The fourth safari destination on our Overseas Adventure Travel Ultimate Africa safari was Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. At this point in our trip we had spent nine nights in three tented camps in Botswana and Zambia. We had only three nights left in Hwange National Park before we headed back to the city (Victoria Falls and then on to Cape Town.) I tried not to think about the fact that our safari was coming to an end, but tried to remain in the moment and enjoy everything Hwange had to offer. And no, we were not tired of watching and photographing the animals!
It was early afternoon by the time we reached Kashawe Camp. Once again multiple transfers were required. We road in a safari vehicle, an airplane and two busses before reaching the safari vehicles that took us to Kashawe Camp.
Along the way we stopped at an open-air market to purchase two local delicacies: fried mopani worms and the local beer called Chibuku. We would enjoy both one afternoon at Kashawe Camp. The mopani worms had a tough, leathery consistency and were a bit salty tasting. I ate one, but can’t honestly say I enjoyed it very much (but I wanted to)!
The Chibuku beer, which is fermented sorghum, tasted tart, a bit yeasty and was slightly granular in texture. The color was a cloudy beige. It’s also referred to as “shake shake” for its tendency to separate as it sits. Giving the Chibuku a quick shake re-suspends the solids into the liquid.
Speaking of beer, when we finally reached the safari vehicles that would take us to Kashawe Camp it was early afternoon and quite warm. Our guides, Mafuka and Tendai, offered us refreshments and almost everyone chose a cold beer. We so enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon and sipping on that cold beer during our drive to camp.
I also noticed that neatly folded on each seat, along with the usual fleece-lined poncho, was a lap blanket. Assuming we would need both, I wondered just how cold the mornings and evenings would be. Turns out, not colder than any of our previous safari locations, we were just more comfortable.
As had been true of the three prior camps, Kashawe Camp provided us with many unique experiences. This camp had been in operation less than a year at the time of our stay and its location high on a bluff overlooking a riverbed and expansive plain beyond provided spectacular viewing right from camp. One afternoon we saw an enormous herd of Cape Buffalo trekking to the river for a drink. It was quite a sight, and they were a noisy crowd grunting among themselves.
We wandered out for coffee early each morning and enjoyed our first cup of the day standing around the camp fire. Our guides jokingly called the fire their “African TV.” The warmth of the fire felt so good in the chilly mornings and I found myself alternating between absorbing the warmth of the fire and watching the changing colors on the horizon.
At night the stars just lit-up the sky, in spite of a very bright moon. We all found the night sky in the southern hemisphere unfamiliar and a bit disorienting, but awesome.
Every evening we were escorted to our tents by Mafuka who carried a loaded hunting rifle. By law, at least one guide must carry such a loaded hunting rifle while accompanying guests in Hwange National Park. He carried it with him in the safari vehicle and when in camp it rested in a gun rack.
Nights were very chilly and the warmth of the hot water bottles placed in our beds for us every evening was most welcome. It was during the nights in Kashawe Camp that I first heard lions calling. I heard them calling almost every night, though they eluded us every day on the game drives. This was the only camp where I heard them, and it’s a sound I will never forget.
The scenery in Hwange National Park was mostly golden with tall dry grass and mopani trees with green, gold and rusty-colored leaves. Some areas of the park had many more green trees, so the vegetation was varied as we drove. I didn’t notice as many palm trees as in the Okavango Delta.
My recollection was that game was not as numerous as in previous camps, but when I look back at our photos that seems not to be the case. We saw fewer animals during the early mornings of our game drives and the animals did seem more wary of our presence. Many were very well camouflaged. I recall one sighting when we were watching wildebeest without initially noticing the group of giraffes in the background (who were watching us)!
We did make many sightings and saw animals that were new to us. We spotted rock hyraxes, (whose closest relative is the elephant), red mongooses and a striped sand snake. We saw both steenbok and klipspringer. Both are small African antelopes with large eyes and ears and small pointed horns. In our slideshow that follows this post, photos of the steenbok show him standing among mopani bushes, and the klipspringer is standing on a large rock. Klipspringer means “rock jumper” in Afrikaans.
We spotted an African hoopoe (a beautifully crested cinnamon-colored bird), a white backed vulture in its nest and enormous hammerkop nest.
We witnessed a very moving display of elephant maternal protection on one of the afternoon game drives. As we were driving along a dirt track Mafuka spotted a group of elephants quite some distance away, across a ravine. He stopped the vehicle so we could watch them and take pictures.
There were several large female elephants and several younger elephants along with a calf in the group. The calf was at the edge of the ravine when its mother sensed our presence and trumpeted an alarm. The calf immediately hightailed it toward her and several aunties along with the mother formed a protective barrier around the youngster.
The calf didn’t hesitate, nor did the aunties, in reacting to the trumpet call of the mother elephant. It all happened in a flash and took some time before the larger elephants let the calf out of their protective “embrace,” all the while their trunks raised trying to catch our scent. I still get goosebumps when recalling the sighting. I managed to catch just the end of the elephant’s reaction in a very shaky video included in the slideshow.
On our second day at Kashawe Camp we went on an all day game drive. We drove out to Masuma Dam, a large man-made watering hole, where we had lunch with a large pod of hippos. We enjoyed the lunch our guides packed for us from the comfort of a large stone and thatch hide. In addition to hippos there were crocodiles and far off in the distance a pair of secretary birds.
There were several families from South Africa in self-drive vehicles camping at the dam. The drive from South Africa takes several days and a stay at the dam requires a reservation well in advance. The viewing at Masuma Dam can be spectacular, with many species using the large water source as the dry season proceeds.
One of the trees at the Masuma Dam campsite was filled with weaver birds and their nests. We have included a brief video of them chattering away at each other in the slideshow.
One final, lasting impression of Hwange National Park involves an enormous, ugly, noisy, dusty open-pit coal mine just adjacent to the park. On our way into and out of the park we drove right by this open sore on the otherwise beautiful landscape. The roads and surrounding buildings and vegetation were covered with coal dust. Large trucks carrying uncovered loads of coal lumbered down the dirt roads spilling coal dust as they went. I worry for the safety of the workers.
As disturbing at this mining operation was to me, I’m glad to have seen it. It is an important part of the total Hwange experience, and a good life experience as well. Up to this time, I had only seen pictures of this kind of mining practice. All of us need to witness first-hand the appalling impact this kind of mining has on the environment, which we share with animals. I will always remember the sights, sounds and smell of the operation.
That said, I wouldn’t trade my experience at Hwange National Park for any other on this trip. The guides and camp staff at Kashawe were particularly engaging, friendly and helpful. Our meals were delicious and the table was always beautifully set, with cloth napkins folded into animal shapes and the table decorated with their artwork.
Kashawe Camp has a gift shop filled with the handicraft of its camp staff. We were very impressed with the carvings, jewelry, wooden bowls and table linens — all made by the camp staff.
As we said good bye to Hwange National Park and our safari experience came to a close I couldn’t help but reflect on our total safari experience. It was amazing. Worth every dollar it cost us. If you have the opportunity and inclination to go on photo safari, do it. The sights, sounds and smells will enrich your life and increase your awareness of the fragility of the wilderness and the importance of preserving it for the animals that inhabit it. With pressure coming from every direction on the decreasing wilderness areas in the world, tourism can be an important means of preservation.
We still had Victoria Falls to look forward to before leaving Zimbabwe. Our stay in Victoria Falls would take us back to the “city” from the wilderness. As it turns out, our stay in Victoria Falls was filled with great memories too…that in our next installment.
In the meantime, please enjoy the slideshow.