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


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Amazing detail on the elephant photos on this page!


Edit: And wouldn't you know, my post goes on a new page haha.

Edited by Marks
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In camp, 12/9/17


The milky way was amazing on our first night sitting around the camp fire for pre-dinner drinks, so I decided to grab the tripod this evening. We also had a little talk about the stars from the thus-far hidden guide, who seemed to have been relegated to the canoe safaris only. We were sat next to him at dinner and he was delightful. If we'd have known that he existed, I would have complained and asked for him to be our guide....






For some reason, they had decided to celebrate Chris' birthday again, so that came as a complete surprise, 10 days later...




Some camera trap images












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Thanks for your "warning parable" @Tdgraves.    I am sorry to hear of your poor guiding + camp experience. 


Nice going on the Cheetahs!     I hope they bring in a female for the lonely bachelors. 

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Thanks @offshorebirder I didn't want to go on about it too much :(, as it was only 2 days, but it has never happened to us before and the last place you expect it to happen is in Zim, especially in Mana Pools...

It was actually very stressful. Every time we saw others walking or at the dogs, it was highlighted what we were missing out on. In the down time, we were just angry. Even after we had moved camps, I could not get the experience out of my head (there's a song about that) and so I had to compose an email draft to my agent, in order to get it off my chest and be able to enjoy the end of the trip.

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Day 12, morning drive, Zambezi lifestyles, 13/9/17


The dogs were very easy to find today, right outside Vundu camp, accompanied by about 10 vehicles. Luckily they were on open ground, right next to the road and there was plenty of space for everyone. I'm giving you all a wild dog overload warning. I had the 5D today.




We had barely settled down, when something grabbed their attention






and they were off




pursued by about half of the vehicles










However, we had a good position next to the pups, so we stayed...




which was a good decision, as it was not long before the adults returned










which of course made the pups think that it was time for breakfast










































They all settled down for a nap




We were very happy and agreed to leave for a coffee break. I was expecting to stop at one of the numerous river overlooks which we passed, but no, he had other ideas and drove us, at speed, all the way to long pool (about 1 hour and 15 mins) with only a short stop en route, for an elephant that was largely obscured by a bush. We were not impressed. Everyone was really hot and frazzled. The drive back towards camp was more sedate.




Just before the turn off to the camp road, we spotted a trumpeter hornbill that was actually close to the road for once, but the guide was very reluctant to stop.




He had no choice but to stop for the next sighting though - a mating pair of lions with no shade for us to park in 














And as if the morning drive hadn't been long enough, who was waiting for us as we got back to camp? None other than the star attraction himself....




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Wild dog overload is decidedly a good thing!


Glad you had some excellent sightings and experiences despite the guide trouble.

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Superb trip report. Shame about the guide though. As you rightly said, one doesn't expect it in Zimbabwe and of all the places, Mana Pools! Very difficult to remain positive when you don't get along with the guide. I hope such fate doesn't befall anyone. 

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Lovely sequence of Wild Dogs although it's making me angry to keep reading about that guide.

Still, seeing Boswell will always make things better:)

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Day 12, transfer to Kanga Camp and evening drive, 13/9/17


On the previous evening we had been told that we would transfer after lunch, so we did not bother packing before we left camp in the morning. When we returned from our epic drive, I saw a laden ABC vehicle and figured out that they were expecting to take us with then, now. However, an alternative plan was made, such that our guide took us half way, as fast as was humanly possible and we would meet a vehicle from Kanga and transfer onto that. I felt no guilt at this, as we were just doing what we were told. Therefore after a leisurely lunch, we transferred in the heat of the day down to Kanga. As soon as we arrived, the staff worked out that we had not been happy at Zambezi lifestyles and immediately set us at ease. Our new guide, Reggie, had a long chat with us about what we expected and seemed upset that we had such a bad experience in their sister camp. Now, I'm not sure whether this was safari Karma or just because we were long staying guests of ABC, but we were given the honeymoon tent, which was amazing and went a long way to relax us and help forget the previous days experience. It is a very spacious "tent" with a deck overlooking the pan as well as an outdoor shower and roll-top bath, with a four-poster bed, his and hers sinks and spacious indoor seating area. It wasn't until we met for the evening game drive that we realised that we had actually been upgraded, as we walked past all of the other tents, which were like those in Lifestyles!


We were paired with a honeymoon couple and one of ABCs American agents, who was doing a whistlestop tour of their properties. The drive was quiet, as we expected, as this area of the park can be, but it was a breath of fresh air having an interested, professional guide again












And of course, we finally got some sundowners....




the safari was back on track!

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Peter Connan


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Day 13, Morning and evening drive, Kanga, 14/9/17


I had the 7D today and it was just the 4 of us on the drive, which was pretty quiet.














Back for breakfast, where the honeymoon couple asked if they could visit the river and pools, as it was their last day. Goodness knows why they did not ask sooner, but out guide, being a good sport, took them back out again for another hot 4 hour drive, before picking us up again in the evening...


Some game from the pan in camp, where we were cooler






















Time for the evening drive, which was even more quiet, however the couple had managed to see Boswell on their expedition, so they were pleased, if a little tired!


We spotted a new bird - a collared palm thrush




and saw the juvenile martial eagle again, but he would not fly!




and back for dinner.....

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Great to have an enthusiastic guide again! Lovely photos!

A question - in your picture of the Guineafowl - are there 2 species there or is is a male and female? (I presume Crested Guineafowl?)

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6 minutes ago, TonyQ said:

A question - in your picture of the Guineafowl - are there 2 species there or is is a male and female? (I presume Crested Guineafowl?)


@TonyQ - two species. Apparently the interloper had joined the flock a few weeks prior and then never left...

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Some Kanga camp astrophotography


An advantage of having the raised deck, was that I could have another go at the stars.


Milky way over Kanga pan, with and without the spotting light






Every night we heard the resident leopard very close (although everything sounds close in a tent!). I didn't try and get up and find him though....

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Lovely nightscapes. How long do you leave the shutter open for? 

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Day 14, Morning drive Kanga Camp, 15/9/17


The honeymoon couple had to go straight to the airstrip this morning, so we had Reggie to ourselves, once we had dropped them and the pilot off.






He tried very hard to find us an Arnot's chat, a local speciality that we had so far failed to find. we drove though a wooded area where he often sees them on several drives, but with no luck :(


It was a birdy drive though. We managed to see all 5 species of hornbill that they have as well as a glimpse of (but not a shot of) a purple-crested turaco








We did see some mammals...




and we went to another water hole




















and we had our coffee break at another water hole, but it was pretty quiet




and back to camp for brunch

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3 minutes ago, lmSA84 said:

Lovely nightscapes. How long do you leave the shutter open for? 


thanks @lmSA84 22.9 and 34 seconds respectively. I do not have a timer, so I have to count and usually leave it open for far less time than intended, meaning it takes a few goes before getting the result I am after!! The aim is usually about 20-30 secs. Any longer can lead to movement blur of the stars. If you are interested, I would direct you to @Peter Connan 's guide to astrophotography as a good starting point:


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I'm glad that we have reached the point where you could finally get rid of that guide, like Zimgirl I got angry reading about him. Very sorry you had to experience that. I remember Reggie from Kanga, a very nice man who I enjoyed chatting with at dinner, he appeared to be a true professional. Really nice pics of the little Elephant, and love the Dogs of course.

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Peter Connan

@Tdgraves, does your camera not have 20 and 30 second exposures as standard? I thought 30 seconds was pretty standard as the longest set exposure time? Is that only true for Nikon?


You really got good results this time though!


There seem to be a huge amount of Emerald Spotted Wood-doves? Another very iconic call.

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@Peter Connan I don’t think so, but i’ll check...


ESWD definitely the most numerous dove in mana pools

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Day 14, evening drive, Kanga camp, 15/9/17


We were joined by the Swiss girl who we had shared a vehicle with at the river. It was very hot and therefore it was a very quiet drive












However, after dinner, we were treated to a leopard coming to the pan to drink :D

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Some shots from the motion camera, Kanga Camp


Reggie helped me sett up the camera near to the edge of the pan (much to the eles annoyance - they were keen to get to their favourite spot). Although we didn't catch the leopard, it gave a good idea of the visitors to the pan. Our tent is in the background...












It seemed like a good spot for a mud bath





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Day 15, back to the UK, 16/9/17


Our initial plan of a shortened game drive prior to our flight was thwarted, due to a last minute charter by Wilderness Safaris, to pick up some extra guests from Ruckomechi, which had to leave much earlier than we had scheduled. So, we had a slightly later start than for a game drive and went straight to the airstrip.




Reggie and David (the pilot) getting the plane ready




Near Ruckomechi






It was unusual that there was no-one at the Ruckomechi strip to meet us and clear the runway when we arrived. This was explained by the fact that the large tour group seemed to work on their own schedule. They eventually turned up over an hour after our scheduled departure time and then wanted to have speeches and photos before loading up! Our pilot was having none of it and got them straight onto the plane. It was really annoying, as it meant we could have had our drive. They seemed completely oblivious to the disruption that they had caused. The tour leader then proceeded to ask if we could fly over the pools and the Zambezi. She got short shrift, especially as we had to stop in Kariba to refuel.






There was a school trip at the airport, which seemed like it was stuck in a time warp.






Refuelling complete, we were off to Harare.










We were escorted through the deserted domestic terminal, which was like a 1970s airport museum and then had a nice brunch in the terminal, as we had to wait to check in to our flight to Joburg. The Comair flight was uneventful. The immigration queue at that time of day was much better than we are used to in OR Tambo and our luggage was off quickly. Our luck was not to last though, as we tried to check in to our BA flight, the computer said "no". We had originally booked seats in business using miles, but when they released seats in first, I had upgraded them. It seemed as though our tickets had not been reissued and so we had to stand around for 45 minutes whilst they called London to get them reissued. Luckily we were on the later flight and had plenty of time to spare. However, it was not a first class experience and on top of an already long day, by then, we had almost had enough. The tickets were reissued and when we eventually got through the passport line, we could relax a bit in the lounge, before our flight back to London, which was just as fabulous as on the way out, but I was just too tired to eat or drink much. It was an easy drive home, back to the reality of my Father-in-Law having been admitted to hospital whilst we were away, for what turned out to be the last time, so the relaxation and stress relief of the safari did not last long.


So that's it. The end of our longest safari to date! With the exception of our two days at Zambezi Expeditions, we had a fabulous time. Each camp was different, with different game and birds producing thousands of photos....

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A great report, with a really interesting mix of environments, and beautifully illustrated. A shame about one of the guides but overall it sounds like an excellent trip

I am sorry to hear about your Father-in-law.

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