Central Kalahari Game Reserve

 

A bit of a (very) late post but better late than never as they say…..

We took this trip two Decembers ago at the height of the worst drought in years. The heat was intense, the wildlife sightings were incredible and the Kalahari storms were amazing.

Hope you enjoy the read and if it helps you with some future trip planning, I’m happy. Failing that, a good old armchair safari is always welcome….

18 Dec JHB – Khama Rhino Sanctuary
4am departure, easy drive to border, there by 9am. Bit of a messy queue on SA side, people pushing in, truckers phoning their “brothers” and giving them places in the queue. In the end, it took us an hour to get thru and more or less the same on Bots side, which was far better managed and minus the rude idiots from SA side.

Finally arrived at KRS around 2pm, campsite was lovely, 2 huge trees provided a good and much needed spread of shade in the centre with water on site and ablutions nearby.

KhamaCampSite-5675
Khama Rhino Sanctuary campsite

After unloading table, chairs and a few odds & sods, we grabbed a cold drink and sat and chilled in camp until 4ish when we took a drive to the bird hide. Not much to see….a few terrapins sunning themselves on various rocks & logs. After that we drove to Malema Pan but it was incredibly hot, very little cloud cover and just a few Impala around. A few rhino could be seen off in the distance.

 

 

KhamaCampSite-5685

Back in camp the fire was lit, dinner was a precooked cottage pie we heated on the fire. After a shower (cute little squirrels asleep on the rafters in the ablution block and several dead members of the cast of Bugs Life in the shower cubicle) we then hit the sack, only to be kept awake by locals at the next campsite yelling and screaming, driving their bakkie up and down revving the engine. Even AJ yelling at them didn’t help. Not sure what time we eventually slept, but when I did, I was out like a light.

KhamaCampSite-5697
Dinner on the go…. Kharma Rhino Sanctuary

19 Dec – KRS

After tea & rusks for brekkie, we headed out to complain at reception about last night’s disturbance with promises from management that they would remove the culprits. We then went on to check out Malema Pan again, which was a good move as we ended up sitting there for about 2 hours watching some awesome interaction between a flock of about 20 vultures. Dipping each wing into the water and having a good old cool down and then moving onto the bank and spreading out their wings to dry off. Nearby, 2 male impala were rutting and eventually 3 rhino, including a baby, came down to drink and then flopped down in the sand to sleep. We also sat watching a male and female ostrich with their 4 very young babies, too cute.

KhamaCampSite-5932
Baby rhino having a little play… bouncing on the spot trying to intimidate the adult…..
KhamaCampSite-5793
Vultures sensibly cooling off while we sat in the car watching their antics.

Leaving them to it, we then took a long drive around the pan back to the bird hide. Had a great, but very brief sighting of a Diederich’s cuckoo in the sun out in the open but gone before I could get camera to eye. Various other birds including red faced mousebirds & southern pied babblers, neither of which I’ve seen before.

KhamaCampSite-6008
Red-faced mouse bird
KhamaCampSite-5976
Rhino’s feeling the heat

With the heat overcoming us, we headed back to camp and after a snack lunch, we parked off in our camp chairs in the shade. With no cloud and very little breeze, it was hot.

Hearing a noise, we looked up to see a full grown rhino grazing from the hedge at the edge of the campsite. Sneaky bigger must have tip toed in!!! We quietly moved to the side of the car and watched him as he ambled on his merry way through the bush (literally) to the next campsite, stopping only to mark his territory with the force of a firemans hose pipe. Great sighting and experience!

Back in my camp chair, I nodded off at some point. AJ woke me around 4pm so we could go for a late arvy drive. Opting for the bird hide due to the heat, we sat there for a while, nothing much happening. We returned to a much quieter camp as management had removed the noisy bunch from next door.

Another easy meal and an early night as tomorrow was early rise and off to Central.

20 Dec – KRS – CKGR (Kori 3)

Dreadful nights sleep, and super early wake up call courtesy of some loud birds in the branch next to my head. On the road by 7am, we made a pitstop in Lethlakane for fuel, wood and some extra provisions.

The ever changing landscape made for good photography….dense green bush giving way to flat open plains with low dry scrub which then slowly disappeared all together into white salt pans. Due to the dry conditions, cattle & donkey carcasses littered the roadside.

Filling the tank with a few more litres of diesel at Rakops, we turned off at the sign to Central, let down the tyres and drive the 40 odd kms to the gate. The entrance to the park was pretty jacked, good information given out by the guy on duty as well as a game sighting chart which showed plenty views of cheetah, wild dog and lion around the park. According to the guy, there had been no rain since 14 Dec, no thunderstorms and no water available at all, even at the gate, and it was hot!!!!

CKGREntrance-5779
Heading into CKGR from the tar road
CKGRGate-5786
The entrance gate into CKGR

The drive to Kori 2, our first stop for 2 nights was about 90 mins from the gate on good sandy roads. The park was incredibly dry, a winter landscape with summertime temperatures. Our friends Xen & Adri were already in camp when we rolled in. The heat was intense but fortunately a good strong wind was blowing to occasionally cool us down. The spray water bottles we’d packed were a godsend. The resident ground squirrels and slender mongoose popped in to say hi as well as the bird life.

CKGRDeceptionValleyRoad-5789
The vast openness that is CKGR

Later as the sun set, the drop in temperature was marked, and very welcome. The barking gecko’s came to life as the sun set and we hit the sack around 9.30.

Kori-5801
Kori 3 campsite

21 Dec – Kori 3
Not a great night sleep, heard a spotted eagle owl nearby in the early hours and we were up with the birds. After tea and rusks, we headed out for a game drive before it got too hot. Locating the pan, we took a slow drive along the edge and before long we saw our first bat eared foxes with 2 youngsters. Unfortunately they were a tad skittish and the pups went to ground and the adults legged it. But we managed to get some good shots. Gemsbok snoozed in the shade.. Taking the lead from the gemsbok, we found a nice shady spot next to a small copse of trees and sat watching the bird life for a while, enjoying the stiff breeze blowing thru the car. Returning to camp, we found 3 jackal en route.

Kori-6042
My 1st sighting ever of a bat eared fox, and it wasn’t the last!
Kori-5803
Gemsbok in the best spot during the heat of the day
Kori-6089
Bat eared fox family, just before they all ducked into their burrows
Kori-6062
Yellow-billed kite… I think….
Kori-5927
Herd of springbok
Kori-5900
And out of the dry barren landscape, a splash of colour

Back in camp, the heat was almost unbearable, water spray bottles were certainly earning their keep. Entertaining ourselves under the gazebo, we whiled the afternoon away playing Rummikub and moving as little as possible. As the afternoon wore on, the clouds began to steadily build up until eventually distant thunder could be heard.

Xen poured water into his shower tray and we caught some great shots of the birds, squirrels and mongoose all coming to drink. Earlier a sparrow landed on our table looking for water. I filled a bottle cap with water and this little sparrow hopped onto the rim and drank. How they survive with so little water is amazing.

Kori-5822
Left over shower water put to good use
Kori-5828
Slender mongoose
Kori-5841
I think it’s a male…..

By dinner time, around 8ish, there was not a breath of wind and so humid but there was plenty of lightning going on in the distance. Adri made a comment about there being so few scorpions in camp and at the same time flashed her ultraviolet light under the table. Well was there not a small scorpion casually sitting on AJ’s ankle!!!

Kori-5846
The scorpion on AJ’s ankle….

While Adri & I flapped and panicked, AJ calmly told us to calm down and get a camera!! After pictures were taken, Xen then rather unceremoniously flicked it off with the braai tongs and it went to ground. Shortly after that, as we were getting ready for bed, Xen and Adri found a barking gheko out of its hole, managed to get a few pics of that was well.

Kori-5859
Barking gecko’s

Kori-5855

What an action packed day in terms of first sightings…. Foxes, scorpions that were attached to ankles and a barking gheko. Eventually we retired with little hope of any rain.

Well did we experience our 1st Kalahari thunderstorm that night? I woke up at some point to the wind howling and the most incredible lightning going on all around us. At one point there was such a strong gust that it pulled the front tent flap off the pole and the pole went flying. With the flap now loose, and flapping rather loudly, AJ got up to retrieve the pole and fix the flap. I could even feel the dust blowing through the mesh. At last I could smell rain and down it came, not torrential but a good steady fall. I drifted in and out of sleep all night with the sound of the wind and thunder. Thankfully we’d packed away most of our stuff the night before so didn’t have to worry too much about stuff getting wet.

22 Dec – Kori 3 – Letiahau
It was still raining when we got up so it was a rather soggy pack up this morning after last nights storm. The drive to Letiahau made for great game viewing…. Plenty bat eared foxes, including a small group with a few pups, kori bustards around every corner, gemsbok, springboks and jackals everywhere. Deception Pan proved to be a rather interesting drive to get around, clearly there had been some good rain there overnight as the ground was thick cotton soil mud. With Xen in the lead, his trailer wheels became so clogged with mud they eventually stopped turning. Front wheels spinning to keep grip, trailer dragging along leaving a smooth track in its wake.

Kori-5866
The sludge we had to drive through en-route to our next campsite
Kori-5886
Beautiful early morning stormy skies
Kori-5890
One of the most handsome buck that Africa has to offer
Kori-5914
After the rain, a jackal on a mission….

Two hours later, we arrived at Letiahau. A rough but very attractive campsite with no ablutions but good shade and fairly open. An attempt to have a snooze in the tent that afternoon proved fruitless, sweating buckets and no breeze, I gave up and relaxed under the gazebo instead. A quiet afternoon, not even a squirrel in sight, but at least it was marginally cooler than yesterday.

Letiahau-5995
Letiahau campsite… this was one of my favourites, despite no ablutions whatsoever

With an almost full moon, there was little need for any form of lighting that evening. A scout around with the ultraviolet torch found us a scorpion in a hole in the ground. The stars were scant due to the bright moonlight and it was a relatively quiet evening.

23 Dec – Letiahau

Up super early this morning, before the sun, we threw the rooftop down, made a cup of tea for the road and headed off to find the lions. They’d been roaring all night and pretty close. The sun popped up over the horizon and the moody sky made for beautiful photographs. Lightning in the distance added to the scenery.

Letiahau-5949
The early bird catches the worm… or the lion in our case
Letiahau-5985
Gorgeous God rays…. what a way to kickstart the day

We drove the 7kms to the waterhole but found nothing there. The stagnant water was a bit niffy. Using the moody sky as a Kalahari backdrop, we took some group shots. A lion carcass lay nearby, possibly died from old age, or territorial fighting, it’s one remaining paw still had fur and was pretty big.

Letiahau-5967
The remains of a lion

Picking up the lion roaring again back near camp, we headed back and in the thick scrub, we found a big male lion walking towards the waterhole. Reversing alongside him, he sadly disappeared into the bush and we lost him. Thunder and lightning all around, we continued past camp and drove about 3 kms further on, but besides a herd of springbok, a couple of jackals and Kori bustards, nothing else could be seen, so we turned around and headed back to camp.

Letiahau-5987
Following the sounds of the lion eventually paid off

The heavens opened and it poured for about 10 mins. Various tubs and buckets were put out to catch the rainwater for use in the shower later. We could still hear the lion roaring nearby.

Checking the camera trap  we’d set up the night before, we found images of jackal, a great shot with a jackal and an owl on the ground in the background, scrub hare and an African wild cat.

M2E1L0-0R350B300

M2E1L0-0R350B300

M2E1L0-0R350B300

The rest of the day was spent reading, sleeping and the odd game of Rummikub.

We opted for a late arvy game drive so Xen & Adri headed to the waterhole, we took a left turn and followed the road for about 10kms before turning round. Not much to be seen, the usual Kori’s, gemsbok and a big herd of springbok grazing in the low evening light.

Off to the east, huge thunder clouds were building with lightning flashing and faint thunder, a promise of more rain? Back at camp, the wind started and with the ominous storm approaching, we battened down the hatches. Taking shelter up against the car, we soon realised this was in fact a huge dust storm approaching so prepping of dinner was put on hold. It was like being on the beach….wind blasting the sand that it stung legs, ankles and filled eyes with grit. Gradually the wind died, a small smattering of rain fell and that was it! What an anti climax.

That night we heard the lion roar once and that was it. The wind came up again at some point, waking me up with flapping of the tent and a few drops of rain, other than that, an uneventful night.

24 Dec – Letiahau – Passarge 2

Another early morning wake up call so we could get on the road to Passarge Valley. Fortunately with us packing most of the camp the previous night, there wasn’t too much to do. On the road by 7am, we passed a few bat eared fox and unfortunately missed a few good shots of Kori’s in flight. Their wingspan is huge, possibly wider than a vulture.

“Lion” came Adri over the 2 way radio…… Putting foot we probably drove a good 2 kms before we caught up with them.
6 lions resting in the shade quite far off the road and typical lions, once they’d sussed us out, down went all the heads. Even us climbing out the vehicle and walking around warranted only one female feeling the urge to sit up.

Letiahau-2-2
Lion pride seen way off the road

Carrying on, we eventually took separate tracks. Xen & Adri carrying on the camp, we took a detour and went to check out Tau Pan. And was it worth it!! Beautiful….. A massive pan, green, vast and empty. Not a tree to be seen except a few dotted around the perimeter. With the heat of the day already at 36 degrees at 11am, all the wildlife had retreated to shade.

TauPan_Panorama2small
It is impossible to portray the size of this pan in a photo, it was massive!

Stopping to take a 7 shot panorama to be stitched in Photoshop at a later stage, the heat shimmer from across the pan created an illusion of a lake in the. Centre.. Following the perimeter road around the pan, we came across a small tree under which a gemsbok and 5 jackal sheltered in the shade. So strange to see two vastly different animal types in such small confines, jackals almost under the gemsbok.

TauPan-6047
When shade is scarce, you share it, regardless of where you fit in the food chain.

The road eventually took us round to a ridge on which was Tau Pan Lodge….. The only lodge in the whole of Central that offers 5 star accommodation and fly ins from Maun.

Heading away from the pan, we spotted a journey of 8 or 9 giraffe. I took over the driving from there through to Passarge 2, our next stop for 2 nights. Crossing a dune road made for some fun driving but the wildlife was scarce, tucked away in the shade to escape the heat. Apart from near misses when steenbok shot out in front of the car from the bushes they were resting in next to the road, there was nothing.

TauPan-6164
A journey of giraffe
TauPan-6167
Love how these kudu are framed by the V of the branches

Passing only one other car en-route, we entered Passarge Valley. Not really a valley by English standards, more like a long basin, apparently 40kms in length, it was very open and incredibly green. After we’d passed Passarge 3, we pulled into Passarge 2, a good 20kms further along. It was beautiful. A little lacking in shade, but the view certainly made up for it!!

Passarge-6077Passarge-6070

Passarge-6090
Passarge 2 – a very picturesque campsite

A working bucket shower and stinky long drop were nearby. Grabbing the last shade spot, AJ then set about rigging up additional shade so that once done, we would have blended fabulously into a Bedouin camp in the Sahara.. The rest of the day was spent chilling in camp, under the gazebo with a stiff breeze and spritzer bottles to keep us cool.

Passarge-6123
Beautiful autumn colours…. except it was the height of summer!

As the sun dropped, the colours changed on the pan to a golden light. The gemsbok and springbok unearthed themselves from the copse of trees in the middle of the pan and spread out grazing in the cooler conditions. The moonlight that night was surreal, casting shadows as strong as day. Lion roaring far off in the distance could be heard. As we prepared dinner, Adri discovered a mouse up on the table helping itself to our food.

Passarge-6129

Passarge-6149
Long exposure shot taken on Xmas Eve

At some point in the night, Xen’s car alarm woke us up and a couple of birds screeching loudly nearby.

Dec 25 – Passarge 2

Xmas Day. Up early as the sun was beaming straight into the tent by 6am. As Adri was busying herself at the back of the Cruiser, she suddenly shrieked….the mouse from last night had clearly made its way back into the car and had a feast overnight. Rusk boxes and biscuit packaging chewed, he wouldn’t be hungry for a while! Spotting him trying to squeeze himself through from the back of the drawer system, he eventually found a gap and bolted back into the depths of the car again.

Passarge-6210
So hot even the shade under two kettles was good enough!

Not moving from camp for the entire day, we sat and read, played Rummikub and just chilled.  Once again the heat was intense and we were more than happy to feel the temperature drop around 4pm.

Xmas dinner was lovely,. The full moon lit up our surroundings, table done up by Adri and AJ cooked a rump fillet on the fire, served with salad and garlic bread. I spent most of the evening playing around with the camera, taking advantage of the full moon and cloud formations. A lone jackal paid us a visit during the course of the evening, probably smelling the fillet cooking.

Passarge-6275Passarge-6150

Passarge-6310
Another long exposure…. this was taken around 11pm on Xmas night

26 Dec – Passarge 2 – Sunday 2

Out of camp at around 7 we left Adri & Xen to have a shower and drove along the rest of the valley floor spotting 3 bat eared fox not far along the track. The usual Kori’s, springbok, gemsbok & jackal dotted the landscape. Leaving Deception Valley behind the landscape changed and we entered an incredibly lush green area that really looked out of place. Not many animals featured surprisingly. The wildlife here definately seems to prefer to be out on the open pans. Rounding a corner, in the road, a meter long puff adder, a first for me! It slithered into the undergrowth and while taking shots, my card filled up. Typical!!

Passarge-6320

Two hours later we got to the Sunday waterhole. Man-made and pumped from a borehole, it was, according to X & A actually at a very low water level. Stagnant in places it was rather smelly. No animals, but a small flock of guinea fowl, a lone crimson breasted shrike and a white babbler.

Sunday-6392

Using a long length of hose, AJ walked along the ledge of the waterhole, stuffed the hose into the hole where the borehole water came out and we refilled all our water tanks as we’d run out of shower water. Enough to get us through our last 2 nights.

Sunday-6336

Onward to camp. Sunday was really nice. Open and spacious, but very little shade. Trees with not much spread, very upright, and not many of them either.

Sunday-6459
Sunday 2 campsite

Putting out snacks we chilled for the rest of the arvy. A mild thunderstorm passed nearby bringing a welcome cooling shower.

AJ and I opted for a game drive at 4pm. Following the edge of Sunday Pan, we then headed off for the waterhole. Big thunderclouds loomed all around with some solid bolts of lightning flashing occasionally. Taking some awesome landscape shots of the approaching weather with the wide angle lens, we then headed back to camp.

Sunday-6227-2
To give you an idea, that storm was miles away, but moving fast and it was huge!

And not a minute too late. Ten minutes after arriving, the wind got up and it was batten down the hatches time. Standing next to the Pajero, a huge bolt of lightning flashed and thunder cracked simultaneously, so close my finger tips instantly fizzed with pins and needles. How close I came to being hit I’ll never know, but a pretty damn close shave I think! The wind was so strong we ended up taking down the gazebo and hanging on to X & A canopy for dear life. Then a huge gust of wind collapsed their roof top tent, so after salvaging that, we quickly rolled up the canopy on the Cruiser and ran for the cars to sit the weather out. As we whiled the time away in the car, a jackal appeared in camp and scouted around for scraps, looking rather scraggly & wet.

Sunday-6441

Eventually the rain let up enough for us to retrieve items in the aftermath of the wind. With more stormy weather approaching, we opted for a simple Cup a Soup for dinner and hit the tents around 8.30 just as it started to rain again. Lions roaring in the distance woke me up a couple of times, otherwise a fairly good nights sleep. Nice to have an early night for a change.

27 Dec – Sunday 2

Waking up to jackals squabbling nearby and lions roaring further in the distance, we were up and out of camp by 6am. Eight giraffe seen on the pan, silhouetted against the low sun.

SundayCampSiteWithPreset-6452

Deciding to try and find the lions, we turned around and soon found the jackals feasting on the remains of a fresh springbok kill. Possibly brought down by a cheetah…. Too small for a pride of lion and out in the open.

Sunday-6249Sunday-6268

With X & A further ahead, they soon came over the radio….. They’d found the lions. Unfortunately quite far off the road, but at least vaguely active for lions, there were 2 females and 5 youngsters. Big daddy was soon spotted heading towards them, a gorgeous full maned male.

Sunday-6286

Sunday-6303Sunday-6309-2

Sunday-6321

Sunday-6333Sunday-6336-3

We climbed onto the roof of the car and sat watching them for a while. One of the cubs could be seen walking around with what looked like a plate in his mouth. After they got up and moved off, we climbed back into the car and went back to camp for a much needed mug of tea and a shower seeing as last nights weather interfered with the routine.

The rest of the day was the usual chill, read, snooze, eat & drink affair. A group of foreigners pulled into our campsite for lunch, in a fully rigged Ford Ranger that slept 4 people. Impressive setup with full electrics, built in shower & kitchen. Apparently a group of dancers, from France, Cuba, Columbia and Switzerland. They’d been travelling Southern Africa for about 4 weeks and had not seen one lion. They were a bit put out when I mentioned we’d had 3 sightings in a week!

Later that arvy, we went out for another drive. The lions had moved off and nowhere to be found. Not seeing much else we headed back to camp.

Sunday-6374Sunday-6367Sunday-6372

28 Dec. – Sunday 2 – Khumaga

Up early again to an easy pack up we were on the road to Khumaga by 6am. Deception Valley had clearly had good rain over night as there were serious puddles along the way. Stopping twice due to the diff light flashing on the dash, we let X & A pass us and carry on.

Driving past the wilderness camp, AJ suddenly stopped. Looking into the sun, we saw 2 silhouettes – more lion. But as they swung into action and the light changed, we realised they were in fact 2 cheetah running across the pan. A brief but very cool sighting.

Sunday-6510

Sunday-6512
A very sad departure from CKGR…. will most definately be back

At the gate, we bought more wood, added our pins to the sightings board and set off for Rakops. The change in the vegetation during the week from a few spells of rain was very noticeable as we headed for the tar road. Passing a dead cow lying at the side of the road surrounded by vultures, the woodland soon thinned out to sparse scrub, and soon just a dry flat white wasteland. Bleached bones dotted everywhere.

Now driving on fumes, we turned right onto the tar road, pulled over to pump up tyres and then straight to the fuel station to fill up with diesel. Just a note for future reference…… Rakops – Rakops – 555kms – 8 nights camping.
Stopping at the various general stores to find bottled water, ice & cigarettes (P50 per box, absolute rip off) and a final stop at the bakery for 2 loaves of freshly baked bread.

Rakops-6523
Rakops, where we found cigarettes at P50 a box and the most delicious home baked bread
Rakops-6521
Dogs taking refuge in the puddles from the heat.

The drive to Khumaga was quick, and soon we were at the Boteti river. We last visited here in 2011 and to see how much the river had receded was sad but not surprising given the current drought situation.

Briefly pondering the possibility of just driving across, we paid the P150 and loaded the car on to the ferry. This time we didn’t drop the ferry onto the river bed, proof it was still relatively deep in the middle and crossed with no problems. Xen however with his loaded Cruiser and the trailer were too heavy and that was it, that ferry wasn’t going anywhere. After digging out the recovery gear to give the ferry a tow and pushing and pulling from the ferryman, eventually it was free and trundled across, powered by one outboard motor. While Xen was crossing on the ferry, two Discoveries pulled up waiting to cross. Having seen the river was at hip height at its deepest, they took the plunge and drove across the narrowest section no problem.

Khumaga-6527Khumaga-6528Khumaga-6538

Pulling into the campsite was quite a shock after the green paradise it had been on our previous vist. Dead, dry, trees destroyed by drought and ellie’s, it was indeed a depressing sight. Fortunately there were a few remaining big trees providing a good spread of shade, so at least we had some respite from the heat. But we had ablutions, hot running water, a tap on our site and flushing toilets.

Lunch was doorstop size wedges of fresh bread with lashings of butter and Marmite.

After a cool off under the shower, we jumped into the cars and drove down to the river, stopping along the way for a sundowner. Across the somewhat meagre river, three open top game viewing vehicles from the lodge sat parked next to a cow of all things! Let’s pay top dollar & go view real live cows!!

Khumaga-6582
Sundowners next to the Boteti river

After the sundowner, Adri suggested going back to camp. But with it still relatively early, we all decided to carry on rather. Rounding a corner, a dead zebra lay next to the road, still in one piece surprisingly which we assumed meant it had died of natural causes. The only predators in sight were the carrion eaters, literally sticking their heads up the carcasses backside….. Pretty grim…. But I love vultures so I found it all quite fascinating to watch……

Khumaga-6367Khumaga-6375

Spotting one of the game viewing vehicles stationery on the track ahead, we soon spotted a male and female lion lying down not far off. With perfect light, we then spent close to 2 hours with these lions.

Khumaga-2-2Khumaga-2-3

It was incredible, a full mating ritual unfolded before us, all caught on stills and video. All the vehicles moved off after they seemed to have exhausted themselves but AJ and I opted to stay put. Good decision as shortly after everyone had buggered off, the lioness got up and headed straight for our car with the male 2 cms from the end of her tail.

Khumaga-6423-2Khumaga-6428-2

Khumaga-6460-2Khumaga-6463

They passed right by our car and up the ridge. We slowly followed them, stopping half way up the slope as we now had one lion on each side of the road. More mating and snarling, purring, growling and flirting and by now all the other vehicles had returned.

Khumaga-6596

Khumaga-6633

Xen suddenly radioed that the rest of the pride was heading our way and we drove back down to the riverbed to get beautiful photo’s of the rest of the pride drinking before they crossed and disappeared into the bush. A truly spectacular sighting, certainly our best lion sighting ever!!

Khumaga-6511b&w-Khumaga-6655

Only arriving back in camp at close to 7pm, Adri threw a curried beef poitjie together and after clearing up most of the crap, we hit the sack.

29 Dec – Khumaga – Nxai Pans

Up before the sun, we were packed and out by 7.30. X & A opted for the tar to Nxai Pan concerned about the sand and the trailer. We took the sand road and managed to find the male and female lions. Spotting a large herd of zebra, and a detour down to the river, we arrived at Phuduhudu Gate in an hour. Right onto the main road for 11kms and then left into Nxai Pans entrance. After checking in, we drove to the main office through some extremely thick sand, but the Pajero chugged through it all no problem. Showing our vouchers at the office, we drove on to South Camp, our home for the next 2 nights.

Nxai Pan-6696

Nxai Pan-6701

The campsite was very pretty with the most shade we’d seen during our entire trip. Nestled in a small forest of trees, of which the name is unknown to  me, there were 6 campsites, well spread out with good shade bar one, fortunately not ours. All that was missing was a view of the pan. Two ablution blocks as per Khumaga featured, except these were surrounded by small concrete blocks with a metal spike cemented into each one and an electric fence. Clearly the Ellie’s had been very destructive at one point!

Nxai Pan-6703Nxai Pan-6786

Nxai Pan-6863
Nxai Pan – south campsite and ablutions with the spikey “you will not walk here” concrete thingys…

Bird calls in the trees above belonged to Crimson breasted shrike, blue wax bills, starlings and a hoopoe. It was very humid so out came the spritzer bottles and with the help of the slight breeze, we chilled for the rest of the day as per the usual routine.

Nxai Pan-6542Nxai Pan-6707

4pm, we hopped in the cars for a game drive but with the car thermometer sitting on 39 deg at 4.45pm, it was insanely hot and near unbearable for whoever happened to be sitting on the west side of the car while at a sighting. Initially there was absolutely nothing to be seen, just a dry, dusty, barren landscape. The only break in the total flatness were the white termite mounds, giving an almost lunar appearance.

Gradually we moved into an area where the game was more abundant. A lone Ellie, grey from the dust shuffled listlessly away from the waterhole. Lambing season for the springbok had been very recent, or was still on the go as extremely young spindly legged babies were in abundance, making their cute little grunting noises as they walked past the car.

Nxai Pan-6562
Legs like a supermodel

A young zebra stood next to its mother who lay motionless in the grass, not even a flicker of an ear, out in the full sun. After watching this for about 10 mins, we were convinced she was dead, but suddenly she lifted her head…. we all breathed a sigh of relief and moved on.

Thankfully the temperature eventually began to drop. A giraffe taking refuge from the sun had practically climbed into a tree and the clouds that had built up earlier had almost disappeared. Pity, some refreshing rain would have gone down well.

Back at camp, I made a Thai chicken curry in the cast iron pot. While I was cooking, our neighbour across the way called over to alert us of a marauding honey badger. Not in the least bit worried about us, he eventually wandered over to our campsite, mooching around while we followed at a safe distance with torch and camera’s. Not great shots as it was dark, and he was a rather manky looking specimen, but great experience non the less.

Nxai Pan-6737Nxai Pan-6739

Off for a shower before we hit the sack, we retired to the sound of jackals and an owl calling nearby.

Dec 30th – Nxai Pan

With no rush this morning we had a leisurely start before heading off for a drive. Straight out of camp into a small herd of zebra, we sat and watched 2 of them playing together, rearing up & biting each other. A lone jackal passed us, a strange brown colour, not sure which sort he was, too dusty to see.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The wind was pumping, blasting clouds of grey dust across the pan, obliterating the trees in the distance.

Nxai Pan-6752
Would love to see this place when a full on drought is not on the go…..

Further down the road, AJ stopped to check out something that had caught his eye, as he panned to the right, I checked out the left side and suddenly a swish of a tail caught my eye. About 150m off the road lay 3 cheetah in the shade. Calling X & A over the radio, with no answer, we earmarked the spot on the GPS and carried on.

X & A came over the radio shortly afterwards saying they were en route to the cheetahs. Someone had spotted them and gone back to camp to tell everyone so we headed back as well and soon there were 4 vehicles lined up waiting for action. We must have sat there for 45 mins, patience pays off cos eventually one of them got up, moved out into the sun and photo’s were taken. It flopped back down in the shade next to the other 2 and that was it. Our cue to head back to camp for brunch and a shower.

The rest of the day was the usual chill in the shade. A lone Ellie paid us a visit, sucking water from the drainage hole outside the ablutions and quenching his thirst. Inserting his trunk into the deep concrete hole, he then sprayed himself with a foul smelling liquid gunk that could only have been sewage, delightful…… He then ambled closer and took refuge in the shade next to our campsite for about 30 mins before disappearing.

Nxai Pan-6814

Leaving the game drive to much later, we only left camp at 5.30, but the temp was still mid 30’s even at that time of the evening. Spotting 2 of the 3 cheetahs again, but way off, we kept them in view until we had to return to camp by 7pm.

Nxai Pan-6843

The Ellie returned that night with a friend, low rumblings could be heard from the drainage area again. During the course of the night, I woke up to a bird of sorts screeching loudly in the tree next to us.

31 Dec – Nxai Pan – Baines Baobabs

Not in any rush this morning, we had a leisurely pack up before heading to Baines. A good strong breeze kept the building temperature at bay but it was already in the high 20’s when we left around 8am.

Back down the sand track to the office, we then branched off to the left, following the two track through some very green dense vegetation. Hard to believe that somewhere ahead, around 30kms, lay a salt pan. Gradually the landscape changed, becoming drier and more sparce. Seen were a lone warthog at a waterhole,  a few giraffe, 2 secretary birds, Ellie’s, a European bee-eater, ostrich and gemsbok.

BainesBaobabs-6871
Secretary birds in flight
BainesBaobabs-7042
Another unlikely splash of colour

BainesBaobabs-7051

BainesBaobabsBlog-7032

Soon, the salt pans began to appear, small areas within the grassy islands, gradually becoming bigger, and then baobabs appeared, shimmering in the distance through the heat haze.

BainesBaobabs-6882

Approaching the baobabs from the back, we drove over a ridge , down onto the salt pan and stopped in the shade. Baines Baobabs, painted by Thomas Baines in 1860, probably parked where we were with his ox wagon and an easel. A cluster of around 7 baobabs and one that had fallen over. In front, the pan stretched away to the island opposite which was our campsite for the night.

Bumping into the silver Landcruiser couple that had cropped up here and there through our trip, we had a brief chat before driving across the pan to set up camp. Luckily the pan was bone dry, so no problem with soggy mulchy surfaces.

BainesBaobabs-6738

BainesBaobabs-6758smallprofilepic
Just love the vast openness that is Africa, so flippen lucky to have this on our doorstep!

BainesBaobabs-6759

The campsite was a bit of a disappointment. Great view of Baines & the pan, but that was it. One baobab provided the only shade and with the temperature up in the 40’s, out came the gazebo. Two yellow billed kites sat in the baobab above us, calling and flying low to the ground. At one point, one of them flew down onto the pan, in full sun, and stood with its wings out, cooling off.

BainesBaobabs-6890
Yellow billed kite on the branch of the one and only Baobab tree in our campsite

Too hot to move we chilled in the shade until 5.30 when we then climbed in the cars and took a drive to the other campsites. Campsite 3 was definately a better option with 2 baobabs at either side of the site, although at that time of the evening the whole site was in full sun. Stopping to watch a small herd of Ellie’s, it was still a scorching 38 degrees. On the way back to camp, we stopped in the middle of the salt pan and took a group photo.

BainesBaobabs-6747

Back in camp I threw a lamb poitjie together, Adri cracked the champagne and camera’s were prepped for sunset and star photography. A lone jackal could be seen heading across the pan in the setting sun, a smattering of cloud provided some detail to what ended up being great sunset shots.

Baines@Dusk-6925BainesBaobabsBlog-6782

Gradually the stars appeared and by 9pm, we’d counted 11 satellites moving across the sky. With not a cloud to be seen, we were truly blessed with fantastic photography opportunities. Walking out onto the middle of the pan, we took more shots looking back at camp, backlighting the baobab with a lantern. Finally the Milky Way before hitting the sack at around 11pm so total utter silence. Not even a cricket could be heard.

1st Jan – Baines Baobabs – Limpopo River Lodge

Up mega early, before the sun, we packed up and said a sad farewell to X & A who were heading back to Khumga for another 2 nights before heading home. Pondering my stupid decision of booking Nata for our last night, we debated on heading closer to home for the last night, lessening the drive home the next day. Finally we settled on Limpopo River Lodge, a good 560 kms further. Quick stops in Nata and Francistown and we arrived at LRL at 4pm. With far more water in the river than I expected, the setting was lovely as always.

LRL-6835
Our most favourite final stop en-route to SA, camping at Limpopo River Lodge

As AJ fixed the roof rack bracket that had snapped while driving the corrugated dirt road, I photographed 2 hamerkops collecting twigs for their nest and 2 coucals playing together out in the open. Woodland kingfishers called while the pied kingfisher hovered looking for his last meal of the day. Even the Scops owl could be heard.

It was an incredibly hot evening, without doubt the warmest on the trip. Lightning flashed in the distance and the wind got up temporarily bringing the smell of rain, but nothing fell. Unfortunate as according to the camp manager, they’ve not had a drop there for 3 months!

Jan 2nd – Limpopo River Lodge – home

Sleeping way later than we’d done on the whole trip, the sun was already up when we surfaced. A fish eagle perched on a dead tree trunk opposite while down on the bank a small bush Buck grazed next to a few vervet monkeys. A slow pack up as its always so hard to leave this place. The setting is beautiful and there’s always so much to see. But eventually we drove out of the campsite homeward bound. Our last sighting was a small herd of Ellie’s close to the road, trunk raised to have a good smell of us, flapping ears and trumpeting to warn us off. At the waterhole at the gate, 2 female kudu and a warthog.

LRL-6848LRL-7108

5 mins down the corrugated road, the roof rack bolt snapped off again so that was that. Another quick temporary fix at the roadside before the border. A whole 10 min process to get thru both sides, a far cry from the mess that was Martins Drift.

And so another bundu adventure to add to the books.

Central Kalahari was amazing…… The harsh barrenness, the landscapes and the hardy wildlife. And those storms…. will most definately be heading back there.

Khumaga with its lion sighting and pretty river drives, could have done another night there easily.

Nxai Pan will definately see us again, but in a proper rainy season, not a drought.

Baines has now been done, and will be done again because when we got home and I checked the night photography shots, clearly the champagne had taken control of the situation, so every single one of the pics was binned….. so bummed!!

And Limpopo never fails to deliver with its gorgeous river setting and abundant bird life.

Hope you enjoyed this trip report as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

A few more to come in the next few days as I slowly get this blog up to date…

Advertisements

Mana Pools 2014 – via Hunters Rd, Hwange, Matusadona & Tuli

Mana Pools - landscaptes fit for an easel

MANA POOLS 2014

An incredible 3 week trip which I’ve rambled on about below, I hope you enjoy the read.

For those interested, I have inserted some video clips. The night footage I’ve edited from the camera trap is particularly worth a view but preferably with the sound up & a pair of headphones. Listen out for lions & scops owl 🙂

 

Link for camera trap video….

Day 1 Jo’burg – Kwa Nokeng Lodge

Woohoooo, officially on leave, home to change & throw last of stuff into car. Onto the highway at 3.45, we were on our way. Traffic through Pretoria was a bit messy and probably added a good 45 mins to the trip. Besides a refuel after we’d got through the congestion north of Pretora we drove non-stop to Martinsdrift. Driving at night is never wise in Africa, but besides a near miss with a donkey ambling across the road, we arrived with no mishaps. Border processes on SA side were super quick, Bots side was a different story, but we eventually cleared through by 9.30pm and rolled into Kwa Nokeng lodge to meet up with our travel buddies, Xen & Adri.

 

Day 2 – Kwa Nokeng – Hunters Rd

Up at 7am to a refreshing shower after a sleep deprived night. Woken up several times by an annoying chain saw going in the bedroom next door…. Cooked breakfast on the deck of the restaurant overlooking the Limpopo with fish eagles flying overhead, giving that haunting call that signifies to any well seasoned traveller that they are officially in the African bush. I am officially in my element!!

Quick top up of fuel at Kwa Nokeng petrol station and we were on the road, ready for the 1st leg of our adventure….finding Hunters Road. After several vet check points, we eventually located the entry road, with the help of Tracks4Africa about 20 mins past Elephant Sands next to a picnic site.

The sand road took us east for a while before bearing north and we followed this until we reached the first big pan. As the light was fading, we decided to set up camp here as it had wide open space around the pan offering a good view if we had any visitors. This happened a lot sooner than anticipated, just as we’d opened the rooftop tents we suddenly realised we had 5 Ellie’s peering round a bush nearby, watching us intently. They then walked down to the waters edge with one of them coming within 10 meters of us, raising its trunk to sniff us out, a good shake of the head and flapping of ears to tell us to keep our distance and she then moved to the water. We were in awe, they drank and splashed right in front of us, not in the least bit worried.

Bush camping on Hunters Rd in Botswana. Ellies & jackal kept us company all night.
Bush camping on Hunters Rd in Botswana. Ellies & jackal kept us company all night.

They kept us company entire evening, about 40 of them coming down to drink. At one point as we were in deep conversation, an incredibly close, loud rumble rent the air. We flew out our chairs and moved to the car, convinced the Ellie was right on top of us. But we soon relaxed, realising there nothing to worry about. Eventually we settled in our tents to the sound of the rising wind.

 

Day 3 – Hunters Road – Sinamatella camp, Hwange

Up early after a terrible nights sleep, wind flapping the tent noisily all night, we packed up and headed back up Hunters Road, heading north. The track was smooth going and about an hour after leaving the camp site, we noticed a stationary vehicle up ahead with 3 very official looking guys standing next to it. Stopping to greet them, we were questioned on where we were going and informed that the road was gazetted and we shouldn’t be on it. So we played dumb which worked in our favour as he then gave us permission to carry on to Pandamatenga. The track was a good mix of corrugations, thick sand and smooth gravel. Wildlife was scarce with no further Ellie’s to be seen, we did however see a large herd of sable which was nice as the most we’ve seen in the wild is 4, in Hwange on a previous trip.

A few of the herd of sable seen on Hunters Rd
A few of the herd of sable seen on Hunters Rd

After rounding a corner, the road suddenly widened out to something similar to a. runway. Here we were able to put foot and managed to shave about 45 mins off our travel time.

Once we reached tar, we filled up at Pandamatenga and headed for the border post. Processes were quick on the Bots side, the Zim side however were far more thorough, handing out info sheets on the spread of Ebola, issuing TIP’s and checking vehicle documentation. Luckily they didn’t check inside the vehicles and they let us through with a friendly wave & big smiles.

The drive to Robins camp was no different to last year, dry & dusty. The camp was pretty much deserted, so it was a quick stop to pay for our 2 nights at Sinamatella & Main camp and we trundled onward. We had a good sighting of vultures picking at a carcass, with all the surrounding trees being used as outlooks by those not so hungry. We also saw a female giraffe with a tiny little mini me, too cute!

Mom & a her mini-me
Mom & her mini-me

Sinamatella was a great campsite, situated high up on a hill with a beautiful view of the plain below. Fortunately it wasn’t too busy and we chose a spot right on the edge. We all legged it to the showers to wash off 2 days of dust from every crevice before settling down with a drink to the whooping of hyena’s in the distance. Dinner was the chicken skewers drenched in peanut sauce that I’d prepared at home….damn they were good.

Our campsite at Sinamatella, on a hill with a fabulous view.
Our campsite at Sinamatella, on a hill with a fabulous view.
The fabulous view from Sinamatella campsite
The fabulous view from Sinamatella campsite – spot the giraffe….

Day 4 – Sinamatella – Main Camp

Sleep was marginally better last night with no wind but another bout of chain saws going off intermittently did intrude. The camp staff came over and had a good chat, telling us how things were improving in the park with more visitors and we also noticed the brand new Zim flags flying at each camp, not a frayed edge to be seen.

Camp packed up, we then headed out for a leisurely drive to Main Camp, stopping off at Mandavu Dam for lunch. Crocs, hippo’s & fish eagles were seen as well as rock dassies. Hidden in a tree in the car park we could hear a bird that sounded like it was having a case of complete hysterical laughter which we unfortunately didn’t manage to see. To this day, we still don’t know what it was…. 😦

A stop off at a waterhole gave us about 10 Ellie’s and we sat for a while watching them quietly, me putting the hired lens to the test…impressed!!

These 2 kept us entertained with their friendly tussle
These 2 kept us entertained with their friendly tussle
Hey, where'd you think you're going?
Hey, where’d you think you’re going?
Love how the sand has created a funnel as he blasted it out his trunk.
Love how the sand created a funnel effect as he blasted it out his trunk.
This little chap suddenly got a bee under his tail, tootling around at top speed.
This little chap suddenly got a bee under his tail, tootling around at top speed.

Arriving at Main Camp with a quick set up right next to the fence, AJ then got to work on my electric window, which had wound down and now refused to go up. Eventually he got it sorted, much to my relief. Manning a camera with a dodgy window was not my idea of fun!! Nor did i think it would keep the marouding baboons out of the car! Packing up everything before we went to bed, due to a very early start the next morning, we hit the sack.

 

Day 5 – Main Camp to Tashinga – Matusadona Nat. Park

Around 5am, we were woken up to extremely loud roars of a male lion. He must have been very close to the fence as I could hear his panting in between the roars. Then the clattering of the dustbin lid signified another visitor. Xen shone his torch out the tent and right next to us was a spotted hyena, raiding our rubbish. Grabbing an overflowing plastic bag, he hightailed it out of camp.

Up at 6am, and emerging from the ablution block, a honey badger ran across the grass in front of me. A real highlight as I hadn’t seen a honey badger in the wild for a long time.

Seen just after exiting Hwange
Roan antelope – seen just after exiting Hwange
Just outside Hwange, unfortunately we didn't get the chance to visit
Just outside Hwange, unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to visit

On the road at 7am, we left Hwange behind and hit the tar, heading for Binga. Filling up in Binga at a fuel station that was unmarked, we made note for future trips. If Xen hadn’t pulled in there, we would have been none the wiser.

Filling up in Binga en-route to Matusadona National Park
Filling up in Binga en-route to Matusadona National Park

After refuelling, we backtracked 15kms and took a dirt road that would take us to Matusadona, a new destination for me. The road gradually narrowed and became much rougher terrain, but what an amazing drive.

Entrance to Tashinga campsite, it states 4x4 ONLY for a reason!
Entrance to Tashinga campsite, it states 4×4 ONLY for a reason! It took us 3 hours to do those 67kms.

Engaging low range through a few places as we got closer to Tashinga we frequently commented on how glad we were we had decided to leave the trailer behind. That would have made an already tough drive even more challenging!

The scenic route through Matusadona National Park
The scenic route through Matusadona National Park

I’ve attached a short YouTube clip of us bouncing noisily through a dry river bed, hence the “stony” silence..lol….

We drove through river beds, over rocks, up steep hills and down sharp descents….any off-road lover would have been in his element!

This could be fun in the wet season.... One day....!
This could be fun in the wet season…. One day….!

The scenery was breathtaking. The tsetse flies however, were not!

The tsetse fly that met it's fate wedged between a cigarette box and my window. Sure that's my blood... Little bastard!!
The tsetse fly that met its fate wedged between a cigarette box and my window. Sure that’s my blood… Little bastard!!

We eventually resorted to closed windows and the aircon took over. After a 10 hour drive to do 330kms we rolled into Tashinga campsite at about 5pm.

Heaven!!! Located on the shore of Lake Kariba with the sun dipping below the hills in the distance, fish eagles calling & hippo’s grunting, this was true beautiful Africa!

Our campsite in Tashinga, on the shore of Lake Kariba. Absolute heaven!
Our campsite in Tashinga, on the shore of Lake Kariba. Absolute heaven!
Kariba sunset - Tashinga campsite
Kariba sunset – Tashinga campsite

The climate had changed drastically…from a chilly start at Main Camp, here it was humid and much warmer. Setting about preparing dinner, we then relaxed with a chilled glass of wine to the sounds of the bush. A lone bull elephant wandered into camp and stayed with us for a couple of hours, grazing peacefully nearby, while the hippo’s grunted occasionally from the water.

Before bed, we set up the camera trap and threw some bones down nearby hoping to catch a nocturnal visitor during the night.

Shortly before I dozed off’ we could hear something walking on the dead leaves on the ground outside our tent followed by the crunching of bones. What would we see on the camera trap in the morning?

 

Day 6 – Tashinga campsite – Matusadona Nat. Park

Waking up around 6.00am to an empty tent, I lay there watching the sun coming up over the lake. The water was like a mirror, smooth & still without a ripple to be seen. Getting up I checked the camera trap and was disappointed. Set up too high a couple of leaves had triggered the camera and no images of wildlife to be seen. Lesson learnt!!

A pair of nesting fish eagles kept us entertained all day, constantly calling to each other. The hippo’s grunting was on-going as well as the woodland kingfisher.

With a day of rest, we spent the day relaxing in camp. AJ & I took a short drive to the reception office to pay our dues. The staff, as always in Zim, were incredibly friendly. $188 to camp for 2 nights, including park & vehicle fees for 4 of us. Cheaper than Hwange.

As we drove out the reception office, we passed a workshop housing several old off-road vehicles and tractors. Nestled amongst all this was a 30-year-old original Hummer which AJ fell in love with. For sale to the highest bidder, he reckoned as it stood….R5000.

AJ drooling over the Hummer1. Not really designed for lovebugs in mind..."Darling where are you?"
AJ drooling over the Hummer1. Not really designed with love-birds in mind…”Darling, where are you?”
A classic, apparently.....
A classic, apparently…..
AJ's idea of the dream overland vehicle... I'm not convinced.....
AJ’s idea of the dream overland vehicle… I’m not convinced…..
The ultra luxurious Hummer interior....not!
The ultra luxurious Hummer interior….not!

While he was chatting to the guys in the work shop, a young black girl took a shine to me. She had the most gorgeous smile, and although there was a language barrier, she was the sweetest thing. I took my camera out the car and took a picture of her. She would not smile, much as I tried, but when I showed her picture to her, her face broke out into the biggest grin. After AJ had finished drooling, I gave her a bag of sweets. Her reaction was similar to a lottery win…. Just shows what we take for granted!

This cute, but extremely shy little girl was very stubborn in the "smile" department, until I showed her picture to her on my camera.
This cute, but extremely shy little girl was very stubborn in the “smile” department, until I showed her picture to her on my camera.

Back at camp AJ and I went for a walk along the shore. The water was incredibly warm, 28 deg easily, but we didn’t go too far, one never knows what’s lurking in the nearby bushes.

Sitting down to catch up my journal later that afternoon, I looked up to see 3 Ellie’s ambling into camp. Grabbing the camera we all stood dead still and the Ellie’s carried on with their business, not in the least bit worried.

Our company in Tashinga campsite
Our company in Tashinga campsite
My most favourite animal on the planet.
My most favourite animal on the planet.
Just chilling in camp, Adri looking on casually at our visitors ambling past.
Just chilling in camp, Adri looking on casually at our visitors ambling past.

 

Here’s a clip of the ellie wandering into our campsite….

At one point one of them walked to within 15m of us, shook his head at us, much like the Hunters Road situation, and then ambled off, obviously deciding we were no threat. They stayed in camp with us for a couple of hours before 2 of them disappeared into the bush. Three impala then suddenly came bounding past us, running along the shoreline & leaping into the air, backlit by the setting sun….too beautiful. Dotted along the shallow water, we saw 5 fish eagles perched on the dead trees sticking out the water. The birds called loudly to each other for about an hour, it was wonderful to hear.

Adri threw a poitjie together and we ate really early by our standards, 5pm, which was great, done & dusted before it was dark. The rest of the evening was spent chatting for a while before we packed away everything in preparation for a 6am departure. Bats flew in the trees above us, but no Scops owls to be heard….birds of prey have been seriously lacking so far, except for Fish Eagles & vultures. As we headed to the showers, Adri spotted a Side striped jackal in her torchlight and retrieving our towels off the line, we saw the same lone bull Ellie grazing calmly nearby.

Climbing into the tent, we immediately heard the jackal walking around near the vehicle. Perhaps we’d have better luck with the camera trap in the morning!

The side-striped jackal caught on the camera trap….

The lone Ellie had also made his way round to our tents and was grazing happily next to us. I was beginning to wonder if he was lonely and took some solace in our company…..

 

Day 7 – Tashinga campsite to Nyamepi – Mana Pools

Today was the day. Having been on the road for a week, we would finally arrive at Mana Pools. Up at 5am for a quick cuppa, we drove out of the campsite with a heavy heart. Tashinga had been everything I expected and more. I will definitely return, but stay for longer. A really beautiful spot that we’d had all to ourselves ….just us and the wildlife.

Leaving also meant we had to go back out the way we came in, so off we went, this time armed with Doom & Tabard to keep the blood-sucking, man-eating tsetse flies at bay.

Heading out of Matusadona National Park to Mana Pools
Heading out of Matusadona National Park to Mana Pools

3 & a half hours later, we reached the road to Karoi and headed East, managing to leave the annoying tsetse flies behind. Gravel road for the next 6 hrs was arduous to say the least, the volume of the music getting louder to drown out the rattles. But eventually we hit smooth pothole free tar, bliss!!

Into the heaving metropolis of markets & general dealers that is Karoi,  we hit Spar for some provisions, taking our change in SA coins as they have no coins in Zim currency. Refuelling and grabbing a block of ice, we then headed north to Mana Pools.

With the road being the main route into Zambia through Chirundu Border Post, the trucks were plentiful. Slow, lumbering giants that crawled along creating a long backlog of cars. As we entered the Zambezi Escarpment, the burnt out wrecks at the side of the road and down the embankment were quite horrifying. Some poor buggers met a nasty end looking at the remains.

Crossing the Zambezi Escarpment, racing against the clock to get there before the gate closed.

Pushed for time, we made the Parks Board office in Marongoro with 5 mins to spare, where we checked in and then carried on along the A1 before turning off 40kms from the Zambian border.

The road down to Nyamepi campsite, was quite honestly the worst I’ve ever driven. 70 kms of the worst corrugations in history! “The Tashinga road breaks cars….” the trip reports said. Bollocks, this bone shaker took the cake! It was so bad even the windscreen wipers started doing their own thing.

Sign post at entrance to Mana Pools
Sign post at entrance to Mana Pools

 

This was the smooth part... little did we know what was to come!
This was the smooth part… little did we know what was to come!
Getting worse…. no pics available of the worst section, too busy holding the car together!

 

Driving into Mana National Park, it looked no different to any other park in winter – desperately dry & thirsty, until we got closer to the river, floodplains and the campsite. I have never in my life seen such an array of wildlife in one area just entering a campsite. Ellie’s with their youngsters were everywhere, eland grazing, waterbuck, impala, marabou storks by the flock, zebra, fish eagle & kudu, it was incredible. The vegetation too was like nothing I’ve seen before  either. Huge canopies of trees everywhere, just like in the pictures I’d seen. It was so picturesque.

Arriving at reception to pay the vast park & vehicle fees, we had a brief panic as the envelope with the money in had disappeared. After a rather stressful 1/2 hour, it was located in the back of the car, after much bitching and moaning & by  now it was too late as they’d locked up. We’d return in the morning, but while at reception, a female Ellie ambled calmly past with her extremely young baby. So newborn, it was still fluffy with an out-of-control little trunk waggling away in front of his face.

This is what greeted us at reception at Mana. So incredibly docile and calm
This is what greeted us at reception at Mana. So incredibly docile and calm

Eventually we located campsite 27, only to find it was already occupied. Bagging campsite C a bit further down the riverbank away from the crowds, we set up camp. It was heaven. The river was easily a km wide in places, with grassy, treed islands in the middle. Hippo’s were everywhere and extremely noisy. It was way beyond my expectations.

View of the Zambezi from our campsite at Nyamepi
View of the Zambezi from our campsite at Nyamepi

As darkness fell and we got dinner on the go, the first hyena was spotted lying in the road not far from us. As the evening wore on, more and more eyes were picked up in the torch lights. AJ and I hit the shower before bed, which was quite a walk from our campsite, given the darkness and the roving hyena’s. Walking back to the car afterwards, we saw a total of 4 hyena’s wandering around. Not phased by our presence, they kept a respectable distance. But the message was clear…”hurry up and go to bed so we can raid your campsite”. Setting up camera traps, we eventually retired, with the 4 hyenas still lurking nearby….ever the opportunists.

One of many nocturnal visitors we had while in Mana
One of many nocturnal visitors we had while in Mana
Two hyena's caught on the camera trap in Nyamepi
Two hyena’s caught on the camera trap in Nyamepi

 

Day 8 – Nyamepi campsite

Waking up around 6.30 to the view of the Zambezi river and the hills in opposite Zambia was breathtaking. Sleep hadn’t been plentiful due to lions roaring in the distance all night, but knowing we had a day to relax in camp was good after yesterday’s long & hectic drive.

Early morning visitors
Early morning visitors
Mitsubishi mechanic wannabee
Mitsubishi mechanic wannabee
Vervet monkeys picking at last nights scraps from the braai grid
Vervet monkeys picking at last nights scraps from the braai grid

The vervet monkeys joined us at breakfast, watching us preparing food and coming up real close to us. They even sat playfully jumping towards us after we’d cleaned up, almost challenging us to a game. Two of them crawled under the braai grid and picked off last nights left overs while another sat trying to pry the lid off the kettle. They were very entertaining to watch. The rest of the day was spent chilling in camp, reading & sleeping until 3pm where we heading off to reception to pay our park & vehicle fees & 3 bundles of wood – $317 for 10 nights for 2 of us.

The 2 nile monitors we spotted on the bank of a pool
The 2 nile monitors we spotted on the bank of a pool
Pied Kingfisher at Mana Mouth
Pied Kingfisher at Mana Mouth
Mana Mouth
Mana Mouth

Setting off for a late afternoon drive, we took the route to Mana Mouth & the River Loop. We saw a slender mongoose, kingfishers, a great sighting of 2 nile monitors, bee-eaters and as we headed back towards camp, the sun began to drop and the trees took on a beautiful orange hue providing an almost canvas painting backdrop to the Ellie’s, buffalo and various buck dotted everywhere. A skeleton tree proved a handy landing spot for about 15 marabou storks, a scene reminiscent of The Jungle Book.

The beauty of Mana Pools
The beauty of Mana Pools
Jungle Book?
Jungle Book?
A lone ellie in the filtered rays of the sun
A lone ellie in the filtered rays of the sun

Collecting more firewood at reception, we headed back to camp to get dinner on the go. Around 7pm, we spotted a hippo grazing quietly 15m from us and the hyena’s gradually made their presence known, while lion could be heard roaring in the distance to the east. Dodging the hippo we made a bee-line for the shower, noticing him standing right behind the ablution block once we’d finished.

Sleep alluded me once in to the tent due to a pulled muscle in my back. Around 1.30am, I heard crunching of dead leaves as something large walked very close to the car. Listening to heavy breathing & footfalls, at first I thought it was an Ellie. But then the fun began… The most guttural snarling began, right next to the car. Was it lion? Then followed an almost donkey-like braying. By now we were both wide awake and wondering what the hell was outside. Soon Xen & Adri were also muttering from their tent and I was sure by now the entire campsite was awake. A bright flashlight from Xen’s tent soon picked out the cause of the commotion. A mere 10 meters from our tent stood 2 hippo’s, face to face in the midst of either a territorial battle or sexual advances, it was difficult to tell. The noise was deafening! And it went on for about an hour. Not even the various illuminations from other campers torches deterred these 2. It was something I will never forget. We were the last vehicle in the line of campers and they’d chosen our vehicle to have their tete-a-tete with. What an experience! Eventually the noise died down and was finally stilled by 2 belly flops into the river. Peace reigned once again, save for the whooping hyena’s.

 

Day 9 – Nyamepi to BBC exclusive camp

Due to an exceptionally sleep deprived night, thanks to noisy hippo’s and painful back muscles, we woke up around 6.45, later than I’d hoped. The wind was blowing strong, bringing clouds of dust. After a couple of cuppa’s we set off for a short game drive before heading off to our next campsite.. Spotting a fish eagle coming in to land on a sandy bank at one of the pools, we pulled over into the shade nearby to take some shots. Unfortunately, after specifically hanging around to catch him taking off, I missed the shot due to distraction….disappointed does not come close! Furious more like!!

Any seasoned traveller to Africa will recognise this and know what he's doing....
Any seasoned traveller to Africa will recognise this and know what he’s doing….

Swinging past reception to grab more wood, we then headed east, up river to BBC camp, our home for the next 4 nights. Stopping at various pools of water along the way, the crocs were plentiful with lots of young ones amongst them. A small herd of impala advanced cautiously to drink, but their courage gave out and they retreated back into the shade.

Arriving at BBC camp, we were once again blown away by the view. Huge trees provided plenty of shade with a wide open view of the river and Zambia beyond. Behind was an open plain, giving us a good view of any approaching wildlife. And it was hot! A strong warm wind blew from a westerly direction, reminding me of the berg winds from my days of living in PE. Huge veld fires could be seen burning in the hills opposite, the smoke fortunately blowing away from us but rendering the view of the hills into a hazy outline. Setting up camp as we had no plans to go on a drive later, the cars were nestled deep into the shade & rooftop tents opened up. The usual routine involving spirit levels, disagreements & some chocks ensued but eventually we were settled and took to relaxing for the rest of the afternoon.

BBC campsite
BBC campsite
Camp fire, Zambezi & the African bush... it doesn't get better than this!
Camp fire, Zambezi & the African bush… it doesn’t get better than this!
Quite possibly the best photo ever of me in the bush.... This inquisitive ellie ambled over to check us out before heading off to graze by the river. Unbelievable!!
Quite possibly the best photo ever of me in the bush…. This inquisitive ellie ambled over to check us out before heading off to graze by the river. Unbelievable!!
Thai chicken curry on the go...
Thai chicken curry on the go…
Our fantastic view.... this campsite was just incredible... I could do a month here easily!
Our fantastic view…. this campsite was just incredible… I could do a month here easily!

My turn to treat everyone to dinner that evening, so around 4.30 I got a Thai chicken curry on the go, ready to eat later. With only an evil-smelling long drop surrounded by thatch set away from the camp, AJ set about rigging up a McGyver shower contraption which involved a tree, some guy rope and a 20 litre solar shower. We took a quick bush shower before dark as there was no moon and the evenings were pitch black. After dinner while sitting quietly round the fire, Adri, upon hearing a noise, switched on her torch to reveal a hippo standing right behind us. Going to the car was pointless as it was the other side of the hippo, so we opted to stay quietly in our chairs. Gradually he moved around us, not in the least worried about our presence, either that or he was blind! But it was a relatively suspenseful moment as he then moved even closer, 5m if that and then stood dead still for about 2 mins, not eating, not moving, not doing anything….was he plotting an attack? But thankfully he moved away eventually and melted into the darkness. Shortly after that, we found a spotted genet running past and after all the excitement then decided to hit the sack. It’s evenings like this that doing these bush trips to wild unfenced places makes it worth the long drive.

Our resident visitor who hung around our campsite at BBC for 3 of the 4 nights we were there
Our resident visitor who hung around our campsite at BBC for 3 of the 4 nights we were there

 

Day 10 – BBC Exclusive Camp

Capturing a close up of a hyena on the camera trap kick started our day. Up early and climbing into our cars with steaming cups of tea, we headed out on an early game drive. Ellie’s were plentiful as always but this morning we eventually found one of the prides of lion we’d heard every night from the west. Being typical lions, there wasn’t much happening. With them lying in the shade quite far off the road, it wasn’t a great sighting, but at least we now knew in which area to find them on other drives.

Hyena on the camera trap
Hyena on the camera trap
Lioness watching her dinner going by
Lioness watching her dinner going by
Not the best pic, these lions were miles away, so a very cropped shot....
Not the best pic, these lions were miles away, so a very cropped shot….

With Xen & Adri opting to head back to camp, we carried on to explore more of the area. The amount of water around was surprising given it was tail end of winter, pools were big with loads of crocs in all sizes. Bird life too was abundant with fish eagles calling from every direction.

Spotting a few buffalo as we headed back to camp, we pulled into the last pool and parked in the shade. Close to the water’s edge, a hippo wallowed, with a grey heron perched on it’s back. Clearly looking for a meal, the heron edged closer to the tail area and suddenly darted into the water. Coming back up in a spray of water drops with an empty beak, he then tried again a few minutes later, this time with success.

Coming in to land, complete with a meal
Coming in to land, complete with a meal
Buffalo portrait
Buffalo portrait

Returning to camp a few minutes later, we rolled into Ellie haven, they were everywhere, including mothers with little youngsters. One walked to within 15m of us as we sat relaxed in our camp chairs, not in the least concerned about us. Once again, the tranquility & calmness of the animals here amazed us. Even the zebra we’d seen on drives were not the least bit skittish, and they are normally one of the first to run.

A slightly different angle
A slightly different angle – note the 1 tusk missing, lots of ellies like this in Mana, some even without tusks at all….
Even the moms swung past to say hi & show off their babies
Even the moms swung past to say hi & show off their babies
Zebra in black & white.... as they should be
Zebra in black & white…. as they should be

Getting up to help AJ fill up the solar showers, I noticed a small herd of Ellie’s in the marshy area behind us and grabbed the camera seeing as it made a good landscape composition. Suddenly one of the Ellie’s reached high into the tree, stretching himself almost double his length as his back legs allowed him to drop his bottom end. Hoping for a shot of him standing on his back legs as I have seen in other photo’s the foliage was just at the right height that he didn’t need to. A pity, but it was still incredible to see such a big bulky pachyderm perform such gymnastics.

Damn I love these animals, I can watch them for hours
Damn I love these animals, I can watch them for hours
Some of the ellies are reknowned for standing on their back legs to get to the pods on these trees, sadly this one didn't
Some of the ellies are renowned for standing on their back legs to get to the pods on these trees, sadly this one didn’t

As I went back to my camp chair, Adri, who’d been taking an afternoon nap, suddenly called excitedly from their rooftop tent, lion!! There, about 50m away lay a lioness in the shade, keeping an eye on the Ellie’s nearby. Watching from a distance, an Ellie ambled past the lioness as though she wasn’t even there, giving us some good photo opportunities.

Lion4resized
Not the best shot, but given I took it on foot from a safe distance, pretty cool to see from one’s campsite

Eventually she got up and disappeared down into a gully, reappearing further along past our campsite. Through the bino’s she looked rather scraggly and we wondered if she was old or sick to be roaming around in the midday heat on her own. But later, on close inspection of the photo’s, she was clearly lactating and we assumed her cubs must be hidden in the bushes in the vicinity.

Back to my camp chair to carry on with my journal and not 15 mins later we noticed the herd of Ellie’s that had been grazing quietly near the water’s edge were now halfway across the river in single file, heading for the island opposite. They grazed there happily all afternoon, the little ones barely visible in the long grass.

Ellies crossing the Zambezi in front of our campsite
Ellies crossing the Zambezi in front of our campsite

After so much action in camp we decided against an afternoon drive and spent late afternoon watching the Ellie’s cross back to our campsite and spread out to graze contentedly around us.

As the light fell, an inquisitive Ellie came right up to us, standing literally 3m behind our camp chairs, quietly observing us. Managing to catch some photo’s, it was certainly a memorable moment. We seemed to be doing a good job at attracting the Ellie’s on this trip!

AJ with our friendly visitor
AJ with our friendly visitor. A slightly blurred pic due to extremely low light.

Rigging up a better shower contraption, this time involving a spade wedged under the roof rack, McGyver then tied the solar shower to the handle, giving us slightly more privacy and protection being right up next to the car, so much better than feeling rather exposed under the tree the night before. With the hyena’s already whooping nearby, we had an early braai, later accompanied by the hippo once again. The fire in the hills across the river was still raging away. It was a relatively quiet evening, and we retired to bed around 9pm.

The hills in opposite Zambia. These fires burned non-stop for the 6 nights we were in Mana
The hills in opposite Zambia. These fires burned non-stop for the 6 nights we were in Mana

Waking up at some point, a hyena raiding the rubbish bag we’d stashed in the tree could clearly be heard. Ripping of plastic, crunching of tin cans and teeth piercing plastic Coke bottles kept sleep at bay.  A torch-light chased him off momentarily with plastic bin bag in mouth, but he soon returned, this time with company as much yelping could be heard as they argued over the mess they’d created! Eventually the noise died down, and I slept.

 

Day 11 – BBC Camp

Up early for a game drive, we trundled round to where we’d seen the lions yesterday, but they’d moved on. Not much seen on the drive, the usual array of grazers and hippo’s & crocs at the pools.

Opting to swing past Nyamepi on our way back to camp, we hit the ablutions for a shower & to top up solar showers and water tanks. Totally refreshed back at camp, we threw a fry up brekkie together and then chilled in the shade for a few hours. Ellie’s came and went, but a certain group, around 11 of them, came right into camp. We were surrounded by these giants who calmly went about picking up the seed pods that had fallen from the trees, sometimes coming within 5 – 6m of us. Exhilarating, yet incredibly humbling that these creatures could trust us so much.

A hoopoe appeared on a tree near us, providing great photo opportunities as he darted from hole to hole, tapping the trunk to see where the hollow spots were.

Hoopoe in camp
Hoopoe in camp

With the weather so warm, most of the hippo’s were out on the island grazing & the Ellie’s crossed the river back & forth too.

Managing to catch a bit of shut-eye in my camp chair, AJ woke me up, suggesting a short game drive. Heading out of camp, we stopped by a small watery patch covered with a green foliage of sorts to photograph the birds meandering around. These we’d ID later with the help of the bird book & eBirds app, not being particularly strong in the “Stiff-Neck” department, save for the easily identifiable hammerkop.

Hammerkop
Hammerkop

Stopping by the Long pool, 6 big crocs lay basking in the low sunlight with a troop of baboons scattered around. Impala picked their way daintily down to the water but on seeing the crocs they gave them a wide berth, save one slightly braver female, who stopped a couple of meters from them, craning her neck forward to sniff them, but backing off eventually.

A very brave impala
A very brave impala

As we drove off, my eye caught 2 baboons sitting together, catching the low sunlight filtering through the trees. A tiny youngster was nestled in the lap of one of the females, and as I pressed the shutter release, mother & baby turned to look deep into each other’s eyes. A real tender moment caught on camera.  around & headed back to camp.

Motherly love
Motherly love

As we took the slip road to the campsite we could see Xen & Adri had visitors in camp in the form of 2 adult female Ellie’s and an incredibly small youngster. Not wanting to spoil their moment, we stuck the car in neutral and idled our way into camp, as quietly as you can with a diesel engine. However they didn’t seem too perturbed by the tractor-like engine and we glided to a halt without any disturbance. Tip-toeing quietly to the tree, I peered round to see Adri sitting in her camp chair with mother and baby not 2 meters from her. The baby was still learning the art of controlling its trunk, waving it around hopelessly, it was too cute. The enormity of the situation was incredible…. Here was a wild animal, renowned for being dangerous when they have a young one at foot, calmly picking at seed pods within a trunks length from their biggest enemy, a human being. I can only assume that these gentle giants here in Mana have never been exposed to poachers or hunters of any sort to be so relaxed around us. Such a privilege!!

I don't think there's too many places on earth where you'd experience this... incredibly humbling
I don’t think there’s too many places on earth where you’d experience this… incredibly humbling

Dinner that night was accompanied by a brief glimpse of the spotted genet and a brazen hyena, who circled us closely waiting for the chance of a scrap or 2. Interesting how they’d appeared earlier & earlier each evening since we’d arrived at BBC. They learn quickly, if there are humans around, it’s worth investigating. Having learnt our lesson the previous night, there was no rubbish to be left in the tree this night, everything, bar the glass was burnt on the fire before we went to bed.

 

Day 12 – BBC Camp

Opting for a lie in this morning, we forewent the game drive and chilled in camp instead. With a strong wind blowing, the absence of Ellie’s was noticeable. With one or 2 meandering through our camp on their way to the river, the large numbers we’d been spoilt with the previous day were missed. AJ & I took a short walk, not venturing too far as we were heading in the direction we’d seen the lioness come from the previous day. Running into her would not be pleasant. Sun-baked buffalo bones lay scattered around, tell-tale signs of hungry predators in action a few moons back.

Black-backed jackal caught on the camera trap
Black-backed jackal caught on the camera trap
Going walkies, as you do in Mana Pools
Going walkies, as you do in Mana Pools

Back at camp Adri cooked delicious scrambled egg and then relaxation set in and the day was spent reading, checking out photo’s on camera’s & a kip in the rooftop tent. The wind was still blowing and did a good job of keeping the animals at bay, even the hippo opted to stay in the water. But as dusk fell, the wind dropped and the animals slowly unearthed themselves from shelter and ambled through our camp to the river.

Heated Woolies chicken pie on the fire and baked potatoes in foil cooked in the coals was our haute cuisine for the evening and then the show began. First to show face was a civet, nervous at first of the torch-light he scurried off into the shallow gully behind camp, but inquisitiveness got the better of him and he soon returned, this time with its mate. Gradually they became accustomed to us moving around with our torches and stopped running off. They ambled contentedly around camp allowing us some awesome photo opportunities.

The civet that came exploring in our campsite one night
The civet that came exploring in our campsite one night
Civet caught on the camera trap
Civet caught on the camera trap

Next to appear was a hyena with her 2 sub adult youngsters. These 2 were very cute, little mini-me’s of mum, but they didn’t hang around for long. Our friendly hippo was also spotted grazing nearby. Packing up for bed, the fun didn’t stop there. For hours I lay awake listening to what sounded like a number of hyena’s mooching around, so close that I could hear their breathing. The hippo’s were in full song and then the lions started. Quite distant at first, but each time they roared they were closer each time until I knew they were somewhere in the vicinity of our campsite. We were to find out the next morning they were at Long pool, which was a 5 min drive from the campsite.

 

Day 13 – BBC campsite to Chitake 2

Waking up extremely late due to lack of sleep, I emerged from the tent at 7.45, disgustingly late by bush standards. With no wind blowing the wildlife was out in force, waterbuck, baboons, impala & Ellie’s dotted the landscape & fish eagles called from every tree.

It was with a heavy heart that we packed up camp that morning. BBC certainly hit the top spot on our list of best camp sites. Location, view, shade and wildlife……it had everything going for it and I would have been quite happy to stay another 4 nights. Actually, if I’m honest, I’d stay forever!

Passing Long Pool en route to reception we found a juvenile fish eagle posing beautifully on a protruding tree trunk.

Stocking up on wood at reception & filling solar showers, we then hit the last civilised shower of the trip before heading off to Chitake Springs. Much was the hairwashing & shaving, and we left smelling ultra fresh & clean.

The road to the Chitake turnoff was a dreadful 46kms inland from the Zambezi. Having secured the solar showers on the front bumper, it didn’t take long for us to pull over and retrieve a dislodged & torn bag, fortunately still usable as we really had to preserve water over the next few days.

Once we’d taken the turn off towards Chitake Springs the road was like glass. Following the narrow track, we drove through a dry river bed, up the bank where the terrain then opened up with dry scrub dotted here & there. Suddenly Xen came through excitedly on the radio, wild dog!! Four of them came running from the left to join the rest of the pack already snoozing in the shade of a bush. Eight in total. Much excitement as this was the first time we’d seen wild dog in the wild that hadn’t been found by a game ranger for us at a fancy lodge. They quickly settled down and once we realised the action was over, we moved onto find our campsite.

Wild dog sighting 5 mins after entering Chitake Springs
Wild dog sighting 5 mins after entering Chitake Springs
Pack of wild dog greeting each other before flopping down in the shade to snooze
Pack of wild dog greeting each other before flopping down in the shade to snooze

We soon found campsites 1 & 3, and I could fully understand why Site 1 was so in demand. Nestled in the vegetation on the bank of the spring, it was prime location. We could see the current occupants sitting in the riverbed in the shade, with a great view left and right all the way down the river. The spring itself was surprisingly bone dry where they sat, but damp sand and a few small puddles could be seen further down river. A small herd of impala milled around and a buffalo carcass lay nearby, apparently taken down by the wild dog the day before.

After one of the campers came over to say hi, and warn us of the lion activity at night, we carried on up the riverbank to find our site. Which we did eventually and after being thoroughly spoilt for the past four days at BBC camp, this was a massive disappointment. One tree providing sparse shade was all it offered with no view of the spring. Disgruntled, we carried on to see what else was further up the road, eventually coming into a clearing which we could only assume was the original camp site 2 where Pete Evershed was killed in 2010 by lion. The plaque on the tree confirmed this. Our hearts went out to the family, such a tragedy.

Catching a whiff of something very dead & rotten, we assumed it was the buffalo we ‘d seen earlier. Walking to the edge of the site, the ground fell away to the spring below and lying in the pathway, we noticed an elephant carcass. Odd as the entire head was missing, but no signs that it had been eaten by predators. Poachers? But the smell was rank, so we didn’t hang around too long.

The very dead, smelly ellie at the bottom of the gully in Chitake Spring
The very dead, smelly ellie at the bottom of the gully in Chitake Spring

Further up the road, we came to a raised clearing on which stood 7 enormous baobab trees with a 360 deg view of the surrounds. This would have made a better campsite than the nondescript clearing that was campsite 2. We just couldn’t understand the logic.

Back at our site, as we stood discussing the best layout for the cars, 3 anti-poaching guys patrolling on foot suddenly appeared out the surrounding bush armed with AK47,s. After we all introduced ourselves, they told us of a pride of lion that had killed a young elephant that morning. Curiosity got the better of us, so off we went, the 3 guys riding on the running boards of our vehicles, back through the riverbed. The carcass was tiny, the size of a full-grown lioness and as we rolled up, 3 lions could be seen in the shade nearby. They soon legged it into the bush when they saw the anti-poaching guys on foot, so we paid thanks with some cold drinks and followed the road closer to the pride. Seven in total with some youngsters in the mix.

The pride of lions guarding their ellie kill nearby
The pride of lions guarding their ellie kill nearby
Lioness guarding her meal. Poor little ellie was no bigger than the lioness :-(
Lioness guarding her meal. Poor little ellie was no bigger than the lioness 😦

Hanging around to catch some photo’s, the lioness guarding the carcass shot out from the bush to chase away marauding vultures & a tawny eagle.

Stalking the vultures nearby that were bothering her
Stalking the vultures nearby that were bothering her
Getting rather irritable.... did she think the vulture was going to fly off with the ellie?
Getting rather irritable…. did she think the vulture was going to fly off with the ellie?

Eventually we headed back to camp for an early dinner & bed, hyena making an early appearance as well as a noisy herd of Ellie’s in the spring and lions roaring in the distance.

Tawny eagle coming in to land near the ellie carcass
Tawny eagle coming in to land near the ellie carcass
Checking out the ellie carcass & lioness from the safety of his perch
Checking out the ellie carcass & lioness from the safety of his perch

Day 14 – Chitake Springs

Wow, what a night!! Ellie’s screaming & trumpeting from the riverbed all night. We could only assume the lions were lurking nearby judging from the roaring going on and seeing as the Ellie’s had lost a baby that morning, they were a tad upset.

A different pride of lion could be heard in the opposite direction and as my sleepless night wore on, they came closer & closer until eventually they reached our campsite and I could hear them walking around very close to the cars. A loud roar rent the air, confirming they were indeed right next to us. Even the panting in between roars could be heard. Hyena also whooped mournfully in the distance.

Waking up that morning in time to watch the sun coming up, it wasn’t long before a small herd of Ellie’s with a couple of youngsters and a male in musth came up from the riverbed, ambled past us and melted into the bush. Lions could still be heard roaring far off in the distance.

Chitake 2 campsite
Chitake 2 campsite
Sunrise over Chitake Springs
Sunrise over Chitake Springs

With a leisurely morning of sitting in camp in the scant shade with no view we decided to head off to the riverbed and make the most of empty campsite 1 until the next arrivals rolled in.. Setting up chairs, solar panels & camera’s we sat & watched a troop of about 50 baboon meandering around the riverbed. A man-made well of sorts had been dug in the riverbed, presumably for campers to draw & filter water. The campsite really was the most gorgeous setting and it irked me that we’d paid the same fee for our crappy site. Something I planned to raise with Zim Parks Board. (I have subsequently found out that the fee for our crap site has been dropped from $150 to $30…. A total rip-off!!)

Chitake 1 campsite... a perfect setting and somewhere I plan to stay one day
Chitake 1 campsite… a perfect setting and somewhere I plan to stay one day
Baboons in the riverbed
Baboons in the riverbed

Not 15 mins after we’d got comfortable, the occupants rolled in, so that was that. Time to vacate.

Driving around the riverbed area to find a shady spot with a view proved fruitless, and with campsite 3 also occupied, that too was out-of-bounds. Frustrated, we headed back to the old site 2 to see if with luck the wind would be blowing in our favour that we could relax there. Not to be, if anything the smell from the elephant carcass was even more ripe than the previous day, catching in my throat, it was disgusting. So onward we trundled, with the baobab forest up on the hill as our last resort. Bare baobab branches didn’t provide too much shade so we found a flat spot with a good view, pulled out the awning on the Patrol & settled into our Kindles, a bite to eat & a cold one.

Baobab Forest - Chitake Springs
Baobab Forest – Chitake Springs

Once again our privacy & peace & quiet were disturbed by the arrival of a Tour operator pulling a trailer loaded to the hilt with mattresses, canvas & various forms of furniture, including something that looked like a bed head. They were moving in due to a double booking at site 3. Once again we were forced to pack up and vacate. Deciding to call it a day we headed back to our uninviting campsite to shower & get dinner on the go. My turn to treat everyone with a lamb poitjie.

The lions kicked into action early, with us picking up those deep resonating roars from 4 different directions. Gradually they got closer until we could hear 2 of them were on top of us. Scanning the bushes around us, our torchlight suddenly picked up a beautiful lioness sauntering down the road heading straight for us. Moving close to the car, we stood watching as she paused, blinking in the bright light and then walked past the car and through the back of the campsite. It was exhilarating to be so close to the top of the food chain but she was not remotely interested in us. She melted into the shadows and silence fell over the campsite again. Where was the 2nd lion? The roaring started up again, pinpointing the location of both lions. The 2nd lioness appeared at the back of our campsite, 10m from us, casually walking past as though we weren’t there. Yet another incredible experience. We didn’t see them again that night but judging from the nearby calling, they were in the grass just behind our cars.

The Ellie’s uttered a few short trumpets from the riverbed and somewhere nearby a cacophony of frantic bird squawks could be heard.

After all the excitement of the lions we then sat down & contemplated the day with me voicing my complete disappointment with the site and our inability to be able to go and relax anywhere with shade & a view. Everyone was in agreement that the thought of 2 more days being confounded to this site didn’t instill too much excitement. Action- packed as the evenings were, I’m not one to sit in camp all day with no view or shade. Going back into Mana was not an option as Xen was unfortunately running low on fuel with his thirsty petrol Patrol. After much debate we opted to leave the following day and head down to Gweru, stay at Antelope Park and then head to Motopos.

 

Day 15 – Chitake Springs to Gweru

Heading out at 8am, we reached the tar road with teeth & eyeballs still in tact, inflated tyres and drove back to Karoi for a top up on provisions and to empty the jerry cans into the tank on our Pajero.

Exiting Karoi, I noticed the jacaranda’s beginning to blossom, a good sign winter was definitely over. Heading for Chinoyi, we drove through a huge veld fire which had jumped the road in several places, flames so high they blew halfway into the road and so hot you could feel the heat from inside the vehicle. With several cars stopped and waiting for the flames to dissipate, a couple of articulated trucks came flying down the right hand lane, barreling their way through the thick smoke and flames with no regard for oncoming vehicles.

Driving throught the veld fires en-route to Antelope Park
Driving through the veld fires en-route to Antelope Park

Further along, we passed an old man bent over his engine, clearly in trouble. Like good Samaritans we turned around to offer help. Leaving him our last 5 litre bottle of distilled water as his engine was overheating, we carried on, passing through Kadoma – where u can buy a retread & a headstone from the same dealer. A few stop & goes due to road works slowed our journey for about an hour, 18 wheeler trucks crawling along. Passing through Kwekwe via a real round about detour we eventually reached Gweru to find ourselves snarled up in more roads works and delays.

Antelope Park was approx 20kms outside the town, along a westerly dirt track with us driving straight into the setting sun.

Arriving around 6pm, we were lucky to bag ourselves a river lodge & tent. The lodge was lovely with stables and paddocks as we drove in. A mix of tented & chalet accommodation spread out along a river set in beautiful lush gardens awaited us. After going through the check in formalities, we legged it for the showers. Man it was one of the best showers I’d had, hot with a decent shower head & good water pressure. Their crisp clean white towels were a murky brown before I even hit the shower. Nine days of living in the bush certainly leaves it’s mark, and although I scrubbed & scrubbed, those feet were not coming clean. But I felt reborn nonetheless stepping out that shower, ready for a good dinner & some wine.

Dinner was great with braaied chicken sosaties, salad, potato bake & yummy milk tart for dessert. It was a real spoil night for us.

A restaurant meal... what a treat after living in the bush for 9 days
A restaurant meal… what a treat after living in the bush for 9 days

Back in the tent, the heater was plugged in & tea on the go. It was freezing! After sitting in the bush in t-shirts & shorts each night, here we were in layers, socks, tackies etc. Huge difference in temperature after travelling approx 500kms south.

 

Day 16 – Antelope Park to Limpopo River Lodge

So much for winter being over. Waking up around 6am to wind gusting the tent, it was cold! Armed with a mug of steaming tea, we sat on the wooden veranda overlooking a large pond photographing brown hooded & pied kingfishers. Grabbing a cooked breakfast at the restaurant, we then packed up and hit the road to Bulawayo.

A little brown-hooded kingfisher outside our tented chalet at Antelope Park
A little brown-hooded kingfisher outside our tented chalet at Antelope Park

After Xen informed us that the entry fee to Matopos was $100, we deliberated the budget in the car and decided that for one or two nights stay, it was a bit excessive so change of plan. We would end the trip relaxing on the banks of the Limpopo river for 3 days instead.

It was a very long day of travelling, but eventually, after crossing smoothly back into Botswana at Plumtree, we took the dirt road from Zanzibar to Limpopo River Lodge with the sun setting. Suddenly we had wild dog running across the road in front of us, 5 or 6, possibly hunting the wildebeest we’d seen 30 seconds earlier. Two sightings of wild dog on one trip, pretty amazing! This time however, we couldn’t stop to enjoy as it was almost dark and we still needed to check in and set up camp.

We rolled into camp at 7pm, pretty buggered!

 

Day 17 & 18 – Limpopo River Lodge

Two days spent relaxing on the bank of the Limpopo was the perfect way to end what had been a truly epic trip. With the bird life keeping us entertained all day, dainty bushbuck coming down in the evening to drink & nightly visits from a spotted genet, there was always something to see. We were so fortunate to see the spotted genet come very close to us while braaiing on our 2nd evening… even catching him on the camera trap.

Spotted genet in camp at Limpopo River Lodge
Spotted genet in camp at Limpopo River Lodge

On our last evening, we sat round the fire reflecting on the highlights of the trip….

The elephant encounter on Hunters Rd, which now seemed a lifetime ago

The beauty of Tashinga campsite, a place we’ll definitely return to

The hippo’s and their territorial bantering right next to our tent in Nyamepi

The endless calling of fish eagles regardless of where we were

The peace & tranquility of Mana Pools

The beautiful colours of the forests in Mana in low sunlight…all those photo’s I’ve seen – they weren’t photoshopped after all.

The trusting Ellie’s that shared BBC camp with us, along with their babies

Watching the Ellie at BBC camp stretching up into the tree to graze, not quite standing on his back legs

The fires burning non stop in the Zambian mountains while in Mana

The bold hyena’s that mooched around us each night hoping for a scrap or two

The hippo who grazed happily with us each night at BBC

The lions that walked through camp our 2nd evening at Chitake

Checking the camera traps each morning to see what we’d captured, a feeling similar to opening a Xmas stocking

The incredibly friendly Zim police at the road blocks

The way the Zimbo’s kit up their bakkies, allowing kids to ride in the back while game viewing

And others, just too many to mention…..

 

Day 19 – Limpopo River Lodge to home

Early rise after a rather noisy night. Ellie’s breaking branches nearby & hyena calling in the distance. We were thrilled to see the camera trap had caught images of the spotted genet that had visited us the previous evening. After a quick pack up we were on the road and through Platjan into SA by 8.15.

 

Early morning mist rolls down the Limpopo as we packed up to head home
Early morning mist rolls down the Limpopo as we pack up to head home

This had been such an amazing trip. Travelling with the Ludicks had been an absolute pleasure, with them being just as easy-going and passionate about the bush as we are. The car as always was ever reliable with the only hassle being the button on the electric window of my passenger door packing in and a globe blowing on the rear drive light. No engine or battery hassles, no punctures either and having the 2nd solar panel and a 3rd battery made all the difference.

The people of Zimbabwe, what a pleasure…. Not a corrupt police official to be seen, just happy smiling faces and friendly banter. Not once were we asked for our TIP, nor any of our vehicle documentation whilst driving in Zim.

A round trip of 4300kms, I had finally got a tick on my bucket list. Mana Pools is just the most beautiful place and therefore, sorry to say, it’s back on my bucket list as it’s worth visiting again and again…..

Till next time……

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe – 2 countries, 5 destinations, 3039kms

Friday, 23 August 2013 

Kyalami to Elephant Sands

On the road bang on 4am, we debated for the 1st 10kms on whether to take the easy, quicker route and aim for Martins Drift or the less used, dirt road to Zanzibar Border Post. Speed and timing won the toss, so Martins Drift it was.
The drive was uneventful with very little traffic, just the huge trucks heading for the border that we managed to get past. We rolled into Martins Drift around 8.30 and were through and into Botswana by 9.oo. Thankfully a very pleasant lady at the search point on the Bots side decided our vehicle was hardly worth looking at, so we departed with a full fridge, we’ll be eating well this trip!
Apart from a go-slow section coming into Francistown, the going was good and we eventually rolled into Elephant Sands at 2.20pm – 10 hrs & 20 mins after leaving home. As we rounded the back of the chalets, the lodge & waterhole came into view and we were greeted by the sight of about 30 ellie’s milling around the waterhole, literally a meter in front of the lodge.

Image

Image

We checked in at reception and then drove the short distance to our basic but comfortable chalet, 2 single beds and an en-suite bathroom were all we needed. The view was great, looking across the waterhole to the lodge, however it was a balmy 32 deg, so we dumped bags and took a walk along the driveway to the lodge, the bar and an ice cold Savanna. We spent the rest of the arvy chilling in the shade watching the Ellie’s up to their various antics, rumbling to each other, playing and rolling in the water and the odd scuffle breaking out, followed by much trumpeting and flapping of ears. They were a real bunch of oddballs, one Ellie was sporting a car tyre round his ankle, another had a spaz ear that folded forward almost covering his eye and few one tuskers. it was a perfect way to finish off the arvy.

Image

Image

Image

With the shower calling, we headed back to the chalet to freshen up before dinner. Having done my fair share of basic chalets through all our travels, the shower in this particular chalet left a lot to be desired. Possibly a total of 10 pinholes that functioned by spraying water in every direction except downward.
The ellie’s were still hanging around when we got to dinner, patiently waiting for the water to be pumped so their water trough would fill up. The lodge was very busy with individual guests as well as 2 overland groups so while the ellie’s patiently waited for their water, we patiently waited for food. Eventually we heard the sound of running water and the ellie’s all moved as one towards it, 30 odd trunks all vying for a share, the odd greedy Ellie pushing & shoving the others away.
Our dinner eventually arrived in the form of steak, chips, salad and veg all served buffet style. After stuffing our faces and chilling with the ellie’s a bit more, we hit the sack.

Sat, 24th Aug

Elephant Sands to Shumba Picnic Site

After a fabulous nights sleep, I woke up feeling totally refreshed. We packed up, and hit the road, heading up to Pandamatenga. Along the way, we passed a lone Ellie, 4 giraffe and a small herd of kudu. We refuelled at Pandamatenga, my heart going out out to the myriad of starving dogs roaming around the fuel station, with their pleading eyes begging for food, prominent rib cages and obvious signs of lactation, these poor dogs clearly got no TLC whatsoever.
After a long wait for our P75 change we ducked off the main road and hit the gravel all the way to the border post. The same 2 vehicles that we’d seen on the road from Jo’burg, and at Ellie Sands were parked at the Bots side when we rolled in. We got thru with no problems and then drove the short distance to the Zim side. This border post was as immaculently kept as the Bots side, neat flower beds, and lawns edged off with various cold drink cans…. Gotta love Africa!!
The police clearance certificate we’d been told to get wasn’t even asked for…. All they checked was the engine & chassis number against the vehicle documentation and didn’t even open the back off the car, thankfully.

Image

Onward we trundled, a rather crappy road that eventually branched off to the right and took us to the entrance to Hwange. The guy manning the gate was extremely friendly and very happy to see us, and after signing in, we drove on to Robins Camp to sign in. En-route, it became apparent that the park was extremely dry and in desperate need of rain. The wildlife was rather scarce and we saw very little between the main gate & Robins Camp. 6 hrs after leaving ellie Sands, and approx 270kms later, we arrived at Robins Camp, which had a rather desolate and sad feel to the place, but once again the staff were incredibly friendly.

Image

Image

After parting with a vast sum for park fees and vehicle fees we headed off to Shumba camp, our home for the next 3 nights. The drive was long and it was hot, 33 deg, and not a lot of game around. But suddenly we drove round a corner and were confronted by a vast water filled dam, with plenty Ellie’s milling around and about 10 hippo basking on the bank…. This was Masuma… The camp I’d tried to book but unfortunately someone else had already snapped it up.

Image

The campsite was awesome, very elevated with its own hide… I made a mental note to get this campsite if we return one day. Without stopping we drove on to Shumba, a further 15 odd km’s away. The open grasslands were real cheetah country as we approached and again, we came across another big pan, full of water but no animals in sight….this was our waterhole.

Image

The campsite was about 500m away, fenced, with huge trees for shade, 2 toilets, a shower, very basic kitchen and 2 thatched pergolas to eat under as well as a fireplace, concrete tables and benches completed the picnic sight. Although it was rather run down, it was a tad more civilised to the campsites we usually frequented, but not in a good way. I like our own setup, it’s convenient, small and personal. This campsite was huge and we had it to ourselves!!
After a very late lunch, we then threw a poitjie together and left it to cook over the fire and headed off to the hide at the dam. The sight that greeted us was unbelievable, herd upon herd of ellie’s all heading down for their last drink of the day. Our total tally was 120 plus about 20 buffalo.

Image

Image

The photo opportunities were excellent with a beautiful sunset as the backdrop to all this. We sat there until it was too dark to see anything more and headed back to camp for dinner.
Retiring early for the night, I was woken frequently by extremely close hyena, whining and laughing nearby, ellie’s munching right next to the campsite and the wind getting up.

Sunday, 25 August 2013 

Shumba

Waking up very early this morning, we sank 2 welcome cups of tea, not having had any since we’d left Jo’burg. While sitting in camp drinking our tea, we heard the Scops Owl in the tree above us. So out came the iPad with Sasol eBirds and while I played the call so the Scops would reply, AJ found him very quickly at the end of a low branch, nestled amongst the leaves.

Image

He was tiny…much smaller than I’d anticipated, and not in the least worried by our antics below, cameras and tripods being moved around as we tried to find the best angle… But it was a real highlight for both of us as we’ve heard these owls so often when camping, but never seen one.

Image

Image

9am we then left for a game drive, heading to Masuma to check out the action. On the way, we took a detour down a small road and immediately caught whiff of a rather nasty “I’ve been dead for a long time” smell. Driving to the edge of an embankment we looked down and saw the remains of a large ellie, and 2 hyena heading off that we clearly had disturbed. 3 white headed vultures were picking at the scraps too but they soon took off when we turned off the engine.

Image
The 2 guys we’d bumped into at the border then rolled in next to us and told us the ellie had been killed by lion a week ago…. This explained the smell…. But it must have been a sight to see…. We then drove onto Masuma where we sat in the hide for a while watching hippo and crocs in the water. The hippo’s had a couple of very young babies with them which were very cute. We also saw a nice herd of zebra come down to drink, good photo opportunity.

Image

Image

Image

Image

After leaving Masuma, we headed on to Mandavu Dam, but not 2 minutes down the road, we stopped to say hallo to another couple we’d met the day before who pointed out a lioness in the long grass, in shadow and quite far off the road….not ideal for a good photo.

Image

After watching her for a while thru the bino”s, we climbed back in the car and carried on. Eventually we arrived at Mandavu Dam, which should have been called Mandavu Lake…. It was a huge expanse of water, with lots of dead trees protruding from the water like sentinels standing guard.

Image

We popped into the hide, and once again bumped into our 2 vehicles from the border and Ellie Sands…. I was beginning to feel like a stalker!!!
With stomachs rumbling we decided to head back to camp, stopping in at the lions on the way….. More of the pride was now visible….1 male, 4 lionesses and 4 cubs…. Sadly still not visible enough to get decent shots, but great to see nonetheless.
We headed back to camp to find the couple from the lion sighting had taken up our offer to share our campsite with us.

Image

Johan & Koekie, on day 46 of their travels round Africa. A huge respect for this guy, travelling solo with his wife who’d suffered a stroke last year which sadly had left her very much compus mentos but lacking in co-ordination and the ability to speak full sentences. I have never seen a man dote on his wife as much as he did, just incredible. And they were great company, sharing their tales of their travels to date which included Uganda, Tanzania & Kenya.

Image

Image

Image

Sunset found us at the waterhole again, but due to Hurricane Hilda, there was not much to see…1 ellie and 2 hippo. But eventually the wind began to drop and slowly the ellie’s appeared in the distance, streaming down in single file to drink, but it was certainly not the huge quantity we’d been spoilt with the night before.

Monday, 26 August 2013  

Shumba 

Very early rise & shine this morning…. We even managed to photograph the sun coming up which is nothing short of a miracle for us.
Whilst closing the door to the kitchen last night, AJ had unknowingly trapped and killed a snake which he found this morning, rather flat and dead. We ID’d it as an Eastern Tiger snake, venomous, but not deadly…. Well not anymore….!!

Image

While making tea, Johan spotted a large bird land at the top of a tree in the distance. After some time viewing thru the bino’s we we eventually ID’d it as a Martial Eagle.  A quick drive to the waterhole delivered 3 hippo, 5 ground hornbills and a small herd of impala coming to drink, it was very quiet…. Largely due to the wind I reckon.
We headed back camp and threw breakfast together and bade farewell to our companions.
Once we were fed & watered, we headed off to check out the action at Masuma. Lots of baboons were lurking on the waters edge, a big male waterbuck and the usual array of crocs and hippo. After parking off for about an hour we headed back to the car and noticed the bird water dish hanging off a tree, attracting blue wax bills, sparrows, green wood hoopoe and a Meyers parrot, a bird I’ve not seen before.

Image

Image

Image

According to T4A, there was a river drive, not far from Masuma, so we decided to go off and explore it. It was very pretty, with the dry riverbed on our right, dense bush on our left. We spotted a few herds of ellie’s taking refuge in the shade as it was rather warm. Suddenly we came across a track leading off to the right, so being our adventurous selves, we followed it. After a 10 min drive, the road ended up in a beautiful bush camp, well hidden, it featured 3 canvas dome tents and a dining area, all perched high up on the edge of a ravine, looking down into the dry riverbed and onto the backs of 3 rather hot looking ellie’s below and nearby I spotted a warthogs bum protruding from its burrow.

Image

It was a gorgeous setting!! We thanked the staff for letting us have a look around and continued on our way. The road wound along the river but after a while we decided that it was too much of a trek back to camp, so we turned around and backtracked back to camp.
The afternoon was spent chilling in camp, feeding the 4 dwarf mongoose that kept us company and the odd squirrel. 5pm we jumped back into the car and drove the short distance to the dam for the evening show. Fortunately the wind decided to drop and after about 15 mins we spotted the first ellie heading thru the bush to drink. By the time we left, at 6.45pm, we’d counted 48 ellie’s, including 2 very young ones, 22 buffalo and the usual 3 hippo and the croc.
Back at camp we thru a pasta tuna salad together to the evening bush sounds of a very close hyena, some very angry shouting going on between the Ellie’s, some jackal, a Scops owl, the splashing of the hippo and the munching of the buffalo nearby.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013 

Shumba to Kennedy 1

Tea and pack up kick started today as we were off to Kennedy 1 for the next 3 nights. My turn to drive we eventually left around 9am. The road was terrible to start with, a narrow strip of bitumen left from a bygone era, badly potholed and extremely narrow with no verge. But eventually the disintegrated tar gave way to gravel and some time later we caught up with the grader, very considerately leaving me a pleasantly smooth sand road to follow all the way to Main Camp, Along the way we pulled in to Guvalala Platform where they were busy upgrading the viewing deck, which overlooked a lovely waterhole set in a vast open plain…. this would have been a great place to camp, except for the lack of shade. Not a tree in sight.

Image

We saw a sable antelope, something i have not seen in the wild before, as well as a few kudu. once back on the road, a bit further along, we came across another waterhole where there were 9 giraffe drinking, we got some good shots until some moron rolled in in his minibus, aircon blasting and engine running, scaring off the giraffe….. thankfully he didn’t hang around. Eventually we arrived at Main Camp where we pulled in so I could phone the kids. Main Camp I found was a lot more “happening” than Robins, with self drive visitors and covered safari viewing vehicles coming and going, it was busy.

Image

Image

Back on the road we drove the 25 odd km’s to Kennedy 1 along a horribly corrugated road, arriving around 2pm. The campsite was huge!! Far too big and spread out for just the 2 of us, but once again we were met by 2 very friendly chaps who “were here to serve us during our stay”. We unloaded the car, made some lunch and then chilled in camp for the arvy until it was time for an evening drive.

Image

The camp’s waterhole was about a km down the road, and after the set up at Shumba, this was a bit of a disappointment. The pan was small and set quite far off the road, so we pulled up next to a termite mound, grabbed our bino’s, camera gear and a couple of drinks and climbed onto the roof to await the ellie’s arrival. After about 30 mins, as the sun sank below the horizon, we saw the first 2 making their way to the waterhole. Clearly they were not used to seeing a car parked where we were as they stopped short of the waterhole, trunks up in the air, having a good old sniff in our direction. 10 mins later they decided we were harmless and came down to drink. They wasted no time and after quenching their thirst they headed straight back to the trees they’d emerged from. Thinking that was it, and feeling rather disappointed, we were about to climb off the roof when we noticed a long line of ellie’s off in the distance heading our way. They stopped as their paths crossed with the 2 departing ellie’s and we decided they were having a quick discussion about the funny black thing parked near the waterhole and that it didn’t bite because eventually they continued on towards us. 47 ellie’s in total, a massive herd. The biggest yet!!!

Image

Image

After they’d drunk they then rounded the waterhole and headed straight towards us. Deciding this was now a good time to get back in the car, we quickly climbed off the back, and moving slowly, inched our way along the side of the vehicle and climbed inside. The matriarch eventually stopped about 20 meters in from of us, growling and flapping her ears and shaking her head, obviously very upset by our presence. By now, in the last light of day, we could just make out the rest of the herd were all standing behind her. Deciding that we should perhaps move out their way, AJ reversed the car and moved further down the road and suddenly all the aggressive behaviour from the ellie’s stopped and they trundled calmly behind us and crossed the road….. We’d been blocking their route….. Quite amazing to witness.
Back at camp, we tucked into the poitjie we’d put on before leaving, which was absolutely delicious, and then retired to the tune of munching ellie’s and whining hyenas.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 

Kennedy 1

Up at 7am, we made tea and decided to head straight for the waterhole while it was still early and the light was good. Packing rusks and mugs of tea with us in the car we headed off, but besides 5 or 6 zebra and a kori bustard, there wasn’t too much to see. We drove on to Kennedy 2 waterhole where we found a small herd of kudu and some zebra.

Image

Image

Back at camp we made breakfast and then decided to go and check out Ngweshla. Along the way we saw giraffe, various buck and a massive herd of buffalo….200 strong easily which we had to drive through to get past, there was no going round them. Cute woolly youngsters mixed with the adults, it was quite a sight to see.

Image

Image

On arrival at Ngweshla, it once again became clear that Masuma and this camp were definitely the 2 to book if we ever headed this way in the future… 2 waterholes of its own, it was a beautiful set up. Apparently they’d had lion this morning and along with the 6 hippo resident at one of the waterholes and various giraffe, wildebeest and zebra, there certainly was no shortage of game around here.
As we trundled round the winding bush tracks, we suddenly came across a brand new leather lounge suite, partly wrapped in plastic, just dumped in the middle of nowhere….very amusing…..didn’t realise Coricraft had a branch in Hwange!!!

Image

By now the temp was sitting at 33 deg with very little wind, so we headed back to camp for some lunch and chillax time.
On arrival at camp we found the 2 travellers still parking off that had rolled in at around 8am this morning. Wondering if they were planning on camping with us, we strolled over to chat to them. It turned out they had come over from Switzerland and were staying at Main Camp as they felt Kapula was too far to drive… However having seen Main Camp yesterday, privately I felt that the extra couple hours drive to Kapula, with all its luxury would have been a far wiser move!! After chatting to them for about an hour, they then packed up and headed back to their Club Med for the night and we chilled until it was time for some ellie viewing.
We left camp at 5.30 for the waterhole but when we got down there, the Ellie’s and buffalo had beaten us to it….30 odd ellie’s drinking and playing around in the water and a good sized herd of buff grazing alongside them. However, our arrival seemed to upset one of the herds of Ellie’s as they suddenly turned and legged it, 10 or 12 of them running and trumpeting frantically as they headed back to the bush. The rest seemed unperturbed and we sat watching them until the sun sank and darkness fell. Back to camp for dinner, after which we got the camera and tripod out and set up to photograph some scorpions in the nooks and crannies of the trees in the campsite with the aid of the UV light.

Image

Once we’d managed a good shot using the macro lens, we then pointed the camera skyward and took a few shots of the night sky. Set at a 30 second exposure, the results were phenomenal!!!

Image
Eventually at 10pm, we hit the sack. The hyenas and jackal were in full song and somewhere nearby, an Ellie was doing a good job of ripping a tree apart.

Thursday, 29 August 2013  

Kennedy 1

This morning was a go slow, with us only leaving camp around 9 for a drive. We decided to head off towards Main Camp via a 4×4 track AJ spotted not far from our campsite. I had opted to drive this morning, and was I pleased I had……. I would highly recommend this drive if anyone enjoys driving off the beaten track and doesn’t mind getting their car scratched. I don’t think this track had been used for months as there were very few signs of tyre tracks and the grass was pretty long in places on the middle mannetjie. But it was lots of fun, negotiating round trees, driving thru dense forest terrain and the track was generally very sandy. no dreadful corregations along here, so much better than the rock hard, corrugated main road.

The track ended up as a 2 hr drive bringing us out next to Dopi Waterhole. Along the way we spotted plenty of kudu, giraffe and steenbok. But the highlight was a leopard – slinking through the dense bush, it was impossible to photograph, but a pleasant surprise nonetheless. Another one for the list….. Near the end of the track, we found a small herd of Ellie’s resting in the shade of a huge tree. After watching them for a couple of minutes, we were about to drive off when they all suddenly swung into action and headed straight towards us.

Image

Passing the back of our vehicle by mere meters, they headed up a hill and disappeared from view. Following the track we rounded a corner and found Dopi Dam on our right, already full of Ellie’s and the other herd we’d encountered could be seen heading in the same direction along the ridge. Another great Ellie sighting.

After watching them for a while, we headed onto the Main road and decided to pull into Main Camp to see if we could find some soap and shampoo and make a couple of phone calls. However the shop the shop was shut and no-one answered their phones, so that was a waste of time…. So back to camp it was for lunch and some chilling.
5.15 we headed out to the waterhole to be greeted by the sight of about 300 buffalo spread out across the plain and around the waterhole. It was incredible.

Image

And while we sat there watching we could see a continuous stream of them filtering through the back line bushes. And endless line of them, I have never seen so many of these huge animals in one sighting ever. Eventually the Ellie’s showed face too, charging at the buffalo with shaking heads and flapping ears, making a pathway through the horde to the waterhole. By the time we left, I reckon there was easily 450 to 500 buffalo spread out in front of us. A sighting worthy of a Nat Geographic documentary!!!

Image

Image

Later that evening while chilling round the campfire, we could hear the Ellie’s very clearly nearby, lots of growling, trumpeting and angriness going on and suddenly we could hear gunshots going off. What the commotion was all about I’m not sure, but someone had mentioned that the lodges sometimes fire off a couple of warning shots if too many Ellie’s come into camp…. Who knows…..

Friday, 30 August 2013  

Kennedy 1 to Kapula Private Camp

Today we were off to Kapula Private Camp. After packing up and saying goodbye to the camp staff at Kennedy 1 and leaving them some meat and money, we hit the road. The drive back along the way we’d come 3 days earlier went much quicker thankfully and we arrived at Kapula around 12ish.

Image

The camp was lovely, 4 tented chalets with a central kitchen/communal area in the middle with a dry water pan directly in front, and a small man made water trough further back, all set in a big open plain. The chalets featured king size beds, bathroom en-suite as well as an outdoor shower with full view of the open plain and the bed looked out onto a wooden deck and beyond onto the open plain, absolutely gorgeous.

Image

Image

As we were early, the room hadn’t been cleaned, so we left the staff to it and took the private road thru the concession to Masuma which was probably 2kms away as the crow flies. The hide at Masuma was empty for a change so we sat there for a good hour or so watching Ellie’s bathing, hippo’s grunting, crocs sleeping and guinnea fowl being guinnea fowl with baboons, waterbuck, kudu and impala off in the distance.
Eventually we decided the staff had had enough time to sort our room out and we headed back looking forward to a good shower and scrub up. Once we were clean we chilled on our deck, watching 3 Ellie’s come to drink as well as a few kudu consisting of a magnificent male an his harem.
Around 6pm we headed off to the nearby kitchen area to find a fire lit for us to braai on. The setup was impressive with a fully equipped kitchen, big outdoor lounge area and a 10 seater dining table as well as a huge viewing deck. We soon realised we had the place to ourselves as the other 5 guests expected had not pitched. So after the staff had shown us were everything was and how everything worked they bade us goodnight and left us to it.
Braaiing some burgers didn’t take long and after cleaning up, we chilled to the sounds of Scops owls and Ellie’s going in the distance. As we sat there taking this all in, we heard rustling in the grass next to us and suddenly a big spotted hyena appeared out of the gloom and sauntered up to the braai. Realising there were no scraps for him, he ambled in our direction and took a drink from the bird water dish not 2 meters in front of us. This was the closest I’ve ever been to a spotted hyena, exhilarating to say the least. After staring intently at us for a few minutes he turned and disappeared back into the darkness.
We then headed back to our chalet to the sound of lion grunting in the direction of Masuma Dam, the first time we’d heard them at night since arriving in the park…..long overdue!!!!!

Saturday, 31 August 2013  

Kapula Private Camp

Last nights sleep was dreadful. Hurricane Hilda blew up which had every strap and piece of Velcro holding our tent down straining at the seams, literally, that it was impossible to sleep. And a very cold morning greeted us when we rose around 6.30.
We took a drive down to Masuma but there wasn’t too much to see and the freezing wind was blasting straight into the hide so we left and took a drive past the Ellie carcass we’d seen a week earlier. It was amazing how much of it had disappeared in a week, it’s entire hide had gone as well as the tusks, which we found out later the parks board guys remove. However the glossy starlings and lilac breasted rollers were still evident, picking away at whatever bugs were left to eat, providing a vibrant splash of colour against the grimness of the huge skeleton.

Image

So I took advantage of the location by practising my “roller in flight” photography, catching that beautiful iridescent blue of their outstretched wings. They really have to be Africa’s most eye catching bird in flight.

Image

Returning to the lodge, we threw a big cooked breakfast together and then spent a couple of hours chilling in the lounge area reading. With the wind still blowing strong there was not an animal in sight from the deck.
Late afternoon found us back at Masuma and it was almost as though the game had come out to bid us farewell – herd after herd of ellie streaming down from all directions, huge big bulls, grumpy matriarchs and tiny little ones, it was spectacular.

Image

Along with all this was the usual menagerie of hippo, giraffe, kudu, waterbuck & crocs. I was feeling incredibly sad to be leaving this amazing place tomorrow and knew we’d be back again. This park truly has so much potential, the quantity of game is quite something and my week here had surpassed all expectations.
Back at the lodge, the 5 other guests had arrived and before we’d even climbed out the car one the guys, Jo, came over and invited us to join them for dinner, which we duly accepted. They were great company, all hailing from the UK at some point, they were just at the start of their trip. We sat around the campfire and at some point in the evening we heard rustling in the grass behind us and assumed our hyena had come to say hallo, but due to our loud conversation and laughter, I think he had a change of mind as he never showed face. We were obviously very fortunate the night before.
Eventually at 9.30pm, everyone’s beds were calling so we said farewell and goodnight after an excellent evening and retired for the night. The bush was unusually quiet and for the first time since we’d arrived in Hwange we fell asleep to almost total silence.

Sunday, 1 September 2013  

Kapula to Nata Lodge

Homeward bound….. We left the lodge at 9.30am and headed off to Pandamatenga, arriving there around 1.30pm after an extremely rough, corrugated drive. Border procedures were painless with no other vehicles having been through today, it was very quiet.
The drive was good and we rolled into Nata Lodge at 4.15, checked into our chalet for the night. We’d opted to chalet so we could be on the road at sparrows tomorrow, not wanting to get home too late.

Image

The chalet was really nice, a big thatched A frame with outdoor shower and a small balcony overlooking not much.
While chatting to the manageress at dinner, she told us that due to the flooding and heavy rains earlier in the year, the slot pans were still under water with frolific bird life around. I was seriously pissed off that the rather uninterested staff at reception had not bothered to tell us this when we checked in otherwise we would have made a plan to take a game drive out there to see this unusual phenomenon for this time of year…..PR people….try it, it does wonders for your revenue!!!

Monday, 2 September 2013 

Nata Lodge to home

Departing later than I’d hoped due to reception only opening at 6.30. We set off at 6.45 with me driving the 1st leg to Francistown. We rolled into the 1st fuel station, driving on fumes. After filling up with diesel, we had a quick pitstop at Wimpy for brekkie and then carried on our way, fighting our way past the myriad of trucks and roadworks….it was messy and very slow-going. But we eventually cleared it all and found the open road.
The road coming into Martins Drift is terribly potholed and on top of having to negotiate your way round these craters, you also have to watch out for oncoming 18 wheeler trucks doing the same, not my idea of a relaxed tootle. But we made it to the border in one piece and were through in all of 20 mins.
Catching up with the Pretoria traffic around 4pm, we made it home as planned at 5.

Mabua/Kgalagadi, here we come…..

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Botswana Bound

So after climbing into bed around 1am last night after some serious packing, we eventually bid the kids a sad farewell and finally got on the road at 10.30am via Harties, Swartruggens & Zeerust….. Apart from a stretch of roadworks, the going was good with very little traffic.

We crossed the border at Lobatse and then headed onto Jwaneng, some 150km’s later, where we refueled and then sat debating whether or not to shack up at the local Cezar hotel, which looked brand new and was actually still in the process of being built, or carry on thru Sekoma to the cutline and bush camp for the night.

Our adventurous sides won the toss so we hit the road, despite the fact it was now 5.30pm. We took a steady drive west, slowing down dramatically as it got darker.

Night driving was not something i'd like to do too often in Bots.....
Night driving was not something i’d like to do too often in Bots…..

After a further 180km’s, and deciding that night driving is now confirmed as a definite no no , we eventually found the sign to the gate to Mabuasehube. “Gate” being a rough farm gate hanging on by 2 bits of wire!!

By now it was dark, late and AJ was buggered, so about 5km’s down the cut line we pulled over and set up camp. We threw a couple of rolls together for dinner and a Savannah. Although the terrain was predominantly beach sand, the amount of tiny little grass thorns our shoes collected was amazing! By the time we hit the tent, my flip flops had turned into platforms!!

A full moon ruled out a dazzling display of stars, and as I settled down to sleep it struck me how unusually quiet the bush sounds were…….

Till tomorrow….

Sunrise on the cutline after a night of bush camping......
Sunrise on the cutline after a night of bush camping……

 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bra’s & Beanbags

After a seriously crap night’s sleep which involved a herd of bovines crashing thru the bush at some point in the night, and something rather large rubbing itself against the car causing the tent to sway alarmingly, I rose woolly headed and bleary eyed the next morning. At some point in the night, whilst laying wide awake and staring at the ceiling of the tent, it dawned on me that i’d forgotten to pack any bra’s. Great, so I was stuck with one, white, already rather weathered brassiere for the entire 10 day trip!! Guess what will be going in the bin when we get home…..

So we packed up car, had a brief brekkie of yoghurts, muesli bars and naartjies and a quick scrubbing of teeth and we were on our way. According to the GPS we had approx 100km’s to drive to the entrance gate so we engaged 4H and set off at a steady 40km/hr.

Eventually the sand road picked up the farm fence which we stuck with for a while. As we rounded a corner, about 50 lappet faced vultures took off from the ground and scattered in all directions to settle at the top of various trees. Unfortunately the grass was too high and the road too low for us to see if they’d been on a kill so we carried on and left them too it. Further up the road we came across a herd of about 15 gemsbok, our first sighting of these magnificent antelope. It was at this point that AJ realised neither of us had packed our beanbags for the camera’s…. I was horrified!!! This is the equivelant of a fish without water!! Oh well, improvisation time I guess. We also saw a good few male ostriches who took to running at great speed in the road ahead before veering sharply left and disappearing into the bush.

Ostrich running on the Cutline

Shortly thereafter I took over the driving and once again realized just what an amazing offroad vehicle the Pajero is, she just swallowed up the miles with no complaints! Ploughing thru the thick heavy sand and rattling loudly over the corrogations. But eventually we arrived at the Mabuasehube reception, with everything in one piece, nothing broke, nothing fell off.

Finally we arrive!!

An extremely friendly woman checked us in while AJ’s enthusiasm for a good refreshing shower dwindled somewhat after we were informed that Mabuasehube Pan campsites (all 4 of them) had no water and we’d have to travel to Mpaathulwa Pan for water and a shower. However , we’d packed our bush showers so it wasn’t a train smash.

We then took a slow drive to our campsite for the next 3 nights. The corrogations were decidedly worse here as we couldn’t get up to speed to overcome the rattles and vibrations. The change in landscape and lie of the land was very different to the drive to the Park and quite breath-taking as we crested a low dune to find a vast, barren, desolate pan before us, covered in a thin layer of greeny-brown sand and not an animal in sight. Right, so I’d come prepared for this, scarce game is apparently the order of the day here, as is the total relaxation and peace and quiet.

We drove around the pan, stopping at campsite 4 to greet an extremely tanned (weathered) German woman who complained how quiet it was and there being no wildlife and that perhaps going to Nossob a day early might be in order…. It was when she mentioned that they’d not even heard lion or hyena in the night that I hoped that things would would pick up during our 3 night stay.

We then found our camp site, number 3, our home for the next 3 nights. Our first observation was the wind blasting off the pan in our direction, seasonal August winds that I’d not taken into account when I’d arranged this trip!! However, the open pan before us provided a real African setting with a lone single tree on the edge and the odd dust devil swirling past.

View from campsite 3

The resident yellow mongoose, or should that be Mongeese as well as the ground squirrels, were extremely tame and inquisitive and I’m almost certain they were sending us mental messages to get lunch on the go. The yellow billed hornbills also made an appearance and hung around, silently staring at us like a group of vultures about to descend on a kill.

Catching the sun’s last rays
The ever present hornbills
The ever present hornbills

Our neighbours also came over to say hi, and proceeded to regale us with their previous nights adventures with the lions at Mpaathutlwa Pan, how they’d abandoned their braai and moving to the next campsite as theirs had been taken over by the pride and their cubs – a story to take home for their kids as they said!

We decided to forego the afternoon game drive as we’d been driving for almost 2 days and chilled under the A-frame for a couple of hours, playing with the mongoose & ground squirrels.

Sundowner time….

A bit later in the afternoon while it was still nice and warm, we rigged up the bush shower in the dry shower cubicle which worked perfectly by shielding us from Hurricane Hilda and thus we we were thoroughly refreshed.

Down with the sun and out with the wine, we settled down by the campfire to an orchestra of barking gecko’s. A very bright full moon completely illuminated the pan for us this evening, rendering the use of torches virtually unneccesary. A yummy braai of pork rashers, boerie and a salad went down well and we eventually retired while the jackals quarreled amongst themselves nearby.

 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Gasless in Mabua

Early morning rise to the rather distressing realization that we seemed to have a leaking gas cylinder! One cup of tea down and a final pop from the cylinder signified dodgy possibility of end of gas… Not the end of the world but this now meant no bacon & eggs on the griddle, limited hot water for washing up & limited tea & coffee. This must have happened somewhere along the corrugated section of the route yesterday,, all the vibrations causing the gas to escape from the nozzle. But this is Africa so you deal with it! We sure as hell were not driving all the way back to the main road to find a refill!

AJ was now very grumpy so we set off in stony silence to Mpaatultwa Pan to find the lions. We stopped at the first campsite and greeted a retired Belgian couple who were on a 2 month retirement overland trip. They’d heard but not seen the lions last night. Campsite 2 looked like they were having a mass clean up and when we chatted to them, they told us they’d had the whole pride in camp at 8am that morning, playing with and carting their belongings off into the bush, which they were now busy collecting and tidying up.

We found the water hole at the edge of the pan and sat there for about half an hour watching a small herd of springbok and 2 side striped jackal with several wildebeest nearby.

Juvenile Gabar Goshawk

White Headed Vulture – Mpaathutlwa Pan

Wildebeest patiently wait at the waterhole for their turn