Hair Raising Game Viewing…

After a 2-night hop from Lower Zambezi back to Maramba in Livingstone, we were ready to cross into Zimbabwe, heading for Ivory Lodge at Hwange National Park. We had an early night, planning to get an early start as we weren’t sure how much hassle we’d have getting over the border with the 2 cars. We all got up well rested, except for Muriel. Once again the big Bull Elephants visited the camp and spent the evening outside the window of her chalet, pulling branches off trees. Although she’s getting a bit more acclimatised, I think she still spent much of the night sitting on the edge of her bed.

As it turned out, the Zimbabwe border was pretty easy. The only confusion arose when we assumed that Philip’s hire car was previously approved and paid up to cross. As it turned out we still had to buy a TIP (Temporary Import Permit), road tax, Carbon Tax and Council Levy. All in all though, still only about 80 minutes to get across.

We got a warm welcome-back arriving at Ivory Lodge, just outside Hwange and spent a lazy afternoon testing Joel’s gin & tonic making skills and watching a group of Fruit Bats roosting in a tree in the camp. 

 
For months we’ve listened every evening to the loud pinging noises they make – like a WW11 submarine sonar – but never before actually seen them. 

A ‘Tower‘ of 7 giraffe came to the camp. Apparently (?) that’s the collective noun for them when they hang around, whereas as they’re known as a ‘Journey‘ when they’re on a march. Of course, that could just be Joel pulling our legs. 
One young couple in particular were clearly courting and we watched as, for at least 15 minutes, they went through an elaborate dance, each mimicking the other’s movements. 

  

  

  

  

  
As always at Ivory Lodge, the evening was spent with a good dinner and a few hours at the hide, only meters away from a salt-lick and waterhole that attracts elephants by the score. 

 
Muriel was staying within the Lodge grounds in a lovely stilted chalet / safari tent that overlooked the waterhole. A great place to sit and watch the sun set (or rise). Caroline & Philip were camped with us outside the Lodge in an unfenced campground. Just remote enough to be bush-camping with the elephants, Cape Buffalo, Impala, etc that come into camp: but also just close enough for a chilled Gin & Tonic when the need arises.  

 
The following night we were booked to stay at Sinamatella, about 120km into Hwange National Park. We left Ivory Lodge just after dawn as the 120km drive was likely to take 6 hours or so. Park entry was a breeze and great value at only $20 per day per person and $20 single entry for each car. 
We had heard about a lion kill of a baby elephant the previous day and headed to Caterpillar Dam (waterhole) to see if the lions were still about. In the cool of dawn, they were lazing around at the back of the waterhole, fattened by their feast the previous evening.  
 The males of course pay little attention to what’s going on around them. Their main activity is sitting around wondering where the next meal is coming from.
 
Despite the kill of one of their calves, the elephants still need to drink. The mothers have no choice other than to stand watch over the pride of lions as the rest of the group satisfy their thirst. 

 
As one of the females went and helped herself to another chunk of elephant meat…

  
…a Roan Antelope approached the waterhole from the opposite direction. 

 
Upwind of the lions, he had no idea they were there. As he crouched to drink, 80 metres away, the lionesses amongst the pride were instantly alert. 

 
One of them set off to hunt.  

 
Using the undulations of the ground, she disappeared from sight as she approached within about 30 metres of the Roan. She crested one of the hollows and he caught either a glimpse or a sniff of her. In a split second he bolted, scaring the vultures that were also hanging around the elephant carcass.  

 
Maybe the lioness was careless, maybe just complacent because of her kill the previous day. Either way, she nonchalantly returned to the elephant carcass as if to say “I wasn’t really in the mood for Antelope any way.” 

 
Having watched the lions for a couple of hours, we headed deeper into the park. 

 
The whole park is parched, with the exception of a couple of muddy waterholes and one dammed lake. Naturally these attract a lot of game. 

 For mile after mile around the north of the park the trees have been stripped of anything edible by elephants. Chopped off at about 1.5m high, they look as if a hurricane has been through and levelled them all. There’s not a lot of grazing around for the Zebra, Buffalo, Kudu, Wildebeest or the beautiful Sable Antelopes. 
 
It took us around 7 hours to reach the Sinamatella camp. Sometimes the going was slow because of the track conditions. Sometimes more temporary obstacles slowed us down!

  There’s not much high ground in Hwange National Park so it was easy to pick out the ridge that the Sinamatella Camp is situated on. 

 
When we got up there, the camp itself was a typical African Government run facility. A bit like Butlin’s chalets built in the 1960’s and, although clean, no real upgrades / refurbishments since. The view though was outstanding. Dried river beds, parched flood plains, teak and ebony woodland stripped by elephants, herds of 100’s of buffalo, zebra and elephant wandering across the landscape.

View From The Penthouse: 
 
What a spot. Surely there’s few better places to watch the sun go down in this part of Africa. If this place had been run by an entrepreneur rather than the Government it could be one of the most spectacular lodge locations in Eastern Africa.

We stayed 2 nights, simply for the views and the early morning local game drives. Well worth the journey, even if our guests found some of the tracks a bit of a challenge. 
 
The advantage of self catering of course is that if you find a good hide at a waterhole, you just pull out the camping gear and have breakfast with the wildlife. 

 
Over a 2-day period, this carcass went from recognisably a young elephant to just a pile of shabby bones. 

 
An action packed way to spend the morning and not bad views to accompany Cornflakes, yoghurt and fresh-brewed coffee. 

 
  
If you arrive really early, often you can catch the big guys trying to decide what to have for lunch… 

 
Occasionally, their lunch is already laid out for them, presumably prepared by the girls the previous day. 

 
No point rushing about in all that stifling heat though, when lunch is ready any time you want it… 

 
After a fairly tough couple of days in the park, we headed back to Ivory Lodge for a bit of pampering. Philip decided that included a haircut and the viewing platform at the campsite was to be the salon. 

 
He was brave enough to let Helene do the honours (I guess she’s been practicing on me for the last 3 years travelling). 

 
You may get a cup of tea and a biscuit back in Aberdeen, but I don’t suppose many barbers can provide the same views.