roadside, very green as they have long roots which go down to the water table.  Other sightings were male kudu and giraffe (Southern).  He was a constant source of entertaining information as we drove first to the Park Headquarters to ‘check in’ and then on through the Park to Camp Hwange in the eastern Sinamatella area, journey time in all two hours. Various sightings on the way to camp i.e. elephants, bateleur eagle (or brown snake eagle), purple roller, crowned crane, saddlebill stork, secretary birds, cape teals, and in the floral kingdom I would like to mention two unusual (for me) sightings of African lilies and Gardenia trees (much liked by giraffes).

We arrived at Camp Hwange to a very warm welcome from Sylvie, Andy and their team  – probably because everyone was waiting to eat lunch and our late arrival was holding up hungry appetites!  Large and spacious thatch roofed mess area with dining area (long table where all guests eat together) and comfortable lounge area.  Stylishly furnished a la African chic, with camp fire area in front with waterhole and hide in the background.

Shown to our chalet/tent by Sylvie Pons from France, old Africa hand and part owner of Camp Hwange who told us all about the building of the camp and furnishing the tents etc.  There are 8 large canvas walled en suite chalets positioned to overlook the waterhole.

There is a unique log pile hide in the shade near the waterhole where camp guests can visit escorted by one of the guide’s so that you may have a close up view of all the ‘visitors’ coming to drink and carry out their ablutions.

Each tent is furnished with stylish simplicity and en suite facilities. No internet at camp.

What struck me was the great enthusiasm and pride in Camp Hwange from everyone we met beginning with David Carson’s at the airstrip.

Quick but delicious lunch then we prepared to go out with David on a game experience combining a game drive with a game walk tracking elephants!

What we were quickly coming to realise is that Camp Hwange is really all about is the wilderness experience and getting out amongst it!.. and this is what we were about to do only we didn’t realise how close we would get to the wilderness experience!

The emphasis is on flexible, knowledgeable and charismatic guiding all in comfortable surroundings. 

Cup of tea and cake around 1600 then David loaded Marie Aud, Gabrielle, Jean and I onto the game drive vehicle.  Drove about 25 minutes to open area where David parked in the shade of an ebony tree.  Now we were about to embark on a game walk and find out why David Parsons is one of the best guides in Zimbabwe (in same strata as veterans like John Stevens and Stretch Ferrera).  He gave us the all important safety talk which comes down to doing exactly as he says if dangerous game is encountered i.e. don’t run! Told how to walk quietly … heel then toe, follow his example at all times.  I had a light rucksack which held water, JVC footage camera, Canon SLR with 75 – 350 mm and 28 – 75mm lenses.

The late afternoon light was golden and the sky very blue.  The terrain was open with some shrubs dotted about.

David pointed out elephant in the distance and we stopped.  He spoke in a whisper explaining that it was likely we would find elephants in a dried out river bed to the left… He kept checking the wind direction and confirmed that the wind although very little was blowing away from us and we would be fine as long as we kept upwind from the elies.  They have acute sense of smell and it was very important that they should not be aware of our presence or they would scarper.  I guessed this must be a regular pattern at this time of day when animals were on their way to the main waterholes to drink.

We walked in line very quietly (heel .. toe) towards the banking above the river bed then David dropped into crouching position then sitting position.  Shuffled on our ‘derrieres’ to the edge of the banking and there was the unforgettable sight of eight bull elephants of varying ages, totally relaxed, spread out along the river bed.  Some were digging for water, others just standing enjoying the peace and quiet of the end of the day.  The early evening light was perfect for photography and I got some very interesting footage, not easy when I was trying to be as quiet as possible!  Every time I moved, dried out autumnal leaves crackled and I was sure the pachyderms with their keen ears would be alerted to our presence.

We were all feeling so lucky to be only a few yards from the beasts who appeared totally unaware of us when suddenly a spat broke out between two of the group.and the weaker elephant ran up the banking a few yards from where we were sitting.  Despite David’s earlier instructions, we all went into what I would call ‘half meerkat position’ getting ready to run!!  Whoa – Ho! the Real Africa JVC camera which I have always guarded with my life, fell to the ground (sorry Rob..fortunately only a few inches onto the dry leaves) and I was rapidly wondering what I could live without if a tree had to be climbed!

Ridiculous really but a natural instinct.  The ele hesitated at the top of the banking which seemed forever with us wondering if he would turn left or right.  We would have been in a delicate position if he’d decided to turn left… although David had a powerful.458 rifle under his arm and would no doubt have fired first a warning shot if the bull elephant has come towards us.

We all breathed a sigh of relief when he turned right and ambled away along the banking.

We headed back to the vehicle in the rapidly decreasing evening light and drove towards a nearby man made water hole.  Suddenly, a lioness came out of the bush in a front of us and lazily crossed the road – David braked abruptly (and I nearly went flying onto the bonnet of the Land Cruiser!).  David became very excited as he was sure this was a well known lioness who had cubs on the other side of the waterhole.

We drove speedily up the track to the look out point and hide overlooking down over the Masuma waterhole.  By this time, the lioness was quietly walking around the banking and the game including two waterbuck had gone into instant ‘statue mode’ and were watching the predator as she nonchalantly walked past them just a few yards away.

Eventually she went out of sight and we could settle down to watch at leisure the tranquil evening scene below us.  A group of elies were at a smaller waterhole a few yards behind the big waterhole for some reason preferring this area.  The evening light washed the bush and wildlife in an ethereal glow and I felt how lucky we were to witness this peaceful scene.  Hippos were honking down below and the sun was slowing sinking below the horizon as we, also quite lazily, drank our gin and tonics!

Back to camp and drinks round the camp fire.  Chatting to other guests, three of whom has just arrived from New Caledonia in the South Pacific – what a journey coming half way round the world and a ten hour time difference!

Lively supper around the ‘long mess table’ with guests from NC, USA, France and England.  Probably one of the best safari suppers I have ever experienced with such a good feeling of ‘aliveness and well being’ throughout.  Oh, and the food we very good too!!

To bed with hot water bottles which felt very snug underneath our duvets.  The night was cold so good to be tucked up well.

Sunday, 28th April, 2013, up at 0545, cup of coffee and biscuit in the mess tent then loaded up for game drive tracking the endangered African painted (or wild) dog.  David was determined we would find the pack and although we saw a lot of tracks, we didn’t see any of these endangered animals.  But the amazing thing was, we felt we had seen them such was David’s enthusiasm and passion.  Even the Painted Dog Conservation team headed by Dr Greg Rasmuissen (based just outside the National Park Gates) were looking for them in their Land Rover but the pack ( had gone off deep into the bush and were definitely not going to ‘say hello’ that morning.  Birds seen on the drive included pearl spotted ow, cape teals, jacana and knob headed coot.

Back to camp for bacon sandwiches… again running late but it is one of Camp Hwange’s rules that there are ‘no rules’ and ‘no time restrictions’.

Camp Hwange has a private concession of 6,000 acres bordering the northern side of Hwange National Park hence plenty of space to offer guests for game drives and walks which is one its specialities.

Left camp with David and headed back to Hwange Main Gate where we met Janice, the manager of Ivory Lodge. Sad farewells to David Carson and off we went with Janice.  Stopped at the Painted Dog Conservation Centre and had very interesting visit.

Don’t miss the next instalment featuring Bulawayo, Matobo Hills and Great Zimbabwe…

Scare Yourself Silly!

Are you an adrenalin junkie? Do you like challenging yourself in new situations? Do you like trying out new sports and exploring new places? Africa is full of amazing places for the thrill-seekers amongst you!

Canoeing:

There are lots of different places to canoe in Africa but some of the best canoeing can be found on Africa’s Great Lakes including Lake Malawi. It is a fantastic way to explore the unspoilt beaches and stunning warm water and soak up the total peace and quiet of the place. If you want a bit more excitement then you can have fun in a dug-out canoe called a mokoro on safari in Botswana exploring the waterways of the Okavango Delta. Or if that’s not enough of a thrill you can spend your time dodging hippos on the mighty Zambezi! See our Selinda Canoe Trip for a fantastic camping and canoeing safari trip.

White-water rafting and kayaking:

Some of the best Grade 5 rapids in Africa are on the Zambezi river as it pours out of the awesome Victoria Falls on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The huge river come pounding over the wide waterfalls but then squeezes into a narrow rocky gorge giving the water immense energy and creating some world class rapids. There are plenty of companies offering rafting trips of various lengths and level of skill around Victoria Falls.  Further afield you could also tackle the infamous Horrible Horace, the Whiplash and the Four-Man-Hole – legendary rapids and cascades for white water rafting and kayaking on the Tugela in the Drakensburg Mountains of South Africa. The Orange River also in South Africa offers some fantastic rafting and kayaking hotspots too.

Bungee Jumping:

And of course we couldn’t talk about adrenalin sports in Africa without adding in bungee jumping. Also at the world famous Victoria Falls you can do one of the world’s greatest bungees over the edge of Vic Falls itself. This was one of the earliest sites for bungee jumping after New Zealand and has been a long established attraction at the Falls. You can combine a trip here with a safari or with some white water rafting as there is plenty to see and do in the vicinity. Vic Falls bungee jump is definitely classed as one of the world’s best jumps and features on many a bucket list!

Diving with Rays:

Scuba Diving is exciting at the best of times but in the protected coastal waters of Mozambique you can go diving and swimming with some extraordinary animals. Whale sharks and manta rays are one of the huge attractions of the area along with the miles of unspoilt beaches and crystal clear warm waters of Mozambique. There are many dive centres and resorts  scattered along the coast of Mozambique but the main place for diving with manta rays and whale sharks is Tofo. This is the best place in the world for seeing these amazing creatures up close but the marine life in these waters is unbelievable. With some of the best preserved coral reefs and unpolluted waters Mozambique really is a diver’s paradise. 

Surfing:

The beautiful Garden Route along South Africa’s southern coast offers incredible scenery, quaint towns, a huge variety of marine life including whales and dolphins and on top of all that some world beating surf. There are several bays along the Cape’s south coast, east of Cape Agulhas, that produce consistent surfing conditions including Stil Bay, Mossel Bay, St Francis Bay, Jeffrey’s Bay and Algoa-Port Elizabeth. It depends on the weather conditions as to which has the best surf on the day but with the right wind direction and a good swell these are world beaters. Jeffrey’s Bay is famous for its almost perfect tube and the area is home to a strong surfing community and also hosts several different international competitions.

Diving with sharks:

If surfing seems a bit tame then how about cage diving and coming face to face with a Great White  off the coast of sunny Cape Town? This is becoming more popular year by year and there are now several different operators to choose from if you are brave enough! You can also take boat rides out to see the whales and dolphins from Cape Town. We have some fantastic accommodation on offer including top of the range luxury hotels, small boutique guest houses and self-catering apartments.

Mountain Biking and Mountain Climbing:

The Drakensburg Mountains are a stunning range set in the north east of South Africa. The area is famous for its stunning scenery and it offers all sorts of mountain based adrenalin activities including mountain climbing, horse-riding, mountain-biking, quad biking, white water rafting, hiking and abseiling. Many adrenalin enthusiasts regard the Drakensberg’s rivers, mountains and tracks as the ultimate adventure destination in the world. The mountains themselves are stunningly beautiful and well worth a visit just for the landscape alone. You can see even more during a hot air balloon flight or a trip in helicopter both of which are also available here. You can hire bikes in several different locations in the area and most hotels will also arrange this for you and you can choose from following the trails yourself or taking a tour with a guide who can really take you off-trail!

Dune buggies:

Where else could you get amazing dune buggy rides than in the stunning sand dunes and deserts of Namibia? Swakopmund is home to all kinds of adrenalin sports and you can find amongst other things on offer the chance to go dune bashing in some of the most unique scenery on earth.  Some of the sand dunes are quite rightly protected as sites of special importance but there are plenty of sand dunes available for exploring on dune buggies. You can also go sky diving, hot air ballooning, boat trips to the seal colonies, sandboarding, quad biking, sport fishing and night desert walks to name but a few!

Horse Riding:

Galloping through the waterways and wide open spaces of true wilderness, Botswana offers riders an incredible experience you just cannot get in the UK. Hundreds of miles of unspoilt wildlife and scenery and not another person to be seen in any of it. No traffic, no roads, nothing to hinder you from riding free as a bird. In Botswana you can ride through the stunning Okavango Delta and enjoy a horse-back safari which is a great way to get off the beaten track and see the wildlife up close. You can also do horse-riding in many other places including across South Africa and Namibia. RAW Botswana offer terrific horseback safaris – find out more here.

So instead of moaning about the rain the next time we have a wet bank holiday why don’t you book yourself a white-knuckle ride and scare yourself silly somewhere in Africa?!

Posted by Ruth Bolton

Lily in Zimbabwe Part 1: Mana Pools

Good Friday, 18 April

Departed Ulverston by train at 09h07 to Manchester Airport.  Checked in (with luggage tagged to HRE via LHR and JNB) at Terminal 3 for Virgin ‘Little Red’ VS7650 to London Heathrow departing 14h40, arrived 15h45.  Smooth flight on Airbus 320, seat configuration 3/3 = 30 rows = 180 pax.  Arrived Terminal 1, LHR, and made our way by flight connection route to International Departures to await our South African Airways flight to Johannesburg (SA237 departing 21h00)

Called to the gate at 19h30 and boarded in due course. The flight was very quiet and our allocated space 65AC was surrounded by empty seats so once the door were closed,  I moved quickly to 66C and enjoyed two seat space all the way to Joburg.

Comfortable flight with complimentary amenity pack (which included toothpaste/brush, socks, eye shades etc), tasty meal and good choice of inflight entertainment.

Saturday, 19 April

09h20 arrived Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport, followed signs for International Connections, queued for passport and onward flight ticket check, followed by security check of hand luggage/liquids etc.  Finally channelled into International Departures Lounge and the fabulous Joburg Duty Free area/shops etc.

Mentally ‘marked’ items for purchase in the ‘Out of Africa’, Cape Union Mart and Indaba shops for when we came back thru JNB on 4th May.

11h30- flew South African Airways SA22 (comfortable 3/3 Airbus) to Harare arriving 13h10.  Given Zimbabwe immigration forms on plane for completion then queued at immigration ‘visa required’ channel on arrival, called forward, paid USD$55, passport stamped.  All in all, a very straight forward process.

General impression of Harare airport so far was that everything functioning normally although not as many airport shops as in Heathrow.Clean but a little bare (noticeable in contrast to all our Western clutter!)

Met by pleasant fellow from Hilton Transfer services in the Arrivals Hall and driven towards Harare skyline.  As last year, limited cars on road and not as many people around as in e.g. Nairobi between JKIA and town.

Arrived in the Borrowdale suburb of Harare after approximately 25 minutes and drew up outside the Armadale Boutique Lodge.  Warmly welcomed by Alyona, the duty manager, who, although Russian, has been living in Zimbabwe for over 25 years.

Set among landscaped gardens, the Lodge was originally built as a farmhouse in 1904.  Nine en suite bedrooms with elegant decor, satellite TV, and WIFI. Dining room and two communal lounges, swimming pool.  Enjoyed afternoon tea on the verandah with the best carrot cake I have ever tasted!  Tasty supper in the evening with butternut soup and fresh croutons, tilapia fish with trimmings, and another ‘best’ in the form of milk tart (a very traditional African pudding).  Amongst the antiques and memorabilia, Alyona had lit a cosy fire in the open hearth to guard against the evening chill – after all, it is autumn/winter in Zimbabwe!

Wifi was very hit and miss but managed to get an email sent to Paul to pass on our safe arrival to the families back in UK.

See below map of Zimbabwe which will be useful when locating different areas visited, i.e. Harare, Mana Pools NP, Lake Kariba, Matusadona NP, Hwange NP and Victoria Falls Airport.

  We had a good chat with the owner, Nikki, who gave us some insight into how shopping for instance has changed – now many more local people grow fruit/vegetables for sale in the local markets.  In typical Zimbabwean ‘make a plan’ style, she said it’s possible to get most things in order to run a lodge/guesthouse, but sometimes one has to search around.

Not like the west where everything is on display in the hypermarkets/superstores.                                                                    

Sunday, 20 April, (Harare to Mana Pools)

0630 wake up call followed by very good breakfast i.e. fruit, muesli, yoghurt followed by full ‘Zimbabwean’ of eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, hash browns, toast and pancakes… washed down with fresh coffee!

Good to see a blue sky, sunny with coolish breeze.   Weather hardly ever discussed by the locals as they take it for granted when the sun shines!  Interesting to note that when the weather is in early 70’s, its termed ‘winter weather’.

April/May is Autumn and in my opinion an excellent time to travel with sunny days in 70’s and cooler nights.

Our transfer by Hilton Transfer Services was waiting to drive us back to the airport and Domestic Terminal for our light aircraft flight to Mana Pools with Alt Air.

Views en route showed the populace getting on with their daily business including the open air stone mason workshop crafting the local sort after soapstone statues including birds (akka the Great Zimbabwe falcons -more later) and the Big Five.  Vehicles and bicycles only heavy at traffic lights.

Arrived at the Domestic Terminal (08h45) to find our pilot, Giles Raydor, waiting on the steps for us.  He collected our $15 per person departure tax and paid it to the necessary government office in the airport, put fuel in the tank of our little Cessna 206, loaded his two passengers on board and took off.

We were the first flight out of the day at 09h20, flying low at first over the outskirts of Harare.  I was expecting to see shanty towns but instead there below were neat, orderly housing areas.  Flew over other areas where previous agriculture could be seen but not tended recently and then further, flew over well tended fields.

We flew north towards Mana Pools National Park passing over farmland in full use with untended fields gone to scrub to the side.

From cultivated areas we flew over forested hills, again with bare patches where the trees had been cut down, in many cases for firewood but as Giles explained, no replanting had been done.  Flew over the Zambezi escarpment towards the Lower Zambezi Valley.  Very scenic area, thickly wooded with rivers (e.g. Chipori), pans (natural depression forming waterhole), occasionally saw elephant as we looked down from a height of about 3,000 feet.

After approximately one hour flight, we landed at Mana Main airstrip where Humphrey Gumpo from Tailor Made Safaris was waiting for us in the camp Land Rover.

ABOUT MANA POOLS AREA and the NATIONAL PARK

The Lower Zambezi Valley begins after the water from the dammed lake (Kariba) becomes a river again, running along the base of the Zambezi Escarpment immediately to its south.  Further downstream, the river emerges from a deep gorge to spread across a flat, fertile floodplain that is being reshaped by nature to form pools and oxbow lakes.

The Mana (Shona word meaning ‘four’) Pools area consists of four main pools- depressions filled with water in abandoned river channels and several smaller ones scattered along the river course with cliffs overhanging the river and the floodplains providing sustenance to a large and varied wildlife population. In this area, the Zambezi River meanders through a wide valley, repeatedly splaying out into islands, channels and sandbanks, with escarpments rising dramatically on either side.

Chine and Long Pool hold water throughout the year and attract large animal concentrations in the dry season.

Mana Pools is part of the 10,500 square kilometre Parks Wildlife Estate that runs from the Kariba Dam to the Mozambican border in the east.  This large area has no physical boundaries and, without fences, the wildlife is free to move wherever it wants, even northwards across the Zambezi river into Zambia.

The Park occupies 2,196 square kilometres of prime Zambezi waterfront vegetation, much of it inaccessible except on foot and as a result completely unspoilt.  The landscape includes islands and sandbanks fringed by dense vforests of baobabs and indigenous trees, as well as the rugged Zambezi Escarpment.

Big old trees, mainly Faedherbia albida (known as Acacia Albida but unlike a true acacia it sheds its leaves in summer) provide a shady canopy with sparse undergrowth, which makes for easy walking and this is one reason it is perfect for walking safaris.  Elephants love the Albida trees’ hard, flat ‘apple ring’ pods (pictured) and can often be seen shaking them out of the branches before hovering them up with the enthusiasm of a child with a bag of sweets!  Jesse bush, a member of the combretum family, also known as trailing bush willow is widespread.

The National Park is famous for its magnificent elephants that return year after year to the same places.  Some guides have developed extraordinary, trusting relationships with particular animals and offer their clients close-up interactions they will never forget.

Buffalo are always about and predators such as leopard, lion and cheetah are regularly seen.  The Pools are also a haven for Nile crocodiles and large hippo pods as well as black rhino.

The area is perfect for birds as it offers a wide range of habitats, both from woodland to scrub and escarpment cliffs to open plains, with both arid and wet conditions.  Amongst the 380 recorded species are the Nyasa lovebird, Livingstone’s flycatcher, white collared pratincole, banded snake eagle and yellow-spotted nicator.

Fish eagles and many species of stork, heron and other waterfowl are common.  White throated bee-eaters seen nesting in the river banks and the rarer Carmine bee-eaters visit in the dry months to nest in colonies in the river banks and rare treats include the elusive Pels fishing owl and the African skimmer which nests in sandbanks mid river.

Chitake Springs in the southern part of the park, 50 kilometres from the Zambezi is an isolated area of vital importance to wildlife.   In the rainy season, the Chitake River floods into the Rukomechi River and in turn into the Zambezi, but from April- when these systems dry up and the waterholes empty – the springs form a crucial source of water and a focus for a great variety of wildlife.  As the dry season progresses, more and more animals descend on the springs creating perfect conditions for predators such as lion, leopard, hyena and wild dog to grow fat!!

Tailor Made Camp, Mana Pools National Park Unesco World Heritage Site

We watched Giles fly off towards Kariba and we commenced our journey to Tailor Made Camp with Humphrey.  Little did we know at this stage that we were in the company of one of Zimbabwe’s top guides but we soon became enlightened to the fact by his astounding knowledge of the flora and fauna of Mana Pools.  Stopped by track as we saw a small group of elephants browsing through the woodland… after a couple of minutes, H suggested we get off the vehicle and stand by a large tree as the eles seemed to be heading our way.  Slightly apprehensive about this but thought he seemed to know what he was doing and he had a gun!  Out came the JVC and I started filming as the small group of pachyderms came nearer and nearer.  It was amazing how they held their trunks up, sniffing the air (and us!).  And they were grunting (talking/communicating) between each other saying ‘these humans are no threat so let’s ignore them and get on with our business, i.e. eating’.  Humphrey quietly said ‘blend with the tree’ and I kept on filming as the eles were only a few yards away … at this point I think my eyes were closed!!

Totally incredible experience… everyone very relaxed including ourselves (eventually!!) following Humphrey’s example.  Probably the best and most intimate wildlife experience I have ever had in Africa.

Continued on along the river bank and stopped at the BBC site (so called because the BBC had been here many years ago making a film).  See photo of buffalo skull with Zambezi in background.

Watched troop of chacma baboons jumping a stream… back and forth with young riding jockey style on their mothers.

Great stands of Acacia Albida trees and Natal Mahogany to name but a few of the many species found here.

Arrived at Tailormade Camp set on the banks of the Zambezi to a warm welcome by the staff of eight…. cold flannels and drinks followed by lunch (stir fry pasta) set out under a shady tree.

Tent with twin beds and basic facilities including separate zipped area to rear of tent (open to sky) with long drop lavatory, bucket shower and wash basin.  Lighting by solar power.

As Humphrey explained to us over a cup of tea/cake at 1630…

Activities in Mana Pools are diverse and range from game drives, exciting walking safaris, canoeing safaris and interactions with relatively relaxed wildlife in Mana Pools are unique. The combination of these interactions with such concentrations of wildlife and the scenery dominated by the escarpment and river that characterise the rich alluvial floodplains create an unmistakable image.

Cup of tea at 1630 then away on game drive with Humphrey…followed by walk back to camp with Humphrey fully armed.  Came close to family group of eles but because of young calves in the group we watched sitting atop an ant hill about 200 yards away.

They were browsing around an Acacia Albida and quite unconcerned at our presence.

We walked towards the river at times in long (adrenaline) grass with Humphrey giving us the lowdown on the ground vegetation, trees and any mammals we came across such as impala, waterbuck and chacma baboons.

The sun went down over the Zambezi but the temperature remained warm.  We arrived back in camp in the fading light then sat round the fire sipping gin and tonics looking out onto the darkened river and over towards Zambia on the opposite bank.  Lights glowing from various riverside camps/lodges in the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia such as Royal Zambezi Lodge.

The sky was so black and the stars so bright including the Southern Cross… Humphrey pointed out various aspects of the constellations and heavens.

Freshened up with hot bucket shower in the dimly lit tent (better to have dim lights=minimum insect attention!).

Supper under the trees and stars… delicious steak, salad and potato wedges.  Bed by 2230, very comfortable mattress and pillow.  Lion and hyena calling in the night as well as the honking of hippo who were mooching around camp, grazing in the moonlight.

Monday, 21 April, (Tailor Made Camp to Vundu Camp)

Up 0515, hot coffee and muffins by the camp fire.  Walked with the ‘team’ along the river bank to the canoe launch site.  Safety talk by Humphrey, very concise.  Kitted out with life jackets and waterproof bags for cameras etc and I climbed into the canoe with Edmo who is the canoe expert regularly taking clients on the river for the past 17 years and running the canoe trails.  I was in the front of the canoe and Edmo doing the paddling behind… I occasionally paddled but it was very relaxing to know that Edmo was in charge and I could sit there and enjoy the scenery (taking photos and scrutinising the banking with binos) as we glided past islands, along wide channels and sandbanks.  It is interesting how one sees the river differently when in a canoe at ‘river level’ … felt very much part of the river and its life especially when skirting pods of hippo! Bird life magnificent and remember seeing large flock of woolly necked storks on distant sandbank.          

There were six of us in three canoes i.e. Humphrey/Jean (canoe 1), Camp Manager Justin and Rose (canoe 2) and Edmo and I (canoe 3)…. in that order on the river.

After about 40 minutes paddling, we pulled the canoes out of the water and clambered up a bank for a ‘look around’, Humphrey armed in case of need.  Walked amongst the magnificent trees then very carefully and quietly crouched low made for a high river bank  where we sat and observed a pod of hippos in the water below us – it was a case of both parties keeping careful watch on each other!

From there we walked into inland again with Humphrey pointing out various tracks, some of which were very fresh inc. lion (4 toes round one pad) and hyena (3 toes) from the night.  Spotted a Gymnogene (African Harrier Hawk), searching around the ground for lizards – colour light mottled brown with yellow face.  Back to the canoes and continued on our way upriver towards Goliath Camp where we pulled out of water again,  I had arranged to have a site visit here (and ideally would have liked to stay but camp didn’t officially open until 2nd May).

Goliath Camp is owned and run by a renowned professional guide called Stretch Ferreira and offers one of the best bush experiences in Africa.  Stretch has been operating in Mana Pools for over 30 years and his Goliath camp is nestled in a grove of trees on the banks of the river.  Six East African comfortable safari tents with en suite facilities, a step up from Tailormade Camp in terms of luxury.  Covered lounge and bar with open air dining area.  Book early to avoid disappointment!  Junior guide Reuben showed me round, even in the kitchen, workshop and staff quarters.  Flo, who is Stretch’s partner, had instructed Reuben to ask me if there were any criticisms of the camp which would be helpful to know but in truth, I couldn’t think of anything… Goliath was more comfortable than I expected (even with flushing loo!) and the location was a dream.  One day I will return and stay at the camp and take a walk with Stretch!  He and Humphrey are great friends so was able to glean more background about this incredible man.

Loaded up canoes in separate vehicle and headed back to Tailormade camp, gamedriving en route.  Quickly packed and sad farewells to Humphrey and his team.

TAILORMADE CAMP EXPERIENCE IS AMAZING IN TERMS OF LOCATION, CAMP AMBIENCE, GAME VIEWING stunning… not for first time safari-goers but for clients very keen on genuine bush experience with plenty of variety – combinations of game drives/walks then game drives/walks and canoe trails.     

Collected from Tailormade camp by Michelle, Howard and their 14 year old daughter, Caley, who are friends of the owners of Vundu Camp (and live in Harare), our next camp along the river.  They’d volunteered to come and collect us … Howard has a hunting concession in Mozambique so very au fait with the bush.. and its flora and fauna as was demonstrated on our 1.5 hour drive to Vundu.  Wow! Great knowledge of birds, beasts et al.

Arrived 1330 at Vundu Camp nestled amongst a grove of beautiful rivirine forest, including trees such as huge old zambezi figs, ebonys, raintrees, wild mangoes and tamarinds.

Had a warm family greeting by the owners, Desiree and Nick Murray, their 7 year old daughter, Tayt and Desiree’s father, Peter.

Delicious lunch served on long dining table in the main lodge area which is set in a canopy of riverine trees on the bank of the Zambezi River. Raised 10 feet off the ground, it is the ideal place to enjoy a cocktail and watch the elephants feed on the bushes below, or observe the monkeys climbing nearby trees. The thatched roof provides shade from the mid-day sun.

There is an excellent pan behind the camp with a tree stand for sitting , relaxing and watching the game come down to drink.  All the rooms and the main lodge have a view of the Zambezi River, being on average about fifteen meters from the bank .  Narrower channel here than at Tailormade Camp so Zambia seemed much closer, but still plenty of river inbetween.

There are 8 large tents with openair shower/ensuite area all with views of the river.  Electricity in the tents (yippee for charging nearly flat camera batteries etc, but no wifi) which we found very novel! after 24 hours of limited lighting at Tailormade Camp.

Both Nick and Desiree are Zim Pro guides and Nick does most of guiding and Desiree manages the day to day functions of the camp.

Quick unpack then back to lounge area for afternoon tea inc delicious lemon cake.  We set off on walk (tracking lion) with Nick and two other guests, one of which was walking with two sticks after a recent knee replacement operation.  This showed how confident Nick was in dealing with any unexpected events on the walk.  Richard and his sticks completed the four kilometre walk successfully – I spend some time walking with him and he told me how he’d been involoved in Operation Noah (with Rupert Fothergill) during flooding of the Batonga Valley to form Lake Kariba in 1960.  Walked in a big loop back to the river… standing by an Acacia Albida tree, we could see the sun going down behind the Zambezi Escarpment and looking inland, we could see a small group of elephants browsing the trees in the evening sunshine.

From there we walked along the river bank and joined all the others from camp including Desiree, Michelle, Nick’s mother (Sue), Desiree’s father (Peter), their kids Jed (10) and his sister, Tayt, plus Michelle’s three daughters ranging from 14, 10 and 4 years (Caley, Chelsea and Savannah).  All the kids were fishing as well as Howard and Richard.  Fishing is a great activity by the Zambezi and offered in every camp.  Big shout when Jed caught a large catfish almost as big as himself. .. other important fish of the river include tiger fish and bream. We sat along the river bank (on safari chairs), drinking sundowners watching the sky turn a most amazing pink/red/purple, nibbling canapés, enjoying the ambience of this wonderful scene.

Loaded up into respective Land Rovers when darkness fell and drove back to Vundu Camp with the spotlight on (operated by Jed sitting on Land Rover bonnet).

Quick freshen up then back to main lodge area under the big roof! – drinks at the ‘bar’ then supper at long table in candle light.

Delicious supper and great atmosphere round the table.

Sound nights sleep in comfortable bed.

Tuesday, 22 April – (Vundu Camp to Ruckomechi Camp)

Lie in until 0700 followed by tasty ‘FULL ZIMBABWEAN breakfast’ then short site inspection with Desiree who showed me the newly renovated tents with smart tile flooring.  All ideally placed overlooking the river.

I was sorry to leave Vundu Camp as I would have liked longer to explore this very special camp and environment… another camp to return to – so far this has applied to each camp we have visited in Mana Pools!

The atmosphere at Vundu, especially during our visit which included the Easter holiday break, was very family orientated which gave us an insight into Zimbabwean life and upbringing of children.  Very down to earth and unpampered were the children and the favourite past time seemed to be playing TSORO, a board game rather like BAO.

At 09h30, loaded into Land Rover, driven by Desiree with father Peter as escort and set off on the 1.5 hour game drive transfer to Mana West airstrip (run by Wilderness Safaris to service their Ruckomechi Camp on the western side of Mana Pools National Park).

Stands of tall mopane tree woodland interspersed with dead mopane trees – affected by mineral rich soil.

Arrived at 1100 and there was Henry and Paul from Ruckomechi waiting for us.  Climbed aboard and off we drove back towards the mighty Zambezi arriving at Ruckomechi Classic Wilderness Camp at 13h00, in time for lunch.  The camp is set on its own private concession in a shady grove of Albida and Mahogany trees.   Cold towels and cold drink welcome from friendly front of house staff (Thys, Aimee, Elizabeth) followed by prompt camp rules and indemnity signature (standard Wilderness pattern of doing things).  Walked along low level wooden walkway (lowering the environmental impact) to our fabulous ‘tent’ with everything one could ever need including a copper sink! Both indoor and outdoor showers …AND a secluded ‘bath with a view’ in a quiet spot on the other side of the main camp area where guests can enjoy this experience at night complete with candles, bubbles and the stars overhead in the night sky.

All tents (10) have solar power and overlook the river and we had a patio which came in very handy for drying some washing draped over chairs etc… not really the Wilderness way but very useful.  Very hot so clothes dried quickly.

Delicious brunch of lamb lasagne, salad in the dining area… joined by Elizabeth who was very happy to talk to us about Wilderness and Mana Pools area.  . There is a separate deck with an infinity pool for swimming and sunbathing, and an inviting, cushion-strewn star gazing deck.

Charging facilities for batteries etc but no wifi.  I found it heartening that no camps we stayed at in Mana Pools offered wifi (even the great Wilderness!!) as it shows how confident they are in this magnificent wildlife area being strong enough to overcome guests’ often blinkered view that life is not life without the internet!

Duly assembled at 15h30 for cup of tea then met our guide, drove to the river and boarded the motor cruiser for afternoon game viewing in the Zambezi.  Sailed out into the river passing islands … wonderful close viewing of elephants browsing on the reeds in the shallows.  Cattle egrets sitting atop eles backs… eles mock charging each other, tustling with tusks! Shaking their heads at us if our distance was to near for comfort.

Stopped near open floodplain area for sundowners and nibbles.

Watched sun go down once more with the Zambezi Escarpment in the background.

Back to the river bank and stepped onto the jetty, up the banking to the vehicle and drove  to camp – could have done a night drive but we all felt the cruise was the highlight of the day… and a shower was beckoning before supper.  At times, it is a treat to have time at leisure to before evening drinks round campfire, meal etc.

Delicious meal at long table chatting with other guests then early night.   Awakened during the night from time to time by the munching/crunching/rumbling tummies of hippos and elephants in camp interspersed by resounding roar of nearby lions…

Wednesday, 23 April – Ruckomechi to Lake Kariba and Matusadona National Park

Breakfast at 07h30 then away from camp (heading back to the Mana West airstrip) with our guide, Honest, who was very informative about the wildlife and trees as we drove along.  Scenery was stunning… Mana Pools has such a winning combination of scenery: Zambezi Escarpment; river, river banks and channels; variety of floodplain; thick forest and open savannah areas ringed by ilala palms, jesse bush/woodland, mopane trees, ana trees (winterthorn acacia), acacia albida (already mentioned often), croton (very invasive species), nyala berries and  combretum.  I could go on and on but am sure you get the picture!

Honest described an area where two different types of woodland meet as ECOTONE woodland e.g. miombo woodland mixing with mopane woodland provide good habitat for elephants and rhino.

Asked Honest about wildlife migration patterns and he said in April (end of rains), the large land mammals move away from the river towards the Zimbabwe escarpment.  Although we felt we’d seen plenty of elephants, the numbers increase dramatically in the dry season… June to October.

Where are the wild dogs, we asked? Ah, ha! They are denning at the moment and won’t be seen for a while.  Four zebra seen but Honest said most of the zebra are up on the Escarpment at the moment.

Arrived at the airstrip and Surprise! Surprise! There was even a ‘Loo with a View’- Wilderness don’t half spoil their guests… none of the usual frantic ‘crouching behind a bush’ hoping a lion won’t suddenly appear!!

Our ‘chariot’ Cessna (ZNW) Zulu November Whiskey duly appeared out of the clear blue empty sky and I recognised the plane ID and thought to myself…’Giles Raydor is the pilot’ … and sure enough the plane landed and Giles stepped out to greet us.  You may remember Giles flew us from Harare to Mana Main airstrip four days ago. Good to see him again and quickly loaded up and said ‘goodbye’ to Honest, boarded the plane and took off.  Honest waving to us as we rose into the sky – sad to leave Mana Pools but I’ll be back.  The same procedure is always followed when flying from an airstrip in Africa – the vehicle will wait and make sure the plane takes off safely before driving away.

Ruckomechi Camp is a Classic Wilderness Safari camp -a beautiful place in every way with well trained staff operating absolutely to the company policy.  I understand why the procedures for everything have to be strictly followed when operating a big company but it is very noticeable how ‘set’ the experience is after staying previous at the likes of Tailormade and Vundu Camps.

Coming in Part 2 – Lake Kariba and Matusadona National Park…