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Zimbabwe - One Hundred %


ld1
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Let’s go to Zambia I said, I’ll mooch around Safaritalk and see what I can find…. I should pause at this point and say an enormous thank you to @@kittykat23uk and @@wilddog as their fabulous trip reports (along with those from many other great STers) are entirely responsible for diverting me from Zambia and onto Zimbabwe. More importantly their reports led me to the feet of his royal safariness and guide extraordinaire, Doug MacDonald. Ladies, I shall be forever in your debt.

 

Day 1 & 2 – Harare to Safari

The long haul to Harare began in style as we lost our heads at Heathrow and upgraded to club world. First G&T of the trip was in the lounge and after quaffing a further glass of champers as a dinner replacement on-board, we slept almost the whole way. Arriving in JNB we had a smooth transfer through the terminals and were able to convince the Slow Lounge gatekeeper we were entitled to entrance (he may have just felt sorry for me as I wasn’t looking my best). Normally being one of the “have not’s” in life it was lovely to walk in the shoes of the “have’s” and for those of you lucky enough to be flying up front regularly I’d choose the Slow lounge over BA Galleries and the SAA Lounge any day at JNB. It had the best shower room I’ve ever seen!

 

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The Comair flight left almost on time and was as uneventful as you could wish any flight to be.

 

Arriving into a new place is always exciting but despite being pretty sharp off the plane we still managed to be close to the end of the immigration queue. Eventually we were through and heading into Progress/Marks/Obe’s taxi - he seemed to have so many names presumably so he could distinguish between different operator’s clients. We arrived into Harare half way through the Jehovah’s Witness convention and so hotel rooms were hard to come by. The city strangely seemed both full and yet quiet all at the same time. The roads were pretty empty but apparently Harare was bursting at the seams that weekend.

 

We made it to Guinea Fowls Rest by 5pm, we were located in the separate cottage down the road and this was perfect for the three of us (I was ably accompanied by my better half Mr R and our longstanding safari buddy Dr S). The cottage is spacious with a lovely garden and we sat around in the sunshine until Annette came to pick us up to head back to the main place for dinner. Over a hearty dinner of Lasagne and a few beers, shared with Luan from SA, we learned he was delivering a 4x4 for a self-drive client of Doug’s (who popped in to say hi). I do hope Luan and Doug’s plans to site 4x4s in Harare for self-drivers takes off. Whilst it’s perhaps not for me Mana Pools was a self-drivers heaven as far as I could tell. At least it appeared so from the regularity of sightings of children driving pick-ups with deckchairs in the back - the way to learn to drive in Zim apparently which certainly beats a cold, dark, icy road in Blighty any day.

 

The lovely private garden that comes with the Cottage.

 

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The small, but perfectly formed lounge and kitchen.

 

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Edited by ld1
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We hit the hay fairly early as we were to be on the road by 8am the next day (yes, I am aware that’s technically a lie-in on safari).

 

Day 3 – Worms, worms and a brush with the law

 

We bid a cheery farewell to Annette and Dave and head off with Doug on the 7 hour trip to Mana Pools.

 

Itinerary

4 nights Mana Pools (Mucheni 4)

3 nights Chitake Springs (Cathedral)

2 nights Chikwenya

 

Now I know some people tend to fly up to Mana, but being our first trip to Zim we wanted to drive in so we saw a bit of the country along the way. It was pretty good tar most of the way so we marvelled at the landscape, snuffled as the dust hit us, looked disparagingly at the bush fires, chortled at the Worm signs and held our hearts in our mouths whilst driving down the escarpment. Nothing like a long road journey to get to know your guide though and Doug is a guide worth knowing.

 

We thought this would be the worst bush fire we might see, we were wrong.

 

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Doug, being Doug.

 

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We had a little brush with the law at a checkpoint as we didn’t have our seatbelts on in the back, but following some polite interaction and a $20 fine (with receipt) we were soon on our way.

 

Entering the land of “no fruits allowed” the excitement starts to build. As we roll over dry river beds the mopani starts to thin out and green-up and edging towards the flood plain the game numbers grow. Even though I’ve been on safari before and I’ve read over and over about the “special light” in Mana. I am not sure anything can prepare you for the ethereal dream like quality of the place and I could almost taste the lilac/orange hues that hang in the air like gossamer.

 

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We landed at Mucheni 4 late afternoon and were met by the excellent set-up of a Tailormade mobile camp. We shared the site for the first two nights with another group, but you wouldn’t have known it. We were well away from each other and Mucheni 4 is a fabulous location. We were set up opposite a small inlet where a steady stream of animals drank day and night.

 

Mucheni 4 Camp, hiding on the riverbank.

 

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The tents, luxury mobile option.

 

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There was a new Ele in camp, I named him Louis after Louis Van Gaal. Humphrey may well think twice before he asks a Mancunian to name an elephant again given he is a Chelsea fan. Anyway Louis, hung around for the 4 nights we were there and he was a welcome addition to camp life.

 

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After dropping our bags in the tent and a nice cup of tea and a sit down (we are British after all) under a huge mahogany tree that was always buzzing like a bee motorway. We headed out with Doug to see what this Mana magic was all about.

 

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A 10 minute pootle about and we see a self-driver watching some Lions lounging in a thicket. Doug drives on a little and says, let go for a walk but we need to be careful as we don’t want to spook them and ruin the sighting for everyone. So within 15 mins of starting the Safari proper we are crawling up to 4 lionesses and in that instant I am lost to walking safaris forever.

 

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Edited by ld1
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I am not quite sure why that photo is duplicated :blink:

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@@ld1 - @@Safaridude and I camped in that exact same spot in Mucheni 4 with Humphrey Gumpo: SD had the tent infront that you pictured above, I the one behind. I recognise the broken tree where the camp fire is. We also had elephants passing up and down that wildlife highway! It was a shame we didn't meet Doug but Humphrey is a great chap and runs a good camp.

 

Look forward to comparing experiences. Matt

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Its a gorgeous spot, we were in your tent Matt and I almost conked my head several times on that tree. I believe most operators set up camp on the river bank, but the spot we were in was nicer I think. I liked the constant stream of animals to the water and sitting looking over what felt like our own private plain each afternoon was a real treat. Humphrey is a fine chap indeed, he was there with the other group for our first two nights but came over a few times and was a lot of fun. We were lucky to have Doug, but without hestitation I'd go with Tailormade and Humphrey if Doug wasn't available.

 

Lots of noisy by night Lions. A Hyena snuffling around the tent and then crossing between the lamp outside and the tent flap it looked disinctly hound of the baskerville like which got the adrenaline pumping at 2am. The next day the camp lads were telling me it had stuck its head into the kitchen and got a bop on the nose. It was allround the loveliest spot I've stayed in I think.

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Oh I am so happy you started your TR; I was about too, but now I can just read yours :D

 

and wait for Matts and Safaridudes...

 

I recognize those lions I think. I feel maybe Mana is owned by Disney and they set this all up for us. :unsure:

 

Isn't it amazing within 10 minutes of arriving wildlife is in your camp!

 

"I am lost to walking safaris forever"

 

AMEN.

 

How did we live without them?

 

Looking forward to more; and thanks for giving me more time....

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@@ld1 wonderful introduction to your trip. as hooked as you are are now on walking safaris, I'm just as hooked on your report. waiting impatiently for @@graceland to continue her TR as well!

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Lovely safari beginning, looking forward to more.

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@@graceland happy to be your warm-up act :)

 

I will try and get the other sections posted this week. For some reason the format of my pics on google+ is being rejected so I can't paste the URLs in I need to upload from my home PC.

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Looking forward to more. That's a wonderful and atypical elephant silhouette.

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Wonderful start! Enjoying all the details since I have a trip with a very similar itinerary booked with Doug next year. Your comment about driving up and seeing a bit of the country has given me food for thought...

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Ahhh, it would seem its my PC at home. I can indeed load my google+ pics from work....who wants to work anyway!

 

Days 4 – 6 Doggin with Doug (fnarr, fnarr)

 

Now we thought maybe, just maybe, if we were lucky and Santa had read my Christmas list early. We might catch a glimpse of some wild dogs. Turns out Doug had his dog charming hat on this trip and we were practically tripping over the little darlings. Trip was hence forth known as “Doggin with Doug” or whilst in polite company “Doug’s Dogs”. Over the course of the 4 nights at Mucheni 4 we would be visited by Hyena and Lion and lie listening to their calls throughout the night. It’s just great listening to a hyena snorting about in the leaves next to your head with just a layer of canvass between you; listening to the hippos grumbling at each other and splosh splashing as they mooch back to the water just before dawn.

 

After dinner we despaired at the site of the wildfires ripping through the escarpment on the Zambian side, terrible and beautiful all at the same time. There was a melancholic feeling to that first couple of evenings sat around the campfire as the air hung heavy with smoke and the mountains in the distance erupted with fire.

 

Of course, I'd like to take full credit for these pictures but I can't. I would never have been able to take these shots without Doug and Humphrey doing complicated things like setting a 25 second exposure or "painting" the tree and elephants with torches. My role was largely to "press the button" !

 

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Our spirits soon soared each day though as the dogs just kept on appearing. Our first sighting was two lone dogs whilst out on foot and we were all buzzing at seeing two dogs running about. We thought great we’ve seen dogs, at least we don’t have to worry will we/won’t we ever find them, but they just kept on popping up. We saw some great hunting interaction one morning, a real treat to watch the Dogs march platoon like on a herd of unsuspecting impala. No kill that we could see but still heart stopping to see them hunting in an open space. Better than any Widescreen/HD/3D TV any day.

 

First dog sighting of the trip

 

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I love this next picture. The guy shown is a quiet irish man who I understand spends a great deal of time out in Mana photographing the dogs. This picture sort of sums up Mana pools to me; you meet interesting people along the way in this park and I liked the mix of operators and self-drivers. It wasn't overrun and you can always get away from people if you want. Everyone was very laid back and regardless of means it welcomes all. Nothing and no-one is excluded from the 8 year old driving his parents pick-up to the billionaire, the game doesn't care who you are and nor does anyone else. It was just a really friendly place.

 

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Here is the hunt we witnessed, it was such a great sighting to watch everything bouncing around.

 

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Edited by ld1
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@@michael-ibk we drove partly to see the place, but also to save a bit of cash. We had a night either side in Harare as well to recover from the travel as I hate being zombied on my first day on Safari. The one thing I missed when we went to Botswana was Botswana itself, we could have been anywhere as we just flew straight into the Okavango and out again. Being a reader of the no 1 ladies detective agency books I have always regretted that we didn't add a bit of time on in one of the towns.

 

The boys said they would have flown out, I didn't mind. We all agreed it was good to drive in though and I still think it was a good way for us and Doug to become aquainted with each other. I'd happily drive in and out again, but equally now we have done it and if the pennies allowed I'd be happy to fly in and out too. I'd have a chat with Doug, we knew we may not be driven in or out with him if his schedule closer to time dictated he would already be up in Mana. I think its probably key to be flexible, if it works out for Doug that he can drive you in or out and its suits your connections then I'd say go for it.

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Thanks, that's good advice.

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@@graceland happy to be your warm-up act :)

 

I will try and get the other sections posted this week. For some reason the format of my pics on google+ is being rejected so I can't paste the URLs in I need to upload from my home PC.

Well @Id1, I did get off the dime and posted my arrival in Mana. A busy month ahead so if i just don't get them off and on the page, it will never happen.

 

First day for both of us was ideal!

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@@graceland

 

@@ld1 thanks to both of you for getting us in the Zim mood. Really enjoying the reports and photos

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@@ld1 so pleased to hear that Mana delivered, and of course Doug.

 

I so agree that the drive up from Harare is a real eye opener and a great experience. The Doug/Police interaction alone speaks volumes!; Plus the anaconda worms etc. Well worth the effort. I do fly in now, often because Doug is already in Mana so helps with his time table but definitely to be recommended if it can be arranged.

 

I did not know about the separate Guinea Fowl Rest cottage; it sounds idyllic.

 

Mucheni 4 is fantastic; IMO, glad you got there. It seems that many of us have used that site and love it (I think .... prefers Mucheni 1).

 

It looks as though you had some fantastic sightings/experiences and I particularly liked the picture of the dog who seems to be leaping through the air over the top of the other dogs. Great timing :)

 

But what a tragedy seeing that fire across the river; I can understand how that could affect your mood.

 

Thank you for sharing your adventures and I am glad the Mana TR's helped with your decision. Looking forward to hearing more from you and of course @@Game Warden @@Safaridude and @@graceland when they have time.

 

Welcome to 'dogging' and the Manatics Club.

 

 

 

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@@graceland first day and indeed every day was ideal :D

 

@@wilddog GF have just taken over a house that is split into two cottages, we were in the smaller one which sleeps 4. I think the otherside slept 6 (?). It was a great place for 3 of us and Annette ran us up to GF and back for dinner, although we could easily have gone out/ordered take out. On the way back we stayed at the main lodge and it was nicer than the cottage, but only from a decor point of view as I suspect they haven't got around to re-doing the cottages. They would be great for a family or group of friends. Lots of space with a big garden and terrrace.

 

Thanks for the photo compliment. We have some amazingly timed photo's 99% of which are as fuzzy as hell and make you feel dizzy looking at them. I can't quite bring myself to delete them though as they just remind me of how jaw dropping the whole thing was. I am a fully fledged Manatic now and with such great dogging all week next time we go (as you know we will go back) we can just relax into the whole Mana experience and enjoy everything the park has to offer. Doug is a pretty special guide and I can see why he has such a loyal and longstanding clientbase. Indeed he talks of a few of you like old friends.

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great pictures of the dogs but it s very sad to see those fires started by men. When i was in Ruckomechi a few years ago, it saddened me to see fires on the zambian side but it was nothing compared to what we can see on your pictures

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Now besides dogs I am rather partial to Hyena and find them fascinating creatures - the rag-and-bone men of the bush. We haven’t been on an enormous number of safaris but on one of the first we were lucky enough to see a Hyena den with the parents and puppies emerging and playing in the sunshine (Tanzania). At the time I didn’t realise what a special sighting it was and since then I’ve always hankered after another really great bit of Hyena action. Mana was not to disappoint us and one morning we came across hyenas casually gravitating to the remains of “something” and what a joy it was to see so many of them at the bush buffet, some eating-in some choosing take-out.

 

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Awesome hyaena pics and agree 100%. Love the feeding photos and that curious specimen with the silver eye...

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@@Dam2810 the fires were extensive and one night the air was think with smoke and I woke up with a groggy throat. The photos exaggerate a little because of the long exposure, but never the less the escarpment had fires all along it.

 

@Big-Dog thanks for the compliment, I can take no credit it was all the Hyenas. One of those sightings where even my pet dog would have got a good picture. I suspect the milky eye was either an old injury or a cataract. The Hyena seemed in charge so perhaps it was an an old alpha still teaching the youngsters how its done!

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@@ld1 - lovely images, lovely stories and your photos are fantastic! I love to look at full scenic photos of Mana and you have many of those :) That is well thought up itinerary too,

 

We had those fires on the Zam side as well - but a bit further back on the horizon - more glow than fire. They are depressing to look at.

 

And I'm so glad you saw those 8 year old drivers too, haha. I remember being completely disbelieving when Doug mentioned that to us and next thing we saw was this kid solemnly driving past :D

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@@Sangeeta I wish I'd got a picture of the little lad we saw. A proper Zim family weekend in Mana. Pick-up truck, 8 year old son driving, deck chairs in the back with various adults and his sister on the roof. I confess I was a little jealous given I spent the best part of my chldhood holidays in a caravan in North Wales.

 

I'll be posting some Mana scenic pics tomorrow to end that section before I move on to Chitake. Thanks for the compliments, its the first time either of us have used a DSLR and so we had plenty of misses on the photo front.

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Another hyena fan checking in here...they always seem to be up to something interesting and are a pleasure to watch.

Very nice photos!

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