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Saturday 18 Feb 2012
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Safari at The Hide (part three)

(...continued from previous entry)

Hwange National Park has one of the largest concentrations of African elephant on the continent, and we got a taste of this on our first night out. We partook of the daily ritual of "sundowner" drinks after having driven out onto The Hide's concession. After everything went dark, we noticed a group of shadows appearing on the horizon walking towards us. Within minutes the dark shapes were right up beside us, and the sound of a trunk snorting gave the game away. We were surrounded by a large herd of elephant! They passed us by, apparently not threatened by our presence and the night resumed it's quiet warm stillness. After not having spotted a single animal on our first safari out, this more than made up for it!

The climate in Zimbabwe is regarded as one of the world's best as the combination of tropical latitude plus it's height above sea-level means that the temperature rarely rises above 28C and rarely goes below 24C. It is the epitomy of "pleasant". Add to this the stunning sunsets and you really have one of the most beautiful places on Earth. The Zimbabwean guests we had staying with us told me how, before the troubles began, Zimbabwe was regarded as a prime tourist destination. It was the Florida of Africa. I only hope things improve for the place as the people, both black and white, really deserve better.

I can has leaves?
I can has leaves?

Lilac breasted roller
Lilac breasted roller

Over the coming days, our animal spotting chances vastly improved and we encountered hundreds of elephant, giraffe, antelope (including Springbok, Waterbok, Kudu, Impala), Zebra, a few Hippo, Waterbuffalo as well as countless fantastically coloured birds including the Lilac breaster roller (a personal favourite of mine, as they had a tendency to like harrasing the elephants and giraffe!)

It was a particularly good time for birds as the Green Season was noted for attracting the largest number of our feathered friends.

As a result there were inevitably going to be a few twitchers (Bird spotter fanatics) staying at the lodge. This would have been fine, had they had their own jeep, but unfortunately myself and the young Zimbabwean couple got stuck with them on the first day. That day consisted of our guide, Jean, having to stop for every bloody yellow-crested-thingimajig and lilac-breasted-somethingorother that the binocular-toting trio could spot. I like birds, but that was so effin boring! When we FINALLY passed by some elephant we made sure that we got to spend as long with them as the twitchers did with the birds.

Needless to say I did my best to avoid sharing a jeep with the twitchers again, and thankfully the jeep with the British couple I met on the first day was a lot more fun! (annoyingly, I missed out on seeing a leopard that they saw around the time we were bird-watching! Gah!). By the 3rd day EVERYONE wanted to avoid the twitchers and cram onto our jeep. We made room!

Lion mid yawn
Lion mid roar

One of the definite highlights was a lion encounter. Despite having been on safari in Tanzania, this was the first time I encountered a male lion close up. We were literally 5 metres away from it, and I was mesmerised by the markings on it's face which I never knew lions had. There were only 3 male lions in the whole of Hwange National Park (which measures the size of Belgium) so this was a lucky find. He was sitting right on the roadside, and when he let out a roar announcing his presence to surrounding lionesses it triggered an instinctive feeling of terror in me that was hard to explain. I'd never experienced anything like it. The roar was nothing like the MGM lion you see before films, it was a deeper sound stemming from within in it's chest, the vibrations shooting right through you. It's easy to understand how someone could be frozen in fear when seeing/hearing a lion charging directly for them.

Facing off against the...
Male approaches

Respect ma authoritaaa!
Respect ma authoritaaa!

We would often get close to entire families of elephant (the mothers making sure to stand between us and the mischevious youngsters... so like humans). These were the largest groups of elephant I've ever encountered. One time we stopped for drinks beside a waterhole when out of nowhere a huge male approached us and raised his trunk in the air until we backed up a bit (to show him respect), at which point he walked on. Fascinating.

Apart from the safari drives with Daffy you could also do a bushwalk with Mark and I learned a lot about how wildlife and plants co-exist and co-communicate: seeds that are designed to be trodden on by elehpants and hook onto their feet; white thorns on accacia trees (white is the colour of danger in the African bush... animals only seeing black and white... that's why Impala have white tails which they raise into the air to warn others); also how accacia trees communicate with each other when "under attack" from giraffe. They release a gas which warns nearby accacia trees to fill their leaves with tannin which is poisonous to animals.

Another guide, Jean, showed us how to find South using the "Southern Cross" star constellation.

The Dove's Nest at The...

The Hide offered something unique among safari lodges: a treehouse called the Dove's Nest, which was a fully fledged room complete with toilet downstairs. The advantage of staying here was that you could spend a night out in the wild bush with animals walking all around you. Despite the other guests trying to freak me out about snakes and spiders in my bed, I stayed and had a perfectly peaceful night, only disturbed by the sound of 2 lionesses attacking a baby elephant nearby! The following morning we went to search for any evidence of the attack, but either the baby got away or the elephants managed to hide the carcass! The only communication you had with the lodge (10 mins away) was a small CB radio, but otherwise you were left to your own devices and despite being told not to walk out among the animals at night, there really was nothing to stop you if you wanted.

I also had a nasty case of sleepwalking that night where I woke up and didn't know where I was... almost could have walked off the tree house ledge! Scary stuff.

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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
  • Zebra

    Hwange...

    Zimbabwe

    Zebra
  • Zebra

    Hwange...

    Zimbabwe

    Zebra
  • Yellow billed...

    Hwange...

    Zimbabwe

    Yellow billed hornbill