Zimbabwe, Botswana & Zambia 17.08_31.08.13
One group leaves and another arrives!
A sad start to the day as the group all went their separate ways. John and I did a grocery shop and then went out to Pioneer Camp to meet up with Leslie and Karen. The others all came in on a later flight. Evening meal of Boerewors, veggies and potatoes. We didn’t burn them this time and were happy with that!
Early morning start as we needed to collect Anne from the airport. She got through customs easily and we headed across town to the Great North Road to Fringilla. There wasn’t anything to buy there so we kept going and stopped for lunch at the Forest Inn near Mkushi. We enjoyed our picnic lunch in the garden. All the staff we encountered were very helpful and friendly. After lunch we re-fueled in Serenji and made it to Kasanka in good time. Checked in at Wasa Lodge and met Sam one of the volunteers. Stayed in camp site 3 at Pontoon Camp and had a lovely view of the river and the rare Sitatunga Antelope. A lovely, lovely campsite. So peaceful and serene.
We had a late start as we were all so happy to sit and watch the comings and goings at the river. Hippos, Puku, Sitatunga, Baboons and lovely birds. Gorgeous trees and a stunning setting. In the afternoon we went for a short game drive didn’t see very much but we all enjoyed the ‘looking’. We went to Wasa Lodge for sundowners and pizza! It was all excellent. Sam used to work at Pizza Express in Norwich so he cooked us a Capricciosa (ham, capers, anchovies, egg), spicy salami, spicy veg pizzas in the wood burning pizza oven. A really enjoyable evening. We ‘spotted’ on the way home hoping to see porcupines along the road. Sadly none were around but we did see bush babies, pukus and impala.
We drove to the lodge and had a chat with Sam. We had intended to go to Bangweulu to search for Shoebills but the description of the journey put us off. A long drive followed by a swamp crossing (we have since heard that the swamp was up to your neck!), followed by a boat ride, followed by a drive. Too much hassle – though without the others, we would probably done it ourselves. This year is particularly difficult as it has been so dry.
Instead we chose to go through North Luangwa park. For years this was virtually inaccessible, but now the road is reasonably passable so we aimed for Buffalo camp as a recent visitor had raved about it. We eventually got hold of the operator and found out it was full for the night, so we transitted the park and eventually reached Chifunda community camp around sunset. Just before it there was a quirky hand-pulled pontoon which felt very precarious, but got us safely over the Luangwa.
Chifunda is a beautiful site, and we were fortunate to be the only ones there. It’s right on the river with great views of hippo and birds. We decided to stay for 2 nights (which we would have spent at Bangweulu), and went for a game walk in the morning. Sadly the local guide couldn’t tell us about any of the plants, but when prompted could identify tracks. We went for our own walk later on and had great views of the hippos and some lovely bird sightings.
As we were walking by the river, watching hippos, a group of four vehicles were crossing on the pontoon. We were surprised when they came to our site and proceeded to set up camp. We are a group of 8 two vehicles and they were at least 14 in 4 vehicles. Luckily the camp guards ‘noticed’ and moved them further away. I guess they wanted our river view!
We went for a very long night drive and saw very little (we did see a single wildebeest). When we stopped for our sundowner we battled with the Tsetses …we were determined to have our Gin & Tonics out of the vehicle. Thank goodness they go away at night so they weren’t around for too long.
The drive was quite long and rather difficult. My vehicle didn’t have as much oomph as John’s so I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it back up the steep banks we came down. But I did it to much cheering and applauding. It was a shame that I then got a bit ‘lost’ as the track disappeared. Luckily I didn’t keep going as I would have gone down the embankment into the river. I managed to find my way out and caught up with John and the guide.
Left Chifunda at 8am and headed through the back roads to South Luangwa Park. The drive was lovely until we hit the hard black cotton soil in Luambe. That was tough and unpleasant driving! Lots of rural villages with the remains of cotton cash crops. You now need to pay if you are transitting the Luambe National Park which is fine as it will help improve the park for all. However he must’ve taken 45 minutes to write out 8 sentences! Whilst we were waiting we had fun dancing with the kids. Debbie also showed the kids the guide book full of animal and bird pictures and they all went crazy. At one point I think Debbie disappeared in the melee. Karen & Leslie gave some colouring books and pencils to the mother’s much to everyone’s delight.
Came into Nsefu sector and there were so many crowned cranes, elephants, puku, impala and zebra and our first carmine bee eaters! The plains are so much more open than North Luangwa so everyone had a chance to finally see some of the bigger game. Really beautiful sighting and lots of excitement in the cars.
When we arrived at Milyoti we bumped into a south African couple who told us there was room at Zikomo. John had in fact tried to book it but he was told that it was full. Robin assured us that there was room and that we would be welcome. John then worked out that Robin was part of the Roy and Linda’s group. John had been conversing with Roy and Linda on the Tracks 4 x 4 forum! So off we went and we were sooooo excited to find a peaceful, wonderful spot. As the owner says, he is trying to create a mini paradise. Even though the campsite was full they made room for us near a chalet and we celebrated with a wonderful cold beer from the bar. The staff are exceptionally friendly and helpful. We would highly recommend the spot. Even though it is a drive to get to the busy part of the Luangwa Park, the tranquillity is worth the effort. Lots of hippo noise at night.
We got up early for a game drive into Nsefu sector. Not long after leaving camp and entering the park, John and Sue saw a leopard skip off into the bush. Sadly she was too fast for the rest of us to see. We really enjoyed our game drive though as we saw lots of elephants, buffalo (a HUGE herd of ~300- 400), impala, puku, yellow billed storks. Anne, Karen, Leslie and myself (Nancy) had the wonderful experience of sitting in the car watching the elephants dust bathe. They were about 15-20m away and were a bit skittish. A group of about 6 including a large female and a small baby. It was very moving.
We were the only people camping at Zikomo as all the other tourists had left. It is a wonderful spot situated on the Luangwa River. We loved sitting and watching the hippos, crocs, birds and antelope. A small piece of paradise is being built. The owners do need to sort out the colour of the pool and the chalet prices. We do hope it works out for them as it is a truly wonderful location with fantastic staff. In the evening we went for a night drive (starting at 4pm). Sadly the driver was not very experienced and he stalled going up a hill. This meant we lost power, lost the brakes and slid downhill. A bit hairy and we were very lucky to get out of that unscathed. We went wayyyyy too far away from the camp and he ended up getting lost which was very embarrassing for him. We were shown the way and on our way back to camp we saw a female leopard and her cub. It is likely that it is the same leopard that John and Sue saw in the morning. By the time we arrived back we were all knackered but had to eat a three course meal at the lodge. The Butternut soup and bread were excellent and I could’ve stopped there. The chef had prepared Thai Chicken, veg and rice followed by Sticky toffee pudding. All delicious but way to much food. All went to bed as soon as we could.
We headed out early in the morning to get to the main Mfuwe Sector which is about 45 min drive away from the camp. Soon after entering the park we saw Thorneycroft’s giraffe (which are endemic to the area and we hadn’t yet seen) and watched a small baby elephant suckling (ahhhhh).
We had chatted to a family who had seen a leopard in the are so we decided to head down the river road to see what we could see. After a short drive, john stopped where the car tracks ended and Sue heard a rattling noise and John saw a movement through the bush. It turned out to be a male leopard ‘playing with’ a small porcupine! He very kindly walked out into the open area and we were able t watch them in full view. Amazing! The little porcupine kept backing into the leopard hoping to release a quill or two (which he did as the leopards paws were bleeding). Eventually the leopard managed to turn the porcupine over and kill it. We did get lots of photos but no one thought to do a video! We were so entranced in the ‘never to be repeated moment’.
After the leopard we went around the corner and there was a lovely group of elephants including a nursing mother. It was such a fantastic morning. After all that we were so excited and found a magnificent breakfast spot under some trees surrounded by baboons and impalas. I had forgotten to bring the cutlery & some of the bowls from the camp but we all managed to eat our muesli and yoghurt using a couple of bowls and a wacky selection of cooking utensils. Quite funny really.
The game drive wasn’t so productive after breakfast so we headed off to Flatdogs for an extended lunch break. Everyone enjoyed their lunch, having some time to catch up on blogs, and shopping for gifts in the well-stocked curio shop. Check out Textiles for Africa (I promised myself I wouldn’t forget the name but I think I have…) Our lunchtime entertainment was watching the huge, bull elephant wander through the area. His trunk was so dexterous and we were fascinated to watch him pick up small nuts.
John chatted to Ady and he told us where to find the pride of lions. Sadly everyone else knew where they were as well so the group’s first lion experience wasn’t great. We didn’t hang around long and went to find our own magic moments. For me one of the highlights of Luangwa has to be the green meadows that are full of such a variety of animals – Kudu, Impala, Elephants, and Wart Hogs. Found a wonderful place for our sundowner by the river bed where we saw hippos, tons of crocodiles, and the beautiful Painted Snipe. Almost incidentally we saw a Leopard in a tree on our way home plus a Civet near our camp. What a day!
Relocation day from Luangwa to Lusaka. We had been advised that it would take the same time to go via the back road (a shorter route) down the Luangwa Valley as it would if we took the tarmac. We are really glad that we did as it was a lovely drive through scenic countryside and well-kept villages. Arrived at Pioneer Camp by 5:30 just in time for sun-downers and FOOD! Had a lovely evening chilling out at Pioneer Camp enjoying their open air restaurant and great food (oh and gin tasting.. warm gin tasting -good? bad? prefer ice, lemon & tonic!).
Today we are going to Kariba in Zimbabwe. As it is Sunday we need to stock up on booze before we head off as we can’t buy any in Zim today. I fact we have a leisurely start as you can’t buy booze until 10 am! As you can see from below the road wasn’t great. There was very little visibility and a lot of trucks!
After stocking up we head towards the border. We took the long way around as Bushlore hadn’t provided us with a police clearance certificate (despite asking for one a year in advance). At the border the guards said ‘oh big problem’ and then promptly forgot about it!! (The ‘BIG MAN’ at Chirundu wouldn’t have forgotten- he was grumpy!). In fact the crossing was very easy and quick. We arrived in Kariba mid-afternoon and found a great place to camp- Lomagundi Lakeside Association. A long winded name for a boating club based in the out skirts of Kariba. We enjoyed the swimming pool, the HOT showers and the quiet night. All good!
Drove from Kariba to Mana Pools National Park. Although it wasn’t a particularly long drive it seemed long as John’s roof rack sheared off in one corner… fixed that and then the next corner…. fixed that and then the next corner….fixed that! A tedious process and not a great one as you realise that Bushlore have cut corners by not reinforcing things. We also discovered that my spare tyre wasn’t bolted down on the roof!
All was forgotten though when we arrived at Nyamepi Campsite. John had booked a spot on the river which was stunning.
Six of us went for a game drive (Anne & Sue had had enough driving which I completely understand). We went out along the river and really enjoyed the light and the fantastic scenery. Lots of antelope, birds, zebra and elephants. Meanwhile back at camp Sue and Anne had a ‘close’ encounter with an elephant that came up from the riverbed. Apparently he was HUGE and they gave him a wide berth. He just came and sniffed the chairs and then left. Enjoyed our sundowner overlooking the Zambezi, fantastic sunset as usual. A very noisy night with hippos grunting and chattering, I don’t think anyone slept a wink :0) They sounded like they were right outside the tent.
What an amazing sunrise. Glorious.
Went for an early game drive and we headed up the other direction to Mana Mouth. What a spectacular spot to stop for breakfast. We were overlooking the a small tributary of the river where the birds we fantastic. Lots of white-fronted bee-eaters (which were nesting in the sand bank), fire finches and cordon bleus. Not long after we started to eat we were visited by a kite which was obviously used to being fed there. He came swooping down, doing many fly-bys. John was brave enough to stand in the open and the kite ‘pinched’ John’s hand with his claws. He wouldn’t have been that keen on muesli and yoghurt I am sure. On the way back to camp we sat and watched a large herd of buffalo, an elephant (eating leaves from a very high branch – his trunk high up in the air), some eland and impala. A gorgeous meadow so full of life. John went a bit further ahead and chatted with some fellow travellers who told us there was a dying elephant in the bush. They sat and watched for a bit and I stayed back with our car. I just didn’t want to see it. However in usual Nancy fashion, I changed my mind, and walked up to say ‘goodbye’. Leslie came up and joined me and we had a quiet time watching the very peaceful, huge bull elephant. A vehicle approached from the opposite direction and the elephant’s trunk moved a bit and then twitched and then – up he comes! He was just sleeping on his side and snoring!! We were all very surprised and pleased (the other travellers had gone away very sad!). By this time the elephant we had been watching across the road had made his way fairly quickly to our side of the road. Thankfully he just grumbled and went to say hello to his friend!
Early afternoon John & I set off to see Dave Macfarland, our next door neighbour’s cousin! What a small world. He and his wife Tess run a camp in Mana pools. We enjoyed chatting with them and watching the elphants come through camp. Hopefully one day we will take Gillian, Paul & kids to Mana so that she can meet him!
Dave was telling us about where to find the lions so John and I set off back to camp to get the others. We were hoping Dave could join us to walk us towards the lions but he had to attend to his guests. We did see some people walking in the distance so we bravely leapt out of the car and walked towards them. We only saw one of the lionesses in the distance. We didn’t want to walk any closer as we just don’t have the experience for that. On our way back to camp we were ‘confronted’ by an elephant blocking the way. He was a bit skittish but I think he was just playing with us.
In the middle of the night I was looking out of the mesh of the tent trying to work out what the commotion was. I saw hippos and elephants walking through the camps chatting and making a lot of noise. However as I was looking out a Leopard walked right in front of the tent! He just strolled past. What a stunning animal. (I guess that is why we also heard a baboon bark in alarm). An exciting day!
In the morning we needed to make a difficult decision as to should we go upstream or downstream out of the camp. John decided to hedge his bets by going down the center and low and behold there were the lions! A few other cars were there as well and for some bizarre reason one vehicle left and John was able to move forward so that we were RIGHT beside the pride. There were about 10 very healthy looking lions. 1 BIG male, 2 young males and 7 lionesses. They were all just lounging about doing their ‘lion’ thing – ie nothing. Then all of a sudden, one young male stood up and started to walk with intention looking straight at us! Then the rest of the pride got up and walked in front and between our cars. They had some prey in their sights. We tried to follow them but that didn’t quite work out. Soooo exciting to see them in that manner. They were very healthy and wonderful to watch. What a way to end our stay at Mana Pools, Nyamepi campsite.
We arrived at Chitake Springs (Mana Pools) around lunch time. The guys from Natureways made us a delicious quiche and salad for lunch. We have booked three nights at Chitake, and we are sleeping in ‘walk in’ tents that have their own loos attached at the back. What a fabulous spot Chitake is. You are camping right beside the spring which is the only fresh water avail for 40+ kms. So you know the animals have to come to drink eventually.
After lunch we headed off into the bush with our guide, Doug Macdonald. We walked and learned about different flora and fauna (which neither of us can remember the names of!). He is a fountain of information about all the ecology, biology, geology, bird and animal life in the African bush. As we walked along the cliffs we heard a very distinctive ‘growl’ which turned out to be a lioness in the bush. I was surprised that neither John nor Doug moved I on the other hand took a huge step back and was about to ‘get out of there’. Once I settled down I went back to join J & D and I saw the lioness and her cub (but neither John nor Doug ‘believed’ me about the cub until they finally saw it with their own eyes! Nothing feels as good as trust….). Everyone was very excited about walking and finding the lioness.
We walked along towards the fig tree by the river for our sundowner. We were thrilled when we saw ice, lemon, gin & tonic come out of the cooler Elijah brought us.
We spent the next two days exploring Chitake. At one point we were walking downwind from a large group of buffalo. It all got very exciting when the dominate males turned towards us sheltering the rest of the herd. When you are on the ground you realise how huge those animals are.
Other highlights from Chitake:
- ‘tracking a lion using footprints in the sand’ – until the shrubs got too thick and we though actually let’s turn back
- watching the elephants from above coming in for a drink
- watching impala, kudu and baboons just going about their daily lives
- getting fantastic views of Twinspots, Cordon bleu, Fire finches and Robin chats
- having breakfast at the table on the river
- and just being silent whilst the elephants came in and drank. Doug and Elijah had put some ‘toned down’ lights on the river bank so we could just see the elephants. A truly magical and very special time for us all.
Re-location day as it is the end of the tour for Debbie & Bas. After an irritating border crossing at Chirundu, we dropped Debbie & Bas at the Kafue junction where they caught a ‘taxi of sorts’ back to Lusaka. The taxi looked fine from the outside but as Bas texted: ‘Taxi ok. AC operated by quaint handle on door and suspension must be on loan to his cousin’! The rest of us took the long road down to Livingstone arriving at about 5:30. We spent a cold night at Maramba campsite but really enjoyed the restaurant esp Mary the very smily waitress.
The others went to Victoria Falls whilst John and I sorted out the vehicles. They really enjoyed the views and their time there. We left Sue at Maramba and dropped Leslie at the extremely luxurious Royal Chundu Hotel (the staff were very gracious and polite towards us as well even though we must’ve looked like tramps coming out of the bush!) Karen and Anne continued with us over the Kazangula ferry to Kasane. The three of us enjoyed a fabulous river cruise with Pangolin Photographic Safaris. Guts, the owner came with us this time and really helped improved our photographic skills. The elephants behaved impeccably as well. Although we tried to re-arrange things so John could come with us it all got a bit messy and he ended up staying with the vehicles to hand one of them back to Bushlore. He also did the grocery shopping which meant we could get going early in the morning.
We had made the decision to try for a camping spot in Savuti so left early to maximise our chances. On the way there it was the first time the vehicle had encountered really deep soft sand and unfortunately the spare tire under the fuel tank really got in the way. We spent quite a while in that one dip and we had to use the sand ladders for the first time. It took us two placements of the sand ladders before we managed to get out. We arrived at Savuti early afternoon and were given the emergency campsite (which is where John & I have camped before). We didn’t mind though as we were just delighted to be in Savuti. We set out soon after setting up camp. It took us awhile to find where the animals were but that helped us plan for the next day. One of the river crossings was a little deeper than recommended!
We saw a beautiful leopard (with some vehicles right up beside it… why do they do that!), lovely birds, and wonderful scenery. On the route back we followed some Land Cruisers across the river but it turned out to be rather deep for us… lots of water on the bonnet and holding of ones’ breath (am sure that helped). A very quiet night at Savuti, we were hoping for honey badgers but they didn’t come into camp. I hope that they haven’t culled them all!
What an eventful day. We avoided the river crossing and went the long way round and found our way back to the place we last saw the leopard. We had no chance of seeing it of course. However Anne saw a black and white ‘twitch’ in the bush and there he was. And he came out to play. We were the only ones there watching him play, run, drink, poo, mark territory and eventually eat the kill he had stashed away by the river bank. Why nothing else was eating his kill we do not know but he ate a bit and then went back to his tree. It was very special to be able to sit and watch a leopard be active for so long. We did tell the driver of a vehicle that came by and he proceeded to go across the small tributary and get very close again. The leopard came out of the big tree, climbed up onto a branch and did the ‘classic leopard in a tree’ pose and then went back up to the back of his big tree.
After the leopard we saw a whole bunch of animals in the distance so decided to head down towards them. In the distance we also saw a group of vehicles and felt that the lions must be there. Sure enough there was a very healthy pride consisting of two HUGE males, a lactating female with cubs and another female. I thought the second female must be in heat as we watched the very large male traipse after her into the bush and the other male taste her scent with his mouth (‘flehmen’ response). John got some fantastic pictures of his huge teeth. The two lions didn’t mate but instead settled down with their well-fed bellies and promptly fell asleep. An awesome experience. After watching the lions for a while we went in search of other adventures. We saw thousands of buffalo, 3,100 to be exact a guide told us he counted them. A very impressive sight. After the buffalo we then saw thousands of elephants. Everywhere you looked you could see elephants. I have never seen so many and I don’t understand how the park can sustain that number. Although you still find green bush and grass, the overwhelming sight is ‘elephant devastation’.
At some stage we punctured the rubber cover for the front drive shaft. It doesn’t make a big noise but all of a sudden you hear a funny ‘grinding’ sound. At first we thought it was just a stick or rock but then we realised the front wheels weren’t working and that we only have two wheel drive. Not great for Savuti which is very sandy.
We made it back to camp safely and spent the night in ‘Paradise’. We had noticed that the campsite was empty so were told we could move there. Early in the day we had seen an oryx, roan, kudu and sable from the site so were keen to hang out there. We enjoyed out evening although were hoping for nocturnal visitors but had to be content with hippos grunting in the distance.
We had real problems getting out of Savuti without the four wheel drive capacity. Lots of egos arrived and no one believed us that the front wheels were not working (until they tried to drive)! We limped our way out of the camp via the Marsh Rd and arrived in Maun safely. Thankfully we found a lovely place to stay (Thamalakane River Lodge) where we stayed in a family room! John headed off to try and get the vehicle fixed and I stayed with the girls. I swam (ish the pool was freezing) and we all enjoyed our hot showers. For supper we had Butter Fish which has a funny effect on your guts (as we subsequently found out!).
Early in the morning John and I headed to Maun to get the vehicle fixed by Mac. The girls stayed at the lodge and took a transfer into town. I was able to meet up them for lunch before they boarded their flights home. We had had a fantastic safari together and we were all sad to say goodbye.
In our newly fixed vehicle (thank you Mac) we headed south towards Ghanzi where we stopped at the Thakadu Lodge and camped for the night. We had dinner at the Rampant Ardvaark. Although we did try and find an Aardvark we weren’t successful. The campsite was quiet and the showers were hot which was welcome. We did hear lions calling which we were surprised at as we were surrounded by farm land.
We left early in the morning as we want to try and make Mabuasehube Park in good time. As usual we don’t really know what the road conditions will be like so are heading off early ‘just in case’. In fact the roads were all pretty good until we hit the deep sand. I still managed to nod off most of the way! I seem to have this amazing ability to sleep in cars. The rocking and rolling and very straight roads are so soporific. I am not great company for John who is driving. Not much wildlife near the road except for Steenbok, Ostrich and a few Oryx. Oh and Goshawks, Tawny eagles and Bateleurs. So not bad after all! We re-fueled and grabbed a coffee in Kang and headed back on our way. Arriving in Mabua at 1:30 which is great. The guys at the desk were lovely and helped us switch our campsite from one right at the main gate to number KY-MON-01 which is by the pan further into the camp. On our way to the camp we were treated to a wonderful array of vultures enjoying the small waterhole. In a few minutes we are going to go and see what we can see! It is a very peaceful place to be and we may stay here for two nights. The bees and small flies are a bit buzzy as they search for water around you but they are not bugging us except for making a lot of noise!
Late on in our afternoon game drive we finally saw some antelope and then a pride of lions. It was a beautiful place to have a look around but to be honest we were pretty tired of driving. In the evening we were treated to a spectacular view of a leopard walking through camp. He was a beautiful, beautiful animal. Our leopard sightings have been second-to-none.
And now… From then on we have been moving further south towards Cape Town. We have been blown away by the wild flowers especially at Papkuilsfontein and at Western Cape National Park. Simply stunning. We have also enjoyed Stellenbosch. And now we are waiting for our flight home.