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Eyes of the Elephant Safari to Zimbabwe by Szilvia Hegyi and Elena Theodosiou

- Monday, September 01, 2014

Our safari to Zimbabwe started with an overnight at the African Rock Hotel in Johannesburg. The hotel is in close proximity to the airport and a great option for overnight stays. The staff was friendly and the food was great! After a delicious breakfast we were ready to start our adventure in Zimbabwe.


Our flight to Harare was a little less than 2 hours. Our guide Nick Murray met us at the airport and together we boarded our charter flight to Mana Pools, and already enjoyed the fantastic scenery of Zimbabwe from the air (just over an hour flight).

On arrival in Mana we began game viewing immediately. Our first sighting 15 minutes from the airstrip was Fred (Astaire because he can dance!) who then promptly went onto his hind legs (not once but twice!).  What a nice introduction to Mana Pools, wow! We enjoyed a lovely sundowner at the Zambezi River and continued our afternoon game drive with many nice elephant, jackal and buffalo sightings. We enjoyed a very nice dinner at Vundu Camp and a restful night listening to a hippos and birds through the night.

Dancing elephant at Mana pools. Dancing elephant at Mana pools.

Dancing elephant at Mana pools. Dancing elephant at Mana pools.

Next morning we went on a shared walking safari with Alistair Chambers who took us on a quest to find the wild dog den. It was a great walk, cool morning and Alistair led us – barefoot – which was a wonder to all the Americans! We got to the den and crawled on our behinds, the dogs were behind heavy brush – however we could see the puppies and also the minders who were left behind to take care of them.  While we were sitting there the rest of the pack came back and we could hear the whole greeting ceremony!  Lots of chirping and retching….once the rest of the pack realized we were there a lot of loud growling ensued and after a while Alistair pulled us out slowly.  It was an amazing experience!

In the afternoon we drove around with Nick Murray until we found Mudzi. We parked the vehicle and the second walk of the day began. Our walk involved walking over that fine Kalahari sand which is like walking on a beach – challenging.  When we got to Mudzi – he was with a whole lot of other elephants: Some juveniles, some females with young calves.

Herd of other elephants: Some juveniles, some females with young calves at Kalahari sand Eyes of the Elephant Safari to Zimbabwe by Szilvia Hegyi and Elena Theodosiou

Mudzi was close to the river waiting for water to seep up through the sand and very busy drinking and almost dozing. We walked to the river bend and sat down in front of the ellies, only a few feet away from them. We were closer than we ever imagined being to a wild bull elephant but it was so peaceful it was surreal! We then pulled back a little bit and sat around some trees, sometimes on buffalo poop and many thorns, but we did not care. All we cared about was the amazing elephant sighting we had a chance to experience.  We spent the next two + hours sitting with the ellies. We actually got mock charged by a mommy and managed to take a short video. It was amazing that one ‘Hey’ from Nick was all it took and she backed off and walked away like nothing had happened (while we were already behind the trees)!

Close ecncounter of Mudzi the elephant sat down in front of the ellies, very close to the elephant

Next morning we had a morning game drive and came back to camp to collect bags and say goodbye to the staff.  Nick drove us to Mana West where the Ruckomechi vehicle met us. Both of us cried when we left Vundu. Nick was lovely and gave us lots of hugs and told us we could come back, but I think he was a little overwhelmed with the two crying woman on his hands!

We left Mana West and drove slowly to Ruckomechi – our guide was Gadrick. Upon arrival at Ruckomechi we enjoyed a greeting committee of 3 elephants roaming around the main area of the camp. Even when we returned for our high tea we found the elephants were in camp and walking around the dining room area!  Elena had to move from her seat because one of the ellies started to walk in her direction.

For our afternoon we choose to enjoy a flat bottom boat ride. It was lovely being out and the Zambezi river was truthfully awe-inspiring – very wide with lots of islands.  It was a little windy so the water was a little choppy and a little brisk. Again, we had some fantastic elephant sightings, saw ellies roaming around on the islands. Lots of hippos and crocodiles completed the idyllic atmosphere of the river. When the sun was starting to set we came round the bend and could see a lovely little fire on the banks.

Elephant sighting with beautiful sunset at Zambezi river

We had wonderful sundowners with a chef actually cooking wings for us over the fire.  The vehicle was waiting for us and the gentleman who had driven the vehicle then took the boat back to camp.  So after very nice sundowners (gorgeous sunset) and a walk through the ‘adrenaline grass’ to water the daisies we were off on a night game drive. Dinner was delicious as always, the food is definitely one of the wonderful elements of the entire safari experience.

The next morning we had breakfast and a game drive, came back to camp for nice brunch and then onto  Mana West for our scheduled charter flight departure. We very briefly saw a lovely young female leopard (our 1st leopard sighting on this safari!) right on the side of the track – gorgeous but we were both so taken aback no photos were taken. What a nice farewell sighting for our departure from Ruckomechi!

From Mana the flight took about two hours to Hwange. We were lucky and got a Caravan plane.  On arrival in Hwange we were met by Themba who was our guide at Little Makalolo. He and his lovely wife Bee manage Little Makalolo Camp.

Our first afternoon we sat at the log pile elephant hide! It was probably the most perfect afternoon for this experience – clear sky with fluffy white clouds, tons of elephants coming in drinking and moving off with other elephants waiting to come and drink, and all the reflections of the sky and elephants in the water of the waterhole!! We could have sat there for hours.

Themba is a larger than life character who turned out to be a really great guide and saw things in the bush that ‘normal’ human eye cannot spot.

with the guide, Themba at Little Makalolo we sat at the log pile elephant hide! at Little Makalolo

reflections of the sky and elephants in the water of the waterhole! at  Little Makalolo

Continued on for the afternoon game drive and went and saw the site for the future Linkwasha Camp – which will be in the same approximate area of where the original Linkwasha was. Beautiful location with a wide open plain, the water hole is close to camp which will definitely be a big favorite. We had sundowners here again the ellies came down to drink while we had a lovely drink. Nice dinner with everyone sitting around the fire and lots of buffalos very close to the dining area.

The next day we went out early and first sighting of the day a female leopard busily plucking the feathers off a guinea fowl!  She was a distance from us but then Themba (the eagle eyed) saw that she had cubs hidden in a tree across the track behind our vehicles.  She eventually made her way across the track and called to her cubs so we saw the whole family! It was fantastic and everyone around the sighting was over the moon. We say some plains game and came back for brunch and enjoyed a nice siesta!

We had a great afternoon drive – and went and saw Davison’s camp which is a lovely alternative option in Hwange. The upstairs deck is a great addition to the renovated main area allowing travelers a fantastic view of the waterhole.

female leopard busily plucking the feathers off a guinea fowl! female leopard busily plucking the feathers off a guinea fowl!

Again nice sundowners, and great dinner at Little Makalolo for our last night at the camp. The next morning we left early to begin the drive to Hwange Main game viewing along the way. This turned out to be a great morning as we saw a very handsome lion pair (beautiful black maned lion and his lady love).  They were walking on the side of the road so we kept up with them for some time.  Fantastic photo opportunities and considering our only other lions were a few moth eaten, lazy lionesses at Vundu we were very happy to see them. We also had a fantastic ostrich sighting here – one poor male wooing two females – he was all over the place!  Lovely to see the joy of the mating dance!

 very handsome lion his lady love lioness

On arrival at Hwange Main we were met by Lauren who drove us through to Ivory lodge which is an excellent addition to the Mother Africa voluntourism itinerary. We also went and saw Khulu Ivory which is looking gorgeous.

Departed by road to Bulawayo, which was about 2 hours. Continued onto Amalinda which is about 20 minutes away – what a special place!  The camp is built among rocky outcrops and offers a wide variety of activities including walks to rock paintings and a cultural opportunity to visit an orphanage. We had room 7 and 8 set in the one corner close together so this could also work for older kids. Room 7 has a little wooden bridge to the door and a lovely outside patio and an original rock painting inside the room, what a treat! Both rooms were gorgeous (the electric blankets on the beds!!). And the first hair dryer on the trip!!!

a Red Big Rock Amalinda Lodge built among rocky outcrops

a couple rhinos

After breakfast we went off to Ethandweni and met Lucien who is in charge of the orphanage. What an extraordinary man!  It was incredible what has been achieved and how well organized the orphanage is. We walked around the orphanage and looked at the rooms, the vegetable gardens (with the roster of who is on ‘baboon watch’) and met a few of the children.

The trip was ending, so sadly we drove to the Bulawayo Airport (a very impressive clean and tidy small airport) and flew back to Johannesburg. SA Airlink served us the best meal out of all our flights – a very nice cold chicken salad with a beautiful blueberry mousseycheesecakey pudding and crackers with cheese (and this is a very short flight about an hour and 20 minutes)!

After both of us having been on many safaris we can confidently say that Zimbabwe is one of the best safari destinations offering superb wildlife and cultural experience! We will be back!!!

- by: Szilvia Hegyi and Elena Theodosiou






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