by John and Judy Brebner
(April 2014)

How wonderful that we had the opportunity for another visit to Hwange National Park at the end of April. Autumn is settling in and although there is still plenty of water lying about and still a fair amount of green grass, most of the veld is starting to dry off, and that gorgeous golden hue so typical of the time of year, is settling over the vleis. Since our visit at the end of March, there is not that much colour to the bush and trees but we did see some bright yellow kirkia splashing colour amidst the rusty greens and browns.

Main Camp was quite busy with overlanders and campers from all over and the lodges seemed to be doing brisk business, with droves of safari vehicles coming and going, packed with visitors. We were pleased to see that the Waterbuck’s Head restaurant is once again up and running more efficiently than the previous couple of times we have been there and so enjoying patronage from many of the visitors. Unfortunately, the water woes in the camp persist and there was no hot water in the ablutions next to our chalets. However, the staff are trying their level best and we watched them fill the hot water geyser above the boiler by hand every day in the next door ablution block, where they kept a fire going most of the day!

During our three night stay, we had some lovely drives around, seeing plenty of game and birding as always was excellent. We saw an amazing number of Kori bustards as well as Southern ground hornbill groups, and it was obviously the time of the year for the game bird chicks, seeing several coveys of redbilled spurfowl chicks, the teeniest tiny coqui francolin chick, some young crested francolins and several of the trilling groups of helmeted guineafowl we saw had youngsters with them. The three grey crowned crane chicks near Nyamandhlovu have survived thus far and were certainly a lot more respectable looking than when we saw them in March, although they still looked like they were having a bad hair day! We spent one day travelling down in the Ngweshla/Kennedy area. Lunch time at Ngweshla was extremely busy with at least six FULL safari vehicles pitching up and the camp already taken by campers! Since our last report on the wonderful progress of the borehole drilling down at Ngweshla, there have, unfortunately, been several problems, culminating in several other holes being drilled. This was not due to a lack of water but problems with mud stone and it was found that hitting the mud stone would deflect the drilling, causing problems with the casing going in. However, while we were in the park, it would appear that the last hole drilled was successfully done and casing should have been put down this last week.

Another day we drove through to Guvelala, finding excellent water still there and three hippo sunning themselves on the bank, two of whom appeared to be at odds with one another and sporting fresh wounds, with grumpy snorting going on. Travelling on to Shapi where water is still plentiful, we stopped in at White Hills pan which we have never seen so full and where there were lovely families of waterbirds – a very proud pygmy goose dad leading his four teenage chicks out into the middle of the pan being followed by flotillas of redbilled teal and white faced ducklings all headed by their equally proud parents, several baby little grebes and common moorhen chicks fossicking around in the quieter backwaters, and a rather fussy Spurwing goose mother shepherded her eight fluffy goslings into the water, and set off for the far side away from us, the intruders! There were also beautiful pink, blue and white waterlilies all open to the sun. Continuing on down the White Hills road, we were told about some lion at Ngwenya and to look for the trees full of vultures. We were also told that the lion were quite far in the bush and difficult to see but we managed to find them eventually. After lifting their heads to check us out, they went back to doing what lions do best – flop down and sleep! We couldn’t quite make out how many but definitely saw three lioness and a young male. Returning later in the afternoon, we were surprised to see most of the vultures had left but there were the lion, still sleeping away making no signs of getting moving. While waiting in anticipation of something to happen, a large troop of baboon came grumbling past us and kept us much entertained with their antics as they clambered up into the beautiful old ebony for their nightly roost. It was comical to see how some of the teenagers reacted when spying the lion on the far side – they would start barking and shouting, leaping up into the old tree and after chasing off the last of the vultures from their lofty perches, the young upstarts would find the very end of the branches to continue their display, bouncing up and down, making their objections loud and clear! We watched in fascination as the mothers with tiny babies clambered up into the tree, babies still clutching tenaciously to mum’s belly. Obviously the leader of the troop caused some chaos once he got up there, barking out orders, chasing some of the youngsters from their precarious perches and generally upsetting everyone! Watching a troop of baboons can be most entertaining.

Our fourth night was spent at Somalisa, which was a real treat for us and thanks so much to our visitors, Caro and Tom. We had an amazing time there, made to feel very welcome by their friendly staff and lively manageress, Bernie. Our rooms were very comfortable, despite the dire warnings about Max, the lonely elephant, who might go off with the soap out of the bathroom if you’re not careful and who might rub himself against your tent at unsuspecting moments or perhaps flip the cistern lid off your toilet to get a drink! While we were there, we only caught a glimpse of Max but did have to be careful of several other elderly pachyderms who decided it was time to rattle a couple of enormous erioloba trees in camp to get at the pods, passing extremely close by our tents! After the obligatory siesta and delicious high tea, watched by several beady eyed dwarf mongooses as they scrambled and scratched around the dining area, we headed off for our afternoon drive with Armstrong who was a most informative guide and he took a chance on going back along the Kennedy vlei to try and find a leopard that had been sighted several days in a row near one of the natural pans. We were SO delighted, as was Armstrong, to find this beautiful animal, lying on the bank of the pan. It was quite a long way off the road but we had a lovely sighting of it just lying there before it eventually got up, walked along the edge of the pan and disappeared in the long grass. We then drove on down to Ngweshla to see the lions there. Tourists who’d been down there earlier in the afternoon, had been treated to a spectacular display of lion aggression between Jerrico and Cecil and earlier in the day, it was reported that buffalo had chased a lioness and Jerrico up trees! So there had been lots of action down that way and we just managed to catch the end of it, with Cecil lying proudly on top of a mound, watching his three lionesses setting out on a hunt. One of the lionesses passed breathtakingly close to our vehicle but was so focused on her objective, she took no notice of us at all. We could just make out a string of wildebeest and zebra making their way across to the main vlei, with the lionesses on high alert and stalking but obviously the game was up and the antelope and zebra took off. Just before we left, Cecil, too, sauntered down off his lofty height, and strolled quite close to the vehicles, following his three ladies and was soon lost to sight in the dark. Our drive early the following morning was not as action packed unfortunately, but we did go in search of some cheetah that we’d been told about. After another delicious meal, it was time to leave having had a wonderful twenty four hour treat.

As we were leaving Somalisa so late in the day, we realized we would not be able to get back to Bulawayo before dark so fortuitously, decided to stay another night at Main Camp. This time we managed to get cottage accommodation AND the hot water was working! We all had lovely hot showers before having a tasty meal at the restaurant. The following morning, before packing up, we went looking for a leopard that had been sighted several days in a row, along the loop road. After some information from a safari vehicle, we had THE MOST incredible sighting of this beautiful animal, first lying on a dead tree and after giving us all a fantastic view of her, she languidly stretched and yawned before leaping down, disappearing into the bush. As we were pulling away, she was spotted in our rear view mirror, on the road, walking towards us. How lucky were we then to have her all to ourselves, this beautiful spotted cat walking straight towards us! Photo op of NOTE! Just stunning and an absolutely fantastic way to end our trip, particularly for our visitors. Yet another wonderful Hwange experience.

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