HWANGE NATIONAL PARK – MARCH 2014
by John and Jenny Brebner
A TRIP TO HWANGE NATIONAL PARK – MARCH 2014
In the middle of February, Dave and Paula Dell visited overnight on their way back to Harare after a trip to Hwange. Their stories of the magnificent state of the park after the rains left us in no doubt that we HAD to get up there as soon as possible. Dave and Paula are involved with Friends of Hwange and have been instrumental in raising a huge amount of funding for the FOH/WEZ water project in the park and FOH employ Gary Cantle in the park to oversee the project. Dave also outlined several projects that they had in mind and so the decision was made for an end of March visit (mainly to take advantage of the half price on offer).
Driving up to the park on 21st March was delightful – the trees were all fully leafed, some of the beautiful teak trees were still flowering profusely and wild hibiscus polka dotted the tall green grass along the roadside with their lemon yellow discs with cerise centres. Driving through the Parks boom, we politely asked the scout on duty how the animals were and his reply was “Aah –maningi, maningi” following that up with “duzi lapa Livingi ena kona lo f***ing lion”! First stop was at Main Camp to inspect the site where it is proposed to build (long awaited) accommodation for Gary, along with two containers for a workshop and storeroom. After negotiations with Parks, Dave has managed to secure a site at the very end of the Parks housing opposite the airstrip amongst some lovely trees and looking out over pristine teak forest. With it being at the end of the existing houses, getting water and power to the buildings should not be too much of a problem. After photographing some creepy bats at the old stables, a meeting was held with Warden Jura before we trundled along down to Kennedy One for our first night’s camping. And, yes, the Park is looking absolutely AMAZING! The grass cover is phenomenal, their seeding heads providing food for all manner of creatures and many of the natural pans and dents still held good water, many of which had those stunning peri-winkle blue waterlilies open to the sun. All the animals we saw were sleek and fat and looked exceedingly happy! At Makwa, we saw a pride of six lion – four females and two young males – which lay very obligingly on an anthill close to the road for a photo shoot before moving off eventually. What a start to our trip.
Another reason to get into the park was that FOH have organised for a borehole rig to be in the park for a few months with a plan to get two working boreholes at several of the “flag ship” waterholes, the plan being that one hole will be pumped with diesel and the other with solar. Solar technology is advancing at such a rate and is definitely the way to go – sunlight being a huge natural resource, there for the taking. The rig was already down at Ngweshla as the existing borehole has, for many months now, been causing endless problems. When some of the party went down to see how drilling was progressing, they came across two male lion – Cecil and Jerico – fast asleep in a blue bush. Having come back to tell the rest of us, off we went to discover the two huge beasts deep in the bush not two metres off the road almost totally obscured. We could just make out huge paws, nuts and bolts in the air as they dozed the afternoon away! These two fellows had been around Ngweshla for some days, roaring fear into the campers there and frightening the poor borehole crew who have to sleep in a pretty flimsy tent next to the rig into which they sew themselves each night!
The following day, after a couple of drives and late breakfast, we all packed up and moved on down to Ngweshla for our three nights ’stay. By this time, the two male lions had decided to move off and were seen between K2 and K1 so we ended up having a peaceful couple of nights before they moved back into the area and roared our last night away! We were amazed at how far these two chaps were travelling, judging by the reports of sightings from the safari vehicles. Thinking that the borehole drilling would disturb the game, we were amazed at the number of animals grazing peaceful about the place, obviously having gotten used to the disturbance. The herds of zebra had several small foals afoot and the impala were starting their rut so much chasing and snorting. It was great seeing the huge elephant bulls in the Kennedy vlei, standing in the shoulder high green grass which also obscured quite a number of Kori bustards. Some members of the party saw buffalo up close while others only saw their backs and bosses peeping above the grass. A small herd of waterbuck would trek gingerly out of the bush near camp each morning and we even caught a fleeting glimpse of a gemsbok as it galloped off into cover late one afternoon. Giraffe were numerous and we often watched several of them on the far side of the vlei from camp, gracefully moving from one end of the vlei to the other. We found three beautiful lionesses on a zebra kill which we visited regularly over the three days to see how much they were scoffing away. The trees around the site were laden with vultures, heads hunched down between their shoulder blades, patiently waiting their turn at the carcass, giving us ample opportunity to study them. The last day we were there, three hippo had arrived, rather noisily, at the old pan and there was obviously something going on as they porpoised, splashed and cavorted around in the water, upsetting a pair of Egyptian geese and their flotilla of goslings. Birding was fantastic and we were delighted to see there were quite a number of Amur falcons still hovering and hunting in the vlei. At around four each morning, the three banded courser chorus had choir practice RIGHT outside the gate which was a bit disturbing but it was a delight when we discovered their smaller cousin, a Temmincks courser one afternoon as she popped off her nest and scurried away. What a beautiful little bird. Near the drilling rig, Vimpie (the chap in charge of the drilling) had discovered a Blacksmith’s lapwing nest with a clutch of four eggs, beautifully camouflaged and nestled in a shallow scrape surrounded by elephant dung. One afternoon, as we stopped off at Chris’ pan on the Somalisa concession to see the solar unit working there, we came across an astonishing number of butterflies, mostly the bright yellow and tiny speckled white ones gathered in crowds at the water’s edge, but in amongst them were some absolute stunners. Several tortoises were seen and a number of snakes slithered across the road in front of our vehicle during our drives.
On Sunday night, Charlie Hewat joined us at the camp and there was much chat as it is hoped that she can secure the funding as well as the borehole pledges that were promised at a fund raising dinner last year so that the project can go forward. During our time down at Ngweshla, continual small problems cropped up with the drilling but Vimpie soon had them ironed out. Good water was found at 53 metres and drilling was done down to 72 metres, in line with the hole next to it. Grateful thanks should go to Heather Gaston who has been a star in assisting with transporting casing and supplies for the borehole. Once the hole is complete, it is hoped that the rig will move on to Kennedy One to sort out one of the holes there where it is planned to install another solar powered unit. Nyamandhlovu, Guvalala and Masuma are all on the initial list.
On Monday morning, we took a drive right along the Mangas road to see what the water was like down there. Just past the Somalisa turn off from Ngweshla, the veld was so much drier than where we’d already been so obviously there hadn’t been as much rain down that end of the park. Manga Three held very little water which we couldn’t really see due to the grass cover, Manga Two was dry as always and Manga One had a sludgy green pool at the bottom of the pan. There was plenty of water at Jambile and the vlei there is looking beautiful, dotted everywhere with a profusion of wild flowers. The Dopi pans, both the new and the old, were holding excellent water and the same could be said of the two pans at Caterpillar.
Sadly, Tuesday was pack up day and on our way, just near Kennedy Two, we came across Cecil and Jerico again, doing what they do best, flopped down close to the road but again, so obscured by bush and grass that pics weren’t an option. Before leaving the park, we managed a quick visit to Nyamandhlovu platform, near to which was just the most delightful, waterlily covered pond with a plethora of waterbirds, wading, swimming, ducking, diving, feeding, bathing and in amongst all this was a particularly large wader we’d never seen before. As we were in a hurry, we only took a quick snap but later discovered that it was a rare visitor to this country – a black tailed Godwit. That’s one for the lifer list! On our way back to the entrance gate at Main Camp, our last birding sighting was a pair of Grey Crowned Crane with three ugly ducklings – the crane chicks look quite tatty and are definitely not beauties next to their parents.
What an absolute pleasure to be in the park again and even more so, being able to camp in our two favourite places. Although a lot of discussion took place and “work” was done, it was a fantastic trip and worth every moment. A huge thank you to Dave and Paula for organising the trip and for the amazing work they do with such enthusiasm despite all the headaches along the way!
JOHN AND JENNY BREBNER