A Perfect Day In Africa !

by Tony
(Victoria Falls)

Beautiful Male Cheetah

Beautiful Male Cheetah

One of the many advantages of living where we do, in Victoria Falls is that Hwange National Park is a mere 2 hours drive away. Hwange is Zimbabwe’s largest National Park measuring 14 600 square kilometres and at certain times of the year, the game viewing is phenomenal.

October is one of those times, extremely hot and dry with the only remaining water being in the pumped waterholes. It is around these waterholes that the elephants gather in their thousands, a remarkable sight. The elephant population in Hwange is estimated at between 45 and 60 thousand.

Every year we make sure we visit Hwange at least once during the hot dry season. Often, we stay in one of the many luxury lodges to do site inspections. This is an essential part of our business, as we must be absolutely sure that what we recommend to our clients is of a standard with which we are happy. But what we really love is camping and Hwange has some prime spots available.

The preparation and planning prior to one of these camping trips always seems rather excessive, even though we were only going for 5 nights, but that’s half the fun, ensuring that your camp has most of the comforts of home. Over the years we have gathered pretty much all the equipment one needs.

Our 2-hour journey from Victoria Falls to Robins Camp which is the headquarters of this northern section of the park was relatively painless. We had been warned that the dirt road section, which is only about 40kms, had become very corrugated, but our trusty Toyota Hilux seemed to handle these with ease.

After checking in we decided to do a slow drive to our campsite at Deteema pan, which is one of our absolute favourite places in Hwange. It would be too hot to set up camp now, so we intended to do a game drive around Little and Big Toms pans, Salt pans and Dolilio pan. This would get us to Deteema at about 3 pm which would be perfect.

Not far from Robins we came across a huge herd of buffalo, 300 to 400 hundred strong, sprawled out across the vlei. At Big Toms, we saw elephants and some beautiful reedbuck, zebra and a multitude of birds, nothing too unusual but the common stuff to boost the numbers of this trip's bird list. A very pleased with itself, slender mongoose appeared out of the grass with a rat in its jaws and scurried off to feed its litter.

Heading around to salt pans we see a small herd of roan antelope, with a tiny baby and a lone Tsessebe hanging out with a herd of impala. Above them in a purple flowering rain tree, a Bateleur eagle and a Verreaux's eagle-owl sit next to each scanning the bushveld for prey.

Not one kilometre from having enjoyed that sighting we see a flash of spots dashing into the bush on our right. Predators are high on everyone’s game viewing wish list and cheetah are particularly exciting to us. This magnificent male cheetah stopped in the undergrowth just fifty meters from us.

He was calling, a high pitched, almost bird-like call along with a bark-like sound. We scanned around but could not see who he was trying to communicate with. Later in the trip, we saw him again, this time with another male, which was obviously who he was trying to call.

He seemed unperturbed by us and then still calling started walking towards us. I frantically tried to capture the scene on camera but wasn't too successful and often wish I could just look without breaking my neck looking into a viewfinder. He flopped down in a thicket of branches ten meters from the road, but slightly behind us.

It was hot now, not far off midday and he was seeking shade, panting heavily but quite relaxed. After about 15 minutes of straining our necks, we decided to reposition ourselves, hoping not to frighten him off. He did not budge and we were able to get pole position with an absolutely clear and magnificent view of him.

We revelled in this magnificent sighting for another half an hour and then continued with our journey towards camp. What a privilege to witness this truly majestic wild animal, on our own without another vehicle coming by.

A few ele’s, giraffe and kudu later we arrived at Deteema, bang on time. It was good to see the pan still holding so much water in October, the height of the dry season. The usual smattering of wildlife dotted the vlei and water's edge.

It took us less than an hour to set up what we believe is our highly organized camp. We were now set and ready to watch the evening’s wildlife spectacle unfold in front of us.

Which it duly did in spectacular fashion, hundreds upon hundreds of elephants, each in family groups of between 10 and 30 filtered out of the tree-line to come and quench their thirst.

No matter how many times we have seen this, it is more mind-blowing than the last. Any hint of stress retained from the bustle of normal life melted away as the splendour of nature washed us clean.

The noise from hundreds of elephants drinking, cavorting in the water, fighting and greeting each other was quite deafening.

In this harsh October heat, they just couldn't get enough of the water and what was quite amusing to see was the different colours of the herds. Far from just grey elephant, we had some bright pink herds and no we hadn’t had too much to drink ourselves yet! Their colour comes from their choice of dust to bathe in.

The hide at Deteema is very well positioned and safe. Some of the elephants, well-aware of our presence, ambled past no more than 4 meters away.

Darkness set in and the stars exploded into the black night sky, but the elephant performance carried on…. we just couldn’t see them anymore; we could only hear them. Right through until the early hours of the morning they entertained us.

What a perfect day in Africa! Sometimes we question why we put up with the adversities that she throws at us, but after a day like today, we question no more.

We know for certain why we live here and always will!

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