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Beautiful plumage, lovely scenery - an overdue report from Zimbabwe


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This report is 17 months late, but its my 2019 New Year resolution to get it off my iPad and onto Safaritalk!


It’d been three years since we first visited Zimbabwe and I was super excited to be returning to Mana Pools, seeing Vic Falls for the first time and getting to know Hwange. Before MrR, DrS and I hit the dust we headed on a ridiculous routing to VFA. Here is our full itinerary:


24th Aug - Manchester to Amsterdam with a night in the Citizen M Schiphol
25th Aug – AMS – LHR – JNB
26th Aug – JNB – VFA, 2 nights at Bayete Lodge
28th Aug – Hwange, 3 nights at Kennedy 2 camp
31st Aug – Chitake Springs, 2 nights at Chitake 3
2nd Sept – Mana Pools, 4 nights at Old Ndungu 2 camp
6th Sept – the whole ridiculous HRE-JNB-LHR-AMS-MAN saga again!


Our trip was privately guided by his safari-highness @Doug Macdonald and as usual the trip was perfectly orchestrated by his team in Harare. 

 

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In the port of Amsterdam, there’s a sailor who sings, of the dreams that he brings….


So what kind of busy fools would fly to London from Manchester via Amsterdam? The kind that can’t bring themselves to pay £2k per person more for a BA club world ticket direct from Manchester!  Well they don’t call the UK “treasure island” for nothing and I was shaking my fist at our so called national carrier all the way to Amsterdam – shame on BA and their profiteering ways. 
Anyway, a few words on Amsterdam – one of Europe’s finest pedestrian friendly cities and a personal favourite to boot. Plenty of travellers find themselves with a fair amount of time to kill at Schiphol and they would do well to avail themselves of a night in the airport CitizenM and a mooch around Amsterdam. Whilst the hotel’s futuristic rooms (some with questionably open-minded in-room ablutions) are not for everyone. If you are travelling alone or with someone you are over familiar with then the hotel is fabulous. I have stayed at CitizenMs before and what these hotels get right are the little touches like sockets, hairdryers, lounges, bars and public spaces you can find a quiet corner in. Almost all guests spend a minimal amount of time in their room. This hotel was welcoming with free sushi being casually offered to anyone loitering in the various nooks and crannies in the lounge and bar. 

 

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After our pleasant stay we headed into Amsterdam proper for a walk about town. We enjoyed the sunshine, meandering around the canals and stopping for a leisurely lunch. It was soon time to head back to Schiphol for our flight to London, where we availed ourselves of the shower facilities in the BA lounge before heading for a nice flat bed and a glass of champers, we were on our way to Africa at long last!

 

 

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Edited by ld1
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Victoria Falls - Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down….


At immigration we spent our time trying to calculate how many minutes it took to issue a visa and how many people were actually in-front of us. 2 hours later, a further 12 paces to “baggage reclaim” and some burrowing through the piles of bags, we finally made it into the Zimbabwe sunshine. We arrived at Bayete Lodge with 4 mins to spare until our sunset cruise pick-up. So after some hasty hellos and room allocations we were back on the bus for our float down the Zambezi with all the other tourists. 

 

We had chosen the “big boat” Zambezi Explorer. The “posh” signature deck had a wedding party on it and so we slummed it on the lowest of the two luxury decks. This turned out to be a great choice as everyone else headed upstairs to the middle deck and we shared the whole lower deck with two other people. Beers, check, sunset, check, waterside elephants, check. I would say there is no finer way to spend your first evening in Vic Falls. Yes, the Zambezi Explorer is mahoosive and I am sure it was more like a booze cruise upstairs. However, we had a relaxing time in the warm evening sunshine chatting with a lovely honeymoon couple from Australia. He’d never left Oz before and wasn’t too keen to come to Africa. His lovely and wise bride had other ideas and they were at the end of a Botswana Safari and on their way to the Maldives. He had fallen head over heels in love with Africa and it was lovely to see that misty- eyed look we all get on our first visit. I don’t think it will be long before they are back and I think I did a convincing job of telling them they must go walking in Mana!


We had dinner that evening at Bayete which is a super B&B with warm hosts, great food, good rooms, lovely grounds and a cockerel called Kojak

 

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Edited by ld1
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The next morning DrS went rafting (like a fool) and MrR and I had a lazy breakfast. We took a taxi into the un-remarkable town of Vic Falls for a spot of souvenir shopping. I purchased a nice carved Elephant head and some raffia animals before heading for lunch at the Vic Falls hotel. The latter turned out to be a great choice with good food and even better gin. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I had such a pleasant, sunny, boozy lunch and it was un-expectedly fabulous. To top off the afternoon the mongoose and warthogs were on fine form and after watching them play we scooted away just as the hordes arrived for afternoon tea. 

 

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As we lounged in the shade at Bayete DrS returned and regaled us with tales of his near death experience of being thrown out of a dingy on a class five rapid. The colour eventually returned to his cheeks during his second beer. Around 5pm Doug came strolling barefoot through the lodge booming a hearty Zimbabwean welcome. More beers accompanied the inevitable cricket chatter and general catch-up, then a quick change before we went to dinner at the Safari Lodge. 

 

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Now a slight detour. Before  DrS returned I was flicking through the collection of old books at the lodge and came across a real corker called. Dogs of the World published circa 1950, These are two of my favourite images, even though the first one looks like a cute calendar picture the caption had me stunned! 

 

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I’d wanted to dine at Saf Lodge (not the Boma) for the water hole but we were a bit late for sunset. The waterhole is lit at night and it has quite a spooky look to it. We did manage to see an elephant in the gloom and Doug kept trying to point out the Hyena he could see with his bionic eyesight but I couldn’t spot it. Dinner was very nice and although I don’t think I’d want to stay at the lodge as it is very big, I’d definitely recommend drinks/dinner there. 

 

 

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Edited by ld1
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kittykat23uk

From the title I thought you had gone to Norway to look for the Norwegian blue! 

 

Eta,  also that routing seems totally mental when you can fly KLM direct from schipol to JNB if not Harare. Why on earth did you have to go via London?  Did you need BA specifically for reward flights? 

Edited by kittykat23uk
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@kittykat23uk Well it would take a long time, but I’m fond of Norway so it’d be fun trying. 

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We chose to visit the falls early the next morning before driving to Hwange and what is there to say other than beautiful falls viewed from well thought out trails. I can’t help thinking though that there is probably only about 4 days a year when you can see the falls at an impressive flow before they are obscured by the spray. I did have a Tarzan moment as there is a spot where, if you were a child in the UK/US during 1960s and 70s, you get a kind of flash back to the opening credits of the TV show and that was pretty cool. 

 

 

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@kittykat23uk We wanted to collect the Avios if we could as we use them for upgrades to the US to visit family. We could have gone economy but initially we were looking at Premium and the PE fare from Manchester via London was the same as the Business Class fare from AMS and its fair to say I am ALWAYS looking for a reason and justification to fly up front :D

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kittykat23uk

Ok I guess it sort of makes sense lol! 

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Looking forward to your report. From memory you can fly with any other airline that is in the same group as BA and claim your Avios air miles, not that we would fly with BA again. All airline direct business class direct flights are expensive. 

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AfricIan

Did you book your MAN to AMS separately from your AMS to VF legs @ld1?  If so then the ludicrously high APD of long-haul flights out of the UK in a "premium class" just adds to the nonsense fares BA seem to be able to get away with on some routes.  LHR to JNG used to have the reputation of being BA's most profitable route in the days of the old BA/SAA stitch-up, I don't know if that still holds true.  

 

ps - Looking forward to following along

Edited by AfricIan
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michael-ibk

Great to get another Zim report, looking forward to this very much!

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@AfricIan Yes, we booked our Manchester AMS flights separately which is why we chose to overnight in AMS on the way out. Flights between MAN and AMS are regularly less than £100 return if you time it right    . We were less concerned about missing the connection on the way home, but on the way out we wanted to be sure we would be in AMS and to be honest its is one of my favourite European cities so its never a hardship for me to spend time there. 

 

I have been nervous about getting out to places ever since we lost 5 days in Cape Town before a trip to Botswana during the Icelandic Volcano debacle. Trying to get from MAN-MUN-JNB to pick up the main Botswana segment was a whole new level of stress and at one point we were going to book a train from London to Munich as German airspace had opened earlier than UK airspace. Anyway, we made it to Botswana on the day we were due to pick up our Safari in Maun in the end, but only after I spent around £100 on phone calls to Lufthansa and many sleepless nights.  I was scarred by the whole experience though and am quite the contingency planner these days!

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Smokey air that I adore… all is quiet on the Hwange front


Safari Day 1


Having previously driven from Harare to Mana Pools I knew the journey to Hwange would be similar but shorter. After the bush, villages and roadblocks had rolled by we turned into Hwange and my overriding memory of this was crossing what I thought was the park boundary and then being surprised at how much human settlement there was. Quite a few villages along the way and it made me think of discussions past on Safaritalk about human-wildlife conflict. Finally the scattering of dwellings fell away and we rolled into Main camp around lunchtime. As tempting as it was to visit the pub (yes a pub) we only stopped to stretch our legs whilst Doug completed the formalities and we soon hopped into our Safari vehicle and through the gates into the wilderness. 

 

Rolling along to Hwange 

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Poacher Dog Patrols at Main Camp

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Edited by ld1
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We were meandering towards our camp whilst most other safari-goers were heading in the other direction back to main camp for lunch. It was pretty quiet both in terms of game and people. We stopped a few times to check out waterholes along the way but it was a pretty sleepy day in Hwange. We stayed a while at Kennedy 1 pan as it had a nice collection of Zebra, Wildebeest, Impala and Kudu, plus two rather impressive ground hornbills strutting around like they owned the place. 

 

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Something that struck me on that journey was how beautiful the colours were. I hadn’t really thought about the vegetation in Hwange and most of the photos I’d see were at waterholes/close up’s. It was an un-expected pleasure to find the autumn-like colours of the trees against the clear blue sky. It made for a beautiful backdrop throughout our stay. 

 

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wilddog

Gosh Main Camp does not seem to have changed much. (2006 for me) 

 

@ld1Is that stuffed martial eagle still in Reception?

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@wilddog We didn’t actually go into reception. I was top busy watching the Anti-Poaching pooches :D

 

I wouldn’t be suprised if it is though. 2006 - sounds like you need a trip back!

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AfricIan

Thanks for the clarification on your flight arrangements @ld1, I've often wondered about doing something similar but have always ended up with a more realistic fare from someone other than our "National Carrier".

 

@wilddog has beaten me to the comment about Main Camp, it looks just like I remember it from 1997 - or is that simply nostalgia taking over?

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We arrived into Kennedy 2 camp after ambling through what can only be described as an enchanted forest. I think the camp itself is public, but exclusive use, and what an absolutely stunning setting it is. If someone said to me that a camp was in a forest I might be a bit concerned that there wouldn’t be an amazing view, but my what a vibe this place had, like a fairy tale. We dropped our bags, freshened up, settled in for lunch and thus began our routine for the next few days. 

 

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That evening we went for a drive but it became clear that the late rains had left natural pans still open for business and so it would be much harder to spot game over the next few days. We ambled around looking for some Cheetah but a Somalisa driver told us they had headed off into the thicker bush. We ended up at Kennedy 2 pan which would be our sundowner spot each evening as it was closer to camp and meant we could push the boundaries of “sunset”. 

 

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Edited by ld1
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@AfricIan I suspect main camp was the same as 97 I certainly wouldn’t be suprised. I remember thinking on our first trip to Zim in 2014 that Harare was like a city preserved in aspic -  the late 1980’s but frozen in time. It was an odd feeling, a sort of de-ja-vu, we’d turn a corner and suddenly the city felt like my home town as it was in my teenage years. 

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Game Warden

I'd go back to Hwange tomorrow if I could...

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twaffle

I haven't visited Hwange but it is a place I'd love to experience.  Looking forward to more.

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Tom Kellie

~ @ld1

 

What a surprise to see a photo of a pair of white Pekingese dogs in the book at your lodge.

 

Thank you for this trip report with interesting commentary.

 

It's fun to read!

 

Tom K.

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AfricIan

Thanks @ld1, we were actually staying at "Elephant Sands" which was nominally outside the NP (but inside the railway line).  The owners were trying to get permission to put a track through from the lodge into the heart of the park but were hitting a lot of bureaucracy!! This meant to get into the NP we had to leave the lodge, cross the railway line and head down the road a bit before turning into the NP.  Although we didn't have to stop at the NP gate, we did have to swing by Main Camp once a day to sort paperwork.

 

I've often wondered what happened to "Elephant Sands"

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Safari day 2

 

We awoke to the booming ground hornbills which only sought to make camp feel even more dream like. Lions had been noisy over breakfast and we decided to head out to try and find them. I should note at this point that Hwange is bloody freezing in the mornings but we were well prepared with hats, fleeces and blankets. Never the less the wind was still biting! We found lion tracks but sadly no lions, Doug was convinced they were hidden in the grass and we criss crossed the tracks for a while hoping to spot a flicking tail but to no avail.  Here is a selection from a fairly quiet day 2. 

 

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Edited by ld1
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