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Victoria Falls to Harare - via Hwange, Matusadona and Mana Pools


Soukous

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Soukous

This trip report follows on directly from my Chobe trip report which you will find in the Botswana section.

 

Just so that the Zimbabwe section does not start in mid air, I've copied over the short section on our arrival in Zimbabwe from Kasane.

 

>>

When we reached the Kazungula border crossing we found the Zimbabwe immigration office deserted. After hanging around for about 15 minutes officers started drifting in.

“Sorry to keep you waiting” one of them said “ We were enjoying our lunch”

 

As we were at the front of what was now a substantial queue we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and didn't ask why they all had to have lunch at the same time. It is Africa after all.

 

Once the Zimbabwe officials had resumed work things moved pretty quickly and we were soon on our way to Victoria Falls.

 

After stopping by the Wild Horizons office to pay for our helicopter flights we drove out to our accommodation where I had a little surprise up my sleeve.

 

I'd told everyone that we'd be staying at Ursula Camp, just a few kilometres outside the town.

After our tented camp in Chobe they all assumed that Ursula would meana few more nights under canvas. Little did they know.

 

Ursula Camp is a small satellite camp in the Stanley and Livingstone Private Game Reserve, next to the very (very) swish Stanley and Livingstone safari Lodge. It's 10 minutes outside the town of Victoria Falls on the Hwange road.

 

Of course Ursula Camp is not tents at all, but 4 small chalets set in picturesque surroundings. There is even a small swimming pool.

 

By the time we arrived it was mid afternoon and everyone was more than happy just to chill out for the rest of the day.

 

Ursula's only has 4 chalets, and so can accommodate a maximum of 8 people. It is ideal for small groups and one of my favourite places to stay. We had the place to ourselves so it was a bit like having our own private villa in the bush.

 

Immediately in front of us were some huge Acacia Albida trees and the constantly falling seed pods were irresistible to the reserve's greater kudu.

 

Whilst enjoying gin & tonics by the pool we had a visit from the chef who took our orders for dinner. Civilised or what?!

And dinner was fab!

 

We only had one gripe about Ursula Camp and that was the price of the drinks. They were pretty steep. This caught us a bit by surprise on the first night but noticing that we were likely to run up a bar bill we wouldn't be able to afford, Olivia told us it would be no problem if we bought our own supplies in town and brought them back. Problem solved.

 

Over dinner we met Olivia's husband, Mike, who was also the head ranger guide at Stanley & Livingstone. He wanted to know which game activity we wanted for the following morning.

 

Part of the deal at Ursula Camp is that in addition to full board accommodation one game activity is included in the private reserve; either a drive or a walk. (and it still costs less than the Vic Falls Hotel on B&B!)

 

The majority vote was for a game drive. <<

 

 

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Soukous

19 September 2014

 

The Stanley and Livingstone Private Game Reserve covers 6000 acres and is located about 10 minutes outside the town of Victoria Falls, in the direction of Hwange.

 

Personally, I think it is a wonderful place to stay whilst visiting the Victoria Falls. You really feel special. Luckily for me, everyone in our little group felt the same way.

Perhaps if you were travelling alone, or as a couple, you might find it a bit isolated, but for 4-8 people it is super.

 

We made a leisurely start and were surprised to find our game drive vehicle waiting in a 'loading bay'.

 

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No clambering up the outside of the vehicle for us, we could just walk straight in.

There were 2 seats to a row and they were good, supportive seats with ample storage lockers in each row.

 

None of us knew quite what to expect. We'd seen Kudu and eland and we knew that the reserve was also home to lions, elephants, giraffes and rhino, but how easy would they be to find?

 

Well after driving for 15 minutes without seeing a single animal I have to say I was getting concerned.

I'd been watching the track we were travelling on and not a single animal footprint had encroached on the tyre marks from yesterday afternoon's game drive.

When Mike stopped the car and started talking about the different types of soil my concerns increased.

After listening to him for a few minutes though it started to make sense. He was describing the various habitats within the reserve and where each of the species liked to hang out.

 

Things improved when we left the forest and descended to the riverine area.

We saw Impalas, zebras and waterbuck.

Then giraffe and elephant.

 

As it turned out, Mike was a very good guide indeed; talking not just about the animals but also quite a bit about tribal culture and superstitions. I wish I could remember all the stuff he told us so I could sound smart at dinner parties.

 

There were a couple of fascinating things he told us about aadvarks and termite mounds and dead bodies and also about what happens in Shona culture if someone dies far away from home and how they use a goat to bring the spirit home.

It sounded much better when he told it.

 

At a time of rampant rhino poaching, the Stanley and Livingstone reserve proudly boasts about its rhino population and Mike was confident that we would see one/some.

 

We were seeing more and more rhino poo on our drive until there ahead of us we saw a distinctive shape.

In fact there were 2 of them, a mother and a young calf.

 

It was a bit of a shock to me to see that the adult rhino had been de-horned but her calf didn't mind and trotted after her wherever she went.

 

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(( as an aside I did give a lot of thought before posting these rhino photos and checked with @@Game Warden on his views. We agreed that because the reserve itself widely promotes rhinos as one of their attractions I would not really be providing anyone with information that was not already easily available. I also think that by showing that these rhino have no horns it kind of makes it clear that the reward would be small for anyone who might think of trying poach them close to an anti-poaching unit.))

 

The rhino mother and calf were loitering close by the office of a local anti-poaching unit.

As we watched them and saw the way the mother kept looking in through the office window it became apparent that they were fed here on a regular basis.

We asked Mike about this.

 

He said that the anti-poaching unit do not make a habit of feeding the rhino but recently they have wanted to get hold of all of them so that they can inoculate them against some disease or other and so they have been using food pellets to entice them in.

 

In total the reserve has 9 rhinos. 8 plus the wee baby we were watching.

 

To see a rhino without a horn does not give me the same thrill as seeing one as nature intended, but if the alternative is seeing no rhinos at all, then it is not much of a debate.

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I'd love to once again see a rhino in the wild.

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Soukous

Mike told us that of the 8 rhinos that needed to be caught and treated they had managed to entice all but one.

This lone renegade was a young male who had steadfastly refused to come anywhere where they could catch him. He also needed to be de-horned.

 

We followed some fresh lion tracks for a while – if I had a Pound for every time I'd followed fresh lion tracks I'd be a very wealthy man indeed. Even if you took away a Pound for every time those tracks had actually resulted in me seeing lions.

 

We were all set to stop for a morning coffee but Mike decided that it didn't feel right. He was worried about the proximity of the lions. So we drove for a further 5 minutes to another spot where Mike made a bit of a show of asking us to wait in the vehicle while he got out his rifle, chambered a round and then walked 10 metres, turned around and walked back. He declared that it was safe.

Maybe he just wanted to show any lions lurking in the bushes that he had a big gun and it was loaded.

 

The countryside around us was rolling hills, covered in mopane and other stunted trees.

We saw a shape on a distant hillside. It was a lone rhino. In fact it was the elusive young male and we could see that his horn was pretty fine. He trotted down into a valley and was lost from sight.

We asked Mike if he would be notifying the anti-poaching unit that he'd spotted the elusive rhino. He said he would tell them but as long as it stayed in the area he was in they would not be able to capture him.

 

No sooner had we (well Mike actually) restarted the engine than we spotted a lone sable antelope about 200 metres ahead or us.

 

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We were keen to try and get closer so Mike let the vehicle roll slowly down the hill towards the sable.

We could see it was watching us and would run for cover as soon as we got too close.

 

Unfortunately it was standing with its muzzle obscured by a bush. I took a couple of shots just in case it was the only chance I would get.

 

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Then we inched across the track looking for a clearer view.

 

The sable decided that he'd let us get close enough and bolted. Shame.

 

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On our way back to Ursula Camp we saw quite a few kudu but not much else.

 

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The last part of our drive through the magnificent Acacia albida trees was very picturesque.

 

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After a massive and scrumptious breakfast the chef came to ask us what we'd like for lunch. No chance of going hungry here.

 

Our plan was to go into Victoria Falls this afternoon, so that those who'd never been before could walk around the falls. I planned to do a bit of shopping – I'd already been given the drinks order – and then relax at the Victoria Falls Hotel with a nice cold beer.

 

Ursula Camp provides a free shuttle into town so all we had to do was tell them what time we wanted to go and what time we wanted to be picked up. Easy peasy.

 

With a few hours to spare I sat on the terrace to see what wildlife would visit the small waterhole in front of the lodge. Apart from the baboons I saw some lovely female kudu and a cute little bushbuck.

 

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I also wanted to see if I could get any worthwhile photos of the Red Headed Weaver that was nesting outside our chalet.

 

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The female Red headed Weaver is not red at all, but still a rather pretty bird.

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I also had a go at photographing the Fork Tailed Drongos that seemed to be everywhere. Getting good photos of black birds has never been a strong point but on this occasion the hazy light actually helped by dramatically softening the contrast. I also found a couple of Drongos that were not totally black which suggests they were probably juveniles.

 

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Victoria Falls

It's a few years since I was in Victoria Falls and it was clear to see that the intervening years had not been kind. It just didn't have the same vibe that I remember.

 

Once I'd bought the required alcohol I strolled past a row of newish shops selling tourist souvenirs to the Victoria Falls Hotel.

Even though it was clearly in need of a bit of TLC it was nonetheless magnificent. Just sitting on the terrace looking at the bridge with a cold Zambezi in front of me was lovely. A great place for people watching.

 

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I wasn't totally idle. I managed to fit in a meeting with Brent and Laura from Travel Wild, my local agents while the others enjoyed gin & tonics on the terrace.

 

There were 2 nice surprises waiting for us when we got back to Ursula Camp.

The first was that Olivia had set out our table for dinner under the trees instead of inside. The second was that the 2 guests who were supposed to be arriving that afternoon had cancelled. I know that sounds terrible – they may have been lovely people – but it we all appreciated having the place to ourselves.

 

We discovered that one bottle of gin makes 12 gin & tonics. I'd paid $10 for a bottle in the supermarket, the night before we had been paying $8 for just one G&T.

 

Olivia and Mike had been so accommodating that even though we had bought our own wine for dinner ($9 a bottle in the supermarket vs $28 a bottle from the lodge) we bought our first bottle from them anyway. It just meant that we had to drink an extra bottle. Between 6 of us that was not much of a challenge.

 

20 September 2014

 

Helicopter flight over Victoria Falls

After breakfast we sat waiting to be picked up for a helicopter flight over the Victoria Falls.

We were supposed to be picked up at 7:30 for an 8 o'clock flight. By 8 o'clock there was no sign of our transfer.

 

A few phone calls eventually resolved the issue. Even though we had booked our flight for this morning, the helicopter company had us booked in for the following morning.

 

30 minutes later a minibus arrived and we were driven to the helipad, which was actually just on th eother side of the river bed from Stanley and Livingstone. If we could have driven straight there it would probably have taken 5 minutes. As it was we had to drive out to the road, cross the river bed and then drive back down a dirt track to the helipad.

 

We were the only passengers there and the check-in procedures were carried out rapidly. 10 minutes later we we in the air.

 

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I had been concerned that the Falls might not have much water flowing at this time of year but in fact a far bigger problem was the heavy haze that hung over the whole area. It made visibility very poor indeed.

 

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Despite that, everyone still found it a fantastic experience and seeing the Falls from the air helped them better understand the geography of what they'd explored on foot the previous afternoon.

 

Back at Ursula Camp we said our farewells to Olivia and Mike then hit the road for Hwange.

Our next stop would be Halfway House (halfway between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo) where we'd transfer to a game vehicle for the second part of our journey into Bomani Tented Lodge.

 

The road was reasonable, until we hit the toll section when, presumably because we were paying for the privilege, the road deteriorated into a continuous succession of potholes.

 

Even the police checkpoints couldn't relieve the tedium of the drive. It was dull.

 

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At Halfway House we changed vehicles and drove a further 90 minutes through community land to Bomani Tented Lodge. Even though we saw plenty of evidence of elephants (poo) we saw no animals at all ad the drive was as 'boring as batshit'.

We were all pleased to reach Bomani.

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Soukous

You'll probably all think that I'm nuts, but for this Trip Report I'm doing something I've never done before. I haven't yet looked at the 4,000 photos I brought back from safari.


Although I have transferred all my photos from the safari onto my computer – and backed them up to an external hard drive - I have not yet gone through them in detail or made any selections.


Instead I am looking at them and processing them as I reach the section of the Trip Report to which they belong.



I've resisted the temptation to just go through the photos and sort them as I would normally do, and have told myself that if I want to see the images from a particular part of the trip I must wait until my blog (and my TR) reach that part of the safari.


Like I said, you probably think I'm nuts but it seems to be working for me. Going through them as I write the narrative far more effectively brings back those safari experiences than simply looking at the photos and it is certainly an incentive to get my blog and the TR completed.



Bomani Tented Lodge – Hwange NP


As we pulled in to Bomani all the staff came out to greet us and we were led in to the large communal building that houses the bar, lounge and restaurant.



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The guest tents at Bomani are huge and everyone was once again surprised and impressed with the quality of their accommodation.



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There are some older units on stilts



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which, combined with the 'Royal Suite' give the camp a total of 10 guest rooms.



After a couple of hours to settle in and get a feel for the camp, we gathered by the bar for our afternoon evening game drive. Our guide was to be Petrus, who works for Imvelo, but isn't based at Bomani. He was just spending a few days here on a break from establishing a new camp further south in the park.



When we stop at the park gate to sign in, we are greeted by a large woman in khaki uniform that is clearly engaged in an ongoing struggle to retain its buttons. Petrus starts chatting with her in fluent Shona. As we drive away he tells us that she is one of a 2 person team based at the gate, her colleague is currently out on patrol. He goes on to say that when she is on patrol she is a fearsome sight in her khakis with an AK47 slung on her shoulder. Not someone you want to mess with.



We had expected the weather to be hot, but during the afternoon a strong wind had picked up which actually made it feel very cool indeed.


It seemed that animals did not like the wind much either and were staying in amongst the trees rather than coming out onto the open plains.



We didn't see a great deal on this drive, but it did give us a feel for this north east corner of Hwange which had some lovely landscapes.



When I say we didn't see a great deal I mean it in the context of our whole safari and what we have already seen.


We did see elephants, zebras, wildebeest, impala and a large group of eland but the only sighting that inspired me to raise my camera was the impala



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and even then I admit I only took this shot so I could post it on the “show us your bums” thread on Safaritalk. Sad, I know.



The wind showed no sign of letting and kept our sundowners break very brief indeed.



Darkness was descending fast and we were on our way out of the park when one of the other Bomani guides called on the radio to say he had spotted 2 cheetahs.


He was only a short distance away but by the time we got there it was almost dark. We did see, though, that one of the cheetahs had an injury to his front left leg and was limping badly.



Dinner in camp was a fine affair with all the guests and guides sitting together on a long table. Good food too.



Just as we were finishing dinner there was a huge commotion outside and we all leapt up to see what was going on.


A herd of elephant were at the camp waterhole, drinking and splashing around. They only stayed for a few minutes but it was a fine end to the day.



21 September 2014



That chilly wind from the previous afternoon was still blowing when we set out on our morning drive.


Petrus had already left and this morning our guide was Daniel – of whom Petrus had said “He's bloody good, not as good as me of course, but still bloody good.” Time would tell.



One of our goals this morning was to see if we would relocate those 2 cheetahs. We had been told that they were called the Bomani Brothers.


(“No Rena, not the Armani Brothers.”)



Out on the plains we found the same herd of eland we'd seen the night before.



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With much better light we could see that they had a lot of calves with them; we counted 17 in all.



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Despite being the largest antelope, eland are also one of the most skittish and they had worked out where to stand so that they were at the furthest point from all the roads.



We saw a lot of Black Backed (or silver backed if you're an East Africa man like me) Jackals as well as some saddle billed storks and white backed vultures.



In the distance we saw 2 shapes that looked like sable antelope. They were moving in the direction of one of the pans so we stopped to wait and see if they would pass close to us.



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For a while it looked as though the might, but then they started running. We waited a bit longer to see if they'd get to the water and relax but they only stopped for a brief sip before moving on.



We found a male Kori Bustard that was strutting around with his courting display. But once again he kept far from the roads.



A radio call told us that Indaba (the guide who'd spotted them the previous evening) had located the cheetahs again. Once again they weren't very far away and so we made our way to join him.



The 2 cheetahs were resting on the edge of the plains, where it meets the forest. They didn't look as though they were interested in going hunting - or doing anything else for that matter. One of them did get up and walk about 30 metres but all he did was flop down again.



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With one of them injured it would be down to the other brother to hunt for both of them.


As long as he was able to hunt and they stayed together the injured cheetah would have a chance of survival. If the healthy one decided to abandon his brother then it would almost certainly die.



We sat and watched them for about half an hour but there are only so many photographs you can take of a cheetah lying down and eventually – with no signs of them going anywhere – we left them and headed back to the camp.



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FlyTraveler

Love the Zimbabwe continuation of the trip report @@Soukous! Great bird, cheetah and sable photos! I also have not looked at most of my photos from the last trip yet. Going through the images as progressing with the TR in the same fashion as you do. This way I am still excited, because there are still not seen photos from the trip and also I am sure that I go through all the shots without missing any.

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michael-ibk

Well, I do at least a (very) quick sweep through all the pics, but nothing like sorting out, choosing or stuff like that. So I agree you´re not nuts at all (at least regarding going through pics. :P;) )

 

Beautiful images of Cheetah, Sable and Eland, enjoying this very much.

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twaffle

Excellent start, I'm just partly through reading but enjoying it very much.

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Treepol

Great photos of the eland herd - so many calves, looking so cute with their uniform black spots above the knee.

 

Nice sable photos too.

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Safaridude

@@Soukous

 

Bomani looks lovely. Are the drives from Bomani done inside Hwange or outside the park mostly?

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Soukous

@@Soukous

 

Bomani looks lovely. Are the drives from Bomani done inside Hwange or outside the park mostly?

 

Bomani is in a concession on community land just on the other side of the Vic Falls - Bulawayo railway line, right on the eastern section of Hwange.

Access to the park is through the Ngamo gate (the same one Wilderness use for Little Makolo and Davison's camp)

 

Most game drives are taken in the NP. There is plenty of game in the concession, but not really enough to make a day time game drive rewarding. It is good for night drives though.

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graceland

I am also one who chooses my photos as I write a TR' as it helps me remember!

Of course I take 300 pics and throw half away so easy for moi!

 

Great snaps although I imagine out of those 4,000 we have a treat ahead.

 

Love cheetahs - they always seem so much more intense than the lions. Staring, always staring.

 

Sables,oh my so grand. Happy we saw them in Hwange as well.

 

Waiting patiently.. your group must have been very happy :D

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Soukous

Yes @@graceland, it was a real treat to get 3 different sable sightings but I wished they had been a bit more cooperative.

and yes, they were all happy and - luckily for me - just kept on getting happier as the trip progressed.

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Soukous

The Look Up

 

Some time ago the folks at Bomani installed something that they call the 'Look Up'. A shipping contained was buried in the ground beside one of the waterholes and converted into an underground hide or blind.

 

For our afternoon game viewing we were going to spend some time in the 'Look Up' in the hope of getting close to elephants as they came to the waterhole.

 

We saw thousands of elephants in Chobe but opportunities for good photographs were scarce. We had high hopes of the 'Look Up'.

 

Our route to the 'Look Up' took us past another waterhole and the spectacle there was incredible. There were elephants everywhere. We reckon there must have been 3 separate family groups in the waterhole at the same time, bathing, drinking and generally having a good time.

 

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All the poor resident hippo could do was sit in a corner of the waterhole and wait for them all to leave.

 

We watched, enthralled, as they family groups started to move off.

 

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Some headed into the trees, whilst others crossed the open plain in search of a different area of woodland.

 

They stopped to throw sand over themselves before walking off into the distance.

 

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There was one young elephant who just did not want to leave the water. When he (I have no idea if it was a he or a she but I'll call it he) was eventually cajoled out of the water and the group began to walk towards the trees he just turned around and ran back into the waterhole. Urged out of the water again by impatient relatives he then decided to roll on the ground.

 

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Priceless!

 

Eventually there were no more elephants at the waterhole and we moved on to the 'LookUp'.

 

After checking that it was safe for us to get out of the vehicle Daniel took us down into the hide. Once we were inside he drove the vehicle away and parked it out of sight while we settled in to see what would unfold before us.

 

From the outside it doesn't look like much.

 

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It is only an old shipping container after all. But inside it has benches to accommodate about 8 people and a flushing WC.

 

I noticed that the hide was positioned on the east side of the waterhole/pan which meant that we would have the sun shining directly towards us.

I thought it would have been much better if the hide was positioned so that the sun was behind us.

But what do I know.

 

It didn't take long before I realised that it was in the right place after all. Because behind us was open plains and in front of us the trees came almost to the edge of the waterhole. Almost all the animals that visited the waterhole approached it from the cover of the trees, which meant that they were walking directly towards us.

 

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check out the youngster who hasn't yet learned to use his trunk properly. He has to get down on his knees and suck the water straight into his mouth.

 

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It turned out to be a fabulous afternoon. With what we'd seen on our way to the hide and what we saw at the hide it was almost certainly the most enjoyable afternoon of elephant watching I've ever had.

 

The elephants were clearly aware of our presence and many of them sniffed the air with their trunks before drinking.

 

Group after group emerged from the trees and came to drink. No sooner had one group moved away then another arrived. It was almost as if someone back there in the forest was directing them.

 

At one point a group of 5 giraffes approached the waterhole. They moved very cautiously through the trees towards the water and we sat patiently, waiting for them to drink. They were in no hurry.

Then just as they were almost at the water's edge something made them change their minds and walk away. It was disappointing.

 

A few moments later more elephants emerged from the trees and marched to the water.

 

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The giraffes had clearly decided that they may as well walk away rather than wait to be chased away.

 

With no driving and little guiding needed, it fell to Daniel to prepare our gin & tonics.

It was marvellous sitting in that old container with a gin & tonic in hand watching elephants come and go.

 

Then, just on sunset a different animal arrived. Emerging from the bush on our left we saw a male lion.

 

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He stopped and stared straight at us,

 

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clearly aware that we were there, then walked confidently towards the waterhole.

 

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We were all eager to watch him settle down to drink. Daniel told us he was part of a coalition of 3 males and that the others would probably not be far behind.

 

By now the light was very poor and I had my ISO cranked up to 3200. I very rarely take photos in such dark conditions but there was no way I was going to miss this.

 

He ducked down to drink and was hidden from our view. Then his head popped up again as more elephants walked out of the trees, led by a large bull.

 

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The lion did not stick around.

 

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After one look he quickly walked around the waterhole and disappeared into the bush. We spotted the lion again lying on a termite mound a few hundred metres away, but by now it was almost dark.

 

What a magnificent afternoon. That afternoon on its own made the whole visit to Bomani worthwhile.

 

We got into trouble with the park ranger because we arrived at the gate after closing time.

She made a bit of a fuss and was threatening to give Daniel a fine even though he told her that we had not been able to leave the 'Look Up' because there was a lion outside. Eventually we managed to persuade her by showing her our photographs of the lion and she grudgingly let us through.

 

An inviting camp fire was lit just outside the lounge/dining area and we all took our pre-dinner drinks outside to enjoy it. I only stayed a few minutes though as the mood was completely spoiled for me by an incredibly obnoxious and loud Canadian couple.

We hadn't seen much of them up to now as they had been sick with stomach upsets but now they felt better and just had to come and tell us all about it.

 

I moved in to the bar and got into conversation with an older Scottish man. He wanted to discuss the Scottish Independence referendum. He'd cast his vote and then gone on safari until the whole thing was over. He was thrilled that the NO vote had prevailed.

We found ourselves sitting next to him at dinner as well and had some hilarious conversations about Scotland and deer stalking.

 

What we didn't find out until a day later was that he and his wife had been in the same game vehicle as the Canadian couple and that it had not been a happy vehicle.

 

Sadly the elephants didn't return to the camp waterhole this evening. Even so we were all buzzing from what we'd seen.

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graceland

@@Soukous, what an afternoon!

 

We had that same "buzz" in Hwange watching both elephants and lions.

 

Just incredible isn't it; and something one rarely experiences in such large herds. Love the photos; I felt I was there with you.

 

We noticed many "look outs' throughout our drives in Hwange; great idea to provide that "up close and personal" on the ground feeling..

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Soukous

We brought the G&Ts with us in the coolbox. Mixing the drinks gave Daniel (our guide) something to do.

there was too much going on outside to take photos of the inside. :D

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Treepol

@@Soukous the Look up provided a great location for ele photos, the baby kneeling to drink with its mouth rather than trunk is a real sight. Some of the eles really tower over the hide, what an ideal angle for photos.

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Soukous

22 September 2014

 

One of the things that I'd been asked to arrange for this group was a visit to a local school.

They had brought with them some children's clothes and boxes of school materials (books, pens etc) and were keen to hand them over and see how a local school operated.

 

Bomani was our only real chance of doing this as we would be leaving in light aircraft and our baggage restrictions wouldn't allow us to take the stuff any further.

Fortunately Imvelo Safari Lodges run several community initiatives, one of which is “Driving ecotourism through providing education.”

>>

Providing much needed support to the teachers and schools that educate the young people living on the frontline of our wildlife areas is a primary goal for Imvelo and we provide direct support to 9 different schools around our lodges.

 

Two examples are Ziga and Ngamo Primary School on the edge of Hwange National Park. By 2010 through a combination of donated funds from visiting tourists, revenues from safari camp lease fees and funds by the local safari operators, these schools went from being the worst primary schools in the district to the best. Nearly 500 students all have safe clean classrooms, including 3 complete new classroom blocks built by Imvelo, with furniture, electricity and water. The teachers are all now also housed in comfortable cottages, receive salary initiatives and training support. The schools have become the pride of the community and are a show case for the success of the program.<<

 

We had let Daniel know that some of the group were keen to visit one of the schools and so this morning, instead of a game drive, they would be visiting a nearby school that Imvelo sponsored.

 

I'll own up. I didn't join them on the visit. Over the years I have taken so many groups to visit schools and villages in various parts of Africa that I find it hard to maintain my enthusiasm. I felt it was far better for them to go and enjoy their visit without me than have me standing there looking bored.

As it was I had plenty to keep me occupied checking through our arrangements for the next week of our trip and seeing what turned up at the camp waterhole.

 

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They returned 3 hours later very impressed with what they had seen and Iain, who had travelled with me in Tanzania & Kenya in January 2013 said that this school was far more impressive than the 2 we had visited in those countries. What made the biggest impression was the importance the children themselves put on their education and the lengths they went to just to attend.

 

Our afternoon drive

Setting out for our afternoon game drive we were all pleased to see that the wind had abated and the sky was much clearer than on the previous 2 afternoons.

We hoped that the wildlife had noticed too and come out to play.

 

We could see from their tracks on the road into the park that there was a large herd of buffalo in the area and it wasn't long before we found them.

There must have been 500+ animals in the herd. They were approaching the waterhole where we'd seen the elephants yesterday but they were very spread out and in no hurry to get there. We waited for about 15 minutes but they were content to just loiter.

From the opposite direction a group of old bulls, dagga boys, appeared and ambled unhurriedly to the waterhole.

 

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I had hoped that we might see some more action here as the light was so much better this afternoon than yesterday. Sadly not.

 

We made our way to the wide open plains without seeing anything memorable on the way.

At one of the other pans a small group of elephants were drinking. Even though we kept our distance they didn't seem to like having us behind them and so they moved off – one of the young males taking time out to mock charge us.

 

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Just as we'd seen on previous drives there were a lot of jackals in the area and they seemed pretty relaxed.

 

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We found the same pair of Saddle Billed Storks as we'd seen yesterday. There were also a couple of large juveniles up in a tree.

Unfortunately they were not as accommodating as the jackal had been and would not stick around for a photo call.

This is the female (yellow eye)

 

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The Kori Bustard in full courting regalia was still strutting his stuff on the plains

 

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Daniel took us to see where a Giant Eagle Owl had its nest with a chick.

The owl flew off as we approached and light was terrible – with the sun right behind the nest - but we could just about make out the silhouette of the chick. We agreed to return tomorrow to see if we might have better luck.

 

We spent some time circling around in search of lions as we had seen so many fresh tracks. Once again our quest proved fruitless.

 

We saw a pair of secretary birds. Daniel told us that they were nesting in the top of a nearby bush. Sure enough one of them flew up onto the nest as we watched. Of course I had been tracking the other one at that moment and missed most of the action.

 

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We had our sundowners by the pan where we'd seen so many elephants the day before. It was deserted, but we did get a sunset; the first one we'd seen since we arrived in Zimbabwe.

 

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Overall it was a disappointingly uneventful game drive. Even so, it was almost dark by the time we reached the gate – with 2 minutes to spare before closing time.

 

Using the spotlight on the way back to camp we saw a White Tailed Mongoose bustling across the road. A first for me.

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graceland

At least you got some shots of the birds, I was never fast enough! So do appreciate yours!

 

if I ever have a less than stellar game drive (and the only one I remember was at LK in Bots ) I just think," But who else gets to be driven around, seeing and breathing the smells and beauty of Africa" and I am thrilled all over again. :) And of course end with a sunset and g&t.

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michael-ibk

Even if it was a slow drive for you you got to see - and take a terrific pic of - a Hoopoe! :)

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Beautiful sable and cheetah, but I love seeing so much elephant. I'm also reading Lawrence Anthony's book about elephants right now, so I'm definitely in the right frame of mind to appreciate them.

 

P.S. I have to go with "black-backed" jackal just for the convenience of calling them BBJs. :)

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Soukous

23 September 2014

 

Our last morning at Bomani.

 

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An early morning view of the waterhole at Bomani Tented Lodge

 

On our way to the gate we spot a pair of Yellow Billed Kites in a tree above us, they've got some fresh meat.

 

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No idea what it might be though.

 

The buffalo herd from yesterday were just inside the gate, munching their way through the forest.

 

Out on the plains we tried to get close to a couple of eland bulls but they were way to wary and just kept moving away.

Then I spotted something moving on the edge of the treeline. It was a cheetah.

 

On the one hand this was great, we all wanted to see cheetah. But, if it was the same cheetah we had seen 2 days earlier, and they were still in essentially the same place, this was not good news. It almost certainly meant that the injured cheetah was keen to do much walking. It was the same 2 males we had seen previously.

 

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We watched them for a while and when one of them got up to change his position we could see that he was still limping badly. It was distressing to see an animal so dependant on being able to run barely able to walk.

 

At one point, while we were watching a silver backed jackal strolled past behind the injured cheetah.

 

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Great News!

I have been in touch with Imvelo Safari Lodges since my return and I am delighted to report that although no-one saw him for a couple of weeks and feared the worst the injured cheetah has now returned and is hunting again. He seems to be fully recovered.

I'm much happier now. I can look at my photos without having to wonder if he is even alive.

 

Leaving the cheetahs we went back to the nest where the Giant Eagle Owl (Verreaux's Eagle Owl) had its nest.

 

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With the sun in a much better position we could see the distinctive profile of the mother on the nest. The chick however stayed well hidden. Now that we were in position and ready, we wanted the mother to fly off, but of course she had other ideas and stayed on the nest.

 

The wind had picked up again and this Lilac Breasted Roller was having a bit of a battle to stay on its perch

 

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Meandering slowly in the direction of camp we circled by the various waterholes where we'd seen game on previous drives. We planned to get out for our morning coffee near the pan where the Lookup was situated but as we approached we saw that there were lots of vultures circling and coming in to land. We could see several of them on the ground on the opposite side of the water from the hide on what looked like a buffalo carcass. Ooh goody!

 

Even in the few minutes it took us to get around the pan the number of vultures had increased significantly and they were jumping around and squabbling over the carcass.

 

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It was a buffalo but rather than being killed by lions it appeared to have just died. And that was what was causing the vultures so much angst. So far all the vultures that had arrived were White Backed Vultures and their beaks were not sharp enough/strong enough to pierce the hide. So they all jostled for position while they waited for something to come along that could rip the carcass open.

What they needed was either a few of the much larger Lappet Faced Vultures, a hyaena or even a lion.

We positioned ourselves with a good view and sat back to watch and wait. The sky was full of circling vultures with more and more of them coming in to land.

 

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Those that had been there a while started to get bored and fly off or move to the pan itself to wash. This was something I had not really had a chance to watch before, but the vultures took a lot of care cleaning themselves.

 

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Eventually we saw the silhouette of a Lappet faced Vulture coming in to land.

 

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it was followed soon after by another, but instead of pushing their way to the front they just sat back and waited, seemingly intimidated by the much more numerous White Backed Vultures.

 

I found it quite surprising that although they were much larger than the White Backed Vultures and had the necessary equipment to open the buffalo up so they could all feed, they held back. I would have expected that all the vultures would have understood what was needed and ensured that the Lappet Faced Vultures were encouraged to get ripping.

In the distance we could see the buffalo herd waiting to approach the waterhole.

 

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As before, they were in no hurry and although we waited about half an hour the buffalo came no closer to the water and the vultures came no closer to opening the carcass.

 

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a Swallow Tailed Bee Eater

 

Eventually the lure of brunch was too much and we left the vultures to sort it our amongst themselves.

 

Not enough seats

 

One of the great things about Bomani is that their airstrip is only about 300 metres from the camp. It means that we can wait until we hear the aircraft overhead before we need to load our bags into the Land Rover and drive over there.

At un-manned airstrips like Bomani is that someone from the camp is supposed to drive out there before the flight lands and act as fire marshall. No sooner had we heard the sound of the incoming aircraft than a Land Rover went haring out of camp.

 

By the time we get there the aircraft is already on the ground. And the pilot is giving instructions for the loading of our bags.

I stroll over to inspect the plane, a Cessna V206. I notice straight away that it is a 6 seater – that is 6 seats including the pilot!

There are 6 of us and we have luggage.

 

The pilot watches with a smile as I stroll back to where Pat is standing. “This could be interesting” I say. Pat hates light aircraft flights anyway

A couple of the others now inspect the Cessna and I can see from their faces that they too are wondering how we will all fit in.

 

The pilot strolls over “Been doing a seat count?” he asks with a grin.

When we answer in the affirmative he laughs and tells us not to worry as a second plane is on its way. It arrives a few minutes later.

 

Once the bags and the bodies have been apportioned to the 2 aircraft the planes manoeuvre for take off.

I'm in the second plane. Once the first one starts revving its engine our pilot closes the windows to keep out the dust storm that is being thrown up. It starts to get very warm in the small cabin and we urge the other plane to get on with it.

 

I had hoped that we would get some good views of the country as we flew up to Lake Kariba but the air is so thick with haze and smoke that visibility is terrible.

 

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The pilot said that it was causing problems for them too with huge amounts of muck sticking to the wings and visibility sometimes so bad he couldn't see the airstrip he was supposed to be landing on from as close as 2km away.

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