Archive | Zimbabwe

Green season in Hwange

Elephants Eye Hwange Zimbabwe-10

Travelling to the bush at the tail end of rainy season means you really have to get into birds if you aren’t already. In the dry season in Hwange National Park, many thousands of elephants in huge herds – just part of a population of 75 000 – can be seen, along with herds of buffalo, prides of lions, cheetah leopards and wild dogs. The park has no natural water source and so when it’s dry, the animals are forced to congregate around the man-made waterholes fed by boreholes.

Rainy season is a different story. The bush is thick, green and lush, water is plentiful, and the tens of thousands of elephants and other animals tend to stick in the middle of the park, where there are no roads and they don’t have to contend with being gawped at by camera-wielding safari tourists. This beautiful emerald green time of year is, however, amazing for bird life – especially for migratory birds who’ve flown down from Europe for the summer like Germans who have beach houses on the Atlantic Seaboard in Cape Town. Appreciating the beauty and abundance of the rainy season is all about being a twitcher.

My Hwange green season stay was at Elephant’s Eye, a small intimate lodge in a private concession that borders, unfenced, on the massive national park. Elephant’s Eye has just eight spacious rooms built on stilts overlooking a waterhole (populated by a pair of grey crowned cranes down for a migratory visit from Central Africa when we arrived) – wooden plank floors, thatch roofs and khaki canvas walls which open floor-to-ceiling with wraparound decks, outdoor showers, big bathtubs and even bigger beds, from where you can lie and gaze out on a sea of green. The intimage lodge is all understated, low-key luxury with a communal lounge with comfy big sofas, a sweet little bar and dining area with tables facing towards the outdoor fire that’s lit every night, and utterly charming staff who make you feel part of a big family.

The first question our affable guide, Shepherd, asked was “What kind of birds are you into?” The answer was all of them, and off we set on long game drives into Hwange, where we did spot singular or small clusters of zebra, steenbok, wildebeest, impala and a big leopard tortoise but most of our attention was focused on the avian creatures. I had my Hwange bird list, and like a true bird nerd, ticked off species as we saw them – in one game drive alone we saw over 30 species. We watched a rufous-naped lark sing then flap its wings and turn its head 180 degrees just to check if anyone was encroaching on his territory, shaft-tailed wydahs flit around with their elongated black tails and golden plumage, and marveled at the bright ruby red crimson-breasted shrikes.

Back on Elephant’s Eye’s concession, we did short walks in the bush with walking guide Joshua, who was a fount of knowledge on all things nature. Walking a few hundred metres took us about two hours, as we stopped to examine the amazing world inside a disintegrating elephant poo, learned to read kudu, buffalo, warthog and impala tracks, picked wild basil and found out the medicinal (and aphrodisiac) uses of plants and trees.

In between game (bird) drives and walks, we ate tomato pasta, savoury veggie-filled pancakes and homemade Amarula ice cream back at the lodge, relaxed at the natural water swimming pool (which the elephants and buffalos drink till empty during the dry season), took unplanned for siestas in bed, lulled to sleep by the whirr of crickets, did some bird watching from the couches in the lounge with a bowl of salted peanuts and cold Zambezi beers and visited the Painted Dog Conservation Centre to see the resident pair of beautiful (and highly endangered) creatures.

My favourite time of day was going to bed or waking up. In the room only mosquito nets and canvas walls separate you from the outside world, and the sounds of nature are like an orchestra as you fall asleep: from champagne frogs, their croaks like the sound of dozens of champagne corks popping at once to the whoop of hyenas. In the mornings, bird song starts with a few tweets and works up to a crescendo of song, waking you up for another day in the wilderness.

I was a guest of Elephant’s Eye Lodge during my trip to Hwange. Click here for more about this luxury lodge, which offers eight tented rooms on a private concession 13 km away from Hwange National Park.

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A Botswana safari in photos

Okavango Delta from the air

A trip through national parks and wilderness areas of northern Botswana in rainy season: gliding through a channel of the Okavango Delta in a mokoro; flying above the Delta in a small helicopter above rivers and islets, water lily-studded lagoons and marshes full of birds; falling asleep in a canvas tent while lions roared outside; fuschia dawn skies; going on game drives for hours and not seeing another car; the sound of elephants wading through a stream in the dark; getting our Land Cruiser stuck in the muddy roads of Moremi and having to dig it out; giraffes, elephants, foxes, jackals, buffaloes, mongoose, hippos, red lechwe, zebra, wildebeest, hyena; Rex, our guide and driver, spotting a leopard tortoise the size of a palm in the middle of the road, stopping in time to help it cross; spectacular afternoon thunderstorms; baobabs full of leaves; flocks of yellow and white butterflies; the cry of fish eagles; a baby baboon doing a handstand on a picnic bench; one pink and purple sunset over the Chobe River that seemed to last forever; seeing two leopard lazing in a tree in the last moments of our last game drive in Chobe National Park; monkeys throwing seed pods at us from the roof of the Zimbabwean border post; standing under the mist of the Smoke that Thunders (Victoria Falls) and looking into a white roaring abyss.

To read more about my safari to Botswana, read my blog here.

My 9-day Botswana safari was hosted by Jenman Safaris. Find out more about this overland trip and other African safari trips Jenman offers here.

Okavango Delta mokoro ride BotswanaPoling in fibreglass mokoros through a channel of the Okavango Delta

Okavango Delta mokoroFlying above the Okavango Delta in a four-seater helicopter, going up and down from 100 metres down to two metres above the groundOkavango Delta from the airOkavango Delta helicopter flightOkavango Delta from the airExploring the community-owned Khwai concession, which borders on Chobe National Park

Khwai River area BotswanaBotswana safari KhwaiKhwai concession BotswanaSafari in Botswana Chobe National ParkKhwai concession BotswanaExploring Moremi Game Reserve, seeing elephants, buffalo, hippos and red lechwe, and getting stuck three times on muddy roads with deep puddles filled with rain water from a huge thunderstorm the night beforeMoremi BotswanaMoremi Game Reserve BotswanaElephants Botswana safariDriving for nine hours under a huge sky of puffy white clouds through Chobe National Park to get from the southern end to the northern end, game viewing and rock art spotting along the way

Chobe National ParkWe reached northern Chobe National Park, which borders on Zambia, Nambia and Zimbabwe, exploring the park by land and by water, seeing two leopards lazing in a tree in the last moments of our last game drive and watching the best sunset of the trip on our river cruise
Chobe National ParkChobe National ParkChobe National ParkChobe National ParkMosi-oa-Tunya: the Smoke that Thunders

Victoria Falls

 

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On safari in Botswana

Okavango Delta mokoro ride Botswana

Everything seemed to be in slow motion as we glided through the channel in a fibreglass mokoro like a knife through runny honey. The water lily-dotted water was as silvery, calm and flat as a mirror, reflecting a big sky full of rain clouds. Serenity reigned, and the stillness was punctuated by the cooing of doves and the occasional distant cry of a fish eagle, the sound of the breeze in the reeds and the chirruping of insects, the thwop of the pole going in the water and the piggy grunts from a pod of hippos.

This was just a tiny slice of the massive Okavango Delta, Africa’s last wetland wilderness, which stretches across 8000 square kilometres of north western Botswana. After the mokoro ride I had more of a glimpse of just how wild and vast the Delta is by flying above it in a small four-seater helicopter with Helicopter Horizons, taking off from a small village near the mokoro launching point. Pilot Andrew Baker took us up 400 feet to get a planet-curving view over a part of the Delta that can’t be accessed by road – channels, lagoons, ilala palms and marshes full of animals and birds. We skimmed down to a giraffe’s view point – just 2.5 metres above the ground and flew past treetop fish eagles, startled warthogs, nonchalant giraffes, zebras and wildebeest.

The Okavango Delta was a spectacular introduction to a nine-day trip through northern Botswana with Jenman Safaris. From this southern finger of the Delta, which was near the town of Maun, we headed north in our open-sided Land Cruiser up to a lodge in the bush in Mababe, a community-owned concession bordering on the southern end of Chobe National Park, where we stayed for three nights in canvas tents, falling asleep to a soundtrack of thunderstorms, grunting hippos and roaring lions.

It was my first time in the bush during the rainy season – I’d only ever gone on safari in southern Africa in the winter months when the vegetation is dry and sparse, and thirsty animals congregate around watering holes, making them easy to spot. The rainy season is an entirely different story. I travelled in March, which is right at the end of months of rain, when vegetation is at its most lush. The grass is thick, trees are full of leaves and water is plentiful, meaning animal spotting is far more challenging. On our three days that we stayed in the area, exploring the community-owned concessions and national parks – Khwai, Mababe, Chobe and Moremi – nearby on long drives on muddy and puddle-filled roads, we had to hunt for game, and when we found it there was much more of a thrill than in the dry season, when you don’t have to try at all.

Safari in Botswana Chobe National Park

We tracked a male lion’s paw prints and followed his sporadic grunts in the early pink-dusted morning, off roading through the concession to try and find him – to no avail, but we did spot a pair of bat-eared foxes instead. In the course of our drives, we also saw elephants, waterbuck, giraffe, lots of zebra and hippos, wildebeest, buffalo, a pair of red lechwe with horns locked, seemingly fighting to the death, a jackal, bands of mongooses, a tongue-flicking monitor lizard and lots and lots of birds. Green season is the best time for birding, and I’ve never seen as many species in one go as I did in those three days: tawny, bateleur, fish and brown snake eagles, African darters, cormorants, long-toed lapwings, eagle owls, kingfishers, coppery-tailed coucals African jacanas, open billed storks, herons, sacred ibis, egrets, and my favourite – lilac breasted rollers.

Other than prolific bird life, the rainy months do come with a lot of advantages – spectacular thunderstorms (which bring lovely cool temperatures and intense herby, earthy smells), beautiful landscapes (shooting animals against green is so much more photogenic than against a backdrop of the browns and greys of dry season) and low tourist numbers: on one seven-hour game drive we only saw three other safari vehicles.

From Mababe we made an epically long journey to Kasane and the northern end of Chobe National Park, travelling on sandy, muddy and wet tracks through the Savuti area of Chobe National Park and Chobe Forest Reserve, taking nine hours to travel 265 kilometres, spotting game all along the way and stopping off to see bushman rock paintings of an elephant, eland and an antelope, estimated to be 20 000 years old at Gobabis in Savuti – a reminder of just how long people have lived alongside the animals we now confine to the limits of parks and reserves.

Arriving at a lodge on the banks of the of the Chobe River just outside of the town of Kasane felt like re-entering civilisation again after days of wilderness. Our last day of game viewing was on land in Chobe National Park in the morning, where we had the lucky sighting of two lazy leopards up in a tree, sleeping in the early morning sunshine with their legs trailing over the branches, and on water in the afternoon, where we cruised slowly on the river, spotting kingfishers and fish eagles, crocs, munching hippos, giraffes drinking awkwardly on their spindly legs and a herd of elephant taking an afternoon mud bath.

It was a quick drive over the border to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, where we got a thorough rainy season soaking by Mosi-oa-Tunya – the Smoke that Thunders. The largest curtain of water in the world – and one of Africa’s greatest sights – was the perfect ending to a trip packed full of wildlife, wilderness and non-stop natural highs.

Here’s my photo blog with more images from my Botswana safari.

My 9-day Botswana safari was hosted by Jenman Safaris. Find out more about this overland trip and other African safari trips Jenman offers here.

Botswana safari Moremi

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