Be prepared for the safari of a lifetime. Hwange is an amazing destination due to its diversity of landscapes, experiences and activities. There is, however, one constant throughout: the superior guiding standards! Zim is known for its phenomenal and, dare I say, legendary guiding. This is brought about by some of the strictest and most vigorous guide training in Africa.
It takes years of training, dedication and (financial) investment before one qualifies as a professional guide in Zimbabwe, which guarantees you guides who are passionate about what they do. You’ll be hard pressed to find a question they can’t answer or a topic they aren’t willing to discuss – I know because I tried on my last Hwange safari…
These professional guides also offer a most welcome alternative to the usual game drive activities in the form of walking safaris, which are an absolute highlight when visiting Hwange. Many lodges have a professional walking guide in camp to offer exactly that and it needs to be experienced to be believed: there really is no better way to experience the bush then up close and personal in the trusted, experienced hands of your (armed) walking guide. Before embarking on a walking safari, they ask what type of walk you’d like: big game encounters, interpretive walks or exercise walks but most often it’s a combination of all three catered to clients’ wishes. No matter what landscape or which habitat you’re walking through – be it the teak forests, open grasslands or granite kopjies (hillocks) abundant in Hwange – your guide will make sure you feel safe at all times while learning so much about the environment you’re in.
Hwange is not only ideal for walking it also excels in offering a different perspective on game viewing: from ground level looking up at elephants drinking metres away from the safe surrounds of an underground hide. Hwange has close to 50 000 elephants and, especially in dry times, they dominate the waterholes (when not slurping from the lodges’ swimming pools), making game viewing and photography from an underground hide an experience not easily forgotten.
As if superb guides, walking and underground hides aren’t enough, Hwange also offers horseback safaris both inside and outside the park, thereby combining big-game viewing with an immersion in the incredibly rich Zimbabwean culture found in villages and settlements.
Another reason to spend time in Hwange is its ease of access; whether coming from Victoria Falls (by road transfer or short flight) or from Botswana, Hwange is an ideal safari destination. A little hidden gem is the Pandamatenga border crossing connecting Zimbabwe and Botswana. This is the closest border post to Hwange National Park and an absolute pleasure to experience. Officials on both sides of the border are super-efficient, very friendly and, best of all there are no queues, so you’re in and out in five minutes! Once through immigration, the game viewing starts the moment your visa has been stamped in your passport due to the adjoining game management area that lies on the northern boundary of the park. Our Best in Travel in Zimbabwe offers plenty of itineraries that include Hwange. Here is an example which travels via the above mentioned Pandamatenga border post: 12N Zambia – Zimbabwe – Botswana Safaris (also ideal for family travel).
Most suppliers have already confirmed to freeze their 2020 rates for 2021. Contact your Safari Destinations consultant for more information.
… OR KEEP THE SECRET TO OURSELVES?
Imagine a place with trees so beautiful they make you ‘treedrunk’,
Imagine a place where around every corner a different antelope can be discovered,
Imagine a landscape diverse and exciting, from river beds and sandy beaches to open grasslands and forests,
Imagine majestic elephants wandering in front of the bright red sandstone of the Chilojo Cliffs,
Imagine a completely untouched wilderness,
Imagine a community that understands the importance of protecting their heritage, their environment and especially their trees (the people in the Mahenye village rather walk for kilometres to collect firewood than cut down the trees around them),
Imagine a man who understands that for the local population to care about protecting wildlife, they have to benefit from wildlife. Clive Stockil is this man; he is the founder of Chilo Safari Lodge. Clive has dedicated his life to solving human-wildlife conflict. He is the father of CAMPFIRE (Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources). He explains it this way: “If you are a conservationist, your problem is all about space, so deal with human pressures first. CAMPFIRE has turned conflict into co-operation and everyone has benefited. The community is happy, the parks are happy and the animals are happy. Everyone wins.”
Gonarezhou means ‘The place of elephants’. There are special places in Africa where you truly feel at one with nature. Gonarezhou is one of them. I was blown away by the diversity of fauna and flora.
The remoteness of Gonarezhou is a mixed blessing. Access to Gonarezhou is easiest from Harare via small aircraft. The flight takes around 90 minutes and arrives in Mahenye, which is the closest airstrip to Chilo Gorge. Clients flying in from Johannesburg are recommended to fly with Federal Air into Buffalo Range (currently two weekly flights on Mondays and Thursdays); the road transfer from Buffalo Range to Chilo is about two hours long.
Gonarezhou is the place to be if you want to be ‘treedrunk’ after only an hour of safari, never mind the multitude of birds we saw, the incredible variety of antelope, buffalo, crocodiles and elephants. Just the trees alone are intoxicating…
Imagine every few hundred metres a beautiful baobab, thick, tangled riverine forests full of jackalberries, bizarrely bent rain trees, stoic leadwoods, ruffled African mangosteens… It’s almost too much to process!
I often get asked which places I would recommend for a relaxed armchair safari. Safaris can be exhausting: early mornings to catch the predators hunting, late nights watching ‘bush TV’. Having done numerous safaris and often rushing from one place to the next to make sure we know all the camps we are offering, I came to realize that a slower pace is the way to go. If clients insist on seeing many different areas they often don’t have enough time to stay three nights in each camp. In this case, I highly recommend adding the occasional ‘armchair destination’ into the itinerary, where guests can enjoy an afternoon spent in camp, watching the animals from the comfort of their lodge.
Pick #1: Meno a Kwena Tented Camp, Boteti River, Botswana
This camp has been one of my favourite places since about 2004. It is situated above the Boteti River, offering stunning views of Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. Its unique location guarantees outstanding game viewing from camp. All tents are built along the edge of the cliff. The best time to travel is between April and November when the zebra migration arrives along the Boteti in search of life-giving water. The camp offers an authentic San Bushmen nature walk, full-day trips into the Makgadikgadi and, for guests that stay a minimum of three nights, a sleep-out under the stars in the middle of the vast nothingness of the salt pans can be booked.
Pick #2: Nogatsaa Pans Lodge, Chobe National Park, Botswana
Nogatsaa had been on my list of camps I needed to visit since its opening. Years ago, I had been camping in this very remote part of the Chobe National Park and loved the area since then. When the owner of Ghoha Hills told me about his plans to build a safari camp in Nogatsaa I was super-excited. The camp is situated on the edge of the Nogatsaa Pans, which have water pumped into them throughout the dry winter months. The pan is one of the few reliable water sources in this harsh area, making it a hot-spot for large herds of elephants. It is the perfect spot for a relaxed armchair safari: guests don’t need to leave camp, they can watch the animals come to drink. We saw hundreds of elephants, buffalo, giraffe, roan antelope, waterbuck, kudu and even a resident baby hippo during our stay. Access to the camp is by road from Kasane; the drive takes about two-and-a-half hours.
Pick #3: Deteema Springs Camp, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Deteema Springs opened in May 2019 and is the second addition to the Machaba Safaris’ portfolio in Zimbabwe. The camp was built on the old Deteema Picnic site, a very popular spot with Hwange visitors. The national park authorities asked that the design of the new camp incorporates the old picnic site and the architects did an excellent job. This tented camp is super-comfortable and offers amazing views over the springs and towards Deteema Dam. Guests can skip an afternoon activity and enjoy the comfort of their veranda to watch the elephants come down to drink from the fresh-water spring.
Pick #4: Savute Elephant Lodge, Chobe National Park, Botswana
The Savuti region in the Chobe National Park has been especially famous for its large lion pride, the Marsh Pride. They had to adapt to the super-harsh environment of this intriguing place in order to survive. This group of sometimes up to 30 lions have become experts in hunting elephants – a spectacle that can’t be guaranteed but one that anyone who has witnessed it will never forget. Savute Elephant offers its guests a comfortable place to relax and enjoy the environment. The hide underneath the terrace and pool offers amazing views over a busy waterhole that gets pumped all year and attracts lots of animals during the day and night.
Pick #5: Kanga Camp, Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
Kanga Camp lies hidden in the backland of Mana Pools National Park. Its unique attraction is the super-busy waterhole right in front of camp. The animals know that Kanga Pan is the only reliable source of water in the area and they make use of that knowledge. Guests can enjoy a delicious lunch on the main deck while watching the elephants come to drink. This authentic bush camp consists of six comfortable tents and guests get a true bush feeling in this remote part of the park.
Everyone is exhausted after a long-haul overnight flight, often involving multiple connections and inevitably ending in long immigrations queues on arrival. Not to mention the build-up of going on holiday, delayed flights and lost luggage. On arrival, most of us are simply looking for a hot shower, followed by a G&T while we take in our surroundings, ending the day with a good meal and a comfortable nights sleep.
Victoria Falls is the ideal place to kick-off a safari. No onward flights or long road transfers required as most hotels are only a stone’s throw away from the airport. Comfortable accommodation with all the amenities allows guests to ease into their safari experience. As the properties in Victoria Falls are generally more affordable, there is less of a need to hit the ground running and more time to relax and find your feet. This is especially important when travelling with young children. Compared with the high-pressured start at the top dollar lodges in the Okavango Delta where every minute counts and where you feel compelled to jump on the first game drive on arrival, followed by an early morning wake up call on day one.
After a recent visit to Victoria Falls with my own family, I realized that 2 nights just isn’t enough for first time visitors and especially families to fully appreciate what this corner of paradise has to offer. I found myself rushing from one activity to the next, pressurized by pick-up times, with little time to relax and yet there was so much more than we could have done.
During our 2 night stay in Victoria Falls, we explored the Falls on foot, by helicopter and by Zip Line and that was about all that we had time for bar a mad dash around the market. There is a big choice of activities on offer beyond the falls themselves, one that I feel is grossly underestimated is the canoeing on the Zambezi River. For families, the falls has lots going on to cater to all ages and interests breaking up the typical safari routine.
Beyond the activities, the town has a holiday vibe, showcasing the country’s culture, local crafts (curio shopping) and a great variety of restaurants, which really add to the experience. Not accounting for the day of arrival and departure which are often lost due to flight times and transfers, one full day simply isn’t enough to take it all in. I would comfortably recommend a 3-night stay in Victoria Falls town itself. There is a selection of properties to match all budgets, offering potentially good value for your money, helping to stretch the budget when combined with the top dollar lodges in more remote game areas.
Day 1: Relax and enjoy a slow start to your safari
Dinner at the hotel
Day 2: Tour of the falls followed by the flight of angels (12 – 15 minute helicopter scenic)
Lunch at the Lookout Café (which will reopen in Dec 2019 after it burnt down half a year ago)
Canopy Tour / Elephant Interaction / Sunset Cruise
Day 3: Option 1: Full day upper Zambezi Canoe or Rafting experience
Option 2: A combination of the following with lunch on the terrace at The Victoria Falls Hotel
Horse Riding, Bicycle Tour, Village Tour, Pay It Forward (Family), Bird Watching, Shopping, Bunji Jumping, Croc Farm (Family), High Tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel, and more
Independent Dinning Options:
Traditional (Family): The Boma, Jungle Junction
Formal: The Livingstone Room, The Palm Restaurant
Casual: Zambezi House, Three Monkeys, The Lookout Cafe (will reopen Dec 2019)
The same could be said when coming off a safari in the delta. Days of early rising, long bumpy game drives and a day in transit, including the border crossing, is taxing of the best of us. Ending with 3 nights in Victoria Falls to slowly get re-acquainted with civilization before diving back into your daily routine at home is always a good idea.
Guests that have a little bit more time are recommended to spoil themselves with 4 nights in Victoria Falls, the 4 nights could be split between 2 nights in town and 2 nights in the quieter Zambezi National Park. The options are endless, we have put together some stunning itineraries which can be found on our “Best in Travel Zimbabwe 2019”, the packages for 2020 will soon be released.
I tested the idea of combining 2 nights in Vic Falls with 2 nights in the nearby Zambezi National Park. We stayed at Zambezi Sands which is only an hour outside the fast-paced Victoria Falls town, but it felt like another world. A remote safari experience where you can fully immerse yourself in the wilderness and unwind in the peace and tranquillity of the Zambezi National Park. We had the river to ourselves to enjoy at leisure on our evening cruise compared with the typical sunset commotion experienced from town. Practically speaking, many visitors combine Victoria Falls & Chobe on a 4-night stay which involves two border crossings and double entry visas. Both can be avoided if you replace Chobe with a safari experience in the more exclusive but less wildlife dense Zambezi National Park.
After doubting this combination for years, I feel like I have found the sweet spot, which has been underestimated by us all. Our 4-night stay was the perfect blend of adventure and relaxation, and provided for a well-rounded experience as outlined below, suited to both families and individual travellers.
Day 1: Arrival at Zambezi Sands from Botswana in time for lunch and an afternoon siesta Sunset cruise where we had the river to ourselves (no traffic compared with VF & Chobe)
Overnight Zambezi Sands, Zambezi National Park
Day 2: Game drive including an incredible bush breakfast on the banks of the Zambezi River
Overnight Zambezi Sands, Zambezi National Park
Day 3: Morning game walk (another highlight) before our departure to Victoria Falls
Lunch at the Lookout Café overlooking the Batonka Gorge
Afternoon canopy tour, which was a thrill for both the kids and grown-ups alike
Dinner at the highly recommended Palm Restaurant and overnight at Ilala Lodge
Day 4: Morning tour of the Victoria Falls followed by a flight of angels (it was a treat to fly over the path that we had just walked and see the falls from a different perspective)
Lunch on the terrace at the iconic Victoria Falls Hotel (you have to try the signature frozen lemonade)
Afternoon exploring the local market and curious shops (great arts and crafts to be found here not to mention the experience itself)
Dinner at The Boma Restaurant offering visitors a traditional dining experience with entertainment (the kids loved it and I got my mopane worm certificate)
My guiding experience at Zambezi Sands was exceptional and the walking and canoeing activities stood out as the highlights of my trip. With all the new developments in this area, Safari Destinations are excited to present two new packages for 2019 showcasing this ideal combination:
Rounding off this 4-night package, I would recommend a 3 night stay in the game rich Hwange National Park. The trio showcases the best of Zimbabwe combining the beauty of the Victoria Falls, the peace & tranquillity of the powerful Zambezi River and the spectacular wildlife found in Hwange. For those wanting to combine a visit to Botswana, 3 nights at a game rich, land based camp in the Delta with a possible extension to the contrasting Makgadikgadi would be a match made in heaven.
It is with great excitement that I write this list. This little town is abuzz with whispers of all things new and interesting. We have been growing in leaps and bounds and it seems that has not stopped yet. Here are 5 more wonderful additions to our fun filled town:
This may very well become the newest hotspot in Victoria Falls. A vibrant and chic restaurant/bar that is situated right on the banks of the might Zambezi River is providing yet another fantastic social dining spot for locals and tourist alike. The menu provides choices of mouth watering oven baked pizzas and succulent chicken dishes as well as several breakfast options. The deco is modern and tastefully done. It has a generally up-beat vibe with live music over the weekend. It is a wonderful place to dine or just meet up for a drink to talk about a day full of adventure.
Tribal Trap Escape Rooms
Escape Rooms have become a fast growing, worldwide thrill and Pana Karasavvas and Hayley Plaskitt are very proud to open Zimbabwe’s very first escape room right here in Victoria Fall. Participants are given 60 minutes to escape from the room by solving puzzles, playing games and discovering clues within a themed room. It is a thrilling activity and is aimed at a wide range of travellers, young and old alike. One of the things we find most exciting about this product is that not only is it a fun activity to do as a group but the rooms will be themed around the rich culture and traditions known in Zimbabwe and particularly Victoria Falls, so there is educational value behind the product alongside the fun and adventure. We cannot wait to see what the Tribal Trap team have in store for us!
The Victoria Falls
Bushtracks Africa will be launching their new cruise boat. This cruise will float along the Might Zambezi River near the top of the Victoria Falls as most sunset cruises do. However, there is a difference with this boat to the other cruise options. The main one being the luxurious standard they promise to offer guests as well as an option to snack on freshly made Sushi prepared aboard by one of the talented chefs from The Victoria Falls Hotel, as well as other mouth-watering gourmet canapés. They offer a wild range of local and imported beverages for you to sip on as you float along this famous river just meters from one of the Seven World Wonders. If you are lucky, you might just spot some of the different types of wildlife that are drawn to drink or wallow in the river especially during the upcoming hotter months. Click here for their Promotional Video.
Prana Africa Yoga
Could you imagine a better way to start a day full of adventure then with a sunrise, early morning Yoga session with some of the most spectacular views in the world? Yoga is another lifestyle that seems to be taking the world by storm and so it is no surprise that home-grown Victoria Falls local – Danielle Connelly is beyond excited to practice with travellers in this beautiful environment, with the powerful energy from The Victoria Falls. Danielle is very well trained in the Art of Yoga and has been practicing for some time. The classes are suitable for all levels from complete beginners to regular practitioners. The sessions will be offered at The Victoria Falls Hotel and Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, so why not watch the sunrise over the river or falls and prepare for a day full of excitement in a beautifully calm and relaxing way.
The River Brewing Co.
Another first of its kind in Zimbabwe, created by ‘four merry men’ is The River Brewing Co. They are establishing a micro-brewery in one of Victoria Falls oldest buildings. This artisanal concept is growing in popularity worldwide and we are very excited to see this product showing its ‘crafty’ face in the bustling town. Their main brews will be a ‘Steam Lager’ and an ‘IPA’, but there will be a variety of thirst quenching options on offer as their Brewmaster experiments with different taste combinations. The River Brewing Co. will be opening in October, so all you thirsty tourists and locals better get your taste buds ready for a craft beer invasion!
One of my best safaris ever! I was lucky enough to visit Mana Pools in early October. We arrived after a 2,5 hour flight from Victoria Falls and were picked up by our guide. I was blown away right from the start! Why ? Because I drove through the bush with different types of trees and shrubs. I was quiet surprise that there is no grass in some area and it is only this beautiful ochre sand.
The mighty Zambezi River is the boundary of the park with Zambia and it is a paradise for hippos, elephants, crocodiles and birds, especially the carmine bee-eaters. On my boat cruise, always having the beautiful view of the Zambezi Escarpment in the background, I had the chance to experience the carmine bee-eater flying around me and to see their nests on the bank of the river.
I only spent a few nights in this beautiful national park. I stayed at the unique Kanga Bush Camp and the amazing Ruckomechi. Both camps are totally different and both are special and definitely worth a visit. I was lucky when I arrived in Ruckomechi to see a breeding herd of elephants with very small baby elephants crossing the river. For seconds they disappear under the water, is that not amazing to see this kind of behaviour?
During the dry season, some lodges pump water for the animals. Water is the source of life as we all know. It was great to see all the different species coming to have a drink. We had baboons playing around, elephants and warthogs mud bathing, impalas, zebras, kudu drinking…When the sun is down, some others species will come for a drink such as leopard, civet, genets and hyenas.
Mana Pools is captivating with the landscape, all the different species and the excellent guiding. I will definitely come back.
I have always been in love with Mana Pools.
Mana is my mentor – a remote and wild park that feeds my soul with all her sights & sounds – I’ve visited her time and again in her different seasons. Her moods are many and despite the diverse ecology and terrain, each one of these trips has been memorable for one thing. I’ve had some of the best close-up game encounters ever! Sitting under the watchful eye of a professional guide meters away from lion, wild dogs, the legendary standing bulls of Mana and a myriad of plains game and birdlife is just one way in which this park immerses you and brings you back to the fundamental core of nature and our place in it.
Your clock adjusts to sunrise and sunset and you fall into beat with the natural order of things, according to the rhythm of nature and camp life – the game is clearly abundant in peak season and our recent visit took us to just a few of the camps that have the privilege of operating in and being the custodians of this special park:
Chikwenya, Vundu, Little Vundu, Camp Zambezi and Zambezi Lifestyles as well as Goliath Safaris (I had stayed at Kanga and Rukomechi on my last trip).
Zambezi Lifestyles – *top spot – really enjoyed being right on the flood plain (Ngundu 2 site), saw game all over the place (NOTE the camp moves between different sites depending on which is available, all are on the river) enjoyed the simple comfort of the tents and space of the camp – 4 tents set up boasting the new flush toilets in the open air bathrooms – great bucket shower – excellent local staff managing camp (Cloud was a treat to be in camp and on safari with, very passionate, knowledgeable and eloquent, we also did our canoe trip with him, we weren’t just ‘guided’, we were educated too) – tents/hardware were all solid – food was amazing (I made a point of going to meet the cook, these bush cooks really are talented is all I can say!) – Highlight: herd of 400+ buffalo and sitting on the vehicle near Zebra Vlei watching a pack of 7 adult wild dogs with pups in the late afternoon, they went off on the hunt as the sun went down.
Goliath Tented Camp – *top spot – also really enjoyed being in this camp (I rate both Zambezy Lifestyles and Goliath as my trip highlights) – Camp is on a private concession so in the same location annually. Owner and Pro-Guide in camp is Stretch (Andrew) Ferreira, he is running the camp – the location is stunning with shade over the central areas looking out onto a channel and island just in front of camp, beyond the island is the main river. The first thing you feel here is welcome and are encouraged to feel right at home and ‘part of the family’ – camp layout is neat and functional with a super river front lounge/dining/breakfast/fire pit areas, the tents are set slightly back – the extended size east African tents are very nicely fitted with tasteful teak and wrought iron furnishings, the beds are very comfortable and I loved the open air shower area – vehicles are open top and in good condition – food was awesome! Highlight: pride of 5 lions right outside camp having a snack out of the cooks cell phone, about 15m from us.
If you are a safari addict and look for close wildlife encounters with excellent guides – then Mana Pools should be your next destination! Our recommendation for an intense safari experience is the 10 night itinerary “Spezialised Guides of Zimbabwe” with:
|3 Nights Goliath Safaris Tented Camp, Mana Pools Natonal Park|
|3 Nights Musango Safari Camp, Matusadona National Park|
|3 Nights Camp Hwange, Hwange National Park|
|1 Night The Elephant Camp, Victoria Falls|
Last year Lorraine and I started a tradition of our two families going on safari together. This year our annual family safari took us to Hwange. Travelling with kids is an adventure. Seeing nature through their eyes makes you realize how wonderful our planet really is. Did you know that a wildebeest looks a bit like a Gruffalo. For all ignorant people out there, “The Gruffalo” is one of the best-loved children’s books ever. “A gruffalo? What’s a gruffalo?”
“A gruffalo! Why, didn’t you know? He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws.”
And so begins the story of a quick-witted mouse as he encounters a host of predators who seem to think he might make a tasty treat. As he ventures deeper into the deep dark wood, stumbling across a hungry fox, a not-so-wise owl, and a slimy snake, spinning ever-extraordinary yarns about the scary, scaly gruffalo, he quickly realises that the hungry beast he has been talking of isn’t imaginary after all.
On Safari with the Gruffalo:
Three bush babies strolled through the Hwange vlei,
they saw some Lions lying in their way,
snoozing and dreaming of roasted Gruffalo on a spit,
the Bush Babies turned around and away they slid…
Our days in Hwange were filled with extraordinary gamedrives. Living in Botswana also means that our children grow up being spoilt safari-goers, but Hwange can easily compete. Especially the south-east of Hwange offered outstanding game viewing (Davisons, Bomani, Camelthorn and Little Makalolo). It never got boring, the kids loved every moment of it. Hwange in combination with Victoria Falls and Chobe is a great destination for a family safari!
“Come quietly and sit down’ our guide Nick said, moving over to the dinner table laid out by Somalisa Camp’s small pool. Kay and I negotiated the steps down to the deck carefully by the dim light of hurricane lanterns, trying not to fall on our faces or make any sudden movements. We were sitting down to dinner with an unusual guest, a big elephant bull who had come to drink out of the pool, trying his best to drain the water dry. He faced us head-on, something that would make you twitch in the bush, especially as he was only four metres away. He disregarded us, plunged his trunk into the water, slurped up the liquid and threw it down his throat. The noise was incredible. “It sounds like a really big toilet flushing” said Johnny, our host and camp manager. “They don’t drink out of the waterhole?” Kay asked. “They like the clean water,’ said Nick ‘they prefer the waterhole for mud baths.”
As we chatted over starters and broke bread, the bull moved off and another came to drink, then another. Somewhere through the main course, a breeding herd gathered around opposite us, with a very small elephant calf. We gawked at the noise of 10 toilets flushing in succession as the little calf tried to find water with its trunk. “It’s amazing how blasé you get’ said Kay ‘we’re just sitting here, having dinner and a chat.” She was right. If one of the bulls didn’t like us, it wouldn’t have taken much for him to do something about it from the other side of the pool, but they were calm and Nick was used to this behaviour. It had almost become Somalisa Camp’s guaranteed dinner-time entertainment.
Kay & I had come to Hwange during green season, a time when game viewing is far more challenging and so we were expecting game sightings to be few and far between. Luck was on side, however and on the first morning game drive into Hwange National Park we found a pack of twelve wild dogs moving along the roadside, sniffing bushes and trying to pick up the scent of something to chase for breakfast. We followed them for at least ten minutes as they scoured both sides of the road for a scent before disappearing into the thick brush. Later that day, driving with Nick from Hwange Main Camp we spotted huge amounts of plains game, zebra taking dust baths in the afternoon light, big herds of buffalo spread out across the plains and a big sable bull whose elongated horns curved all the way back to his shoulders.
As the sky started turning orange and pink just before sundowners, we found two big male lions and three lionesses stretched out over termite mounds with full, round bellies and a buffalo kill hidden in the bushes. “It’s interesting about these male lions’ Nick said ‘this one, Cecil with the big black mane is about eleven years old. One of the lion researchers around here thinks he has the biggest skull on record. He got kicked out of his territory by a younger male and was living on the periphery for ages. Then he teamed up with this other male Jericho who’s now nine and they took this area off a younger lion. It’s not often you see that. Normally once they get kicked out, they’re out. And now they have these three young girls here. They can’t be older than five. They’re all quite full with buffalo, but it looks as if one of them might be pregnant.”
The next morning the lions were still right where we left them and had begun slinking over to a nearby waterhole to drink. In the background a black-backed jackal was chewing pieces of meat off an elephant carcass as the vultures watched. We moved over to another waterhole and Nick was distracted by movement on the water. “What’s going on here?’ he said ‘I’ve never seen this before.” Sitting on the water were two Egyptian geese, determined to drown another goose by swooping on his head and forcing him underwater. The goose would then swim under water and pop up about ten metres away as his bullies scanned the water looking for him. As soon as he surfaced, the two geese would be on him again in a blaze of feathers and fury. We watched the attack, holding our breath as each attempted drowning was followed by an underwater swim and a quick breath of air before the geese were back on the trail. Suddenly it seemed a lifetime since we’d seen our half-drowned goose. We checked the surface of the water, scanning for a sign of life. Nothing. More time passed and we started to believe the goose had drowned as the other two geese started honking out cackles and flapping their wings in victory. Just as we started lamenting the goose’s demise, a little figure popped up on the side of the waterhole. He’d swam at least thirty metres underwater in a final attempt at escape. He was soggy, but undetected and alive.
We headed back to Somalisa Camp to pack our bags and move on to another part of Hwange. As we wandered around the main camp gossiping about the morning’s sightings, I was distracted by movement out the corner of my eye. Across the plain near the tree line, impala were scattering. I pointed and yelled gibberish, trying to get everyone’s attention while trying to figure out what I was seeing. “Um, lion…” I shouted on impulse, watching something straw-coloured fifty metres away chasing the antelope. “No, cheetah!” said Nick as we watched the chase becoming un-successful, the impala running faster as the cheetah slowed, panting with fatigue. Nick ran for the vehicle and brought it around as the cheetah retreated to the tree line. We were going to try and catch up with her in our last ten minutes in camp. We drove the tracks and scanned the grass. We knew the cheetah had been right where we were only moments ago. We drove forward & back, looking for leaves or grasses moving. “At this time of year, all she has to do is lie down and you’d never know she was here” said Kay. True enough, she’d disappeared for good, probably hiding no more than twenty metres from us, but in the thick shrub, we didn’t have a chance. This was why searching for game in green season held an exciting element of the unknown. You just never knew what was hiding in the long grass.
Getting to Hwange
Hwange is surprisingly close to Victoria Falls and accessible by tar all the way up to Hwange Main Camp. Road transfers from Victoria Falls town will get you to the lodges on their own private concessions bordering the park in approximately 2 ½ hrs. Flights from Victoria Falls will get you to camps within the park in 45 – 55 minutes. Due to Hwange’s close proximity to Victoria Falls, the park is a logical extension to any Botswana itinerary finishing in Victoria Falls and can be very cost-effective as compared to a delta fly-in.
Where to visit in Hwange
Like the parks in Botswana, there are no fences around Hwange National Park, meaning game can move freely between the park and the lodges on small private concessions outside the park. The terrain in the north of the park around Sinamatella features a lot of hills, granite kopjes and deep valleys, whereas Hwange Main Camp is characterised by open grassland surrounded by acacia woodland. The landscape further south towards the Linkwasha concession changes again, with more Molokwane Palm trees and open pans. The diversity of the park makes it easy to combine two separate camps in two separate areas and achieve a varied safari experience.
Lodges/Camps outside Hwange: While these properties are not technically in the park, they experience good numbers of game moving through in the dry season and some have very productive waterholes and resident populations of game that can be reliably sighted. Most of the camps offer game drives on their own private concessions with the option to game drive inside Hwange National Park as well. We recommend pre-paying park fees to provide clients with the option of both.
Camps inside Hwange: Staying inside the park provides a more intense bush experience and removes the necessity of checking in at park gates before and after game drives. The camps inside Hwange National Park have small private concessions around them, enabling more relaxed sundowners without a rush back to camp before park closing times. Some of these camps can also offer short night drives, something which is not permitted inside national parks in Botswana.
What to combine it with: Hwange is very much a dry land game viewing destination. The park roads are easy-going and very well sign-posted making it a great introduction to a safari before continuing to Botswana. Hwange National Park works very well combined with a houseboat experience or Chobe Savanna Lodge in the Caprivi (opposite Chobe National Park) for a dry land and water contrast before continuing to the dry land game viewing of the Khwai Community Area or Moremi Game Reserve.
Pre-Packaged Options: Check out our 8 Night Elephant Paths itineraries combining Hwange, Victoria Falls and Chobe or extend to a 10 Night Elephant Paths package with a fly-in to the Okavango Delta. All packages can be downloaded from our Agent’s Corner.