September 01 – Upon arrival in Johannesburg, I flew to Harare and connected onto my scheduled charter flight to Mana Pools. The park is located on the Zambezi River bordering Zambia. I was thrilled to be back in southern Africa.
Darryl, who would be my guide for the next few days, met me at the airstrip and we took our time game driving our way back to Vundu Tented Camp.
September 02 – 04. Over my four nights at Vundu, I was struck by the beauty of the Park itself, and Vundu proved to be an exceptional base from which to explore it. This was also my first direct exposure to Zimbabwean guides, generally thought to be the best in Africa given the rigorous, several years-long licensing and training process they must pass. And they most decidedly did not disappoint.
One of the most distinctive aspects of Mana Pools – and Vundu – and one of the things which drew me to this place – are the different types of safari activities which I hadn’t done before – walking safaris, for example, and most significantly for me, canoeing safaris. I did two canoeing safaris over my four days there – one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and they proved to be experiences which I will never forget.
I certainly enjoyed my photography each and every day and was amazed at the various ways we were able to explore.
Overall highlights from Mana Pools:
- Very close encounters with a couple of the area’s most treasured local elephant residents, Tusker and Boswell.
- Canoeing safaris on the Zambezi, hugging the embankment for stretches as we encountered dozens and dozens of hippos, not more; elephants crossing the river in front of us, big Nile crocodiles on the banks, a variety of other birds and wildlife.
Short walking safaris into the bush, getting low to the ground while viewing lions and a den of African hunting dog pups.
I was also excited to meet Nick Murray, acclaimed guide and owner of Vundu, as well as our AAC clients.
September 5-6 – I was driven to the airstrip to be picked up by Ruckomechi Camp, where I would be staying the next two nights. Within 10 minutes of the pickup, on our way to camp, we were viewing a leopard and two lions, a big male and a lioness we we’re viewing. It was the start of another great few days.
The camp itself has an expansive outdoor dining area, with a beautiful view up and down the Zambezi River and across the river of the mountains in Zambia. During my check in at the camp, it was also exciting to be greeted by an elephant, who casually strolled towards me on the dining deck, around various empty tables and the table with wine and other drinks.
My guide, Engelbert, proved to be outstanding as well. His knowledge of the wildlife and Park itself was truly impressive – and my vehicle mates and I watched in awe as he was able to predict where a leopard – a very elusive animal to begin with – would be emerging from the bush after he had disappeared into a thick brush when it was dark.
September 7-9 – On Friday I reluctantly left Mana Pools behind and took a charter flight over massive Lake Kariba to the first of my three camps in Hwange National Park.
I was collected from the airstrip and transferred to Camp Hwange by a young woman, one of the youngest and only women in the country training to be a fully qualified Zimbabwean guide. She was extremely impressive.
This was the one camp I had a private guide and vehicle for and my guide Washington ensured that my Camp Hwange experience was also extremely memorable. Among other highlights, I was thrilled to experience:
- My first African wildcat, serval and cheetah sightings,
- Plus lions and roan antelope
- A panoramic perspective of lions stalking a large herd of buffalo at dusk, with elephants also gathering by the watering hole and hippos expressing themselves through a variety of grunts
Some close up views of southern crowned cranes
September 10-12 – I was transferred next to the eastern side of the Park – Somalisa Acacia. This camp featured a watering hole right behind the deck and the pool behind the camp – which reliably drew dozens and dozens of elephants to drink every single day. It was fantastic to be able to watch this parade of magnificent animals every day from merely feet away. On my last morning there, we were treated to a large visiting herd of Cape buffalo.
Over the course of my stay, we had a few different lion sightings, including a few members of Cecil the lion’s former pride.
September 13 -15 – I was transferred to Davison’s Camp for the my last three nights, and was similarly privileged to watch a wide variety of elephants and other wildlife come drink at the watering hole in front of the camp.
The landscape near both Somalisa Acacia and Davison’s was different from that of Mana Pools and even from that of Camp Hwange. There were more wide open, flat spaces with various herds of animals grazing, including but certainly not limited to zebras, eland, ostriches, and baboons.
The transfer to Davison’s (in the Makalolo concession) got off to a memorable start, with a close up sighting of lions dining on a freshly killed porcupine. One of the lions chose to bring its meal over to the back of our vehicle, where he was able to continue dining while savoring the shade of our vehicle.
We also enjoyed watching a giraffe trying to have a romantic moment with one another. Also closely followed the saga of a poor zebra who had been hurt on its leg and been deserted by his herd. We witnessed part of a pride of lions approaching the camp at night, and feared for the fate of the wounded zebra. (We discovered that our fears were realized my last morning there).
In the Makalolo Concession, I enjoyed further wildlife sightings, soaking it all up with my camera.
September 16-17 – Bid farewell to Zimbabwe – first on a charter flight from Hwange to Victoria Falls, where I connected to my flight to Johannesburg and then back to the United States through a connection in Europe.
The trip was one I will never forget!