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Back to Zim: Hwange, Matusadona & Mana Pools, September 2017


Tdgraves

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Tdgraves

I feel that I have to apologise for the severe delay in posting this TR and at least need to START before I leave for Africa again in a few weeks' time. Life has somewhat taken over in the past couple of months. My father in law was admitted to hospital whilst we were away and died two weeks after our return. The 14 weeks since we have been back therefore have been somewhat of a blur, but with the festive season, we have had time to decompress (and process 9000 photos) so now I can start, if not finish, before we go to the Kruger.

 

We were not sure that we could afford a "posh" safari in 2017, given the hammering that the pound received following Brexit. We thought that it may need to be South Africa again, given that all other countries charge in US $, which are now 20% more expensive for us to buy. I had booked flights a year in advance with air miles and had managed a first for us - we would be flying first class! So, when I rang our travel agents with our dates, it was completely without expectation. In fact, my opening line was "I don't think that we can afford this, but give it a go and we'll see what we can do". This prompted a long stay discount for African Bush Camps and free return flights for Matusadona and we did not fall off of our chairs at the cost when she returned with an itinerary! In fact, it was not much more than our first Zim trip cost in 2011 (given that the infrastructure has now improved e.g. scheduled flights), albeit not including the international flights and it would be our longest safari ever - we had a deal! We took a suggested night out at Vic Falls, as we had been there in dry season before and decided to break the journey in Johannesburg, as on our previous trip, the 25 hours of travelling half killed us! So we would stay with our friends overnight in JNB and drive to the airport the following morning.

 

Itinerary

 

31/8 Overnight LHR to JNB

1/9 Overnight in JNB

2/9 JNB to VFA, internal flight to Hwange

Somalisa Main Camp, 4 nights

6/9 Internal flight to Matusadona

Changa Safari camp, 4 nights

10/9 Internal flight to Mana Main

Zambezi Expeditions 3 nights

Kanga Camp 3 nights

16/9 Internal flight Mana to Harare (refuelling at Kariba), Harare to JNB, JNB to LHR (quite tiring)

17/9 Home

 

So 2 nights in the air, 1 in JNB and a massive 14 in the bush.

 

Given it was our first experience of first class, I couldn't resist taking some iPhone photos.... 

 

Dedicated check in area

 

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Leading to a very quiet dedicated security line, that leads straight into the lounge, where the Concorde room has a restaurant

 

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before you then eat again on the plane - starter

 

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main

 

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notice the proper glassware and table setting!

 

two windows

 

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back in Africa

 

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Sorry, I realise that this is a safari forum, not a plane spotter's one, but it was all pretty impressive and unlikely to be repeated often (certainly not paying cash!). It is very nice having your bed made for you, with proper linens as well as being in the nose of a jumbo.

 

Being at the front of the plane, we disembarked quickly, but there was still a bit of a queue for immigration, but not too bad. Very slick service at the Avis desk to get our 24 hour car hire (actually managing to use a free rental voucher for once) and despite there being 3 separate accidents on the motorway, we got to the Northern Suburbs of Joburg at about when expected and could chill out and catch up with our friends for the rest of the day.

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Day 2: Evening drive, Somalisa, 3/9/17   First of all, I missed a bird from the morning and as it was a new one and a local special, it needs to be added - Bradfield's hornbill  

Day 2: Morning drive, Somalisa, 3/9/17   Somalisa was virtually unrecognisable compared to our first visit back in 2011. African Bush Camps have obviously invested a lot of money to compete

Day 1: Evening drive, Somalisa, 2/9/17   First sighting of the drive, some cheetah....     Can you see them?? I had the 5D, but really, the 7D wasn't much better, they we

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Tdgraves

Day 1: JNB to VFA to Hwange, Somalisa Camp

 

After a night catching up with friends, a not too early start to the airport. The roads were quiet, as was check in, when we found it - too used to flying to London, not elsewhere! Had a lovely breakfast in the Slow lounge, where we noticed a group of 4 tucking into double G&Ts. When we made our way to the plane, we noticed that the group of 4 were also on the flight and by the time they arrived in VFA, one needed wheelchair assistance. Maybe due to the G&Ts or perhaps a sensible ploy to beat the terrible queues in immigration? We had been stung on our first visit, ending up at the back of the queue in a sweltering building and it took so long to get through, that our driver thought that we were not going to appear. So this time I was prepared. I had booked seats as far forwards as possible and we walked fast down the bridge. Given that Vic Falls airport has been upgraded and now has a runway long enough for large intercontinental flights, I had stupidly assumed that the immigration process would also have improved, but of course, TIA. It took a good hour to get through and we discovered that the logistics teams for safari camps assume it takes 2 1/2 hours to traverse the airport and so he had to recall the pilot, who had gone into town! However, it is now air-conditioned, so that is something. It must have taken the baggage handlers by surprise as well, as we then had to queue for our bags! African Bush Camps has a little lounge for waiting in. We were flying into camp with an American honeymoon couple and warned them that they may be stuck with us for the duration of their stay - they were. As there were only four of us on the plane, I was able to try a bit of photography.

 

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but it was very hazy

 

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because of this

 

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as we came in to land, the pilot was told that there was a massive herd of elephant at the airstrip

 

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but he didn't seem very impressed at the numbers!!

 

we were back in the bush and it was about a 30 minute drive into camp, as they have their own airstrip on the concession.  Some that didn't run off - the waterhole is right next to the airstrip

 

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we even managed to get a new bird en route to camp

 

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Dickinson's kestrel

 

We got into camp and our guide was very keen that we go out on an evening drive, which of course we would always do, so a quick change, application of suntan lotion and a bit of afternoon tea and we were off again.....

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michael-ibk

I have been looking forward to your Zimbabwe trip, great you started it. Very sorry to hear about your father-in-law. 

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Tdgraves

Day 1: Evening drive, Somalisa, 2/9/17

 

First sighting of the drive, some cheetah....

 

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Can you see them?? I had the 5D, but really, the 7D wasn't much better, they were too far away and flat

 

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As you can see, the light was fading fast and suddenly it became apparent why our guide was so keen to get us out of camp. Lions. Lots of lions. Famous lions. Cecil's pride, all on a mound.

 

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The gathered vehicles started to leave even as we arrived, as you can see, the sun was rapidly setting and we soon also had to leave. We then saw this male Kori bustard displaying - never seen that before!

 

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and that was it for our first drive. No time for sundowners, but who cares? Back to camp to unpack and settle in. Not a bad birthday gift for the OH!?

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@Tdgraves Oh man, now I really need to get off my dime and start my report as we were in Hwange 3 days before you and those bloody Cheetah alluded us the whole time. We were at Kennedy 2 camp and drove past the Somalisa road every day. Anyway, great start to the report and lovely to see BA first as I've only ever had enough Avios for Club....I'll keep saving those Avios. Very sorry to hear about your father-in-law. 

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Tdgraves

@ld1 three words - AMEX 241 voucher.

 

re. The cheetahs, you may not wish to read the next instalment....

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@Tdgraves  Really looking forward to this TR. Did this route 3 years ago- different camps, with the exception of Changa which I LOVED (did Little Mak , Changa and Ruckomechi- I would do it differently if I went back, except Changa- would go back there in a heartbeat) . I don't know- there was something about that place. I'll be interested to see your thoughts on it.

Ok- had to add some more here...I too would have had way more pictures if I ever got to fly in first class :)  What a treat!!!   Oh and the lions in Hwange!!!!  Saw some of the most amazing lions in Hwange. Cecil's pride as well and have pictures of cubs (possibly his as it was right before his demise (sanitized description)  ) that I was there as my screen saver at work. Oh, and the elephants on arrival....did not get to go to Africa this past year and it's killing me. This is really tugging at my soul. Keep it coming!!!!!  :)

 

Edited by lmonmm
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Tdgraves

@lmonmm the cubs could now be the sub adults that we saw....

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Towlersonsafari

Very sorry to hear of your loss. 

Looks like your trip got off to a splendid start-and first class-very posh indeed! @Tdgraves looking forward to your report

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I can imagine how you felt flying first class for the first time, so no need to say sorry for posting pics about it. Last year I flew business class for the first (and may be last?) time and I did the same. It's so much better travelling that way. Skipping all the lines, a waiting area which is basically a restaurant you can get anything and ofcourse a flat bed in the plane. It's the kind of comfort/luxury you want again, but pricewise it's out of my league unfortunately.

 

Great cheetah sighting, curious about your next posts regarding the teaser. I hadn't seen any cheetahs, but I was there just after the green season which probably makes it harder. I spotted 3 cheetahs in your pic, did I see them all?

 

The lions look great too, on top of that hill.

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Tdgraves
3 hours ago, LarsS said:

 

Great cheetah sighting, curious about your next posts regarding the teaser. I hadn't seen any cheetahs, but I was there just after the green season which probably makes it harder. I spotted 3 cheetahs in your pic, did I see them all?

 

There were 4 but I think one is behind a bush. If you think that sighting is great, wait until the next one!

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Grasshopper_Club

@Tdgraves, Hm very nice First Class start of your TR ;).

 

I'm very keen on that one, as Mana Pools and probably Matusadona are on the top of my list. Especially Zamb Exp. & Kanga.

 

Wow nice pictures, these Lions in that light are magnificent! Keep on going..

 

Cheers

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Peter Connan

Wonderful start, I am really looking forward to the rest!

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Atravelynn

I am sorry for the loss of your father-in-law.

 

You are better at spotting those first cheetahs than I was.  Maybe I should start all of my client-agent interactions with;  "I don't think that we can afford this, but give it a go and we'll see what we can do"

 

Sept can mean fire and haze and your aerial photo proves it.

 

Even without the lions that Mango and White Chocolate Cannelloni would make the whole trip worthwhile.

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Tdgraves
19 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

I am sorry for the loss of your father-in-law.

thanks @Atravelynn

19 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

You are better at spotting those first cheetahs than I was.  Maybe I should start all of my client-agent interactions with;  "I don't think that we can afford this, but give it a go and we'll see what we can do"

it was Lewis our guide, not me..

19 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

Sept can mean fire and haze and your aerial photo proves it.

 

Indeed, on our last trip to Hwange in 2011, we saw very little game due to a huge fire right next to camp, which eventually crossed into Bots

 

Even without the lions that Mango and White Chocolate Cannelloni would make the whole trip worthwhile.

it was only ok...

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Tdgraves

Day 2: Morning drive, Somalisa, 3/9/17

 

Somalisa was virtually unrecognisable compared to our first visit back in 2011. African Bush Camps have obviously invested a lot of money to compete with the luxury Botswana and South African markets. The famous elephant pool still exists, but they have built another one for the humans. The rooms used to be simple bush tents with outdoor bathrooms. Now, although they are called tents, they really are luxury rooms. They are clearly interior designed and are stunning. The camp was exceptionally well run and the staff were all friendly and helpful. As you could tell from yesterday afternoon's drive, our guide was keen and when he suggested a 5.15 am wake up with 5.30 am breakfast and leave at 6 am, this just seemed like the correct time to leave. However, it became apparent that this was an early start as a) it was still dark at 5.30 to walk to breakfast and B) most mornings the staff hadn't finished setting up the food. However, our honeymoon couple were happy to go with the flow and we were usually just leaving as everyone else surfaced for breakfast. As yesterday was only really a half day, I had the 5D again today.

 

Our first sighting was a secretary bird couple on their nest

 

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We had a quick glimpse of a bearded woodpecker, but it did not want to pose and then a new bird - red-billed teal

 

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I heard parrots, so we stopped to investigate - Meyer's

 

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As we were looking, we had a glimpse of a cheetah running along the bush line. We turned to investigate and could not see it again, so Lewis set off on foot. When he returned he said "let's go and see them". I don't think the Americans quite understood what he meant. "Walking?!!?". It completely blew their minds! It was the 4 young cheetah from yesterday....

 

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We would let them get comfortable and then creep a bit closer

 

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Lewis had walked up to them 4 times and this was the closest he had managed thus far

 

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Eventually they decided that they had enough human interaction and they left

 

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We returned to the vehicle with huge grins on our faces!

 

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We had a coffee break at a waterhole popular with the elephants

 

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And then set off back towards camp

 

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We felt compelled to explain to our vehicle mates that these two game drives were in no way representative of what a safari is normally like and that they should not expect the rest of them to reach the same dizzy heights.....little did we know!

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michael-ibk

Well, walking up to Cheetahs is pretty exceptional - very cool! You don't happen to know the name/number of the mother?I'm wondering if it could be "13", the one I saw (also with three young ones) two years ago.

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Tdgraves
7 minutes ago, michael-ibk said:

Well, walking up to Cheetahs is pretty exceptional - very cool! You don't happen to know the name/number of the mother?I'm wondering if it could be "13", the one I saw (also with three young ones) two years ago.

 

@michael-ibk they were 4 siblings....and yes, it was very cool!

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michael-ibk

Ah ok. But I was also told by the guide that we had seen four brothers and when I consulted the Zim Cheetah project they told me, rubbish, mom with three young ones. :)

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Game Warden

@Tdgraves Cheetah sighting. Oh my. On foot. Spectacular. One day I'll get back to Hwange...

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Tdgraves
3 minutes ago, Game Warden said:

@Tdgraves Cheetah sighting. Oh my. On foot. Spectacular. One day I'll get back to Hwange...

 

You must @Game Warden it is a stunning park and probably my favourite Zim Park (must whisper that - likely to get lynched for the mana pools heresy!)

 

p.s. can you add an “s” to my title?  Just getting used to a new keyboard...

Edited by Tdgraves
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Atravelynn
5 hours ago, Tdgraves said:

 

You must @Game Warden it is a stunning park and probably my favourite Zim Park (must whisper that - likely to get lynched for the mana pools heresy!)

 

p.s. can you add an “s” to my title?  Just getting used to a new keyboard...

I assume you want it to read Mana Pools and not Mana Spool.  Right?

 

We are all impressed with the cheetah walk!

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Zim Girl

@Tdgraves

 

Lovely sighting of the cheetah on foot - wonderful stuff.

 

We also stayed at Somalisa in 2011, on our first trip to Zim.

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Tdgraves

Day 2 Somalisa, birds around camp

 

A new bird in camp - red-billed spurfowl

 

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I wasn't able to sleep, so I sat on the shaded stoop and watched the birds

 

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Soon it would be time for the next drive....

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