HWANGE: News and Advice
(4th July 2011)
Just returned from 9 days in Hwange. Here are a few pointers that may be of assistance to anyone heading there soon.
Our plan was to enter at the Robbins end from Pandamatenga and end up at Kennedy in the south. We made reservations via central reservations in Harare for Sinamatella (2 nights), Shumba (3 nights) and Kennedy (3 nights). This is a patience-testing process, so start very early and be patient. Paying the deposit is a challenge; if possible get a mate in Harare to do it from that side. However, the system works and we had no dramas. Be warned that the fees today are such that a camping holiday in Hwange is no longer cheap, although still way cheaper than camping in Botswana.
Some comments and observations:
· Meat in Botswana: We got our meat in Palpaye, from Marius at Sandys Butchery right on the road to Francistown. Amazing value, you can feed double on his portions… We were never stopped at the veterinary checks going north to Panda.
· Pandamatenga borer post: There was no petrol or diesel at the Panda fuel station, first time I have ever experienced this, perhaps just a bad day? Border procedures super-fast both sides, particularly the exit from Botswana. No searching for meat into Zim.
· Sinamatella: There were a few other campers here enjoying one of Africa’s finest panoramas. The campsite ablutions are functional but only just. Beats me why they spend all their resources on the chalets, yet I have never seen any chalet occupants, only campers. (But we didn’t go to Hwange to philosophise about logic…) Game was not plentiful, good March rains and widespread water being the reason. We were treated by a visit from a mature honey badger one night, right in amongst our chairs and fireside. Also an old elephant bull has taken residence in the campsite; you can walk to within 50 metres of him, completely unperturbed.
· Mandavu Dam and picnic site: Visited from Sinamatella. Superficially, looks in good condition, arguably better than any other picnic site we visited.
· Masuma Dam picnic site: Visited twice from Sinamatella and Shumba. Generally very well kept and in good order, everything functional. 2 very passionate attendants. If anything, ALL the picnic sites need cleaning utensils: brooms, mops, dustpans, etc. Once again game numbers were way down compared with previous visits; this is normally a prime viewing site.
· Shumba picnic site: Spent 3 nights here. Wonderful spot, 2 attendants are Godfrey and Nomela. If anyone is headed there, they are desperate for boots, both size 8, safety boots are robust and cost effective, just what they need. These 2 guys live in a pathetic hovel; can someone take them 2 camp chairs and a table. The hot shower here was a treat compared with the next places. Again, game not plentiful except for good elephant and great light for photos. Game was noticeably skittish here…
· Main camp: Did not stay but actually looking remarkably good, although I wasn’t conscious of many occupants in the chalets. The receptionist was informed of our reservation for Kennedy, no problem.
· Kennedy Picnic site: Spent 3 nights here. Ablutions fine and functional but no hot water. We had a night of minus 5 degrees here; be reminded that winter nights in Hwange can be bleak. Attendant there is Binga, a wonderful old-school fellow. He also needs boots, size 9. We gave him enough food for 2 months! One night we had a young elephant bull shake the acacias in the camp to reach pods, 15m from where we were sitting. Also 4 lions walked right around the camp perimeter, that got the heart going. But game generally scarce, not like other visits. Great variety of birds in campsite bird bath!
· Ngweshla picnic site: Visited daily from Kennedy, but did not stay here. For me, this is Hwange’s site of choice, although objectively, one does need to experience the other biomes across the park. Most abundant game and well accustomed to people and vehicles. Saw everything including roan, sable, and huge eland. I did not complete the loop to Jambili picnic site.
· Bulawayo: The Bulawayo Club is a fine place to stay, plenty of colonial history and most reasonably priced.
· Matopos: Be warned that the camp fees just for a day visit are scary!
· Plumtree border post: No problems either side.
· Zim police checkpoints: Must have been through 15 police checkpoints between Hwange and Plumtree. The cops were always courteous, we were never searched, they never looked for meat, our vehicles were never scrutinised and never any indication about implementing the new vehicle laws. Just offer your driver’s license before they even greet you; that always worked. Saw one speed trap near Lupane.
· Petrol in Zim: At a very wild guess, I reckon >50% of fuel stations are still empty, so plan carefully.
Summary: Consider Hwange is an African experience. It’s not just about the game; it’s far broader than that. Hwange is an integrated experience involving every element of the African bush. The stars are world class, the birds are great, and the people are great, and so on. Yet Zim remains absolutely confusing contradiction of every possible element of logical thinking. You work for your game sightings; this is no canned park with hot and cold game on tap. If you desire luxurious guided game drives with all the answers, then Hwange is perhaps not for you, no disrespect. You learn to appreciate and cherish what you see, look harder, move slowler and take nothing for granted. But nowhere in SA can you camp in the wilderness unattended, free to enjoy the wild bush just as Ted Davison did when he commissioned Wankie in the 1930’s. There are still very few people staying in Hwange which for us is one of its most redeeming features. The new elevated prices will no doubt dissuade new inquisitive visitors, perhaps not a bad thing.