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How Doug came to know what Australian for "lion" is....Zimbabwe 2016


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As @@twaffle stated in her superb trip report http://safaritalk.net/topic/16602-the-hundred-acre-wood-and-the-search-for-heffalumps-and-woozles/ , there are many trip reports on Mana Pools, and it's hard to imagine I have anything new to offer. But, I for one, love reading EVERYTHING I can get my hands on while trip planning, and so there may be something I write that inspires someone else, so I will push on. I also like preparing these trip reports, as they become like a diary to me, to read on those dreary work days when Africa seems just too far away, and I need to remind myself why I continue to work!


And so it was, after reading many of these said reports on Mana Pools, and of the reportedly outstanding Doug MacDonald, that I found myself, on the 2nd of December 2014, sending these words to Doug:


"Hi Doug,


I feel really silly asking, but I hear you book up really quickly, so I was wondering how far ahead I should book you if I wanted a September 2016 private safari in Zimbabwe?"


Doug, to his credit, did not make fun of me, and did in fact answer my email (which the other guide I contacted at the same time did not, and still hasn't), and we started planning our adventure. Initially I had another couple coming with hubby and I, but unfortunately they had to pull out only a few months out from the trip. Fortunately we were able to go on our trip regardless, although with some changes and extra expenses for us.


Our itinerary was:


Depart Brisbane 16th September 2016, then 2 nights Victoria Falls, 4 nights Davison's camp in Hwange, 3 nights Chitake Springs, and 6 nights Mucheni 2 on the floodplains. We were supposed to have 2 nights in the Chikwenya Lodge as well, with 4 in Mucheni 2, but they changed hands and shut, so we ended up remaining on the floodplains. Our original itinerary had Doug guiding us in Hwange, but unfortunately when our friends pulled out it just added to the cost too much, and so we didn't meet Doug until Mana Pools. I wish we had had Doug guiding in Hwange :mellow: From Mana Pools we flew to Harare, then on to Johannesburg to stay overnight, before heading up to Rwanda and Uganda to see the gorillas (trip report here http://safaritalk.net/topic/16804-habituation-gorilla-trek-uganda-2016/ )


Australia to Africa is a long way! This time we flew South African Airlines from Brisbane to Perth and then Perth to Johannesburg, where we had a 6 hour stopover at 5am. I had slept quite well on the Perth to Jo'burg flight, but we elected to get a room at the airport hotel (cost around US$70) to get another few hours sleep. It was a good decision. When we landed in Victoria Falls, we felt refreshed and ready to go. We stayed at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, overlooking the lovely waterhole and the vast Zimbabwe plains.








Our first activity (all planned and booked by Doug), was the sunset cruise on the Signature Deck of the Zambezi Explorer. It was a lovely relaxing introduction to our safari.






Hubby anxiously awaiting his first Zimbabwe beer of the trip!




Having slept well overnight, we were up very early as Doug had arranged for us to be picked up at 5.30am, to get to the gates of Victoria Falls in time for opening, and sunrise at 6am. I had found a small ebook about how to photograph Victoria Falls, http://www.danielpeel-photography.com/how-to-photograph-victoria-falls-e-book so I knew I wanted to head straight for Viewpoint 8, to get a shot of the falls with the sun rising.... this one....




Unfortunately we weren't the first photographers lining up at the gate, so the other two, who also know where to head, ended up getting a slightly better position to my left. Never mind - they were very kind and let me sidle up as close to their tripod as I could!


I took many shots of the falls:








We had thought about crossing to Zambia for a dip in Devil's Pool, but then we thought - ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND!!! - and elected not to!!




This was the only spot there was a rainbow at the time we were there. It was the correct time of the month to photograph moon bows when we were there, but we didn't do it.




It is quite a different view from the Zambian side! Being dry season the water was low, which made it quite interesting I thought, with the variation in the water flow along the falls, and we also didn't get wet! I was there in January 1999, and I got absolutely soaked! It was much easier photographing the falls without constantly worrying about a wet lens.




Back on the Zimbabwean end, there was an astonishing amount of water here! I could stand and watch water like that all day.




Of course we had to say hello to Dr Livingstone too:




We were on a tight schedule, though, as we were being picked up at the gates at 8am for our helicopter ride. We had wanted to go early, before the really harsh light, but it did mean we only spent 2hours at the Falls that morning. We had planned to possibly go back (which would have meant paying another entrance fee) but we ended up elsewhere....(it involves cocktails and lawns!).








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The driver from Wild Horizon's Helicopters was there waiting for us at 8am. I love helicopters (almost as much as I love hot air balloons) and although the doors weren't off, I was able to nab the front seat and open the little window to allow a great view. The company takes photos of you and we bought them, plus a video of our flight at the end.




Goofy, but happy face!




We're off!














We did two loops on our 13minute flight. You really do get a great view of the Falls, and I would highly recommend a flight if you can.






We really are happy travellers!


After our busy morning, we were taken back to the Lodge for breakfast (yes, it was still only about 9.30am). After a bit of rest and re-fuelling, we caught the Lodge shuttle in to town for a look around. First port of call was the markets. So many people selling basically the same stuff - I am not comfortable in this setting, as I know that they are all doing it hard but I can't buy from everyone. I usually try to give an indication to my husband the item I would like, then walk away while he haggles. We bought a few bowls, which then made us a target for everyone on the streets for the rest of our walk around town, as we were obviously buying and might buy more if hassled enough. While it all starts out politely, when we say no (repeatedly and they finally realise we mean it), then it either turns into begging or nastiness. Not a great look for Falls tourism. We wanted to walk onto the Bridge, and we were able to get a ticket from the immigration office to allow us to do that. We did the Zimbabwe-Zambia border dance (well, a hop and a skip on either side of the line) and then headed off for a cocktail at the Victoria Falls hotel. New favourite cocktail - the Zambezi Sparkler - gin AND champagne is one delicious brew! One just wasn't enough....




I hadn't taken my "big" camera out, so my iPhone had to be enough!


We caught the shuttle back to the Lodge and had sundowners overlooking the waterhole before heading out for dinner at the Boma. It was a good night. Tasty food and the drumming was fun. Lots of people, which was good to see for Zimbabwe tourism.


Our two nights at Victoria Falls had come to an end, and the next morning we were headed for Hwange.

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@@JulieM Lovely start and great photos. I will be following along to pick up tips for my trip to Mana with Doug next November....

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@@JulieM Yeah!!! your report has started. I am so excited to read this after seeing the section on VF. We are heading back with Doug next year and doing a similar if shorter trip than you with 2 nights VF, 3 Hwange, 2 Chitake and 4 Mana. We don't have as much time as you did, but then we don't live as far away as you do!

Edited by ld1
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@@JulieM My son will be coming from Brisbane to Johannesburg next year to meet me for a few days in the Timbavati - he is coming with Qantas from sydney and fortunately the flight timings mean he has to has 24 hours to recover before I have to see him!

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@@JulieM Yeah!!! your report has started. I am so excited to read this after seeing the section on VF. We are heading back with Doug next year and doing a similar if shorter trip than you with 2 nights VF, 3 Hwange, 2 Chitake and 4 Mana. We don't have as much time as you did, but then we don't live as far away as you do!


It certainly gives me encouragement when people are excited about reading my report! Thanks @Id1!

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@@JulieM I've been away and so coming home to see this part of your report is great. I love your photos of the falls and it sounds like you had a lot of fun in Vic Falls. The touts are a pain but we took a tourist policewoman with us and it was really worthwhile. Looking forward to the rest.

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Awesome photos of the falls! So brave of you to do the helicopter...that's one I'm not sure I'll ever get up the nerve to do (well that and also hot-air balloons!) Not keen on heights! But wow it looks amazing.


Looking forward to the rest of the report...I remember when you posted looking for companions...I would have done it if we hadn't already planned Kenya! So I'm eager to read the report!

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Thanks for the kind words and encouragement everyone!


@@janzin - I'm not a big fan of heights either, but I cope with helicopters and hot air balloons quite well. Put me up a tall building with a low balcony though, and you have to peel me away from the wall!

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The next day we were picked up at 8am for our transfer to Davison's Camp in Hwange National Park. Many seem to fly in, but we drove/were driven which I enjoyed. It's interesting to see the scenery and the villages along the way, and the roads were good and not too busy. I didn't take many photos along the way unfortunately. There was one area with heaps of baobab trees which I should have stopped for but didn't. Here's one from the road:




It took about 2 1/2 - 3 hours to get to Main Camp at Hwange, where we were met by a guide from Davison's camp who then took us the rest of the way. That drive, stopping for lunch and game viewing along the way also took about 3 hours. It was a bumpy dusty drive in a safari vehicle, but gee it felt good to be back in one of those, eagerly spotting game! We saw the first of the big elephant herds on this drive in.




We had a warm welcome on arriving at camp.




Davison's camp was one of several choices Doug gave us for accommodation within Hwange. It was hard to pick between them. Davison's has 8 tents, is in the private Linkwasha concession in Hwange and is a Wilderness Safari camp. There is a massive waterhole in front of the camp which was always busy with something to see (photos of that later).






Someone made himself at home quite quickly...!






After a quick settling in, we headed out for our first game drive proper. The other vehicles had already left so we had the guide to ourselves. First port of call was the waterhole in front of camp, where an elephant family had just finished their mud bath.






There had been a massive fire in the concession 3 weeks before we were there, and so to get to some of the more open areas we had to drive through acres and acres of burnt forest. It was a stark sight, but in some ways made game viewing easier as there was no greenery for the animals to hide in.


Our guide (whose name, I'm really sorry, escapes me - we had three guides on three game drives our first few days) knew where there were some lions, so that's where we headed.




Baby lions are always soooo cute!!








Elephants AND lions, in the beautiful open plains area - bliss.








It was getting late, and dark, and my ISO was up to over 5000 - so time to enjoy the sunset and head home.




On each afternoon game drive, while driving home the guide shines a red spotlight into the bush to see what we can see. Our guide was very happy when he could show his Australian guests Zimbabwe's kangaroo - the African spring hare. He really does jump like a miniature kangaroo!


The food at Davison's is very nice - not the best I've had on safari but good decent fare. Meals are communal with each truck having their own table - but we had actually met one of the other couples on the Zambezi cruise in Victoria Falls, so they added us to their table which was nice, otherwise we'd have eaten alone. We went to bed happy.

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The next morning we were up for our game drive to start at 6am. We ended up leaving even later, and the photographer in me was getting frustrated at all the daylight we were burning. We were in the vehicle with 4 others - one couple from the UK and one from the States. They were all very nice people and although I struggle a little with so many people in the vehicle, we still had a good morning.


We headed back to see if we could see the lions from the night before but our first sighting was of this handsome devil - my first sable.




The lions had gone, but there was a couple of other females who were very healthy looking.






We spent the rest of the morning watching this enormous buffalo herd come in to drink.








The sole hippo in the pond had a bit to say about his new neighbours.




I love the look on the buffalo's face in the back. It's as if she is saying "Are you 'right Muriel??!"


We got word that cheetah had been spotted, so we hot-footed it to their location. They had just killed a small antelope, and were recovering from their exertion under a small bush.




They were the only cheetahs we saw the whole trip.


Back to camp for lunch and siesta!

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Great stuff @@JulieM - very good commentary as well.

Fair size buffalo herd - poor old hippo!

Edited by Hads
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Wonderful start to your trip report and lovely photos! Now I have another place on my safari to-do list, it looks like!

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The afternoon game drive saw 6 of us in the vehicle again. We started at the Davison's waterhole, where there was a large herd, who suddenly became spooked for some reason and took off at high speed.






The rest of the drive was a meander through the concession, seeing what we could see. This guy reminds me of Austin Powers!




His buddy was trying to look even more cute!




There were a few wildebeest in the concession also.




We caught some beautiful light on these rather accommodating elephants - love the symmetry of their arrangement!






And we shared our sundowners with this guy. He preferred water to G&T.




Of course, what are sundowners without a sunset?



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I can't wait to return to Hwange in 2018. Furthermore,it undoubtedly won't be my last visit there. I'd like to visit Matshudona National Park, Matobos, and Sango Lodge in the SAVE concession. I've already been to Zimbabwe four times.

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@@JulieM I really like the composition of the 3 elephants at the waterhole - one for displaying on a wall I think!

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@@JulieM lovely photos and report. I am really looking forward to Hwange. Do I sense you may have lost your heart to the privately guided mobile trip though? You sound a little frustrated by the late starts and 6 to a vehicle at the camp. We will likely have to file for bankruptcy after next years trip as we have stuck with Doug for the whole thing. I'm a real spoilt Safari brat now.?

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@@pomkiwi - I'm running out of wall space!!


@Id1 - you are very perceptive! Our next trip is actually going to be a 4+ month self-drive odyssey across Africa, but after that I don't think I'll be able to do anything other than a privately guided trip. I'm a spoilt brat too!!

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I guess self driving is the ultimate private guiding really.? Private mobile is a bit like turning left on the plane. You can't imagine why anyone would pay that much for a business class ticket. Then one day you luck-out and get that great fare or upgrade and it's suddenly, ahhh, so this flat bed business is pretty awesome. Now we will do less trips so we can afford a private guide and mobile camp. It's not for everyone but I really loved it.

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I guess self driving is the ultimate private guiding really. Private mobile is a bit like turning left on the plane. You can't imagine why anyone would pay that much for a business class ticket. Then one day you luck-out and get that great fare or upgrade and it's suddenly, ahhh, so this flat bed business is pretty awesome. Now we will do less trips so we can afford a private guide and mobile camp. It's not for everyone but I really loved it.




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(A question on the side - did we used to be able to upload multiple photos at a time?? I seem to be only able to upload one at a time to my gallery, and it's a wee bit tedious...)

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We started the next day with new truck mates - an English couple. We got on very well with them and had a great couple of days together. Truck mates really are luck of the draw - sometimes you meet really cool people who add to the safari experience.


Hwange is all about elephants, and we had quite the elephant day, starting with this little guy.




Heading back to the waterhole where the buffalo had been the day before, we found a dazzle of zebra instead. I love the little one poking his head around Mum while the others drink.




As you can see from the fleecies, it was a bit chilly in the mornings in Hwange. Nice hot coffee was welcome - just missed the Amarula addition...




While on the drive home, I mentioned to Temba our guide that I would really like to spend some time with elephants having a mud bath. Our truck mates weren't too keen, so we made a plan to head over to another waterhole about 10km from Davison's after lunch but before the afternoon game drive. As we made our way out of camp, however, the elephant herds decided to come to us, so we spent about an hour watching them right in front of camp. Different families would come and then go, and overall I think we probably saw about 200 individuals altogether.
















Suddenly something spooked them, and they took off!




But they came back for a dust bath.




It had been a lovely time and I was thankful to Temba for making the extra effort for me.


The afternoon game drive was a little quiet, but we headed to a different area of the concession which was quite beautiful in its starkness. We watched this gorgeous giraffe make his way around. We hadn't seen many giraffe so it was a nice sighting in some lovely light.




And, as always, sundowners with the sunset (and elephants).





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It was our last full day in Hwange, and for something different Temba took us for a walk. It was more of an "interpretive" walk, than the tracking that we would do at Mana Pools, but it was a nice introduction to being out of the vehicle.




After we'd done that we got word of some lions sleeping near the road, so of course we had to go and visit them.








On the way back to camp we saw my first roan.




After lunch I committed safari sacrilege. I didn't go on the afternoon game drive. Shock horror! I am an introvert by nature, and I just needed some time to myself to recharge my batteries. So hubby and the others headed off - to the log hide at Little Makololo I would find out later - and I stayed in the lounge area overlooking the waterhole, armed with my cameras and my Kindle. I actually had a lovely afternoon. There was no-one around. Even the staff were busy elsewhere. Before too long, this big elephant decided to come and have a drink in the trough right in front of camp. It was an experience I had all by myself! Awesome.




Others joined him, including this little family group.






Someone got a bit cranky and chased another away...






...before order was restored again.






We'd been told to help ourselves to the bar if there was no-one around - so at sundowner o'clock I dutifully filled my wine glass and enjoyed the relaxation. My batteries were recharged!




And yes I know - you still don't know what Australian for lion is......!

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So the day had finally dawned. The day 21 months in the making. Today we would be in Mana Pools with the legendary Doug MacDonald. So excited!


Mr Sable and Mr Baboon came to say goodbye.






We flew in this little Cesna 208, piloted by the very lovely Giles.




Flying over Hwange we could see the elephants gathering at waterholes, and could see the devastation that the recent fire had caused.






We had to land at Lake Kariba for re-fuelling. It was lovely flying over the lake.




It was very hot and quite turbulent, and unfortunately the soft drink that hubby had drunk in Lake Kariba airport made a re-appearance, and so it was that he met Doug at the Mana Pools airstrip with a vomit bag in his hand! Not quite the start we were after.....

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