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Thursday 16 Feb 2012
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Safari at The Hide

From the 16th to 19th Feb I stayed at an exclusive safari lodge called The Hide on a private reserve in Hwange National Park. It wasn't cheap (US$255 was a special rate they had going in the "Green Season") but for that price you got unlimited food/drink and up to 4 safari drives/walks each day. To be honest it was a great deal and became one of the highlights of my entire trip...

Getting to Hwange was a bit of a challenge to organise as The Hide limit their transfers to picking people up from Hwange Main Camp, but I was told that I could get picked up from Victoria Falls for $304 return! Ouch...

Large scary statues at...
The Kingdom Casino

I decided to see if I could get a bus or taxi, and it just so happened that a company called Pathfinder had a bus that would take me to Hwange Safari Lodge, fairly close to Hwange Main Camp, and back for only $25 each way. Corrie @ The Hide said that even though the dropoff point was 30 mins further on from Main Camp, they could do that for the same price. So I checked out of the hostel at 6am and got a $5 (!) taxi to take me the 2 min trip down to the pick-up point outside The Kingdom Hotel.
The government-run Kingdom was the first place I enquired about a room and was told they could give me a "special" deal of $250 per night. It was a lavish place with a huge casino and extravagent marbled interior, yet the place was completely empty. It's sad to think of how many schools/hospitals they could have built with the money spent on the casino alone. Corruption & cronyism are idiosyncratic of the Mugabe regime.

The Pathfinder "bus" turned out to be a tiny van as the main touring vehicle had a breakdown, but they promised they would supply a partial refund once everyone reached their final destination. I wasn't going to be able to get the refund as I was getting dropped off at Hwange Safari Lodge, so they promised they would give me $10 back on the return journey in 4 days. I wasn't holding out much hope...

Painted dog
Painted dog

Waiting for me at Hwange Safari Lodge was one of The Hide's guides, Mark. Up until this point, all the Zimbabweans I had met were black, but Mark was first white Zimbabwean, one of the 0.5% that make up the population. Kitted out in khaki safari gear and packing a pistol and machete, I knew he was the real deal. He tossed me a Zambezi beer straight from the cooler and we headed off to a nearby Painted Dog sanctuary (we had some time to kill before we picked up a few more guests). The Painted Dog sanctuary is a charity setup to rehabilitate Painted Dogs (also formerly known as "Wild Dogs") that have fallen victim to hunting or eating poison. They are an endangered species and are quite stunning to look at. Sanctuaries like this, Mark told me, are rarities in Zimbabwe. The government would never fund anything like this so it has to be all organised by private organisations. Once the animal is well enough they are re-introduced to the wild. One of the dogs there that had to stay a long time was too accustomed to humans to be let back out so she was a permanent resident. Very shy animals but very unusual as well. Definately worth the trip if you are in the area, they need all the funding they can get.

Mark was very informative and right away I realised that whole experience at The Hide was going to be of a very high standard: Mark made absolutely sure that I was enjoying myself, tossing me a beer whenever I wanted one and describing the various flora and fauna that we passed by. He also filled me in on the history of The Hide and of his ancestry.

Descended from British farmers, Mark's family heritage was closely linked with The Hide, his grandfather once owning part of the private concession on which The Hide now sits. When Cecil Rhodes was trying to build his grand "Cairo to Cape Town" railway back in the 19th century (he didn't succeed incidentally) the railway lines had to go through Hwange and through his grandfather's land. Long story short, the railway company took over the land, by force, and to this day they still own it, although it is now leased to the Preston family (the family that owns The Hide), and Mark himself just works for the Prestons as a guide.

I had arrived in Hwange during what is known as the "Green Season" (i.e. the rainy season). It is supposedly not the best time to visit because the grass has grown so high that animals can easily hide from camera-toting visitors (indeed it was not until the next day that we saw our first animals on a safari) but I rather enjoyed the thick vegetation: you always had the element of surprise. There could be a lion crouched down literally metres from the jeep and you wouldn't know it, plus as we would find over the coming days it didn't matter and you could still see plenty of animals! The dry season did sound rather fantastic though (e.g. 1000s of elephants around a single waterhole) and I think I might try that the next time.

The grass also added a nice soft effect to the photos.

As we drove on to pick up the remaining guests it started to rain, but not on us. We watched as an isolated downpour crossed the road and then vanished. This is something I've only ever seen in Africa: you could stand in a dry spot directly beside a heavy downpour and almost reach in getting your hand wet!

The other guests were a British couple, plus a few white Zimbabweans (the place seemed to be overrun with them!). We drove through the gates into Hwange National Park and our first official safari had begun before we even checked into the lodge. Over the course of the next 2 hours we drove through the park, drinking beer plus Gin and Tonic (for the anti-malarial effect y'see), ultimately not seeing a single animal, but having a whale of a time! In the drunken confusion I mislaid my Ray Ban sunglasses and they dropped out of the jeep onto the gravel road. By the time I realised 20 minutes later I didn't want to bother everyone else and go back for them, so Mark said he would look for them the next day (he did manage to find them the next day, squished under a jeep's wheel with a smashed lens, but ironically the frame itself survived almost intact!). It was almost exactly 10 years to the day since I got those shades in Dubai, and they had been with me on every trip I'd ever taken on my own from Australia through to India last year, so they had sentimental value and I was very appreciative that Mark found them!

We soon arrived at the lodge itself where we were welcomed by a cheery Amanda, who was in charge of looking after the guests in the lodge. I was led to my "hut", a rather extraordinary affair: similar to the expensive tent I stayed in at Sesriem, with huge bedroom and outdoor shower plus a veranda that looked out onto the lodge's own private water hole. Pure lush! At night the waterhole became crowded with animals, like waterbok, and occasionally you would see elephant (plus even a lion or two, although not while we were there).

continued...

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Sithern Efrika

Travel blog by peterforan

Great White Shark cage diving

Great White Shark cage diving


20 days to sample the "other" down-under... a trip covering parts of South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe in February. Cape Town to Vic Falls get the treatment, while I mix in a safari or two... Now where did I put that elephant gun?

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  • Painted dog

    Hwange...

    Zimbabwe

    Painted dog
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    Hwange...

    Zimbabwe

    Zebra
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    Hwange...

    Zimbabwe

    Zebra
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    Hwange...

    Zimbabwe

    Yellow billed hornbill