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  • Mana Pools to Hwange trip report.

    Zimbabwe Trip 1 to 17 May 2013
    Matoba,Mana Pools,Matusadona,Chizarere,Hwange
    Day 1 Pretoria to Francistown 660km 7 hours

    Pretoria to Groblersbrug Botswana Border post 394km 4 hours
    Groblersbrug/Martinsdrift to Woodlands Stopover Francistown 266km 3hours
    The border crossing was very quick with friendly officials on both sides
    Passports only required. You have to pay for insurance and road tax. Rand or Pula acceptable.

    On the Botswana side we were checked for fresh meat , fruit and vegetables which are not allowed into Botswana.

    We refuelled at Sherwood a about 10 km into Botswana. They accept Rand, Pula and Visa Credit cards. We prefer the B151 which heads towards to Selebe Pikwe initially and then heads to the A1 just north of Palapye. This road is shorter with fewer 80km speed sections. The first 10km are badly potholed, but there are road works in progress.

    We booked a camp Site at Woodlands as it is very popular and we are fond of this well managed stopover. Braai packs, drinks, ice cream and a few basic items are available at their shop

    Day 2 Francistown to Big Cave camp site at Matobo via Bulawayo
    200km 3 hours driving and 1 hour to cross the border

    Woodlands to Plumtree Zimbabwe Border Post is quick on a good tarred road.
    The border crossing on the Zimbabwe side was rather slow with a lot of waiting in various queues.Passports, vehicle original registration paper and permission to drive vehicle if a company car are required. Zimbabwe road tax, insurance and carbon tax to be paid in US dollars. Amounts vary depending on vehicle cc and whether with a trailer. Officials are very friendly. There is a toll road along a section from Plumtree to Bulawayo. Toll fee is 1 US Dollar. Generally speaking roads in Zimbabwe are excellent and often better than equivalent roads in South Africa. Due to fruit and meat restrictions in Botswana we first topped up our supplies in Bulawayo about 100km after the Plumtree border, and then headed back to Matobo.

    We bought excellent meat at Waynes Butchery in Bulawayo (S20 11.639 E28 35.717 ) We had placed our order by email ( [email protected]) and were informed that it was frozen and vacuum packed, and ready for collection a few days before our arrival. From here we proceeded to the nearby Food Lovers Market for fruit and vegetables (S20 10.555 E28 35.394). After the shopping we took the Matobo road from Bulawayo to the Big Cave Camp Site (S20 30.327 E28 26.502). The campsite is well managed and has ablutions, hot showers, deep freeze, electricity, and is very close to the Big Cave Lodge which also offers top class accommodation and facilities. Camping cost R 100ppn. We can recommend this site as a good stopover close to the Matobo National Park. It is possible to make bookings on the internet. From here we took a leisurely drive to the National Park and proceeded to the Rhodes grave view site to photograph the majestic granite and bush veld scenery and watched the sun go down from this scenic spot. We saw very little game, other than a solitary klipspringer, and a number of Zebra at our camp site.

    Day 3 Bulawayo to Karoi via Chegutu 558 km 7 hours
    Again the roads were excellent. We were stopped in Bulawayo by Police checking Temporary import Permit (TIP) and drivers licence. Hey were friendly and efficient. We encountered many road blocks and Police checkpoints, but were always waved through with minimal delay. It is clear that tourists are welcomed and we never experienced any inconvenience. We refuelled at Kadoma, preferring to keep our tanks full. Fuel payments all in cash US dollars. Fuel prices are slightly cheaper than RSA. The traffic was getting very heavy closer to Harare and we were glad to get off the main route when heading North at Chegutu. T4A maps show the road from Chegutu to Chinoyi as potholed. We discovered that the road appears very new and generally in excellent condition without any potholes. From Chinoyi we headed to Karoi. Here we refuelled as this is the last reliable fuel point before Mana Pools. Karoi has a Spar, with basic foodstuff and bread, but no fresh vegetables. We camped at Spring Fever on the northern outskirts of Karoi It appears that the previous camp site is out of action and we camped in the garden of a large house adjoining the previous camp site, using the bath room in the house. The manager ran a generator to heat up geyser water so that we could have a hot shower. The establishment is spotless and there is 24 hour security. There are also rooms available.

    Day 4 Karoi to Mana Pools via Marongera 186 km 3 hours
    We enjoyed the escarpment scenery heading down to Marongera where we confirmed our bookings at the nature Conservation office. From here we left the tar a few km further when turning off to Mana Pools. Here we deflated our tyres as the road to the Nyakasikane checkpoint is very corrugated. We saw elephant along the way and more in the Rukomeshi river at the gate. After checking in at the gate we headed to the Parks office at Mana Pools along a good gravel road through the Jesse bush. Here we paid our entry fees and bought firewood for $5 per large bundle. We found a beautiful site at Nyamepi a few metres from the Zambesi. Most sites were empty with very few visitors during this time of the year. The ablutions are clean with hot water available from a donkey boiler. The Vervet monkeys stole some food due to our negligence. I made a catapault to keep them at bay. On seeing this they promptly disappeared. We saw elephant, impala, kudu, hyena, hippos, crocs, side striped jackal and a number of birds, including vultures and ground hornbills. Elephants, hippo and hyena frequent the campsite, so put everything away at night.

    Day 5 Nyamepi to Chitake 1 56km 1,5 hours
    After lunch we headed to Chitake 1 again passing theNyakasikane checkpoint. The turnoff to Chitake is on the right, but is not marked. It is about 9,5km from Nyakasikane. There is a sign after about 100m from the turnoff to Chitake warning visitors that only permit holders are allowed entry. We headed along a trackt past a pan with water on the left, through a steep dry river crossing shortly after, and then arrived at Chitake 1 about 2 km further. The camp site is next to the mostly dry Chitake river bed, but there is water flowing in the river bed past the camp from the spring upstream. Along the way towards the camp site we saw almost no animals and were wondering about our choice. During the night things changed drastically with confrontation between elephants and lions. Baboons were active all night and Impala rutting. Two giant eagle owls added to the chorus together with ground hornbills in the early morning. The Lions roaring caused some anxiety in the tents and there were some wide open eyes in the morning. There are no facilities available, so you need to be totally self-sufficient. All rubbish must be taken out and any ash from fires must be buried. Leave only footprints and respect future visitors.

    Day 6 and 7 Chitake 1
    We took a short 1km drive across the river from Chitake 1 to Chitake Camp 2 which is signposted. There is also a plaque on the tree in memory of Peter Evershed who was killed lions in 2010. From here the road continues past a dilapidated holding boma and finally ends amongst a large number of Baobab trees on top of a hill with a view towards the Southern Zambezi escarpment. There is no signage here, but only a number of elephant bones and a skull, so we were not sure if this is the defunct Baobab campsite.Most of our time was spent at our camp watching the game, or walking up and down the dry river bed. We saw big herds of Buffalo coming down to drink, with many elephant, kudu, baboons, warthog etc. It was interesting to note that the spring water flowing past the camp site stopped flowing when the Buffalo were drinking upstream, resuming once again after they had left.The elephants preferred to drink from holes which they made in the river bed about 100m downstream of the campsite. On one occasion we were sitting in the riverbed photographing animals upstream, only to find a magnificent elephant not more than 10m behind us drinking from the flowing water. When he had finished he left as quietly again as he had come.

    We preferred not to walk in the bush due to the presence of lions, but we never saw any. However we heard them all night and saw their spoor close by. We were pleased that there were very few tsetse flies during this time of the year and they did not cause us any discomfort. We were very sorry to leave this amazing spot as this surely rates as an unspoilt wilderness area, which we were very privileged to share. Interesting trees around here are the self-descriptive Crocodile-bark Jackal-berrywith small acorn like fruit (Diospyros Quiloensis ) and the Zambezi Coca-tree (Erythroxylum zambesiacum) with is hanging branches and drooping oval leaves.
    Day 8,9 and 10 Mana Pools Nyamepe

    We had booked the Gwaya camp site for 2 nights, but changed to the nearby Nyamepi which we found far more attractive. Gwaya may be more attractive when Nyamepi is filled with visitors? The drives around Mana Pools are interesting. We sighted 3 Lions on the road past the Hippo Pool, and others reported seeing a large pack of Wild dogs in the vicinity of the Mucheni camps. Generally May is not a good time for game viewing , but we found enough to keep us occupied in this amazing area. Two Lions were found within 300m of our camp site. The roads were all in good condition with no mud in evidence. The weather was perfect and no tsetse flies or mosquitos were encountered. The bathrooms are cleaned daily by staff, but the monkeys do visit from time to time. We took a campsite next to the river with a magnificent view. Well worth the small extra cost.

    Day 11 Mana Pools to Tashinga Camp Matusadona 419 km 12 hours
    We headed back to Karoi to refuel, and doubled back about 10km to the Binga turnoff. The initial 50km is good tar, and thereafter good gravel. The area is populated with the road passing many villages and small farms. After crossing the Sanyanti River it is still about an hour and a half drive to the turnoff to Matusadona on the right. Signposting in Matusadona is good, and the road is very interesting descending from the escarpment with many dry river crossings. The road has suffered a lot of water damage, and has been repaired in many places, but the going remains slow requiring low range to negotiate some of the rocky sections. Remember to warn your wife before the time, making sure you comfort her and tell her all will be fine. The last section closer to Tashinga improves significantly as the area is more level. The area is well wooded and very scenic. Tashinga is very nicely situated on the lake. The Camp site is well managed with old but spotless ablutions and hot water. There are many water points and a number of open braai areas with a roof and chimney to offer protection from sun or rain. There are many trees and quite a lot of game is present including elephant, impala and hippos. The office is in excellent condition and it is obvious that there are sponsored initiatives assisting to restore the park to its former glory. There are a number of drives that one can do and the sunsets over Kariba are as spectacular as ever.

    Day 12 Tashinga Camp Matusadona
    We spent most of the day relaxing after the long drive the previous day. We undertook a drive to find some lions that we had heard during the night, but without success.

    Day 13 Tashinga Camp to Mucheni View Chizarira 195km 7 hours
    We had to follow the same route out of Matusadona taking a few hours to get back to the main road from Karoi to Binga. We continued along the good gravel road crossing the Ume and Sengwe rivers. The Sengwe river bridge has been washed away and we crossed the sandy river bed without difficulty. This may become impassable in the rainy season. From the main road the turnoff to Chizarira is marked, and it is about 17km to the office on top of the escarpment. The T4A map shows this as a very bad road, but in fact it is easily negotiable without any serious obstacles. There are concrete strips on the steeper sections. The area has beautiful Miombo forest and is very rich in forest vegetation. The last section has many humps in the road to prevent damage during the wet season. The Mucheni Gorge camp site has been burnt recently, but is being reconstructed. The Mucheni View camp site, about 800m further along the same road has a thatched Lapa on the edge of the cliff, with a nearby long drop toilet and shower. You will have to provide your own drinking and shower water. The view is truly fabulous and well worth the detour. A Verreaux’s eagle soaring just below us provided a magnificent welcome. We pitched our hiking tent on the slab under the thatch roof sleeping within a meter of the precipice! The stars at night are brilliant and both the sunset and sunrise were beautiful. We met Gerhard Meintjies at Tashinga and he informed us that driving around Chizarira on roads other than the road to Mucheni is very difficult with tall grass obstructing visibility. Poaching is also a big problem, especially in the South, resulting in very little wild life. Although we had planned to stay 2 nights, we decided to continue the next day and spend an extra night at Hwange.

    Day 14 Mucheni View Chizarira to Main camp Hwange 238km 6 hours
    Returned to the Karoi Binga road. T4A shows this as badly corrugated but in fact the road is gravel in good condition skirting the Sijarira Forest area. This gravel road meets the tar road to Binga at a T junction. Having heard from a number of sources that there is no fuel at Binga we continued left and then came to the impressive Gwaayi River after a steep descent. The well -known hunter Fred Selous writes of many Elephants in the magnificent Gwaayi river, so we were pleased to see it for ourselves.

    The Jealous Filling Station Total garage at the crossing of the Bulawayo Vic falls road supplied us with Diesel, although we heard another motorist being told that there was no petrol. From here one continues about 30km past Dete to Hwange Main Camp. We had not booked, but found the camp site virtually empty. The ablutions are very old and neglected, although reasonably clean. Hot water geysers are working however. Free firewood and water was available at our camp site.

    Day 15 Hwange Main camp to Kapula Camp near Masuma dam 93km 3 hours
    We did a detour via Dopi pan, and then continued on the main tarred road towards Masuma dam.The tar road is very bad in places with potholes and a lot of the tar missing. We made a lunch stop at a hide overlooking the Guvalala pan and had good sightings of giraffe, kudu and zebra. We had booked tented accommodation at Kapula Lodge for 3 nights to end our camping trip on a relaxed note and were pleasantly surprised at the excellent facilities. The camp is on a concession with good viewing of game and a large bird population for birders. It is 4km by road from the Masuma dam view and camp site.

    Day 16 and 17 Kapula Lodge
    A treat for the ladies. Beautiful tented campsite with a well equipped kitchen and entertainment area with a wide view over the bush. There are lots of little extras that make the stay enjoyable. Excellent plumbing, hot water, beautiful view of the sunrise from your bed in the tent. There is a small bird bath that attracts many birds, including a little sparrow hawk. It is well situated for drives to Masuma and Deteema dams, and about 90 minutes from Robin’s camp.

    Day 18 Kapula Lodge to Pretoria 1166km 16 hours
    Leaving Kapula early at 06:00 we drove along an excellent gravel road towards Robins camp. In the Deteema area we met up with Greg Rasmussen well known for his work with Wild Dogs. He assured us that there was a pack of 10 Wild dogs in the area. About 15 minutes later we were surprised by three dogs in the road. They continued in and out of the bush and along the road for about 15 minutes, before finally taking off along what we assumed to be a scent trail. We were overjoyed as we had been looking for just such an encounter for years, and now we were so lucky. To add to our luck we soon came across a large herd of Buffalo in excess of 100 crossing the road. We had also seen them the previous day near Big Tom hide. After checking out at Robins Camp we headed towards the park exit on the way to Pandamatenga, leaving the park a few kilometres later. Passing through the Matetsi Safari area we came across two Lions and a herd of Sable antelope to close off our game viewing on a high note. The Pandamatenga border post is very quiet with only one or 2 cars passing per day. The formalities took about 30 minutes on the Zimbabwe side, and about 10 minutes on the Botswana side. We refuelled at Nata and again at Baltimore in RSA after crossing the border at Martins Drift. The road from the border to Mokgophong formerly Potgietersrust, is very treacherous at night with many stray animals and one eyed cars. We drove at 80kph and still almost ran into a herd of cattle. Had we been driving faster things may have turned out worse. Rather avoid this road after dark.

    Conclusion
    I have tried to give information that fellow travellers may find helpful . All the opinions expressed are personal and readers may disagree. Please feel free to comment and correct any incorrect information.
    Zimbabwe has tremendous tourist potential, and is easy to travel. Roads are excellent and officials are friendly. Fuel is reasonably available, although it is always best to keep your tanks full. The US dollar is accepted currency. Credit cards may be accepted at high end establishments. Keep 1 dollar notes for toll roads. RSA coins can be used for less than 1 US dollar amounts, although most items are priced in multiples of 1 dollar. We read that Police clearance certificates are required at some borders. We were never asked, although we had a certificate for the one vehicle but not the other. Our certificate was obtained at the Waltloo Pretoria licencing office in about 20 minutes without a problem. I think that we were lucky! When applying for a certificate make sure to take identity and vehicle papers, as well as the vehicle for a physical inspection. Much of the game has been severely depleted due to poaching resulting from lack of jobs and hunger amongst sections of the population. The natural beauty is still awesome and intact. My wish is that more South Africans tour Zimbabwe to enable the National Parks and other tourist facilities to increase their income, thus enabling them to step up anti-poaching by employing and training local people. If this can start, then the game will bounce back. We saw many signs of small improvements, and there seems to be a move in the right direction. Zimbabweans are friendly, helpful, well informed and very courteous. We never encountered any crime and felt safe at all times.

    We will certainly go again as we had a fantastic trip without any problems whatsoever, not even a single puncture!
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Mana Pools to Hwange trip report. started by Wendel View original post