At breakfast on day 13 of our African safari Kathy and Dave, our fellow travellers from Canada, were delighted to hear of my midnight encounter the previous evening of one of Antelope Park’s resident elephants waking me up in my sleep by feeding right next to our tent. They only wished they had heard her for themselves and shared in the experience. It must’ve been one of the only times I was glad to be a light sleeper and was wakened by her so close.
On day 13 we had a relaxed, lazy breakfast taking advantage of the fact that our next destination, Bulawayo, was only a couple of hours away. We didn’t leave camp till around 9am but it was a sad farewell to our couple of nights at Antelope Park as we had all had such a fantastic experience there getting up close with the wildlife that we only wished we could stay longer. As we boarded the truck again it was time to set off for Bulawayo for what was really only a stop over for one night. We arrived at hostel type accommodation which was set in the grounds of someone’s garden called ‘Burke’s Paradise’. I can assure you, a paradise it was not…The room we had can only be described as a brick room with a corrugated tin roof with not even a working lamp next to two beds that were squashed into the tiny room that was in the garden. It was clean but the heat made it so stifling that I foresaw no chance of a good night’s sleep..turns out I was right, staying at this so called paradise was one of the worse night’s sleep of my life!
At least lunch with the group was enjoyable as we sat out on the grass and the owner’s dog bounded over to say hello. We spent the afternoon at leisure so I decided to read my book whilst sunbathing. Even this wasn’t as enjoyable as it should have been given the rusty old sun loungers and dusty, 70’s looking cushions. I didn’t even merit the place with a photo as I disliked it that much! We just had to suck it up though so I lounged in the sun reading my book taking a rest and trying to top up the suntan. The evening was very uneventful and after another dinner with our fellow travellers we retired to our iron shack in an attempt to get sleep. I awoke the next day after a fitful sleep incredibly grumpy. The only thing I could so was try and enjoy breakfast and look forward to a nap on the truck…
As we continued on our journey, we were headed towards Hwange National Park (pronounced ‘wan-gay’), the largest game reserve in Zimbabwe and one of the few parks that is not fenced around its perimeter. It wasn’t too long a journey and only took 2-3 hours to get there. Day 14 was incredibly hot and as we travelled more inland towards the park this only became more apparent. By the time we arrived in the afternoon the temperature was soaring towards the 40s easily and were were all feeling a bit exhausted from it having no AC at all on the truck, only open windows. There had never been any AC in any of the accommodation so far either and it’s funny how quickly you become accustomed to it and can tell when the heat gets really intense. The day we went to Hwange was most definitely one of those days. Nevertheless, we were excited for a new location and another chance to see wildlife in its natural habitat. A trip to an African national park is always an adventure to be enjoyed…despite the heat!
As we approached the entrance with the temperature rising, we spied a herd of elephants searching for water amongst a rather dried up looking water hole. The evidence of the difficulties the elephants face in times of the dry season was plain to see, the waterhole being a dried up muddy puddle rather than an actual watering hole. The advantage of the dry season though is that the animals gather round these holes and provide great viewing opportunities for spectators such as ourselves.
We arrived at our accommodation where the campers set up their usual 2 man tents and mum, myself and Kathy and Dave were shown to our lodges which were a round hut with 2 beds inside and a bathroom. As with the rest of the trip there was no AC but this day was most definitely the hardest in terms of feeling the heat, I couldn’t tell when I was breathing out as the air was the same temperature…in the shade! It was stifling. The heat got the better of everyone and after a quick lunch from Freddie we all napped before our afternoon game drive. We were due to set off at 430pm which we were all relieved of given the temperature. As with the game drive at Kruger, we bundled ourselves into 2 safari jeeps and headed off with our guides in search of as much wildlife as we could possibly find. Along the way, we made many stops to look at spoor (tracks) and observe various birds. Our guide was informative sharing his in depth knowledge of the bush and spotting animals far quicker than we ever could. There was also an abundance of damaged trees meaning elephants were nearby. Apparently Hwange is home to some 60-70,000 elephants which is an enormous number. However, given recent events such as the shooting of Cecil the lion, numbers do not equal safety. As previously mentioned, Hwange does not have a fence around its perimeter meaning it is, sadly, more susceptible to the horror that is poaching.
We soon encountered some adult male giraffe bones that, according to our guide, had been killed by a pride of lions and then finished by hyenas leaving the bones to dry out and be bleached by the sun. We also spotted yellow billed hornbill eating termites found in elephant dung (mmm, yum) as well as a small herd of zebra casually grazing at the side of the sandy road.
We then spotted a herd of young male elephants known as a ‘bachelor herd’. Males stay with their female family until around the age of 14 after which they leave to find their independence and occasionally form these herds of bachelors. Impala and steenbok could also be seen all around us grazing and nibbling their way through what was left of the dry grass.
The sun was beginning to come down about an hour into our game drive casting long shadows across the trees and bush. Our guide was taking us to a viewing point next to a well used watering hole in the hope that we would see plentiful amounts of elephants enjoying the freshness of the water amidst the lower temperatures of sunset. We were not disappointed…
In the distance we saw many other game vehicles but folks had left the jeeps to climb the stairs up to the viewing deck which overlooked the watering hole. As we approached we could see some ostriches to our right who also had 2 jackals running past them towards the elephants and elephants there most definitely were, at least 50 of them. Some were playfully flopping in the water, others taking a drink with their trunks and more than one family congregated relieved to find precious water after a day in the heat. They were everywhere! We all gasped in excitement and couldn’t believe there were so many in one place which will remain in my memory as one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever witnessed. Yep, I felt like I was participating in an Attenborough documentary. It was everything we had all hoped for and more. We stayed for at least half an hour but to be honest, I could’ve stayed there till darkness fully descended as it was just fascinating and totally absorbing watching the elephants go about their business drinking, swimming and trumpeting at one another all in their natural habitat as they should be. Beautiful.
As I gazed on at the herd in front of me, one old adult male left his friends and walked right across my shot I was taking of the most dazzling sunset. What perfect timing! He was headed towards a nearby tree for a good old scratch. Needs must! It was obviously a well used scratching post given the very lopsided appearance of the tree.
These adults looked very much to me as if they were having some sort of elephant conference, debating the topics of the day and sharing the news with their counterparts. The children’s tv show ‘Babar‘ comes to mind…Also, look at the size of that baby – absolutely tiny! Apparently, baby elephants only fit under their mothers belly until the age of 2 years old. After that, they’re just too big to make it under the safety of mum.
There is one sight that I will never tire of and that is an African sunset. They are absolutely incredible imbued with the most wonderful pastel shades of pink, orange and lilac which saturate the landscape in their fuzzy warmth. They also create a wonderful backdrop for silhouetted trees and wildlife giving great photo opportunities. The locals may think nothing of this daily scene but coming from a country where the sun and its heat are not so frequent views like this one take the biscuit. I miss it terribly! Our sunsets here in Scotland can be pretty spectacular but none beat those of Africa…we’re also pretty short on elephants but hey-ho, can’t have it all I guess…
Whilst in Africa, and as mentioned in previous posts, patience is key. Not only is it a virtue when at visa crossings at country borders but also for crossings of a different variety – elephant traffic! Only in Africa :) The family of elephants trotting across the road in front of our vehicle was a pleasant surprise and end to a very productive game drive. After, it was back to camp for dinner and bed before we left the next day to journey on to Victoria Falls.