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  1. #1
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    Default ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010 PART 2

    PART 1

    PART 2
    ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010
    Author: Stan Weakley.
    352 Km 6hr15min
    A very exciting day as the kernel of our trip was at hand. We arranged to meet Terry and Wendy’s friends Kelvin and Jane for coffee in Harare. They had kindly arranged for us to take part in the annual Mana Pools game count. It was good to see Kelvin looking so well after his injuries after a buffalo attack a few months earlier.
    They also happily agreed to sort out our booking problems with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority concerning the document confirming our payment for Matusadona, Chizarira and Hwange. We unfortunately had been dealing with Ms Lianda Muchanyerei who, despite having confirmed our bookings and receipt of payment, was unable to E-mail us our receipt or any confirmatory documents prior to us leaving. This despite increasingly frequent E-mails and phone calls up to minutes prior to departure. I was concerned about the reputed limited communication between Harare head office and the offices of the individual Parks. We wanted to have documentary proof to combat “double bookings” at our carefully researched camp sites. Lianda eventually blamed her tourism officer Mr Nyasha who she claimed was “in meetings”. Fortunately Kelvin and Jane were later able to hand us our booking confirmation document when we met up again at Mana Pools. Just as well I think, as most of the camps had no records of our bookings. So do not allow them to fob you off with any excuses. Apparently if you go into their Harare office they are reasonably efficient. We could not do so as they are not open on Saturday mornings. We were also overcharged for camping fees by about US$50 which could only be recovered from the Harare office.
    In contrast the Counihans had the bookings for Mana Pools done by Christina Mhuriro without any hitches at all. She has been highly praised on this Forum. Contact her at[email protected]
    We then shopped for some supplies at a shopping center off Borrowdale Road. A large supermarket chain store and a Fruit and Veg City fulfilled all our requirements for drinks, fresh produce and fresh bread.
    Garmap worked very well in Bulawayo and Harare, although we found Tracks 4 Africa very sketchy in some of the Parks. I am sure this will improve rapidly with increasing numbers of independent travellers going to Zim. and more GPS log reports for T4A.
    We managed to leave at 10H30, once again a tar road in reasonable nick and we were able to make good time. Not much traffic except for the usual heavily laden trucks. The obvious signs of financial neglect in the more rural areas were depressing. All the people were remarkably thin, especially the kids in their school uniforms. No Kentucky here! Also depressing were all the abandoned farms in the Banket, Karoi and Chinoyi districts. Squatter’s huts were present on the previously productive farms with derelict face-brick tobacco barns, agricultural tunnels and irrigation systems.
    In passing, the well-known Chinoyi Caves Motel looked rather run-down. Twin River Inn at Karoi looked better. I am confident that all of these more rural establishments will undergo a resurgence with a change in the economic and political climate. We were amused by all the roadside shelters selling “Anaconda Worms”, large earthworms for Bream fishing in the Zambezi and Kariba further north. We filled up at Sweet Waters before Makuti as Makuti apparently at times has no fuel. This is the last fuel before Mana Pools. Infomap was helpful for the route north with reliable GPS points as a check against the GPS alone.
    Reached Makuti after 4 hr travelling and 285km from Harare. At this stage we decided to push on to the Zim Parks office for Mana Pools at Marongora, to see if we could save time and check in in advance for the days booked in Mana. We also had the faint hope that we might be able to wheedle an extra day at Chitake springs for that night. Our original booking, because of unavailability, was for Chitake 1 on 19/09 and Chitake 2 (a definite second choice) on 20/09. Imagine our joy when we able to secure 3 nights in a row at a single camp at Chitake, not only scoring an extra night on the banks of the Chitake River at the springs, but also obviating the need to move camp. What a stroke of luck!
    On arriving at the Marongora office Terry struck up a conversation with 2 relatively unimposing men relaxing on the steps at the entrance to the office. They were very friendly and in discussion agreed that it seemed a pity not to be able to spend the rest of that day in the Park. They could also appreciate that moving camp after only one night would be inconvenient. To our disbelief they suggested we stay in the Provisional camp-site (also known as Standby or B.B.C. Camp) at Chitake for that (extra) night and the next 2 nights. They assured us that we would find the camp-site easily as all we needed to do was to follow their vehicle tracks from Chitake 1 camp, made the day before. We remained a little skeptical until it was revealed that we were speaking to the manager of Mana Pools, Mr Marvellous Mbikiyana and his colleague Mr Dube. They just happened to be at the offices on their way back to Mana. Mr Dube kindly gave us written confirmation of the booking, which we had stamped in the office and he also gave us a hand drawn map of the camp location. If they were not there I don’t think we would have had any luck as the official on duty in the office appeared not to have the authority to do this sort of thing. Brilliant, as Chitake 1 is usually booked up well in advance by tour operators, who perhaps get preference. IT JUST GOES TO SHOW THAT FRIENDLINESS NEVER GOES AMISS!
    The day’s journey involved the following:
    #1 Dollar tolls-31km from Harare
    -131km from Harare
    #Police -check 25km from Harare, Driver’s license only.
    -Radar speed trap in Banket (This was the first in a town, they were usually on the open road).
    -check just after Chinoyi:”Good afternoon sir, how are you.”-Typical professionalism and courtesy. Asked for driver’s license only.
    -Radar speed trap just after Lion’s Den
    -check just before Karoi. Just waved us through.
    From the above it should be obvious that speeding would not be wise. Anne and Wendy also drove. We had been warned that any driver who is not the owner of the vehicle, needs a letter from the owner giving them permission to drive it. This was never asked for, but may be wise to have in case an instance arises where someone might need to drive without the owner being in the vehicle.

    IN 18/09 OUT 26/09, 8 nights
    In my mind’s eye this was going to be the highlight of the trip. It was, but Hwange and Chizarira followed very, very closely and were a pleasant surprise.
    DAY 4 18/09 continued.
    PARK COSTS:Park entrance 12US$/person. 5US$/vehicle.
    Camping: Chitake(Provisional Camp) 200US$/site/night (max 8 people)
    Travelling time from Makuti to Chitake about 2hr15min, including a fairly long time time spent at Marongora .Distance 68km
    The turn-off to the right (east) off the A1 to Mana Pools is well sign-posted and lies a few km after Marongora. This is the place to deflate your tyres. One passes through the first of 2 booms here, the second being at a T-junction further on at Nyakasikana gate. This first part of the road is very corrugated. At the gate east (right) goes to Chitake, west to the Nyamepi office and camp and the “exclusive camps” on the Zambezi shoreline.
    Mana Pools formalities:
    1) Check in and produce booking document at Zim Parks regional HQ at Marongora. GPS S16 13.390 E29 09.678. They usually will not allow you to proceed to Mana after 15H00.
    2) Documents also checked at the gate at the Park entrance a few km further on, just after you turn right off the A1. GPS S16 11.301 E29 09.802
    3) The next barrier is at Nyakasikana gate, if staying at Chitake this is where you make any payment required. GPS S16 03.364 E29 24.575
    4) When/if going to the rest of Mana report to the main offices at Nyamepi. This is where you buy firewood and fishing licenses. GPS S15 43.407 E29 21.662.
    The road was corrugated and dusty but better than the average Transkei dirt road down to the coast. Travelled comfortably at 50 to 60 km/hr, the bush was very dry with monotonous Mopani. Not much game to see away from the water.
    We bought wood from the Ranger at Nyakasikana gate, as we did not have time to go to Nyamepi headquarters and one is not allowed to collect wood in Zim Parks. As a favour he sold us a large load of the excellent Mopani wood from his personal supply for 5US$. We then paid the fees for the extra nights camping, entrance and vehicle fees and were on our way. Camping fees have to be paid in advance, usually to the Harare office or, if a late booking, I think at the Marongora office or perhaps Nyakasikana gate.
    Chitake Provisional /Standby/BBC CampGPS S16 06.227 E29 29.163
    This wonderful camp is set flush on the Western bank of the Chitake River, lying south (downstream) of the Operator’s Camp and Chitake 1. The flow from the spring up-stream reached to about 100m beyond our camp at this time of year. Almost opposite, about 40m away, is a mud-hole very popular with elephants and “Dagga Boys”, small groups of Buffalo bulls. The large herds of Buffalo seem to drink higher up-stream near the Operator’s Camp. There are some shady trees for this Provisional camp, but not as shady as the Natal Mahoganies of the other 2 camps. It has the advantage of being more isolated than the other 2 camps; being about 600m from Chitake 1.Only occasionally can one hear vehicles moving about, but certainly no voices.
    We carried about 160l of water but this was supplemented by collecting buckets of water from holes dug into the river sand. (Probably not wise to drink). There are absolutely no toilet or shower facilities as is the case at the other Chitake camps. This is where my toilet seat really came into its own. It is mounted at a normal toilet height, on a foldup camp-chair type frame and is very comfortable and sturdy. It was especially appreciated by the wives, who were spared the indignity and discomfort that creaky, stiff joints do not enjoy. We would just head off with the toilet, spade, matches and toilet paper and commune with nature. Holes were easy to dig and cover in the soft sand. When darkness had set in, these little sojourns in the bush with a torch were a lot tenser. A bush shower was easily arranged by throwing a rope over a branch and hoisting a bucket shower with shower nozzle and tap to a suitable height. Temperatures were reaching into the high 30’s so a cold shower during the day was welcome. For later showers we found the black plastic thermal shower bags, left in the sun, to be more than adequate for warm water. In fact one had to be aware that this water could become uncomfortably hot.
    But no pain, no gain. The TSETSE FLIES were an absolute menace. We had been forewarned about this by our travelling companions. Wendy in particular had been badly bitten the previous year and was very diligent in applying Tsetse muti every few hours. I was less diligent at first and after a few days was covered in many itchy bumps and wheals, especially on my lower legs, ankles and face. These became incredibly itchy with time and even began severely disturbing my sleep. Topical Anthisan was of little help, but considerable relief was obtained after I began taking oral antihistamines at night before retiring. The itchy bumps and wheals halved in size. The antihistamine side effect of drowsiness, allied with alcohol consumed, led to improved sleep at night.
    Those that know Tsetses appreciate their toughness. A hearty slap, enough to destroy any other fly, will merely stun them to the ground, only to be followed by a rapid recovery and flying up to bite again almost immediately. They also bite right through clothing leading us, in desperation, to spray our shirts with Doom. They ignored Peaceful Sleep or Tabard. We had prepared various recommended deterrents of which Dettol is the principal ingredient, mixed about 50/50 with either Citronella oil or Tabard cream. These have to be diligently applied every 2 hours or so, but even then are not very effective. Plastic spray bottles work well. Wendy had researched on the internet and had a supply of Rid, an Australian product I think, sent across from the U K. This undoubtedly proved to be the most effective when I began using it later. They also supply a very effective anti-itch lotion.
    Much to my amusement Anne developed 3 or 4 particularly itchy and irritating Tsetse bites right on her backside. She was not amused with my contention that she was bitten whilst using our outdoor toilet seat and that they could not resist such an obviously inviting target. Truth be said, I also had a few down there and think the Tsetses had merely bitten through our clothing as they are wont to do. I have subsequently discovered that some other campers had left Chitake early, after just one night, because of being so badly bitten. Quite a sacrifice when considering the cost of a campsite at US$200 per night. So maybe I was not such wuss after all.
    Apparently early summer is the worst time for Tsetses and the good rains over the preceding couple of years had worsened the problem. They had even become a bit of a nuisance along the Zambezi camps. The vehicles on a game drive would literally attract swarms of them. Any open window would result in them getting into the vehicle with resultant pandemonium. I pity those people game viewing in open vehicles! Fortunately Tsetses seem to occur mainly in certain belts which can be avoided to some extent. Anne felt that our stay at Chitake was badly affected by this curse. She had an acute sense of humour failure over these pests. I, however feel that the wilderness atmosphere and copious wildlife and birds more than compensated.
    “FRIGGIN’ TSETSES” became the credo for all of us on this part of the trip.
    After setting up camp it was starting to get dark and we could hear lions roaring up the river, not very far away. From late afternoon and through the night, breeding herds of elephant came down to drink and cavort in the nearby mud-hole. Their stomach rumbles and occasional trumpeting continued through the night. We were also serenaded by the calls of Scops and Pearl Spotted Owlets and Fiery Necked Nightjars. The beers were cold and the braai was good, leading to a restful night’s sleep right amidst this wonderful, truly African theatre. I thrive on this feeling of living in such intimate harmony with the wilderness. It reduces the issues of life to the absolute basics. Exactly the tonic I needed after the hurly burly of daily life.

    DAY 5: SUNDAY 19/09 CHITAKE.
    We were woken at first light by a troop of baboons greeting the dawn. Later into the trip we would be more immune to the sounds of the bush and it would take something unusual to disturb our sleep. This was all still very exciting for us and from my side I enjoy the feeling of being slightly on the edge and living amongst the “Big game” of Africa.
    We went on a drive across the river bed to Chitake 2 campsite about 1km away. It has a great view from the top of a little koppie studded with Baobabs. However it is a very harsh environment for a campsite. Of course there are no facilities but also no shade at all from the Baobabs, leafless at this time of the year. It was also very exposed to the wind which proved to be surprisingly strong at times. This was certainly the least attractive campsite we saw on the entire trip. There were also many more Tsetses here than anywhere else in Chitake and a beehive in a hole in one of the Baobabs. We were very grateful that we had managed to change our bookings at the last moment. We also felt that the park authorities need to consider moving Chitake 2, there are many suitable sites eastwards, on that side of the river bed. If this was the only booking that one could get, I would advise taking it, as it is definitely worthwhile spending time enjoying this unique experience at Chitake. Any visit to Mana Pools without spending time at Chitake would be a great pity. You just have to take good care and avoid needless risks. One can now book a year in advance for Mana and an early booking should secure you a site at Chitake 1.
    The most unique aspect of Mana Pools is the fact that the freedom to walk anywhere in the Park is allowed, at one’s own risk. On the way to Chitake 2, soon after crossing the river bed on our exploratory drive, we saw Vultures in a tree between ourselves and the river. A little nervous of the fact that this probably indicated the presence of Lions and/or a kill, I joined Terry to walk towards the Vultures for a closer look. As related by Wendy, we had walked only 30m when she noticed the resident pride of Lions lying nearby in the shade in a thick bush. She was so shocked that it took her fully 5 seconds to call out a warning to us. We immediately saw them lying less than 20m away. A few more paces and they would have been between us and the vehicle. The large female had already riveted us with her eyes and the other 4 members lifted their heads in interest at this intrusion. My quick reflex dart towards the vehicle turned into a measured backing off once I had recovered from the initial shock. With my heart in my throat I was very grateful to reach the safety of the vehicle. Were we in any danger? I am really not sure, the Lions all had very full bellies and were sleeping off their recent kill. Most of the walking in this fairly bushy part of the park is undertaken by people in the private operator’s camps, with an experienced and armed guide. Unfortunately I think this little episode tended to inhibit walks in Mana by ourselves, although any fears were unspoken.
    We spent some time viewing this pride from the safety of our vehicle, now fully alert and moving about. There were 2 adult Lionesses, one particularly large and perhaps pregnant, and 3 near-adult cubs, some of them males. Whilst by no means obsessed with lions it remains exciting to view them at close quarters. Humans still have a primeval fear of these apex predators.
    I have added this section subsequent to completing this report. This concerns some very distressing news. This same Chitake Lion pride killed a camper at Chitake 2 camp at the end of October 2010, not 2 weeks after our encounter with them. The main difference being that the fatal attack occurred at dusk whereas our encounter occurred in broad daylight. Many of us will have noticed the total transformation in behavior and aggression levels of Lions as darkness approaches. Poor Pete Evershed was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Note that his widow pleads that no retribution is taken against the Lions. Were we just lucky? See thread
    At the river we were able to leave the vehicle to obtain a closer view of a herd of perhaps 400 Buffalo drinking from the springs.”Friggin’ TSETSES”. We also had a close up view of a roosting Pearl Spotted Owlet.
    Back at our camp we occupied ourselves by watching the parade of game drinking from the flow of the spring just in front of our camp, which slowly filtered down as a constant flow of fresh water.
    The game drinking here varied according to the time of day. Early, during the heat of the day, Baboons, Impala, Warthog, Kudu and small groups of Buffalo bulls entertained us at close quarters. The plentiful groups of Elephant put in an appearance later in the afternoon and through the night. The baby Ellies were great favourites with the wives. We were fascinated by the intimacy and tranquility of our contact with all these animals. We also did a lot of casual birding around the camp. Birds I can recall seeing included Crested Guineafowl, Spoonbills, Cattle Egret, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Swamp Bou bou, Bateleur, White Backed and White Headed Vultures, Puffback, Meve’s Longtailed Starling,Yellowspotted Nicator and Bearded Scrub Robin. The highlight was spotting the regional special, a Livingstone’s Flycatcher. Later that night we were again entertained by the calls of owls. At one stage we had a simultaneous duet from nearby pairs of Scops Owls and Barred Owls, with a Pearl Spotted Owlet calling in the background.
    We could also hear the pride of lions roaring through the night. They appeared to have crossed to our side of the river bed. The occupants of Chitake 1 must have had a very disturbed night.

    DAY 6: MONDAY 20/09 CHITAKE.
    At this stage we were well settled into camp routine, up at first light ,Piet-fluit kettle on the gas, coffee and rusks and then a bit of early morning birding around the camp. Towards midday we would have brunch, a cold shower in the heat of the day and then at nightfall, a fire and “socializing” around it whilst preparing supper. I am a great believer in good food being an important part of a holiday and we certainly never skimped in this regard. Despite this our food bill worked out at only R30.00 per person per day.
    This turned out to be another hot day with the temperature peaking at about 38C. We took a 3km ( round trip) walk up the river bed along the spring water, past the other 2 camps, around the bend in the river course and towards the small gorge and then back. This felt completely safe as we were walking through relatively open country and it was unlikely we would stumble into anything unexpected.
    Birds seen included various Firefinches, Heughlin’s Robin, Whitefronted and Carmine Bee-eaters etc. The many bones and animal skeletons in the river bed were evidence of the depredations of the lion pride. Most of the remains were Buffalo.
    In the heat of the day we sat in the shade on our camp chairs being entertained by the abundant animals and birds, binoculars and cold drinks at hand. This is really a fantastic locality. We all had a good chuckle when Terry arranged for Wendy to take a photo of himself under a bush shower, from the back, with a nearby herd of drinking elephants very prominent close in the background. I wonder if Terry will allow me to use this photo here. And then we also waged war against the” FRIGGIN’ TSETSES”. Late afternoon we took another drive to Chitake 2, the highlight being a large number of raptors including an African Hawk Eagle and an Ayre’s Eagle. (We think.)
    Fortunately the local Baboons, by day and the Hyenas, by night, were not habituated and gave us no trouble at the camp. We did take the precaution of packing everything into our vehicles at night. I think we were relatively a little unlucky with our encounters with game. The potential here for some exciting experiences is unlimited.
    We nursed our vehicle fridge/freezers carefully and at no stage on the trip had any problems with the auxiliary batteries, always cold drinks and frozen meat. We both had National Luna battery monitors fitted. On days with little driving, we would leave the engine idling for some time. At times we did wish for more ice. Outside the major centers in Zim it is very difficult to buy ice. As my freezer for the meat emptied I felt happy icing plastic bottles of water. We turned out to be a good team as Terry and Wendy’s priorities lay with the drinks and ours with the food. Whilst they took the responsibility for stocking the drinks fridge, we took charge of most of the planning and preparation of the meals. Terry is a relatively simple eater. To my amusement he related enjoying “ poor man’s biltong “, a warm piece of toast with melted butter and salt and pepper on it ?
    Attached Images Attached Images  
    Last edited by Stan Weakley; 2011/05/21 at 03:46 PM. Reason: Link to Part 1

  2. #2
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    Default ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010 PART 2

    Apologies further pics Chitake
    Attached Images Attached Images  

  3. #3
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    Default ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010 PART 3

    PART 3:
    ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010
    Author: Stan Weakley.
    CAMP COSTS: BBC CAMP 150US$/camp/night (max 12 people)
    GPS S15 44.140 E29 20.185
    Today we packed up camp for the first time and move to our next Mana camp on the Zambezi. BBC Camp was apparently opened for the BBC team filming the total eclipse of the moon some years ago. We felt that what was OK for the BBC was good enough for us. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here, what a privilege!
    After our morning coffee, before the heat of the day, we slowly packed up camp and finished with our marriages intact. As our journey progressed this operation became increasingly slick. We were sad to be leaving this very special area around Chitake but were looking forward to moving away from the Tsetses and so it proved. We left at 9H30, long before the regulatory 11H00.
    On the way to the Nyamepi office at Nyakasikana gate, a ranger asked for a lift. Our two vehicles were choc a bloc, including the back seats, but he was grateful to accept a lift on my roof rack. From Chitake to the Nyamepi office is 55km along a reasonable dirt road (better than the first section) and took 1hr15min of leisurely driving. The game viewing improves markedly the closer one approaches the Zambezi River. We began seeing plenty of animals including Impalas, Waterbuck, Zebras, Kudu and both solitary bulls and breeding herds of Elephants.
    At the office we thanked the reserve’s boss Marvellous Mbikiyana for his help with Chitake, bought firewood (2US$ per large bundle) and bought fishing licenses ( 5 US$ per person per day). It is of concern that they had no record of our booking for BBC camp at the office. This is why I think it is so important to have your confirmatory booking slip in your possession. We then drove through to Nyamepi camp itself for showers and washing of dirty clothes. GPS S15 43.203 E29 22.122.They have large concrete basins for washing your clothes; you just need your own plug. The ablutions were perfectly acceptable although slightly run-down. They had received a coat of paint fairly recently and were kept clean by the staff. Separate male and female facilities, each with 2 flush toilets and two showers with hot water (if needed) from a donkey. Some of the showerheads were missing but all considered a better facility than those found in Botswana’s reserves. We also filled up with water from the tap, perfectly drinkable, although there were warning notices saying that the water was “filtered not purified”.
    We had no problems with the water in any of the parks. You do need a short hosepipe to fill any water tanks in/on the vehicles. We often used the ablution facilities at Nyamepi, popping in during a game drive.
    Nyamepi camp-site itself is very attractive with 29 sites spread over a relatively wide area. They are all situated under the large, shady riverine Mahogany and Ana trees. The ones on the river-front are more expensive. The camp was filling up ahead of the upcoming game count, but is normally not very crowded with adequate levels of privacy. If, because of budget constraints or full bookings, an Exclusive camp was not possible, I would be happy with Nyamepi but would suggest that a river-side camp would be worth the extra outlay.
    BBC Camp appears to be a standby or reserve camp but I am sure can be booked if requested. It lies just beyond a little stream and probably can’t be reached after rain. The other exclusive camps include, from west to east, Vundu, Ndungu 1 and 2, Muchene 1, 2 and 3, Gwaya, Chessa and Nkupe camps. Nyamepi lies between Gwaya and Chessa camps. Many of these are occupied on a semi-permanent basis by tour operators. If you book about a year in advance you should be able to get in at the one of your choice. Their advantage is their isolation, out of sight of any other camp and their prime positions under shady trees on the bank of the Zambezi. This of course comes at a considerable price especially after the fairly recent increases. Certainly there appears to be value here, kept in perspective by the prices in Botswana and Namibia Parks. There is disturbing news of licenses being granted for a few Private Lodges at some of these sites??
    BBC lies between Mucheni and Gwaya camps. In my very limited experience the Mucheni camps seem to be the best. Nkupe camp seems to be in a very bushy area but is nice and isolated.
    We heard from a guide that there were lions on a fresh kill at Mucheni 3.So off we went to find them. The well-known Mucheni pride had killed a large adult Eland during the night. They were still all at the carcass, some still eating. The kill was just off the road to Mucheni 3, about 200m from this camp. An elderly man and his wife were staying there, on their own. What a night they must have had. About 4 vehicles were present at the kill, with constant coming and going of self-drive and game viewing vehicles. Although almost all were well mannered, some were driving off the road to get closer.
    It was obvious that the camp occupants were irritated, we initially thought because of the intrusion into their privacy. The lady appeared to be taking photos of some of the vehicles, especially those driving off the designated road. We later heard that they were taking photos of the offender’s number plates with the intention of reporting them to the park authorities. I don’t know if this was true. Certainly the authorities frown upon any driving off designated roads (which I think is a good thing,) to prevent the kind of degradation that seems to occur in East African parks.
    There is a sequel to this story. Two days later when we returned to the carcass we discovered that this couple had packed up and left and the camp was empty. It later transpired that a near tragedy had occurred. We were told that the gentleman, apparently a farmer from Centenary, had approached a solitary Buffalo bull for a close-up photo earlier that morning. The bull charged at him, fortunately he was able to obtain a firm hold onto the Buffalo’s head and horns and thus prevented it from tossing and goring him. Apparently he was also fortunate in that this bull was old and had very blunted horns. His wife had the presence of mind to start up their Landcruiser and drive it at the Buffalo, chasing it off. We heard that he was very lucky escaping with only bruising and minor injuries. This was a timely reminder for all, as it is very easy to become complacent toward the wild animals that seem to move through these open camps so peacefully. Always keep your distance and give the animal the right of way!
    The lions were an excellent sighting; they were still very active and kept us entertained for a couple of hours. Terry was able to get some great photos. The pride consisted of a coalition of 2 males, 3 lionesses and 3 generations of cubs. There were 8 cubs in all. The antics of the cubs were especially entertaining.
    We then drove to nearby BBC Camp and set up camp. The facilities consisted of a reed-enclosed long drop toilet about 50m from the camp and a concrete braai stand. One of the rules of the park is that fires are made in the designated facility and not on the ground. Unfortunately some recent visitors had made a fire in the middle of the camp on the ground. We moved the pile of ashes to the braai place. Under a nearby tree they also left clumps of toilet paper which we burnt. Fortunately there were no associated smelly deposits so I assume these were left by ladies having a P. Thanks for small mercies. I must admit we also found the long drop to be a no-go zone but made sure we dug adequate holes and burnt all the toilet paper, before covering the holes as required in bush etiquette. The camp was about 30m from the river bank with a panoramic view of the river and islands. We pitched our tents under 3 large shady Natal Mahoganies. The surrounding flood plain was dotted with stately riverine trees, including Ana trees shedding pods which attracted game, particularly elephants. The surrounds were not too densely bushed, important perhaps for safety considerations. There were also Hippo exit points about 30m down-stream so that, although there were often Hippo in the camp late at night, we were never directly in their path.
    Due to the few seasons of good rains there were still scattered areas inland with water, which seemed to detract a little from the amount of game coming down to the river. This is not normally the case in late September. Nevertheless there were almost always Elephant, Buffalo, Baboons and Impala feeding in the vicinity. The Hippos were ever-present in the river in front of us, adding to the atmosphere and being especially vociferous at night. At night herds of Impala and even Eland would approach close to the camp. THERE WERE NO TSETSES and mosquitos were never a problem anywhere during this trip.
    Hyenas, Baboons and even Honey Badgers were reportedly a problem in these camps, so we made sure that everything was packed into the vehicles at night or when we left camp. Every night immediately after retiring, we would be visited by two or three bold Hyenas sniffing around for scraps. Before retiring we could hear them skulking around the camp outskirts rustling the fallen leaves. At no stage did we feel that they were a threat. One night, just before retiring, we tried to set up a full-frame camera shot of a hyena’s head at the braai grid. The camera was set up on a tripod, the remote connected and I had to get down on my hands and knees with my head in frame so that the zoom and focus could be finely adjusted. We deny that, when this prolonged effort was eventually abandoned due to “technical problems” , the volume of beverages consumed had anything at all to do with the effort failing! We heard Lions roaring at night from down the river throughout our stay.

    At this stage we were no longer aware what the day of the week or date was and were so relaxed, to quote a friend, “we could have wiped our backsides with a Puff adder”.
    The day-time temperatures were hot, fortunately often tempered by a breeze, especially in the evenings. First thing that morning we drove to the lion kill to find the pride still present, with sagging bellies, sleeping and chasing off any Vultures that ventured too close. White headed, White backed and Hooded Vultures were present together with Yellow Billed Kites and the occasional Black Backed Jackal. Excellent close quarter photography was again possible. At this stage the same campers were still present at Mucheni 3.
    We took a drive along Long Pool seeing all the normal suspects as far as game was concerned. An unexplained fact is that no Giraffe are present at Mana, strange in such a suitable habitat. Apparently all the oxbow pools were a lot emptier than usual after being scoured out by the rising river when the Lake Kariba flood-gates had to be opened earlier in the year. I was not keen to do a walk because of the number of Tsetses in the tree lines. I now regret this.
    We later tried some fishing from the bank in front of the camp. I would have enjoyed some fried Bream fillets but had no luck, despite my ill-founded faith in drop-shot.
    This was the night I cooked a deboned leg of Lamb in a pot on the fire, together with the full Monty; fresh veggies, rice, gravy and even mint sauce. There was very little left of a leg big enough to serve 8 people. To me there is nothing better in the bush than a nice Mopani fire, a few drinks, good company and pottering around the fire preparing a good meal. There are no time issues and to prepare a good meal in the context of the surroundings and facilities is a great way to end the day.

    By the next morning the lions had moved off their kill and as explained earlier, Mucheni 3 Camp was standing empty.

    We drove to Vundu Point for some fishing. There we had cell phone reception from the Zambian side and were able to call home. On this road, just east of the Ndungu turnoff, we were lucky enough to see a solitary Cheetah on an open plain. Apparently an exceptional sighting . It was very shy and soon took off for shelter.
    The Zambezi is magnificent at this point, but still no fish.We did a walk along the river shoreline and sandbanks seeing lots of plovers, sandpipers and other waders. Also saw various kingfishers and bee-eaters. A treat was seeing the “rare summer visitor” a Rufus Bellied Heron.
    Later that day also went fishing at Mana Mouth, with some birding and later sundowners. Driving around this area the roads show signs of deterioration with some bridges and culverts washed away with slightly steep and sandy detours around them. Nothing that should deter any vehicle with a reasonable height clearance, even towing an off-road trailer. Things would be very different after rain.
    I enjoyed our stay at BBC Camp very much. Living right next to the river with its resident Hippo and excellent views of the islands in the Zambezi, with their herds of animals, was a treat. However I have a suspicion that this immediate area is a little off the main animal thoroughfares, I wonder if there are not more animals wandering around in the Mucheni area, but may well be mistaken. However I accept that game viewing is much like fishing and the “catch” can vary for no real reason. I also wondered if there is not comparatively slightly more game at the Chobe River. But this is all just splitting hairs. Ihaha cannot equal the privacy or the beauty of the Zambezi and the freedom to walk amongst the animals. I found the fairly frequent light aeroplane flights to the many private lodges on the Zambian side to be a little intrusive. The bright lights of the Zambian lodges in the distance also impacted slightly on the atmosphere of isolation otherwise so relished. These negative features are not confined to BBC Camp. I fear that some of this sense of privacy will be lost with the planned establishment of more private lodges. Staying at the exclusive camps such as BBC in Mana is now very expensive, but if within your means, is not to be missed.

    Terry and Wendy had befriended Kelvin Heine on a fly-in trip to Mana last year. Kelvin has been a leading light in Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe (W.E.Z.) for some years. From this arose an invite to take part in this year’s Mana game count. With Terry’s main interest being birds, he managed to organize that we do a static count at Sapi Pan No 1, in the eastern part of the park near the boundary with the Sapi Concession area. We were asked to not only record the animals but also all the birds seen. Sapi pan is usually the only source of water for a large area. I estimate it lies about 3km from the Zambezi as the crow flies. The other static counting point that I knew of was Chitake. I think Rukomecki Bridge has been another.
    Most of the count is done on foot by teams of 4 people walking transects by GPS or compass, counting game as they go. These teams walk about 500m apart on the floodplain and record sightings within 250m of themselves. The starting points are calculated before the time and are well sign-posted. Each team does 4 walks, all in different parts of the park, 1 each morning and 1 each afternoon of the Saturday and Sunday. They basically walk northwards from the designated starting points until they reach the Zambezi. Armed Park Rangers walk with teams that are passing through densely bushed areas. This count is now 18 years old and not only is it a wonderful opportunity to spend time walking in the wild, but provides valuable scientific information. The results are available at .Quite a few members of the Landcruiser Club of Southern Africa attended.
    We packed up camp at BBC Camp and travelled via Nyamepi Camp again, to make use of the ablutions and to fill up with water. Sapi Pan is not a designated campsite and we felt very privileged to be able to set up camp here. GPS S15 45.089 E29 22.977. We had to choose the location of our camp very carefully so as not to impact adversely on any wildlife or birds coming to the pan for water, but at the same time had to be close enough to it to be able to count through the night. We settled on an area on the western edge of the pan, under some shady trees away from any game trails. There were fortunately only a moderate number of TSETSES and biting flies. There are obviously no facilities at all but we were set up to be totally self-sufficient. The pan itself was about 30m in diameter and deep enough for the hippos to submerge themselves.

    Having set up a very comfortable camp we were able to relax and enjoy this beautiful spot in total privacy. We returned to Nyamepi for the game count briefing that afternoon. The turnout was impressive and I estimated about 200 participants. We all turned in early as we had to do a 24 hour count starting at 6am on Saturday.
    The game sightings were reasonable, seeing various small herds of Impala, Elephant and Zebra coming down to drink, numbers and offspring carefully recorded. The Zebra in this park are very attractive in appearance, with a barely visible shadow stripe, their white and black stripes are very clearly demarcated with the white being particularly crisp. Two resident Hippos were noisy close to us during the first part of the night until they took off for greener pastures. Many Hyenas were calling around the camp during the night. At one stage 3 came into the camp but were easily chased off. That night we were kept awake by the very loud, sonorous calls of a hyena right at our camp. It is a pity that I could not record this.

    Our count began at 6am and would continue through the night to 6am on Sunday 26/09. During the day we all helped with the count, with Terry concentrating on the birds while I focused on the animals. It is amazing what pleasure one can get out of sitting put in one place and observing the patterns of nature unfold before your eyes. This was reinforced by our experiences in the hide at Masuma Dam in Hwange.
    The site had been chosen for its birding and we were not disappointed. Resident was a pair of Egyptian Geese with 10 goslings. These provided us with constant entertainment and even drama. A Fish Eagle took up station at the pan and swooped on numerous occasions trying to snatch a gosling. The female guarded her brood bravely and vigilantly, managing to thwart each attempt, by calling a prompt warning to her offspring and interposing herself into the path of attack. On another occasion we witnessed a failed attack by a medium sized Crocodile on the goslings. Also resident was a male Jacana with 2 chicks and a pair of Spurwing Geese that had not nested as yet. Present most of the time were a Yellow Billed Stork, Great White Egret, Yellow Billed and Cattle Egrets. The Great White Egret was constantly robbed of its catch of small bream by an aggressive Grey Heron.
    Also seen: Ground Hornbill, Red Billed Hoopoe, Crested Hornbill, Yellow Billed Kite, Cape Turtle Dove, Meyers Parrot, Grey and Purple Touraco, White Helmut Shrike, Grey Headed Sparrow, Red Billed Oxpecker etc.
    We were a little concerned during the morning when we heard a series of 4 shots from not too far away. We later found out that an armed Ranger, accompanying a game count group, was forced to fire some warning shots to ward off an attack from an aggressive mother elephant that would not respond to the normal deterrents.
    That night I took the game count shift from 20H00 to 01H00. Terry and Wendy did 01H00 to 06H00. The moon was full at this stage but only rising at about 22H00 and the night appeared very dark to me on my own for the first 3 hours. We had no fire or lights in order not to disturb the animals too much. Sitting on your own outside your tent in the darkness certainly leads to a heightened sense of awareness and concentrates the mind. The underlying feeling of unease was not helped by seeing a Hyena trying to sneak into the camp and only seeing it once it was a few meters away. I was constantly aware of the dangers of falling asleep in my relatively exposed position
    The night shift was much quieter, but anything moving in the area prompted alarm calls from the Egyptian Geese and the visiting creatures were promptly picked up by my spotlight. Thus I was able to see 2 Civets, an African Wild Cat and even a Scrub Hare. Elephant continued to come down to drink through much of the night. The following morning just after first light, I witnessed a Hyena attempt to chase down a Zebra foal, until repelled by the mare.
    Terry and Wendy took over after I woke them at 01H00. I must commend their diligence in staying awake through to morning. The highlight of their shift was a Hippo returning noisily to the pan.
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  4. The Following User Says Thank You to Stan Weakley For This Useful Post:

  5. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Thanked: 1113


    Great stuff Stan, keep it coming.

  6. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Thanked: 563


    Quote Originally Posted by discobob View Post
    Great stuff Stan, keep it coming.
    Times 2 - I would like to read about Hwange as well. Thanks for the reports.
    "If you don't care where you are, you ain't lost"

  7. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    east london
    Thanked: 67


    Stan-wonderful report -we must have just missed you chaps as we arrived on the wensday after the game count-busy on my "PART TWO" trip as well and it looks like we took the same route as you going on to chazerari and hwange.It looks like only East london people visit Mana-but if we continue sending good trip reports like yours every-one is going to want to go up to Zim!

  8. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    East London
    Thanked: 6689

    Default ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010 CONTD.

    It is a helluva slow job uploading these photos using the "Manage Attachments" Tool. There must be an easier way. Any tips?
    These are some of our Chitake photos.
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  9. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    East London
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    Default ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010 CONTD.

    Some more Chitake photos.
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  10. #9
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    Aug 2009
    East London
    Thanked: 6689

    Default ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010 PART 4

    PART 4
    PART 4:
    ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010
    Author: Stan Weakley.
    190km 3hr 30min
    We had a night booked in Mana Pools for Sunday but were concerned by the reports we had read about the difficult drive to Matusadona and Tashinga. After careful consideration and taking note of having bitten off more than we could chew earlier in the trip, we decided to leave Mana that day and travel to Makuti or Karoi. We thus hoped to do this leg of the trip at a reasonably leisurely pace. This turned out to be a very wise decision, as the trip from Mana Pools to Tashinga turned out to be a total time of over11hrs.
    We were thus able to pack up camp leisurely after some breakfast and then go through to Nyamepi to hand in the report on our count to W.E.Z. and have a look at the reports handed in thus far. A pride of Lions had been seen a km or so from our camp. Some lucky participants had seen Wild Dogs and others a Leopard in a tree. One group had to take evasive action from a wandering Hippo far from any water. We said our goodbyes and thank you to Kelvin and Jane and the friendly people of W.E.Z. and left Nyamepi at 11H30, after a shower. We were looking forward to the next stage of our trip, none of us had ever been to Matusadona or Chizarira.
    It took us about 1hr10min to drive the 50km from Nyamepi to Nyakasikana gate and a further 40min for the 32km to the junction with the A1.( i.e. about 2 hours from Nyamepi to the A1 at an average speed of 40 km/hr ). We calculated that it took us about 3 and a half hours for Nyamepi to Karoi.
    We stopped to refuel at the Makuti Travel Lodge turnoff, (Diesel US$1.10). The adjacent shop was not well stocked at all but we were able to stock up on fresh bread. GPS S16 18.646 E29 14.697. At the Jumbo Bar we bought beer but they had no decent Gin. Next we enquired about spending the night at the hotel.GPS S16 18.676 E29 14.609.It showed some signs of the reputed recent refurbishment but they had been without water for 8 days so we were forced to travel on to Karoi. Five km from Karoi, I was trapped by a radar gun, doing 85 km/hr in an 80 zone. I had slowed down to 80 at the speed limit sign but had allowed my speed to drift up due to inattention. The Policeman was very professional and polite and seemed to genuinely regret that I had to pay a fine of 20US$. In answer to my query, they only allow a leeway of 2 km/hr. He was genuinely horrified when I unknowingly tried to pay him directly and pointed me to a little table across the road, where I paid my fine and received my official receipt . On no occasion during our stay in Zim was there any whiff of corruption.
    We ended up at Two Rivers Inn for the night. GPS S16 48.611 E29 40.460.It was barely adequate. The parking was secure, right next to our chalets and there was a night watchman. Unfortunately the trees in the grounds were full of nesting Herons and Egrets with their mess and night long noise. The electricity seemed to be on and off but they had their own (noisy) generator. Terry and I had a few cold beers in the pub. The barmen and locals seemed friendly enough. The showers were warm and in good condition. We were the only ones for supper that night and one could see the vestiges of former glories in the dining room. Supper was poor, we all had T bone steaks and chips. The chips were fine.
    COSTS: 55US$ for a twin bedded Chalet, 5$ for breakfast; Steaks 9$. The other choices for supper were pork chops, ribs or bream.
    Anne felt that the sheets were not fresh or perhaps poorly washed. One could see that the staff was very pleased to have tourists. I am confident that all these country hotels will improve considerably when the anticipated major increase in tourist numbers occurs.
    252km 7hr20min
    We left the hotel at 6H30 after a cup of tea. We travelled a few km north on the A1 from Karoi, turning east (left) at the well sign-posted road to Binga. The first 50 km are tarred GPS (end of tar) S16 58.757 E29 17.135, but thereafter dirt all the way, except for the tarred 18km last section to Binga. I calculated this dirt road to be 330km long. It took about 8hr to travel altogether. (Average speed 40 km/hr) I adjusted for the time taken for the detours to Tashinga and Chizarira, but it is very difficult to be 100% accurate.
    On reaching the dirt I stopped to deflate my tyres. At first the road was fairly corrugated, but we were able to travel comfortably at 60 km/hr. 86km from Karoi, the road splits, left to Chidamoyo Mission and right to Binga. Not very well signposted here and Tracks 4 Africa also was deficient. One could very easily take the apparently more prominent road to the left. GPS S17 04.655 E29 06.531.
    Hereafter the road begins to deteriorate and we felt 40 to 50km/hr to be a safe speed. Further on the road becomes quite windy through hills but still better than any Transkei dirt road to the coast. (This was to become our yardstick for grading road quality).We then passed over the scenic single-track Senyati and Gungwa River bridges. The road deterioration was now quite marked with loose sand and round pebbles inducing some slipping and sliding if speed much above 40.
    Tashinga/Matusadona turnoff reached 3h10min after leaving Karoi (170km) Reasonably well sign- posted sign indicates Tashinga 81km.GPS S17 08.638 E28 26.657
    We stopped for a good brunch. About 13km further on the road forks again, also reasonably sign- posted, right to Tashinga indicating 67km; left is to Binga. GPS S17 13.764 E28 30.233. This is the final, notorious stretch of road. We met some people towing a Conqueror off- road caravan who had turned back as the road was “too rocky”. Gauteng Discovery doing the towing, with the woman driving, accompanied by a North-west double cab. I could picture the exchange that must have led to the change of driver. It must have been a mission to turn around on this road with a caravan hitched.
    The road now indeed became very rocky, but nothing that a vehicle with a reasonable clearance could not handle, if driven slowly and carefully. Concrete causeways and strips were present in places, presumably for wet weather. Wash- aways had been reasonably repaired by packing rocks. Very slow progress with boulder hopping and some short steep ascents and descents. My Cruiser’s compression coped well with these. No problems with clearance and although heavily loaded the vehicle felt indestructible and this was the case throughout the trip.
    We reached the first Matusadona Admin Office on the edge of the escarpment, 40 km from the Tashinga turn off ( 2hr40min for the 40km). GPS 16 58.918 E28 27.400.Single official on duty with his wife and kids in the foreground. He was wearing an Obama T-shirt. We just had to produce our booking confirmation and sign the visitor’s book. The only other group in the park had come across by boat from Bumi Hills and were staying in one of the park’s lodges, Ume. Some Tsetses were present here but vanished once we had descended down the escarpment.
    The road now improved and could travel at 30 to 40 km/hr for the last 39 km until the main Tashinga office. GPS S16 49.110 E28 27.076. The directions to this office were well sign-posted. Very little game at all seen on the way in, but some signs of Elephant. Some of the rivers still had pools of water, apparently unusual for October and perhaps an explanation for the relative paucity of game around Tashinga. Perhaps the game was not yet dependent on the water in Kariba. Also the lake levels were unusually high and there was therefore not much of a floodplain with its nutritious grass, which is usually the attraction for the herds of Buffalo and Antelope. Hopefully there is not a more sinister explanation.
    Those on duty in this office were not quite as bright or helpful as officials encountered hitherto.
    COSTS: Park entrance fees, 12US$/ person and 5US$/vehicle. Camping 75 US$/campsite/night (max12 people)
    Unlike Mana one is not allowed to walk about freely outside the large camp site and we enquired about the cost of an armed guide. We were horrified to find out we would be charged at the “new price” of 10US$ /PERSON /HOUR. Really an unrealistic fee for a walk with these staff, who did not appear very inspiring. A 4 hour walk for 4 of us would have been 160US$!!! We later found out that these staff could have directed us to where the Rhino and the Lions were likely to be, had we only asked.
    We were the only people in the camp that day which once again a real treat. The next night we were joined in the camp by Jan Slabber and his wife Marie from Bethlehem in their extensively modified Landcruiser bakkie. Jan is very well known in Landcruiser Club circles and had been in Mana for the Game Count where he had handed over a number of radio batteries to Zim Parks on behalf of the Landcruiser Club. We were to subsequently bump into them frequently during the rest of the trip and were able to swap notes as we went along.
    Jan recommended Sweet Waters near Karoi were they had stayed on the way down. Apparently chalets or camping are available at a recently refurbished converted farmhouse. It is near the Binga turn off from the A1, but on the opposite side of the road. Certainly seems worth a try as the alternatives in the area are not impressive.
    Tashinga is an impressive camp-site with lots of open space and lovely shady trees. GPS S16 48.769 E28 26.773. Many of these trees had been labeled. It is directly on the shores of Kariba, on a peninsula, with the lights of Bumi Hills just visible in the distance to the south. We estimated about 15 campsites, which will be overcrowded when tourism in Zim regains its rightful place. So go to Zim before the rush!
    There are 2 large ablution blocks, one of which appeared derelict. The one we used was fairly old and tired but kept spotlessly clean by the friendly and helpful camp attendant, who provided firewood at 2US$ /bundle. These we paid for at the office on the way out. Separate male and female ablutions were present each with 2 flush toilets and 2 showers with hot water from a well-tended Donkey. Plenty of nearby standpipe taps for water which we were happy to drink. Having this all on tap was a major luxury for us at this stage. In the camp there was also a large boma type structure which we used as our kitchen and storeroom. The camp attendant informed us that Baboons could be a nuisance in an unattended camp but that he would guard our camp when we were away. We did pack everything into the vehicles at night to avoid Hyena raids.
    The camp is completely unfenced and Impala and Baboons were constantly wandering through, but none of the Elephants or Buffalo which we had hoped for. Also present were A-frame shelters. The one which had been the site of a Lion attack in June 2010, was pointed out to us. The camp is so open and seemingly safe that, if we had not known about this recent mauling of a camper by a lion, we would also have been tempted to sleep in the open. See link

    It was also disturbing to find out that a man was killed by an Elephant on the shores of the Lake in Matusadona, barely 2 weeks after we had left. Wildlife authorities are blaming widespread poaching for the aggression of the Elephants. We all need to respect the wild animals and need to remember that it is us who are intruding into their domain. See this thread
    There was good birding in the camp and many waders along the shoreline. We were particularly pleased to see Black winged Practincoles of which there were plenty. No Tsetses for the rest of the trip and only occasional mosquitos.
    I will always have memories of the sunsets over Kariba. These were made particularly spectacular by all the smoke and dust prevalent in the air at this dry time of the year. Unfortunately this haze does detract from any panoramic photography. Lots of noise from nearby Hippos to send you off to sleep at night. The multitude of lights from the Kapenta fishing boats on the lake at night did not detract from the wilderness ambience.

    Went on 2 drives, the first in a south- westerly direction and had a look at some of the park “lodges”. The first was Mbalabala which sadly was very run down and staff and their families appeared to be living there. It is situated on the lake shore on a small inlet at the mouth of the Bumi River. GPS S16 49.839 E28 26.060. It has tremendous potential when it is refurbished. It has not been used by tourists for some time, “the water pump she is broken.” Drove on to Ume lodge where there were tourists staying. GPS 16 49.607 E28 25.767.They had chosen to come by boat fearing the notorious road. It sleeps 8 people at 115US$ per night. It has water and showers but the occupants said it was very rustic. The elevated position gives a wonderful view over the adjacent lake. It is on the opposite bank of the Umi River. Another to bank until better times arrive.
    Later that day we drove in a north-easterly direction towards Senyati West down a road along the lake shore obviously not used a great deal. Lovely, but very dry, mixed Mopani bushveld.
    Saw signs of elephants but game was disturbingly scarce. Saw some Kudu, Duiker, Impala, Warthog and Baboons, all very skittish. Total distance there and back of 84km. At one stage we parked a short distance off the road to do some birding and this is where I picked up my only puncture. Luckily I had 2 spares and a full puncture repair kit so I was not too stressed by this. One comment though, I can’t understand how Toyota can sell a vehicle like a Landcruiser 76 series with the tyres that they do, with tubes as well! I can’t wait to replace them after a little more wear.
    We are pleased we included Matusadona. It is more than an overnight stop on the way to Hwange. Three nights would be enough. I must add the rider that others may well see more animals, perhaps we did not do enough to enquire where to find game. We allowed the attitude of the park staff to prevent us from obtaining as much information as we could have. At another time of the year, or different rain patterns and lower water levels in the lake, the picture as regards animals might be different. The camp at Tashinga was a memorable experience. Those whose top priority is masses of animals will be disappointed, but if you enjoy living quietly with nature in beautiful secluded surroundings, your cup will runneth over. I should really have done more birding.
    Do not let the road to Tashinga put you off but give yourself enough time to do it slowly and carefully. I think off-road trailers will be fine with a suitable vehicle. Travelling on your own should also not be a problem with the right experience and vehicle.
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  11. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    East London
    Thanked: 6689

    Default ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010 PART 5

    PART 5
    ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010
    Author: Stan Weakley.

    208km 7hr25min
    This gives an accurate idea of road conditions with an average travelling speed of 33 km/hr.
    We took 3hr to drive the tough 80km from Tashinga to the Karoi/Binga road intersection, averaging 26 km/hr. (With a lunch stop it had taken us 4hr10min on the way in.) Thereafter the road improves, with the south-westerly part of the road to Binga improving after a very bumpy start. Earlier the road had been resurfaced with round, slippery stones. This improved portion further on, appears to have been fairly recently graded and a comfortable speed of 60 to 70 km/hr was possible. We spotted a Mottled Spinetail on the Ume River Bridge. (Bohm’s Spinetail seen earlier at Mana). We stopped for lunch at the Matari River (40 min).
    The well sign posted Chizarira turn off was reached after 187km (6hr40min travelling). GPS S17 34.550 E27 49.047. A further 20min and 11km brought us to the entrance gate and the first office where we just had to produce our booking confirmation. GPS S17 37.984 E27 51.682
    The drive up the escarpment is through verdant pockets of forest and there are wonderful opportunities for birding. In parts the road has concrete strips making the park more accessible during the rainy season. (Bank a summer trip for the future). The main office is also well sign posted 8km into the park. GPS S17 40.693 E27 52.707. We checked the register to find that 30 individuals had stayed in the park during September, more than usual. However we were alone in the park at that stage.
    COSTS: 8US$ /person entry fee and 5US $ /vehicle. CAMPING 75US$/site/night (max12 people).
    We were told we could camp at any designated camp site as the park was empty with no known bookings. As it turned out we decided on Mucheni View camp after first looking at and being impressed with the Mucheni Gorge site. This was not an easy decision as both had absolutely magnificent views. It is difficult to imagine any better anywhere. These lie just over 2 km from the office and are reasonably sign- posted. They are about 600m apart. The View site looks west and gives a breath- taking view down the Mucheni River gorge with an estimated precipitate drop of 500 m from the boma situated right on the edge. It then drops further down the escarpment to the invisible southern shores of Karibi. My GPS tells me that Mucheni View is 1660 feet higher than the Park turn-off on the Karoi Binga road. It did take some getting used to by those of us with a fear of heights. There was a lot of smoke and dust in the air, usual for this time of the year, imparting a haziness to the view.Mucheni Gorge is equally scenic and faces east down the gorge.What swung the decision for us was the slightly better view from the lapa at Mucheni View. GPS S17 38.765 E27 52.608.
    All these camps were unfenced. Both have only very basic facilities with a concrete table and chairs, a braai stand and a shabby long-drop toilet. Neither had any showers or water. The tents were pitched on fairly level but slightly rocky terrain. The only jarring feature was the half full rubbish pits in each campsite. Please rather remove all your rubbish! There was very little shade for the tents but at this height there was almost always a cooling breeze which became quite strong at times. We in any case, spent most of our time whilst in camp in the shade of the boma, surveying the view. Wood was provided at no charge at each site. We had filled our water tanks and containers at the Chief ranger’s house which a helpful staff member took us to. GPS S17 40.319 E27 52.676.

    The staff at the main office stated that the best drives were on the Kaswiswi and Mabola loops. No maps are available at the office but one can take the trouble to copy the large hand drawn map in the office if intending to do extensive exploring. These tracks were reasonably accurate on T4A and some sign-posts were present indicating the turn-offs from the main track in the reserve. The tracks themselves were pretty rudimentary but in dry weather easy enough for any vehicle with decent height clearance. Especially the Kaswiswi loop traverses some steep, small river beds which will not be easily fordable in the wet and apparently are often closed in the rainy season.
    We really enjoyed the Kaswiswi drive down the eastern side of the escarpment. It passes along the Kwizilukulu River to reach Kaswiswi 1 and 2 camps. No 1 camp is beautifully situated in an unfenced location on the Kwizilukulu River. GPS S17 41.748 E27 54.002. The river had fresh, slowly flowing water in it from a spring, convenient for camp usage and possibly for drinking. We saw no Crocs and a quick dip in the clear pool in front of the camp would be very tempting. The surroundings are very green along the smallish river with lovely trees and vegetation. This is a veritable paradise for birds with a scenic walk along the river being enjoyed by us. This is where we discovered the no 2 campsite about 500m upstream. GPS S17 41.737 E27 54.246
    The facilities at Kaswiswi 1 were neglected but the potential here is mind boggling. The main problem is that the pump from the river is not operational. This means that the flush toilets and the shower (with donkey) are not functioning. It would really not take much to have this camp fully operational. The buildings just need a good sweep and wash. Reeded huts on stilts, kitchen lapa, braaistand and ablutions are still largely intact. Another facility to bank for the future. If we had another 2 nights in Chizarira we would definitely have moved here despite the impressive “Veiw” campsite we were in. Our fellow traveller Jan Slabber arrived that afternoon and I gather that he followed our advice and camped at Kaswiswi. It would be interesting to hear how he found it. These 2 camps are at least 2km from any other habitation.
    Kaswiswi 2 is 500m further south on this same river where it is joined by the Kaswiswi River. This is an even more striking setting. It has little in the way of shade or facilities, with only a concrete table and bench and braai stand. This area would mainly interest those that appreciate birding and isolation. There appears to be minimal game present and all we saw were some Bushbuck and some Baboons. Some old Elephant dung was evident. Chizarira has the reputation of having suffered heavily at the hands of subsistence poachers. This is not surprising when one appreciates the obvious poverty of the surrounding rural population. It would not take much more than a local economic upturn and stricter anti-poaching measures to reverse this process. I often think that I was born in the wrong century.
    We then drove on the Mbola loop to reach the Mbola camp site.GPS S17 42.528 E27 51.069.This lay on the small Mucheni River on the opposite southern side of the main reserve road. This camp has similar facilities to Kiswiswi no. 1, but is in a more advanced state of neglect. The setting here is slightly less idyllic than at Kiswiswi, but we were impressed with the flocks of Green Pigeons we flushed from the fruiting trees on the river bank. It is with a sore heart that one recognizes the neglected potential here. This applies to the whole of Zim.
    When we returned to our camp Terry and Wendy continued their drive down to the Viewing Platform area further east. The roads here apparently become even more rudimentary. Here more game was evident and they mentioned seeing a fairly large herd of Waterbuck and some Ground Hornbills. We had noticed a substantial abandoned school near the staff village. On enquiring we were disappointed to discover that this school had fallen into disuse because of lack of funding. The children are supposed to attend school outside the park some distance away. Because of transport problems most of the children of park personnel were not receiving any formal schooling at all. Given the high value placed on education in most African communities, one can only imagine how demotivating this must be for those working and living in Chizarira. Another opportunity for a Multinational company or NGO to make a difference.
    The birding in Chizarira is superb and would probably improve manifold once the rains arrived. Terry was very impressed with the “fantastically diverse topography and vegetation” and felt that there was a much wider variety of birds than in the Zambezi valley.
    We spent that afternoon in camp admiring the view from the lapa, set on the very edge of the escarpment. We noticed a breeding herd of 11 Elephants slowly browsing their way down the river bed in the Mucheni Gorge. They first drank from a large pool of water in the bed. They were so far below as to appear about thumbnail in size.
    My highlight was seeing a pair of Black Eagles soaring effortlessly BELOW us. This is the first occasion that I can recall seeing, from above, for any length of time, the striking white V on their on their backs. They were later joined by a juvenile. Unfortunately none of us were quick enough to take advantage of this amazing photographic opportunity. We also saw some Falcons that we are convinced were the endemic Taita Falcons that breed in the gorge.
    In summary we were all very impressed with Chizarira and would definitely have liked to have spent another night or two here. It might be best to visit during the peak birding season later in summer. It is far more than a stopover on the Karoi – Binga road and if forced to choose I would rather spend time here than Matusadona, but this is a close decision. Probably best to spend time at both but a little longer at Chizarira as the individual camps offer very different experiences. I would suggest 2 nights each at Mucheni View and Kaswiswi 1.

    NEXT:Part 6 Hwange
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  12. #11
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    East London
    Thanked: 6689

    Default ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010 PART6

    PART 6
    ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010
    Author: Stan Weakley.

    (Days 17,18 and 19: 1/10 to 3/10/2010)
    320km 6hr30min
    We left Mucheni View at 7H50. Packing up camp was now a well-oiled routine without any marital trials and tribulations. The Karoi/ Binga road was reached in about 65min and 20km taking time to appreciate the beautiful environment and enjoying the birding. Once again not much evidence of any game. We turned left (South) towards Binga and reached the tar road about 2hr and 70km from Mucheni. GPS S17 41.671 E27 25.912. The dirt road was in good condition. The turnoff to Binga was to the right (West) at the T-junction on the A8 tarred road, reaching this Kariba “ harbor” town took 2 hr15 min (90km) from Mucheni.

    We had decided to head for Binga to refuel, have the puncture repaired and to explore. Binga has become very rundown and depressing. No fuel was available at the service stations and there was apparently nowhere to repair my puncture. A Spar is present, (Taylor’s) but is not well stocked. We were able to buy fresh bread, beer and gin. Fresh tomatoes and veggies were bought from some vendors.

    I now did some decent research and T4A indicated fuel and repairs at Dete, towards Hwange. My fuel was slightly on the low side as we had last filled up in Makuti on the way to Matusadona. The A8 to Hwange has many potholes at first, later improving with evidence of ongoing repairs. We arrived at Crossroads 4hr 15min and 220km after leaving Mucheni. (After subtracting detour to Binga). No fuel at the fuel pumps here so we detoured south for 17km to Dete were we were able to refuel and repair the puncture.(For 5US$). GPS S18 37.132 E26 51.315.This took a little time because of Toyotas stupid tubed tyres. The opportunity was taken to have brunch here so we had a fairly long stop. Terry repaired a puncture in his tubeless tyre with a plug.

    A tarred short cut was taken to Hwange entrance gate and we reached the office at Main Camp 6hr30min and 320km after leaving Mucheni. If need be, I am sure this part of the trip can be done in 4 to 5hr.
    Once again the Park officials were friendly and reasonably efficient. They had a record of our bookings at the picnic site camps. This is where we discovered that the Harare office had overcharged us by about 50US$ , which we could only claim back from Harare, as this was where the payment had originally been sent .Terry’s brother Peter and his wife Rhon. were due to join us in Hwange on the 3/10 for 4 days and we managed to negotiate no payment for their stay in lieu of our being over-charged. I don’t know how they balance their books!

    COSTS: 15US$ /person entry fee, 5US$ per vehicle.
    CAMPING 115US$/site/night (max 8 people)

    Signboards here indicate that the latest one could leave Main Camp for Robin’s Camp is 12H00 and Sinamatella at 14H00, in order to reach them safely before gate closure time, which was 18H30 in October. The gates opened at 06H00.
    Of the places we visited, Hwange exceeded my expectations the most. My fears were totally unfounded that it would be short of game, “tame”, over-managed or overcrowded. I think this is due to the fact that we avoided the larger camps and camped at the picnic site camps. These picnic site camps are for single group usage (8 people max), although people on game drives can utilize the picnic facilities. We had a maximum of 3 vehicles passing briefly through per day.

    I learned of the advantages of using these picnic sites for camping on this forum and booked the specific sites based on member’s suggestions. Fortunately we had no gatecrashers trying to share the camping. I personally feel that one pays a premium fee for private use of these facilities and I would not tolerate other campers trying to muscle in on our carefully chosen, long pre-booked and paid for camp. The offices in Hwange are not able to overrule any bookings from head office in Harare and I would not have hesitated to produce my booking confirmation to force others to move on. Perhaps easier said than done, as apparently double booking errors have occurred in the past. Asking others to produce the necessary documentary proof of bookings would, in my opinion, be entirely reasonable. To be confident of obtaining exactly the bookings chosen I would suggest booking as early as possible, bookings open 11 months in advance as in Botswana etc. Once the sought after bookings have been obtained at Hwange (and Mana Pools), the rest of the holiday can be planned around these.

    The game viewing improves dramatically as the dry season progresses and the animals are forced to drink at the main waterholes. Thus probably best in September and October, although October is becoming very hot with temperatures reaching 40 degrees C. I think the game viewing in Hwange at the right time of the year, is equivalent to Kruger, Moremi or Etosha, with the picnic site camps providing a unique experience in this context. This opinion contrasts with views expressed by some prominent forum contributors. At the right time of the year I would definitely tag a well planned trip to Hwange, via Pandamatenga, onto an eastern Botswana holiday.
    It also needs to be mentioned that the roads in Hwange are entirely suitable for saloon cars. The worst road is the deteriorated tar road between Main and Robin’s camps. When political acceptability is reached in Zimbabwe, this road would also be a great project for a Multinational company or NGO to sponsor. I am sure tourism in the future will once again be one of the major money-spinners for Zimbabwe.
    Most of the Picnic sites are fantastic, some less so. I think one needs to book sites in 2 different areas to take advantage of the different vegetation types, birds and even animals, in the varied ecosystems in the park. The southeast of the park has more open terrain with mixed vegetation and better game viewing opportunities. In order of preference the best picnic spots in this area are, Ngweshla Pan, Kennedy Pan (a very close second) and Jambile Pan. Ngweshla was my first choice but was already full when I tried to book. In the Sinamatella Camp area one finds fairly monotonous, thick Mopani bush, very dry but with reasonable visibility at this time of the year. Once the Mopanis have greened up, visibility would be much more restricted. In this central area of the park one is more likely to see large herds of Elephants and Buffalo. Based on my relatively limited experience I would choose in order of preference the following Picnic site camps in the Sinamatella area, Masuma Dam, Shumba, Mandavu Dam and least of all, Deteema Dam.

    At one stage these pans were running dry due to lack of funds and poor maintenance of the engines used for pumping water into them. This has since been corrected. Seeing them functioning so well after being resurrected by donor funds, evoked powerful images of the accounts of parched animals stampeding to the pans. They knew that the sound of the restarted engines meant that lifesaving water had returned again. Hwange seems to be recovering rapidly, thanks mainly to the magnificent efforts of the Save Hwange Trust. The Pump Pans do add an element of “management” to this Reserve, but at least the Park is unfenced.
    There appear to be too many Elephants in certain parts of Hwange and the culling controversy has reared its head here. It would appear that little active game management is taking place. The proposed trans-frontier park with animal corridors between the parks in the greater Zambezi area involving Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola is an initiative that holds unlimited possibilities. As mentioned Hwange is an unfenced park and safe havens and water elsewhere would allow for wider dispersion of Hwange’s 30 to 40,000 strong Elephant population. Afro-pessimists feel that this model is overambitious. Main camp itself seems to have been fairly reasonably maintained, but its emptiness is very sad.

    There appears to be more game in this area, possibly due to anti-poaching efforts by the staff of the private lodges on the western border of the Park. Robin’s camp is frankly depressing, more rundown and virtually empty, as applies to Sinamatella to a lesser extent. The area around Robin’s camp and the west of the park appears to be relatively depleted of animals. It unfortunately may be the case that the major price increases during 2010 will further retard any increase in numbers of tourists and especially locals.

    KENNEDY NO 1 PICNIC SITE: GPS S18 52.139 E27 08.499.
    It took us 1hr10min, at game viewing speed, to cover the 30km to Kennedy from Main Camp. We enjoyed the animals and saw our first Giraffe in Zimbabwe. It was immediately obvious that there was plenty of game in this part of the park and a different bird population to the Zambezi valley.
    I had heard on this forum about Vincent the camp attendant at Kennedy and he turned out to be just as helpful and pleasant as anticipated. He is a proud, but very helpful, middle aged African gentleman, the type of person who is a major asset to tourism in Zim. He proudly showed us around his camp. His pride and joy were the 3 birdbaths he kept filled with water and we could see that these attracted large numbers and varieties of birds to the camp. We had a fairly difficult choice as to where to pitch our tents and eventually settled on the north-eastern corner as this was closest to the boma which was to act as our pantry, kitchen and shelter from the sun. The boma had a central concrete table and benches with plenty of storage space.

    A second similar boma was present and was used by the few picnickers who arrived over the next 3 days. There were better shaded camping spots further from the bomas but we had to make a choice. Privacy is a non-issue as so few visitors actually enter the camp. The camp itself is about 200 square m in size and is surrounded by a rudimentary wire fence, broken in a few places, and only about 1m high, hardly a barrier to any inquisitive Lion. I suppose it does prevent Elephants wandering through the camp and plundering the trees. The other infrastructure is provided by 3 standpipe taps with very palatable water from a borehole and a very handy “kitchen” where Vincent kindly washed our plates etc. Very adequate flush ladies and gents toilets, wash-basins and a shower completed the picture. There was no donkey for hot water although this was not missed by us and cold showers were a pleasure during the heat of the day. The shower had a deficient shower rose and not the greatest water pressure, but this is nit picking. We felt as if we were in the lap of luxury after the austere facilities at Chizarira. The facilities could have done with a coat of paint here and there, but were kept spotlessly clean by Vincent. The facilities were in better condition than at Masuma Dam, our next camp. Also present was Molly, an armed game ranger whose task, according to Vincent, was to guard the camp in case the Lions come….. ” Ja sure!”

    I had noted a plea on the Internet, saying that Vincent’s greatest wish was for a pair of size 11 shoes. Anne had bought him such a pair and he accepted these very gratefully, despite himself in fact actually being a size 9. We had also made up a few packs of basic groceries with some luxuries, which we handed over to deserving staff as our journey proceeded, including Vincent and also the staff at Tashinga and Masuma dam. We had hardly set up camp when Vincent offered to do some washing for us. We thanked him and pointed out that we had washed our dishes from lunch, but no, he was referring to any dirty clothes. These we thankfully handed over to him and received them later dry, spotless and neatly folded .All very colonial I am afraid. These camp attendants are not paid much and this is a constructive way to supplement their incomes. Although he was not one to complain, it appears that their weekly rations do not arrive regularly and sometimes they are not paid for a few months at a time. He was however grateful to actually have a job. The other services he provided was to supply plenty of chopped fire-wood, light the fire at night at a prearranged time and get the fire going for early morning coffee. At no time was Vincent intrusive or obsequious. Oh for more such qualities where I come from! Future visitors please be sure to tip him generously, he really deserves it.

    The closest waterhole to the camp was Kennedy No. 1 pan about 500m. away, unfortunately not viewable from the camp. At this time of the year the pans are what Hwange is all about and we spent our first evening at this pan. It is fed water by an engine and it is the camp attendant’s duty to refuel and maintain it. According to Vincent it is very common to see the resident pride of lions here as well as herds of Sable and Roan antelope. We were to have no such luck.
    After dark the first night we could hear lions roaring in the vicinity. We had a royal command performance the next night when they spent much of the night roaring right at the camp perimeter. In Terry’s words they were so close one could hear their breathing between roars. There is a primitive instinct that provokes reflex palpitations at this sound, especially if close by. It reduces one to a cave man quivering in a cave at the fears of the night. I asked Anne to shine a light to look for the Lions, our kids would be shocked at what she suggested I do! Not too much sleep that night, but thrilling nonetheless. I always feel completely safe in a securely zipped ground tent. As long as you are not stupid and sit up, allowing a predator to see your silhouette through the window or entrance netting, they seem to perceive a tent as a solid structure. It is said that nobody has ever been harmed by a predator within a secure ground tent. I therefore do not accept increased safety as a valid reason for preferring a roof top tent. The other night sounds I enjoyed here were the screech of a Barn Owl and the “Lister engine” call of a Mozambique Nightjar.
    It was Anne’s birthday on the 2/10, but we sensibly saved the formal festivities for when we returned home.

    The next morning early we set off on a drive towards Ngweshla pan. Although initially we travelled together, Terry’s excitement at the number and variety of birds got the better of me and we passed to move along at a steadier pace. I am not a fanatical enough birder to stop, look and identify a bird every 200m. Kennedy no 2 Pan is also quite a large pumped pan but is closer to the road than no 1, providing better game viewing opportunities at a closer range. It is about 30min from Kennedy camp. We spent some time here and it was fascinating to watch the animals suddenly emerge from the nearby woodlands and come down to drink, as if from nowhere. This makes one realize that the game one sees represents only a small fraction of what is actually present in the vicinity.
    I had actually hoped to drive the full circular drive to Main camp to have a look at the camp facilities at Jambile picnic site but was unable to get that far. I subsequently heard that Jambile camp was neglected with no resident camp attendant at around this time. I do not know if this was a temporary hiccup or if this is still the situation but would be surprised if this was still a problem. Jambile is a very popular camp but I will save it for a future trip.

    Ngweshla is fairly similar to Kennedy. GPS S19 01.542 E27 06.395. It is further from Main camp so is likely to be even more private with fewer day visitors. The camp itself is a little smaller with seemingly very similar facilities. The camp attendant here is Binga, also very friendly and proud of his camp. There seemed to be a larger variety and no of birds at his bird baths with large nos of Meyer’s Parrots and Plum Coloured Starlings. The Ngweshla pans here are closer to the camp and more approachable in a vehicle and lie on either side of the road making photography better, with an opportunity to position the sun behind you in the morning or afternoon. We were excited to see our first Roan of the trip, a bull, here.
    At Kennedy the temperature ranged from 35 degrees C to 10 degrees at night. Hitherto we had slept covered in a sheet only, but were now waking from the chill and pulling a sleeping bag over ourselves.

    We were pleasantly surprised by the quality birding available in this area of Hwange, certainly better than we would experience at Msuma later. Terry set up his camera on remote on a tripod at the bird baths and appeared to get some good close ups of the various birds coming to drink. These included: Meyer’s Parrots, Cape Glossy Starlings, Marico Sunbird and large nos. of Violet Eared and Black Cheeked Waxbills etc.
    Away from the camp I recall (without keeping a tick list) seeing Swallow Tailed Bee Eaters, Purple Rollers, Bradfield’s Hornbills etc.,.Common animals seen in the area include Zebra, Kudu, Impala, Elephant and some Duiker.
    I could definitely have spent 4 nights here and regret not having done the whole circular drive via Jambile, Main camp and back.

    DAYS 20 to 23: SUNDAY 2/10/2010 to THURSDAY 6/10/2010, HWANGE.
    MASUMA DAM PICNIC SITEGPS S18 43.828 E26 16.857.
    153km 7hr45min (Kennedy to Sinametella)
    COSTS:CAMPING 115US$/site/night (max 8 people)
    Masuma Dam was possibly the most pleasant surprise of the trip. We had been on the go now for nearly 3 weeks and were ready for a situation where we could sit in camp all day and immerse ourselves in the comings, goings and events unfolding at a waterhole.
    Terry and Wendy left Kennedy at first light. They were driving to Victoria Falls to collect his older brother Peter and wife Rhonwyn who had just completed 10 days with friends in expensive private lodges in Botswana. Peter is a very successful accountant turned businessman in the USA where he has lived for 30 odd years. I really wanted them to enjoy their sojourn with us and was hoping they would not find the transition too harsh. To the contrary, they really relished this part of their holiday and we enjoyed having some new company. Sitting at a waterhole for hours certainly lends itself to conversation and I received some excellent business advice from Peter.

    Anne and I left Kennedy at 8H20 after packing up and having a shower. Fond goodbyes to Vincent, may he go well. We decided to drive north towards Main Camp bypassing it by taking the Dopi/ Dom loop. This is also lovely African bush and the area has thicker vegetation than further south. We had to drive through Masuma Dam Camp to Sinamatella to book in for Masuma, as it fell under Sinamatella’s jurisdiction. Why this formality could not be done at Main Camp, the headquarters of Hwange, escapes me. There and back from Masuma to Sinamatella was 54km which wasted 1hr40min altogether.
    We obviously made use of this trip through the park and enjoyed some good game viewing especially in the Main Camp vicinity. We saw 3 majestic Sable Antelope bulls near Caterpillar Pan. Again, near Shumba Pan on the “tar”, we saw a herd of 13 Sable including young. The tar road between Main and Sinamatella camps is shocking as mentioned. Often a deteriorated tar road is worse than dirt. This single track road has large sections with deep potholes meaning one repeatedly has to drive on a rough track next to the road.

    We arrived at Shumba Pan picnic site and camp after 3hr (130km from Kennedy). GPS S18 48.571 E26 20.839. We had a very good look around Shumba as this is many people’s favourite camp in this part of the park. Certainly well looked after by the camp attendant William. Two concrete picnic tables and benches under shady trees. More shade to camp under than any of the other camps. Seems to have much the same facilities as elsewhere, but also a functioning hot water donkey.
    Unfortunately the pan of the same name lies about 400m away and one has to ride by vehicle to access the raised hide. The pan is not easily visible from the camp unlike Masuma. There are resident Hippos in this pan and we saw a healthy herd of Buffalo. Zebra were also present. Apparently Roan antelope often come to drink here. Terry later pointed out though that there are a large no of waterholes close by, which clearly would draw some game away. However I think the game viewing at Shumba is done mainly by car, going from pan to pan or seated in the hide after driving there. The general area is reputed to offer excellent game viewing with Lions being quite common. I prefer Masuma because of its viewing hide in the camp very close to a not too large dam. Shumba is definitely a close second preference. We had a leisurely brunch here.
    From Shumba we drove to Sinamatella via Masuma and Mandavu Dam picnic sites and camps. I had a very close look at Mandavu. The turnoff is at GPS S18 38.455 E26 16.566. The dam is very large, about 800m in diameter. Most of the animals were on the far and southern aspects of the dam. To have a decent view of them one needed to use binoculars. There were plenty of birds in view but also mainly on the distant shore. The hide is under thatch, large and cool. Fishing is allowed here and the fishermen and their vehicles were clearly visible, impacting somewhat on the atmosphere. There would be more fishermen present on a weekend.
    The size of the camp is quite a bit larger than the other picnic sites but there is once again minimal shade for tents. Braai facilities and similar ablutions etc. to the other picnic site camps are present. This site would not be very high on my list because of the size of the dam and the resultant distant view of the game, but definitely preferable to any of the main camps.

    Sinamatella camp appeared empty and forlorn but not as derelict as I had feared. I did not see inside any of the accommodation. I definitely cannot recommend staying here as things are at the moment. GPS S18 35.132 E26 18.919.
    The camp is set high on a hill giving most of the chalets an excellent view onto the lower ground below.
    Having completed the admin we set off back to Masuma Dam camp and picnic site. The trees along the road are closely spaced, medium sized to large Mopanis which are a little monotonous and obstruct your range of vision somewhat. Not much game seen in this area although there were widespread signs of Elephants.

  13. #12
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Thanked: 14


    The most comprehensive trip reports I have read for a long time - well done.

    Suggestion for the photos: consider posting them on 'flickr'.

  14. #13
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    East London
    Thanked: 6689

    Default ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010 PART6 PHOTOS

    Some pics from the first section of Hwange. You will notice the emphasis on the camps and facilities rather than animals in my report. Just to give those planning future trips an idea of what to expect.
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  15. #14
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    East London
    Thanked: 6689

    Default ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010 PART 7

    PART 7
    ZIMBABWE(Via Botswana)Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010
    Author: Stan Weakley.
    MASUMA DAM CAMP:(PICNIC SITE) 3/10 To 6/10/2010
    This lies 27km from Sinamatella. This proximity does not seem to have an effect on the privacy at Masuma as there are very few visitors, about 2 to 3 vehicles per day. For the same reason, the fact that the road goes straight through the camp, had little impact. When busier times do arrive this might be a different story. The two camp attendants had the quaint names of Mixture and Surprise and introduced themselves. These naive names such as Gift, Precious etc. are common in Zim. Masuma was the right camp at the right time for us. We had done a lot of travelling by now and we were in the frame of mind to set up station in the hide and let the game come to us.

    This camp has a fairly high, sturdier fence than the other picnic spots, reassuring for those who might feel less secure. The camp facilities were a little more run down than at some of the other picnic spots but were adequate with showers and hot water from the donkey, kept going mornings and evenings by the camp attendants. The shower was a little neglected but clean, with peeling paint and mouldy walls. The toilets were fine, male and female with wash basins. The water was a little brackish, but luckily we had filled our tanks and containers at Kennedy and used this for drinking.
    There was one leafy tree, not really enough shade for 3 tents. This was not a problem as, in the heat of the day, we spent most of our time in the cool thatched hide. This was a wonderful facility, large with lots of space, we could even take our air matrasses down for a sleep. It was probably 20m in length with concrete and wooden benches and a wide counter-top to place cameras, binoculars, bird books and drinks. Most of the time we had it entirely to ourselves but we enjoyed the 5 or 6 visitors we had, especially young European couples who were always interesting to speak to about their travels.
    The dam was about 30m in diameter, situated close to the front of the hide on its south-eastern aspect. The fresh water inlet was less than 10m from the front of the hide and this was often where the Elephants would head for, giving us a front-row grandstand view. There was also a muddy area here and we were often treated to a close up view of elephants cavorting in the mud. The antics of the juveniles having fun in the mud never failed to raise a chuckle. We all felt very privileged to be part of this. I was especially pleased to observe our “American” guests engaging so enthusiastically with this experience. Their effusive thanks at the end of the trip and their obvious wonder at this contrasting experience to that of a lodge holliday, was a feel-good experience for me. We were also in fact blown away by this camp and its wonderful hide. I cannot recommend it enough for the true nature lover. I can only comment on the experience during the peak of the dry season of course.

    As at Kennedy the camp attendants were very helpful providing more than adequate amounts of chopped wood for our nightly cooking fire (no charge). They also happily offered to wash all our dishes and dirty clothes. On leaving, Peter appointed himself in charge of tipping them and from their huge smiles he has ruined the market with his disregard for the local value of the American Dollar. We were at the end of our trip and they also benefitted from our unused supplies which we had no desire to lug all the way home.
    On our first night with our guests we could clearly hear Lions roaring from the direction of Shumba. A Hyena was also sounding off very close to our tents. We could often hear Elephants noisily feeding from the thickets at the camp fence. We were camped very close to the perimeter.
    The next day the Counihans went on a drive to Shumba and had a good viewing of the Lions we had heard the previous night. Anne and I were very happy to take up our relaxed station in the hide. Time is your friend in this situation and it was fascinating to quietly watch the animal interactions and the little dramas of nature unfolding before your eyes. The easily overlooked minutia of African nature hold an endless fascination for me.
    The birds were plentiful but not quite the variety as the Kennedy area. Large nos of Turtle Doves, Grey Headed Sparrows, Yellow Breasted Buntings and Red billed Quelea were present. As darkness fell each night hundreds of Sand Grouse, with their lilting calls, would come in to drink. We have never seen such large flocks of Helmeted Guinea Fowl before, in flocks of hundreds, an indication of the good rains over the last few seasons. Other birds I can recall seeing include, Secretary Bird, Yellow Billed Kites, White Headed and White Backed Vultures, various Glossy Starlings, Meyer’s Parrots, Yellow Eyed Canaries, Spotted Thick-knees etc.

    Four dramas with birds made an impression:
    1)Seeing a medium sized croc stalk and successfully snatch a Dove from the water’s edge. We witnessed other unsuccessful attempts.
    2)A Martial Eagle pursuing and narrowly missing a Guinea Fowl. It was always amazing seeing the Guinea Fowl scatter the second a raptor came into sight.
    3)A Lanner Falcon repeatedly stooping at the Turtle Doves unsuccessfully. The swift silent approach from behind cover and then the loud whoosh of its “air brakes’ as it reached its target. One could always predict the Falcon’s presence by the sudden absence of doves at the water. It’s previously successful forays were evident by the occasional piles of feathers.
    4)An African Goshawk on 2 occasions successfully hunting Grey Headed Sparrows.

    Animals seen coming down to drink included herds of Impala, Zebra, Waterbuck, Kudu, including some magnificent bulls, Baboons, small groups of Buffalo bulls, Giraffe and many large breeding herds of up to 50 Elephants. It was disappointing to have seen no large herds of Buffalo coming down to drink. I had also hoped to see Sable and Roan Antelope at the dam.
    The highlight of the animal sightings occurred on the early evening of our third day at Masuma when Rhon suddenly spotted a Wild Dog, which briefly disappeared , only to return with 2 companions as they came down to drink from the dam in front of us and to cool off in the shallows. They did not stay very long as they were continuously being chased off, first by some Water Buck and later by Elephants. Great excitement experienced by all.
    The constant theme of Masuma was the large herds of Elephant coming down to drink from the afternoon through the night. At times there were over a hundred Elephants crowding around this relatively small dam. Those of senior status and their offspring would dominate the area of the fresh water inlet, until the solitary Bulls arrived. It was always interesting watching the continual jostling for senior status in the herd pecking order, even amongst juveniles. The herds had plenty of offspring indicative of the favourable recent conditions. The hierarchy status between different herds was also of interest. At times a herd would simply just join those at the water with a minimum of fuss from either side. This in spite of the second herd arriving from a completely different direction. On other occasions a herd would wait in the distance before rushing to drink, once those present moved off. A further variation was the new arrivals noisily and aggressively chasing off the herd currently at the water. Never a dull moment!

    Terry had been taking reams of photos from the hide, making full use of the fantastic photo opportunities. These were now becoming too mundane for him. Despite the warnings of all, he chose a lull in the “traffic” to place his expensive camera and tripod on a little peninsula on the water’s edge, near the fresh water inlet. To try to prevent his camera from being bumped into the water by the Elephants he tied it via a cord to a tent peg hammered into the bank. Suffice to say, a long period of high volume Elephant traffic followed, with many close encounters between scuffling Elephants and the camera. The camera was on automatic taking a random picture every 30sec. I must confess I was more concerned about losing all the photos stored on the camera, than the camera itself. Eventually there was a lull and he was able to retrieve his camera. He now certainly has many close-up photos of elephants from an unusual angle.
    We had a good last night’s sleep to the familiar background chorus of Hippos, Hyenas, Jackals, Elephants, Thick-knees, Lapwings and Night Jars. Three nights had been the perfect length of time to have spent at Masuma.

    324km 6hr55min
    We had decided to avoid the Beit Bridge border once again and were heading home via the Pandamatenga border post and Botswana.
    We stopped briefly at Deteema Picnic spot to have a quick recce. GPS S18 40.434 E26 08.804. It took 45min to drive the 25km from Masuma. It is the most run down picnic spot of those we saw. It only has a bucket type shower but reasonable flush toilets.
    No formal braai stand and no shade at all. The smallish hide is a little ramshackle, but is right on a medium sized dam.There was also a fair amount of water in the small river for some distance before the dam. This might decrease the amount of game arriving to drink at the dam. In my opinion this is the least attractive of the picnic sites on first impression. But it is still a better proposition than the bigger camps and other people have very positive reports of their stay here.

    Approaching Robin’s camp, the Mopani veld is less dense, but we saw fewer animals than further east in the park. Robin’s was 90min and 50km from Masuma. The camp appeared devoid of tourists and was more run down than any of the others, but once again it would not take too much to get back to its former glories. We climbed the 4 flights of stairs to reach the top of the viewing block. The mini-museum on the third floor gives an authentic insight into the yesteryear of this area and is worth a visit.
    For Pandamatenga, be sure to take the right hand fork immediately at the Robin’s entrance gate, sign posted Victoria Falls. Tracks 4 Africa is very accurate for the route to the border. The Hwange entrance/exit gate is 18min and 11km further on. At 16km after the gate, the road forks, LEFT to Panda and right to Vic. Falls. The remainder of the road is stoney and bumpy and would be a test in the rainy season as evidenced by the deep ruts in some clay sections. It appears fine for any SUV or trailer in dry conditions. The single track road winds through some impressive countryside. The grass was very long; a fire would be devastating considering the dryness of the vegetation. This route and Border Post are definitely to be recommended with a suitable vehicle.
    We arrived at Pandamatenga border post 3hr15min and 104km after Masuma; 1hr and 54km after Robin’s.
    It took 40min to clear both sides of the border. On the Zim side they thoroughly checked the vehicle contents, papers, engine and chassis nos., without being too painful. On the Bots side they checked very carefully for any fresh meat and dairy products.
    We stopped at Elephant Sands 2hr and 153km after Panda. GPS S19 44. 943 E26 04 .280. The turn-off is well signposted. We had some drinks and toasted sarmies for lunch and had a good look around the camp which appeared empty. In general the pub, swimming pool and surrounds are good and the chalets reasonable. The camping area is sandy, with not much shade.
    PRICES (2010 ) Twin Chalet P400, Camping P50, Dinner P85, Breakfast P55. (No Credit Cards). Excludes VAT and P2 bed levy.
    Seems to be a good place to overnight but I thought Nata Lodge was a slightly better proposition although more expensive. Nata Lodge has no Elephants, but has the nearby Magadigadi (Sua) salt pans and the Nata Bird Sanctuary.

    Panda to Nata took 3hr30min for the 220km inclusive of the stop for lunch. (Subtracting the stop gives a travelling time of 2hr30min).The lodge lies a few km south of Nata town on the Francistown road. Large sections of this road are under reconstruction but the condition of the temporary detours were good, enabling speeds of up to 100km/hr. From past experience I suspect the road further north from Kasane to Panda, is worse. The new road is high spec and broad and will be a pleasure when complete.
    After checking in, we went on to Nata Bird Sanctuary, 8km further south on the Francistown road. This is a community project and is well worth a visit if one has 2 hours or so to kill. COSTS: P50 pp(expensive !) and P15 per vehicle.
    We first went to the Platform to see Sua Pan disappearing into the distance. Don’t bother if you have already been to the pans. Next we drove to the waterhole and then onto Nata River mouth, all reasonably sign-posted. Saw our first Springbok and Wildebeest of the trip and some Jackals and Ostriches. For those with the slightest interest in birds this is worthwhile provided there is some water at the mouth. There were still some pools and we were surprised to find about 6 adult and 20 near-adult Flamingos that had not yet migrated north. Many waders were busy around the edges of the pools. Beware of the hostile steekgras. This is a beautiful spot to watch the sunset over the Pan.
    COSTS(Nata Lodge) A safari tent for 2, P520 per night.
    Supper a la carte P40 to 60
    Full English breakfast P80
    These safari tents are fairly luxurious with a great open air shower and crisp white linen. The whole camp has been rebuilt after the disastrous fire of 2008. It is much the same as before except that everything is still spanking new. We enjoyed some drinks at the bar before some supper e.g. Peri-peri chicken livers at P40 and Chicken schnitzel at P60, the service and quality of the food were slightly below par. Unfortunately the Lodge “was not full enough” for the buffet enjoyed in the past.

    746km 9hr15min
    From here our companions and ourselves went our separate ways. Anne and I had a leisurely breakfast at the Lodge, up to standard with very good filtered coffee and omlettes, not cheap at P80 pp, but worth the indulgence.
    Terry and Wendy left much earlier to drop off Peter and Rhonwyn at Francistown airport and then on to Joburg. We had really enjoyed sharing part of our bush camping with the “Americans”. Visitors help one to see things with new eyes.
    We hit the road at 8H15. At Dukwe Foot and Mouth Barrier 50km south of Nata Lodge, we were checked for any meat, as we were travelling south. We had to open our fridge and all our cooler boxes. At the rest of the Vet Barriers we were just waved through. There were Police roadblocks and speed traps all along the way to Gaberone.
    Reached Francistown: after 211km and 2hr25min, from Nata Lodge,
    Palapye: 377km and 4hr25min from Nata Lodge,
    Gabs: 612km and 7hr15min from Nata Lodge,
    Tlokweng/Kopfontein Border Post: 640km and 7hr50min from Nata Lodge,
    Zeerust; 746km and 9hr15min from Nata Lodge,
    Garmap took us smoothly through Gabs. The road from there to the Tlokweng Border Post was under repair with a speed limit of 60 km/hr. The border was not busy and we cleared both sides in 20min. The only rudeness of the whole trip was experienced at the hands of the South African Immigration lady. She needs a cracker…..
    In Zeerust, after looking around a bit, we stayed at the Grey Lourie B+B, adequate at R160 pppn. The next day when passing through town saw Marico Bosveld B+B. It looked more up-market with off road parking and security.

    1033km 11hr20min
    Left Zeerust at 5H30. Lichtenberg has many more B+B’s, probably a better prospect than Zeerust. We liked the look of Little Dreams Gastehuis and Lakeside B+B ( 4 Stars)
    ROUTE: Lichtenberg, Ottosdal, Bultfontein, Bloem, Queenstown to East London, which was the route used in the past to Botswana and also the “fastest route” suggested by Garmap.
    Calculating the comparison of the route East London to Francistown,
    # Route going there via Jhb, Martin’s drift, 21hr30min and 1718km.
    #Route coming home via Bloem, Bultfontein, Zeerust, Kopfontein, and Gabs. Definitely faster, 17hr30min and shorter, 1568km.
    I thus am of the opinion that anyone travelling from southeast of Bloem towards Francistown should take the Bultfontein-Gabs route.
    We bought some fantastic beef biltong and dried sausage in Bultfontein and Smithfield. Everyone knows that we can’t make decent biltong at the coast.

    COSTS(for the whole trip)
    FOOD/PERSON R920 .00
    (FOOD/PERSON/DAY R30.00)
    DRINKS Confidential
    FUEL/PERSON R3775.00
    TOTAL COST/PERSON R10,155.00

    Political issues aside, I would unreservedly recommend this sort of trip to Zim. The local people are friendly and well educated and seem to have very few racial issues. I think the suspension of the local currency has suddenly lifted aspirations. It would appear to be only a matter of time before major political change follows. Zim appears to be safer than many parts of South Africa and we experienced no sign of corruption or any difficulty with officials.
    The infrastructure is a little neglected but it will not take much to improve it. Anyone interested in travelling here should not wait for “improvements” in the local situation. By then the country and reserves will be overcrowded with tourists and overlanders.
    As far as bookings are concerned, I suggest that if you are aware of which special camps you want, you book a year in advance, namely for Exclusive camps at Mana Pools and for Picnic sites in Hwange. Matusadona and Chizarira do not appear to require any pre-booking.
    When to go? For game-watching August ,September and even October seem best. If seeing the bush in its green version and if birding is a priority, then the rainy season might be a better idea. Some of the parks do close during the peak rains.
    Where to go? Mana Pools will always be a highlight and the Game Count should be considered, taking place in 2011 from the 9 to 12 September. Hwange (especially the Picnic Spot Camps) is a must do! Matusadona and especially Chizarira, are fantastic destinations for those with the vehicle and camping equipment suitable for independent travel. These will especially be enjoyed by those to whom a wilderness experience is a priority rather than abundant animals. I have no experience of Gonarezhou.
    At Mana Pools (especially not-to-be-missed Chitake), Tsetse Flies are a problem. See this link, it seems like a promising solution for these pests.
    The spate of recent reports concerning animal attacks on humans in the Zim Parks, are obviously of concern. These serve to emphasize the wildness of these areas, which is on the other hand is the main attraction. One can’t have things both ways and these areas should be explored with caution and respect for the animals in their home territory and stomping ground. The ill-equipped, inexperienced and irresponsible traveller needs to take note. There is no counter for plain bad luck and no substitute for common sense. I hope these tragic incidents will not deter the true nature lover!

    Zimbabwe when compared in all aspects to Namibia, Botswana and Zambia, more than holds its own. Its major advantages are:
    # The fantastic Game Reserves.
    # The freedom of movement and exclusive, isolated camping
    # The very low numbers of tourists, which will not last much longer.
    # The friendly local people.
    # The lack of crime or corruption and high safety compared to S. A.
    # Value for money.

    NEXT TRIP: Central Kalahari Game Reserve, bookings already done for April 2011.

  16. #15
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    East London
    Thanked: 6689

    Default ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010 PART 7 PHOTOS

    The second last set of photographs. I sincerely hope these reports will be of use to others planning a Zim. trip and that they enjoy it as much as I did.
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  17. #16
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    East London
    Thanked: 6689

    Default ZIMBABWE (Via Botswana) Trip Report :15/09/2010 to 8/10/2010 PART 7 LAST PHOTOS

    the long drive home:
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  18. #17
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Thanked: 1113


    Thanks Stan,

    Looking foward to my Hwange trip in July next year - your pics and report have been a great help.



  19. #18
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Thanked: 563


    Stan, thanks very much for this comprehensive report. Makes me look forward to our trip next April.

    PS - I just love your drinks expenses for you trip!!!
    "If you don't care where you are, you ain't lost"

  20. #19
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Thanked: 0

    Default Masuma hide

    Several years ago we slept in the hide at Masuma. No more. In 2008 a lion spent the night there and the attendant found him when he went to sweep in the morning. He (the lion) stayed there all day. We normally cook near the hide but that day we stayed at the attendants hut. We've also heard of leopard there.
    The hide is a great place to sleep, but I don't advise it. The fence won't stop much
    We were there last June and wild dogs were running Kudu into the fence and a lion stayed all night only a few metres from our tent and kept us awake. He was so close that the tent vibrated every time he roared

  21. #20
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    east london
    Thanked: 67


    Stan your report was a work of art-well done!I agree with you to encourage more visitors as i feel that most camping sites at mana-chizarari and hwankie are not geared for big numbers which we all agree will happen in the future -and when that happens "the Magic" will go and it wont be the same as i prefer to have the sites to ourselfs!Hearing the comments on Masuma site i posted photos of "mixture" running out to switch off or on the water pump-tempting fate me thinks!

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