An Adventure Through Zimbabwe and Botswana

Viv Siderfin

18 May 2017

70th birthday safari

After a night at Victoria Falls in a guest house we had booked independently, our NWS safari began and we were driven to the airport for the short flight to Somalisa in Hwange National Park. We had chosen Somalisa Camp because we had read that the elephants regularly visit the old swimming pool in camp and the waterhole nearby - and we were not disappointed. Throughout our stay, there were elephants coming and going almost all day and night, and we could lie on a lounger a few feet away from them which was lovely.

When a baby elephant fell into the pool trying to reach the water with his trunk, it was amazing to watch the mother's efforts to rescue him, with some others offering support. 

The staff had been alerted and were on their way with poles to direct him to the steps, which in the end he found himself, and managed to climb out unaided.

Everything was perfect at Somalisa. Our 'tent' was excellent, as was the food, service and layout of the whole camp. All the staff were friendly, helpful and knowledgeable, and we had some entertaining meals. On our last evening, we asked if we could be dropped off at a tree platform by a waterhole that we had seen, instead of going for the drive. It was agreed and we were dropped off with two chairs and a table of drinks, with a guardian who sat below stairs to keep an eye on us.

I shall never forget the surprise I had when Yvonne and some other staff turned up in a vehicle soon before sunset. They carried chairs and party food and an ice bucket with champagne up onto the platform. Then the drive people arrived back and I had the most memorable birthday party up on the tree platform as the sun was setting - sundowners with a difference! A crash of thunder followed by bright lightning made us all drink up and pack up and we headed back to camp for a shower and another excellent dinner.

From there, we flew back to Victoria Falls and were driven over the border to Kasane to take a flight to Little Kwara. As we were the only passengers and the pilot was already there, we left straight away - no reason to wait for our scheduled time. The smaller planes are quite noisy and can be bumpy. I found the day of both flights in small planes plus the drive quite exhausting, so exhausting that I turned down the offer of a game drive on arrival for the first time ever!

At Little Kwara, our room on stilts with a balcony was impressive, with a nice view to a lake. We often had elephants browsing around below us. The main reception/dining area here was quite basic and rustic and the food and service was not what we had been used to. Breakfast, in particular, was very basic and set up on a table in the boma, so we were eating round the fire on our knees. Game drives, however, were excellent and had a good guide, plus a tracker up front. 

On one drive we followed fresh cheetah spoor for over 20 minutes, weaving through sand and bush until we found him lying under a bush. 

We also had exceptional sightings of a pack of wild dogs on the move, as well as lions and leopard.

On to Pelo (in a slightly bigger plane!) for a relaxing few days with no game drives as it is on a small island - only boat and mokoro trips. Some nice Wilderness touches here include staff singing, a boma dinner, fresh fruit, tea and coffee tray with flasks of hot and cold water.

In our 'tent' we had mozzie coils (although we hardly saw a mosquito the whole trip as it was so hot and dry) and a miniature Amarula on the bed. We slept well here as there was less noise from elephants, lions or baboons. We woke instead to hippos grunting and birds singing - although there were elephants in camp on several occasions. Our only mishap occurred here when out in a boat with another couple and going at a fair speed we crashed into a sandbank which was hidden just under the surface. The water level was very low and in some places it was not easy to get around. My husband and I were thrown forward but luckily escaped with a few cuts and bruises.

Machaba was our last camp in an area noticeably busier than the previous ones we had visited, as it is not in a private concession. Despite that, we had brilliant game drives with excellent guides - we just shared them with more vehicles. We enjoyed the camp which is near the river with elephants, hippos and birds to watch. There is also a good sized round swimming pool well away from the main area. Our tent had a good view of the river and a sitting out area with chairs and day bed at the front. There was hardly a blade of grass at Somalisa as it was so hot and dry, but here on the Kwai River, with plenty of water, it was green everywhere - but still very hot!  We watched a well fed lion one morning leaving the river to return to the bush - full marks to our guide who went through the dense bush in a roundabout way from the other side and found the pride with a recent giraffe kill.

We flew on to Maun for our last night at Royal Tree Lodge, which is around half an hour's drive out of town. Accommodation is in secluded tents on stilts, with an outside shower and seating area at the front. There is a woodland/wildlife area which was good to walk around, especially in the early morning. For the first time on our trip we were bothered by insects here and at dinner outside in the dim light. I think I may have eaten a few as they landed on our plates and also in our glasses - which we had to keep covered over! We also had our first heavy rainfall, but we were leaving the next day and knew that it was desperately needed.

All four safari camps had wildlife in camp and no fences, which is one reason why we chose them (despite sometimes having to wait for the elies to move on and all the noises in the middle of the night!). All four camps gave us a wonderful time.

Everything worked smoothly and, after many years and many camps visited on safaris, this was one of our best all round. 

The only hiccup (apart from our boat crash) was when we turned up at our Vic Falls Guest House booked through booking.com to be told that they did not have our booking! Luckily they fitted us in!

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