Discover Zimbabwe with NWS Olly

Oliver Greenfield

24 May 2018

NWS Olly takes in the sights and sounds of Zimbabwe

Days 1 & 2: Thorntree, Livingstone

Having visited livingstone previously and done all of the activities except actually going to see the Victoria Falls from the Zambian side, I was excited to be back and to finally see the falls from that side. Thorntree River Lodge is in a beautiful spot right on the banks of the Zambezi within the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Staying at Thorntree allows guests to either continue their safari experience or begin it straight away depending on if it is the start or end of their trip.

After a delicious breakfast we headed to the falls themselves. As the river is still at high water we didn’t see an awful lot of the falls because the spray was huge and for a large part of the tour it felt like we were in a tropical storm. We all ended up rather wet even with ponchos over us.

Days 3 & 4: Hwange National Park

With our flight to Hwange being mid-morning we got to enjoy a rather relaxed start to the day, a bit of a luxury while on safari. From Thorntree we were driven to the border with Zimbabwe. The border crossing takes you over the iconic Victoria falls bridge that spans the gorge just downstream of the falls themselves. Having got a KAZA visa on my arrival in Livingstone, the border crossing was extremely simple and we were soon in our way again to the airport.

After a 35 minute flight we touched down at the Somalisa airstrip and were met by our guide Armstrong. A short drive took us into camp where we settled into our rooms. When I got back to the main area for lunch I was greeted  by a couple of bull elephants taking a drink from the elephant pool right in front of camp. From the decking you can get as close as a few metres away from them without them batting an eyelid.

During the game drive in the afternoon we found three lion cubs who are descendants of Cecil’s pride and gave us a lovely sighting of them as they played while mum was off hunting. After watching them for some time we drove to one of the many waterholes of the park and enjoyed a stunning sunset and an obligatory gin & tonic or two.

Back at camp the temperature had dropped quite significantly but the rooms are all equipped with log burners to keep the tents warm in the winter months. After a great meal and a cosy fire it didn’t take long to drift off to sleep with the sounds of the bush as an accompaniment.

In the morning it was back to normal safari schedule with an early morning knock on the door wake up call. Then after a light breakfast, we were back off in search of the lions to see if mum had been successful in her hunt. We weren’t successful in finding them so we can only assume that she was and had taken the cubs to the kill. We did hear over the radio that another vehicle had seen a fight between a cobra and a puff adder and so we went in that direction to see what was happening. We arrived to see the puff adder seemingly recovering from paralysis due to the cobra’s bite, but the cobra was nowhere to be seen.

After a delicious lunch of homemade pizza there was time for a short nap in the hammock before the afternoon safari. The afternoon drive was a little quiet for wildlife but ended with another stunning sundowner.

Day 5: Bumi Hills Safari Lodge, Lake Kariba

Our flight today was scheduled for early afternoon, so we had time for another game drive in the morning with Armstrong. Having heard lions throughout the night around the camp, Armstrong was hopeful we would be able to find the dominant male of the area. During our search Armstrong spotted a green mamba as it emerged from its nest in a tree and warmed up in the morning light. Eventually we did track the big male lion down and found him with a female from the pride.

Back at camp we enjoyed another delicious lunch and were joined by yet another herd of elephants at the deck. It was then time to say our goodbyes and head to the airstrip for our flight to Lake Kariba and the recently reopened Bumi Hills Safari Lodge.

The flight was stunning as we flew over an escarpment and then down below was the shimmering Lake Kariba, which was formed after the damming of the Zambezi River back in the late 1950s. The landing was quite thrilling as we flew low over the lake with no sign of an airstrip until it suddenly appeared between two hills.

To get from the airstrip to the lodge you take a winding road up the hill closest to Kariba, and at the top you are greeted by the lodge and a breathtaking view over the lake. As time was quickly running out before sunset we had a quick look around our rooms and then went down to the lakeshore. From here we jumped in the waiting speedboat and cruised out into the lake, just in time to watch the sun start its descent to the horizon while sipping our beers. Glorious.

Day 6: Kanga Camp, Mana Pools National Park

Our flight today was mid-morning, so we decided over dinner the previous evening that as our stay at Bumi was so short, we would have a later start to the morning so we could enjoy the lodge a little before going on a short game drive before our flight. While some of the group had lie-ins or made use of the gym, I took the opportunity to make use of the complimentary massage. I only realised how much I needed this when the masseuse found all the knots in my back!

Feeling relaxed and refreshed, we headed out on our game drive to see more of this beautiful area and soon started following some lion tracks. Unfortunately we didn’t catch up with the lions as we ran out of time and had to make for the airstrip for our flight to Mana Pools National Park. Mana is a place I have been wanting to visit for many years so I was very excited for this part of the trip. The plane took off with it being just us and our guide, and we all looked at each other and had the same thought. We were now in the wild again, and all had beaming smiles.

A half-hour drive took us to Kanga Bushcamp, a camp which overlooks Kanga Pan. Although not as luxurious as our previous camps, this soon became one of our favourites for offering an authentic safari experience. Here Alf was our guide, who took the time to talk us through the area and explain that in the dry season, Kanga Pan is the only remaining water source away from the Zambezi River for many many kilometres, so guests can literally sit and watch the wildlife coming to the pan all day and needn’t necessarily go on game drives. As this is only just the start of the dry season, we headed out on drive to explore the area. The area is stunning with many different habitats, from open grassy areas to thick riverine forests where we couldn’t even see a metre in front of us to. Alf talked us through it all and even though we didn’t see much game, it was a fascinating drive.

Days 7 & 8: Zambezi Expeditions Camp, Mana Pools National Park

As we weren’t flying to our next camp but driving through the park, we had time to enjoy a morning drive before moving onto the next camp. At the end of the drive we were greeted by the chef and some of the camp staff cooking up breakfast out in the bush for us, a much appreciated surprise all round.

Our transfer from Kanga Camp to Zambezi Expeditions Camp gave us the chance to see the differing habitats between the area around Kanga and then the area around the Zambezi River itself. Zambezi Expeditions is set right on the edge of the riverbanks and has a stunning view over the river to the Zambian side and the mountains behind. The camp is a simple and traditional safari camp, with meru-style tents and bucket showers, which all add to the charm of this camp and, together with the staff, make it truly special.

From the camp you can enjoy a whole range of activities, including game drives, canoeing, and walking safaris (this is what the park is most famed for). We tried to fit all of this into our stay but soon realised that there was just too much to do. The first afternoon we went out on a drive to explore the riverfront and learnt about the four pools which give the park its name, as Mana means ‘four’ in the local Shona dialect.

The next morning the idea was to go for a walk, so we decided we would take a short drive and see if we could find any interesting tracks; if not then we would get out and walk anyway. We didn’t find any fresh tracks so we decided to get out and walk. Not even five minutes into our walk we heard lions roaring in the distance, so we now faced the choice of continuing our walk or driving to where the lions were roaring from, and seeing if we could approach them on foot. Of course we opted for the lions.

The search took us to an area of the park that is little visited as it is quite thick bush for a large part. This did mean we didn’t pick up any lion tracks, but when we reached the riverfront again we were treated to some stunning views. So in the end our walk in Mana Pools turned into a drive with a 5-minute stroll, although I did forget to mention that when we got back to the Land Rover there was a bull elephant making his way towards us as we scrambled back on.

That afternoon me and a few of the group took to the river in canoes and enjoyed a lovely relaxing trip back downriver to the camp, passing pods of hippos and flocks of wading birds. I say the trip was relaxing, but there was one moment when a hippo surprised us and got the adrenaline racing as it ran through the water parallel to us before passing ahead of our canoes to get to the deeper water. I think we were all glad to get back on dry land after that encounter.

Our last night in Zimbabwe was lovely as we sat around the campfire and enjoyed some eventually clear skies which showed the stars. The following morning, our final drive to the airstrip provided us with the most thrilling sighting of the trip. We heard baboons making alarm calls so the guide stopped the vehicle and started to scan the area where he spotted some lions running towards a bush. We drove closer to the bush and could then see that there were four sub-adult lions who had chased a baboon into the tree and were now surrounding it.

As we watched, two of the lions climbed up into the bush to flush the baboon out. This plan worked and the baboon made a jump for safety but unfortunately the other two lions were ready to pounce and didn’t let the baboon get away. This was all over within minutes and I think we all couldn’t quite believe what we had just seen.

Zimbabwe is a stunning country with some real gems of places to visit and amazing wildlife. I just hope it is now in a position to make the most of these locations and rise to the top as the safari destination.

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