Hwange Misses Out on World Cup Tourism

by Tony
(Pietermaritzburg)

Hwange Safari Lodge

Hwange Safari Lodge

Hwange Safari Lodge
Main Camp lodges

It’s a long and arduous car journey from Pietermaritzburg in South Africa to Hwange National Park in south West Zimbabwe, probably 21 hours total driving time. Infused with a couple of border posts and several Police road blocks, which definitely test one’s patience with Africa. But Hwange is a special place for us and we were excited to be on our way.

The stretch from Bulawayo through to Hwange is approximately 300kms on exceptionally good quality wide tar roads. There is very little habitation along the way and no towns to really talk of just a few little outposts. I had John Barry’s “Out of Africa” reverberating from the CD player and felt very content and at peace as we navigated our way through this chunk of Africa dissecting the teak forests that just seem to go on forever and ever.

On route through to Hwange Main camp, I wanted to pop into the old Hwange Safari Lodge, owned and managed by Zimbabwe Suns. I hadn’t been there since my childhood so I wanted to have a look for old time’s sake.

At the entrance gate we were treated to a full march and salute by the guard on duty. He could have rivalled the busbies of Buckingham Palace any day. It was heart warming that this guy despite his uniform being a bit moth eaten and despite the lack of tourists and general breakdown of everything, still took his job so very seriously.

The Safari Lodge is in a magnificent location overlooking a very well frequented waterhole, in fact as we arrived there was a large herd of buffalo descending on the waterhole for their mid morning drink. There seemed to be staff everywhere, but there seemed to be was a distinct lack of tourists, in fact we could only see one family of 5 people. My guess is that the hotel would cater for plus minus 200 guests.

Now bear in mind this is June 2010 and the first ever Football World Cup to be held in Africa is being held in neighbouring South Africa at this very moment. I know for a fact that almost every single lodge in the Kruger National Park in the North East corner of South Africa is running at full capacity. But here, in this prime safari location, which in my view is far superior to the Kruger and is only a short 2 hour flight from Johannesburg, there were just five guests. The staff outnumbered guests by about 10 to 1.

Thanks to the incompetence and archaic thinking of the Zimbabwe Government we have missed this massive opportunity to put Zimbabwe firmly back on the worldwide tourist map.

Now for me I love not having loads of people around, hey it’s great, it’s like having one huge game park all to yourself. Wonderful, but the problem is that these days these game parks need money to stay operational. Poaching is rife and unchecked, animals are being slaughtered indiscriminately as the local population struggles to survive in these tough times.

It is estimated that the wild population of Rhinos in Zimbabwe will be completely wiped out within 2 years, that is unless drastic action and funds can be poured in to save them. The wild dog population in Zimbabwe sits at a precarious 750 animals, snaring is their biggest threat.

Revenue just has to increase or these large tracts of land that have been set aside for wildlife will be reutilised for something else, maybe mining, maybe just rampant poaching.

We finished our cup of tea and left the Safari Lodge and continued on our journey through to the National Parks Main Camp. We checked in and paid our entrance fees. The staff were exceptionally cordial and polite. The Park fees have risen dramatically in the last year, so now sadly it is no longer a cheap holiday, but as discussed in the above paragraph these funds are desperately needed. My view is that if you feel that you are paying a bit over the top, look at it as though you are making a donation towards a very good cause.

It was here that we were meeting up with the rest of party, four other families. Our 16 year old sons (6 in total) were going on a 5 day hike across some of the remoter parts of the Southwest part of the Park. It was actually more that just a hike, the leader Dolf Sasseen is a wonderful christian man, with a incredible knowledge of the bush. He has lived and worked in the national parks for over 35 years and his heart now wants to give back to humanity all that he has learnt.

Young men these days are vulnerable targets in the modern world of our cities. Bombarded by alcohol, drugs, smoking, sex, the internet and television it really is hard for these young guys to have any sense of value and normality. So going back to basics is the best tonic for them.
Dolf was to teach them how to survive in the bush, how to track animals and how to make traps for them. How get your bearings from the stars, bird nests and anthills. How to make fire by rubbing two sticks together and which plants you can and can’t eat. He took them close up to herds of elephant without the elephant even knowing, and he really showed these boys some of the basic standards in life.

It was a remarkable and special experience and opportunity for them all. As parents I would be lying if I said we weren’t a tad worried for our little monsters and at the end of the 5 days we were delighted to see them again all in one piece.

During the time while they were on their walk the parents spent time travelling around the Park and we stayed at several locations including Little Makalolo,The Hide, Sinamatella and Hwange Main Camp.

Hwange National Park is without doubt one of the most special places on this earth. It covers 1,460,000 hectares (14 540sq km) which is roughly the size of Belgium. There is a great diversity of habitats. The north of the Park which has shallower soils is covered mainly by Mopane woodland, but the vast majority of the Park is covered by Kalahari sands which gives rise to open plains, acacia woodland as well a some very large sections of Zimbabwean Teak Forests.

As with all game parks the best time for game viewing is in the dry season. In Hwange this is late August, September, October and early November. During this time surface water around the park has generally dried up and the animals now desperate for water will concentrate around the few remaining waterholes.

Elephants will literally gather in their thousands, it is one of the greatest spectacles to observe, but it is not only elephants, all the animals from predator to prey gather here and its biggest struggle for survival that you will ever witness.

These water holes are pumped continuously throughout the dry season by diesel boreholes, if these borehole pumps break or run out of diesel the waterhole dries up and the animals literally die. Government funding has long since dried up to finance these pumps so the onus has fallen onto a few dedicated individuals in the private sector who maintain these.

Friends of Hwange is one such organisation, they have stationed Gary Cantle permanently in the Park to maintain the borehole pumps. They are to be praised for their efforts and another whole article needs to be dedicated to them.

We were here in June and Hwange had experienced late rains which meant there was more water around than usual. The game was dispersed and quite difficult to find. That is a marvel of nature in itself, the animals know to leave these main waterholes till last, keeping the grass and water in store because come September they are going to need it.

It is just such a pity that we humans who are the guardians of our natural resource are managing things so badly…..

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