Mana Pools

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:21 pm
Sep 032011

After stocking up and spending the night at Pioneer Camp in Lusaka we headed for the Zimbabwe border. Neither of us were particularly looking forward to the border crossing at Chirundu as we had heard it was busy and were likely to get hassled. What a pleasant surprise we had! Chirundu is a one stop border post so you do everything to exit Zambia and enter Zimbabwe all in the one building rather than 2 separate borders and numerous buildings to find. The one stop building is actually on the Zimbabwe side and the Zambian buildings are still there, just not in use. There were heaps of trucks parked but when we entered the building there was not a soul there – could we be that lucky? There were also clearly marked counters and even a sign telling you what order to do things in – both of us were stunned! We quickly completed everything with no hassles whatsoever, not even a problem with Interpol which we had heard horror stories about and were out of there quite quickly. If only other borders could be so simple. When we got back to our car the damn baboons had got on the roof of our car, undone an ocky strap, unclipped the lid of our washing bucket and taken it off and then went through everything in the bucket. Nothing was missing but they are a nuisance.

So the border crossing sorted it was on to Mana Pools. We arrived at the gate to be told we needed a permit however the office was only a few kilometres away so it was no problem. This permit is a free one, is handwritten and we are not quite sure what its purpose is but anyway it seemed to make everyone happy and we entered the park headed for Nyamepi Camp.

Elephant in Nyamepi Camp, Mana PoolsThe road in is not the best as it is badly corrugated and there is not much to see on the way in but it was more than worth it. Nyamepi Camp is situated along the banks of the Zambezi River with shaded campsites, hot water showers and flush loos. The camp was fantastic. Just about every animal we saw whilst driving walked right past us whilst we were in camp, most of them just a few metres from us. We had buffalo that in the end became quite annoying as they would frequently walk within metres of us making us get up and move until they had meandered past. The hyenas would also walk past us several times each night, but on one particular night after we had had a barbecue they were coming to our camp every few minutes and this time not walking past but heading straight towards us and the barbecue until we shone the torch at them and they diverted away. Elephants visited every day walking within metres of us as did warthog, kudu, baboons, impala and once even an eland came within a couple of metres of us which was very surprising seeing as they are near impossible to get a photo of as they run away. We had a hippo that came and ate very noisily right next to our tent every night. During the night we heard lions, hyenas, hippos and elephants. After 4 nights though we were both somewhat sleep deprived as we never got a sound night’s sleep!

Buffalo, Mana PoolsWarthog, Mana PoolsEland, Mana PoolsWarthog in Nyamepi Camp, Mana PoolsEland, Mana PoolsBuffalo in Nyamepi Camp, Mana Pools

Whilst there aren’t a great deal of roads to drive on around the camp you barely need to as most of the game walks right past you in camp. The highlight would have to be finding a pack of Wild Dogs for the first time on our whole trip. They were very lazy though and just laid in the shade. We have only seen Wild Dog one other time in Botswana last year so it was pretty cool. Our game sightings included: impala, baboon, kudu, buffalo, zebra, warthog, elephant, waterbuck, hyena, vervet monkey, hippo, eland, crocodile and wild dog.

Wild dog, Mana PoolsWild dog, Mana Pools

Mana Pools is definitely worth a visit. It is not expensive as your park entry ($70 total including the car) lasts 7 days so the longer you stay the cheaper it gets. The campsites are $100 on the river or $20 per person back from the river. We had campsite 19 which is back from the river yet we had a clear view of the river in both directions and were probably only 50 metres from the riverbank. It was a perfect place to relax for a few days and watch the world go by.

Elephant in Nyamepi Camp, Mana PoolsElephant in Nyamepi Camp, Mana PoolsWaterbuck, Mana Pools

Lake Kariba

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:57 pm
Sep 052011

Ferry trip Lake KaribaWith some trepidation we turned up at 8am as instructed. If we did get on we had visions of crammed, smelly bodies; horrible toilets; what would the food be like; how would everyone sleep. As it turned out it was perfect! There were only 3 cars making a total of 6 passengers with 10 crew to look after us. It was like having our own private yacht to cruise down the lake. We spent a very pleasant day chatting to the other passengers, reading, playing games and spotting wildlife when we came close to some islands. The food was simple but excellent and plentiful. We had morning and a

We needed to get from Mana Pools in the north of Zimbabwe to Hwange National Park in the south and there were 4 options.

1. Go back to Zambia, drive south and enter ZImbabwe at Vic Falls. This way I think was the shortest but it meant we would need visas again for both Zam and Zim and at $50 each we decided against it.

2. Drive to Harare, then to Bulawayo and then up to Hwange. This was the way the locals advised as it was easy tar road but was quite some distance. Naturally we didn’t like this option.

3. Drive down the eastern side of Lake Kariba through Zimbabwe. This was a viable option and would take us 2 long days (hopefully) over some roads of unknown status but it would be more interesting than sticking to the tar.

4. Take the ferry down the lake from Kariba to Milipizi which would then leave us a short drive to Hwange. This was expensive ($420 for 2 people and the car), dependent upon when the ferry left and also whether it had a space for a car over 2m as it has only 3 such spaces but was also a viable option.

We arrived in Kariba on a Sunday and tried to find out about the ferry. After asking at one of the camps without success we decided to find the ferry terminal. The terminal was down a back street and there was just a guard at the gate. He informed us the ferry would leave the following day and gave us a phone number to try. The guy we rang was fairly certain it would have space for our car and told us to turn up at 8am the next morning. So we decided what the heck, we will spend the money and have a relaxing 24 hours on the boat leaving us just a short drive to Hwange. If there was no space we would travel the eastern side of the lake.fternoon tea, snacks before dinner Ferry trip Lake Karibaas well as breakfast, lunch and dinner so we definitely did not go hungry. The boat even had showers and clean loos. To sleep you had a choice of a thick mattress on the floor or a fold out chair bed. We had planned to sleep out on deck but they had to leave the navigation lights on and it was just too bright so we slept inside. We opted for the mattresses which were quite comfortable but the engine noise made it a little difficult to sleep. All in all it was quite a pleasant way to travel the distance although it would not be so good with more than 15-20 people even though the boat is reasonably large.

Kariba was much smaller than either of us expected and was more like a ghost town. Whilst there we tried to find some food to stock up with before we hit Hwange. There are 2 small supermarkets, neither of which had a great deal in them, the veges were not particularly good and there was no way I was buying any of the meat. We found the local market which was much better quality although there was not a lot of variety – tomatoes, potatoes, onions, spinach, avocados and bananas were pretty much it. I wanted some pumpkin and some lettuce. One lady sent a boy home who then brought back a huge pumpkin, cutting a chunk for us for $1. Another man said he had some cos lettuce on his farm and if he gave me an hour he would get it for me. I asked him how far away it was and seeing as it was only 3km, offered to take him there (I couldn’t ask him to walk there and back for a lettuce that cost a whole $1!). So he rode on the side steps of the car and directed us to his farm which he proudly showed us around when we arrived. He cut us a huge lettuce as well as a few small leeks before we took him back to the market. Just like shopping at home!

Hwange National Park

 Posted by Elizabeth at 7:40 pm
Sep 082011

Whilst on the ferry we managed to book some campsites in Hwange National Park. Problem was the ones we booked were much more expensive than we had planned and that meant we did not have enough cash to pay for them. First mission once off the ferry was to find an ATM which was easier said than done. Hwange, which was 50 km away, had numerous banks, but only 1 ATM which never works. None of the banks would let us take out money over the counter using our Visa card. Hmm the only other place to try was Vic Falls, another 100km away but we didn’t have much choice so off when went. Of course when we arrived the only ATM we could use was broken! Great. We sat and waited and eventually it was up and running again and we got the cash we needed. Just a minor 300km detour for some cash!

We spent 4 nights in Hwange National Park, the first of which was at Main Camp. The camp is large and dusty with a fence around it, although the fence was broken in parts so we had some kudu in camp but that was it. During the night we heard hyena and lion. There are a number of ablution blocks but none of the ladies had a shower in them. Instead they had 2 baths – how ridiculous! It didn’t really matter though as none of them had any water to shower anyway. Once again we used our own hot shower.

Nyamandhlovu Pan, Hwange National ParkThe first afternoon we drove the short distance to Nyamandhlovu Pan and spent the entire afternoon in the elevated hide there watching the goings on at the waterhole. We must have seen hundreds and hundreds of elephants come to the waterhole to drink and play. There seemed to be some sort of hierarchy as some groups would happily drink beside other groups but sometimes when a new group arrived the first group would move away. They would drink then either swim or spray themselves with mud and finally wander off again into the bush. There were quite a number of really tiny baby elephants that must have been just a few weeks old and were very cute. Zebra and giraffe also came to drink but were easily scared away by the huge numbers of elephants. It was a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

Nyamandhlovu Pan, Hwange National ParkNyamandhlovu Pan, Hwange National ParkNyamandhlovu Pan, Hwange National ParkNyamandhlovu Pan, Hwange National ParkNyamandhlovu Pan, Hwange National ParkNyamandhlovu Pan, Hwange National Park

Ngweshia waterhole, Hwange National ParkThe second night we spent at Ngweshia Camp, an exclusive campsite which is a picnic area during the day but a campsite you have all to yourself at night. It is fenced so no animals come into the actual camp during the night, but it is right next to a waterhole so there was plenty to see. There are clean toilets, a cold shower and shelters. Once again we spent the afternoon sitting beside the waterhole, which we had all to ourselves, and watched the animals come and go. There were large groups of elephants again as well as roan antelope, zebras, black backed jackals, giraffe and kudu. An elephant walked from behind and passed us within a few metres and we didn’t even know he was there until he was halfway past. Another came towards us so close eyeing us off that I got up and jumped back in the car. At night the elephants were sooooo loud! They trumpeted, rumbled and made one hell of a ruckus for most of the night. We laid in our tent and looked out over the waterhole at night and watched the silhouettes of the elephants come and go – during a full moon with lots if light it would be fantastic. It was an excellent place and it would have been good to spend a couple of nights there.

Roan, Ngweshia waterhole, Hwange National ParkNgweshia waterhole, Hwange National ParkNgweshia waterhole, Hwange National ParkNgweshia waterhole, Hwange National ParkKudu, Ngweshia waterhole, Hwange National ParkNgweshia waterhole, Hwange National Park

Our third and fourth night were supposed to be at Masuma Dam, another exclusive campsite. Not long after we arrived though another group turned up and said they were supposed to be camping there. Hmmm something wasn’t right. Sure enough they had messed up our booking and booked us at Shumba rather than Masuma. In the end we stayed at Deteema Dam which was one third the price, has a great hide, is much closer to the waterhole than Masuma and we had it all to ourselves anyway. I think it is the better option anyway so it was actually a good thing they messed up.

Heaps of elephants came and went as usual throughout the day. At one point I counted at least 70 of them all around the waterhole at once. Various other animals came to drink such as buffalo, giraffe, zebra, warthog, kudu and impala. The elephants here were quite bizarre. Numerous times entire groups would suddenly freeze as if someone had pushed the pause button. They would stop drinking, flapping their ears, swaying their trunks and moving altogether. The first time it happened I thought I was having some sort of hallucination or there was something wrong with me as you never see all the elephants completely freeze at the same time. It was most bizarre! We had a great view of the waterhole from our tent so during the night and in the morning we laid their and watched the waterhole, such a hard life!

Detema Dam, Hwange National ParkYellow-billed Hornbill, Detema Dam, Hwange National ParkDetema Dam, Hwange National Park

Hwange was a great park to visit. The entry fee is cheap and lasts for 7 days and there are numerous campsites to stay at. You do though have to find a waterhole and sit at it as there is not a lot of game to be seen whilst driving through the park. On our travels between the campsites we saw hardly anything at all, but there was plenty happening at the waterholes. If you can stay at one of the exclusive or smaller camps, in particular I would recommend Deteema Dam as it is really small so not too many people can stay there,, has a great hide, is really close to the waterhole and is kept spotlessly clean by the camp attendants Augustine and Richard.

Chobe National Park

 Posted by Elizabeth at 8:10 pm
Sep 132011

We left Hwange National Park and headed for the remote Botswana border at Pandamatenga. When we arrived at the Zimbabwe side there was only one guy around who seemed to just man the boom gate. The customs guy turned up a few minutes later and the immigration guy probably after 10 minutes smelling freshly cleaned. I am sure he must have been working and needed to wash and change before he appeared. The police representative also had to be called from their house. Chatting to them it seems that this border crossing may not get any cars at all and at best maybe a few each day. We drove to the Botswana side where the officials were all sitting out on the verandah. Our passports were stamped but when we tried to do the paperwork for the car the lady was not around so they told us just to go. Bargain as you are supposed to pay some taxes etc for the car.

Next stop was Kasane for some money, fuel (which we didn’t get for 3 days) and food. In typical African style there was no diesel to be had anywhere near Kasane the day we arrived. No problem, we should have enough although we wished we hadn’t donated the 20L in our jerry can to Hwange National Park so they could run the pump at Deteema Dam. The next day we came back into to town to try again for fuel and beer. Nope, can’t buy any alcohol on a Sunday in Botswana. Diesel – one place was expecting a delivery but didn’t know when. The second place was in the process of getting a delivery but it would be 4 hours before they could pump it and we wanted to get back into the park before then. The third place had diesel but no power to pump it! As they say – This Is Africa! On our third day of trying we finally managed to fill our tank.

As it is peak season we were unable to book a campsite at Ihaha in Chobe so had resigned ourselves to staying in Kasane and doing day trips. Whilst we were in the park office asking for some info on our future plans a group of people walked in. (Maisy at the gate is extremely helpful by the way). We started to chat to them and found out they had just picked up their hire car but as there was no fuel in Kasane they could not fill it. Anyway, in the end they said that we could share their campsite in Ihaha whilst they were there for the next 2 nights – awesome! After paying our park and campsite fees we ventured into Chobe.

Chobe National ParkChobe National ParkSable, Chobe National Park

Wow Chobe is very different this time of year. When we have visited in the past it has been February or March and the park has been very green with lots of grass and bushes. At this time of year all the grass is gone and there is very little greenery. It is amazing to think that each year everything greens up and grows yet the ground is pretty much just sand. The Chobe River still has a fair amount of water in it but we have seen it right up to the river road but now it is nowhere near it. The roads are quite sandy in parts which we did not realise when we entered and therefore we had not let our tyres down. Oh well, we’ll deal with it when we get stuck, which we did quite quickly. Not a problem as we quickly let our tyres down and were on our way again in a few minutes.

Chobe National ParkKudu, Chobe National ParkChobe National Park

As usual there were heaps of elephants, especially around the river. I think they are probably the most placid elephants you’ll encounter. They let you drive right next to them and don’t bother to move even when they have babies with them. On our last game drive we saw a group of 9 lions lying in the shade on the riverbank. We decided we would sit and watch them to see if they got up and did anything. After a while they started to stir and one of the lionesses, half asleep still I’m sure, took off after an impala. She was kidding herself if she thought she had any chance of catching it, but it was cool to see her take off and chase it. One night in camp a honey badger ran past us which is something we have never seen before so that was pretty exciting. We also saw kudu, warthog, zebra, sable, roan, topi, giraffe, impala, heaps of birds, crocodile, hippo, baboon, banded mongoose, buffalo, bushbuck and red lechwe (another first for this trip).

Chobe National ParkChobe National ParkChobe National Park

Ihaha Camp is in a nice spot on the river although not too many animals came near camp whilst we were there. We did though have bushbuck, baboons, buffalo, impala and elephant walk past our tent during the night. Only hyena and baboons were heard during the night, no lions unfortunately. The camp has nice, clean ablutions with slightly warm showers. Each site is large and a reasonable distance from the next one.

Sable, Chobe National ParkKudu, Chobe National ParkChobe National ParkChobe National Park

For those wanting to camp at Ihaha but have no booking this is what we did and saw. On the first 2 nights we managed to share a site with another group who had booked. (Hang around the gate and see what you can organise). Our third night we stayed in Kasane. For our fourth night we spoke to one of the guys that works there a couple of days in advance and explained that we had a really long drive from Chobe to Third Bridge and asked whether we would be able to camp somewhere at Ihaha to shorten the drive. Originally he said no but relented and told us to just turn up. Sure enough when we showed up at least 3 of the 10 sites were unoccupied although they were booked. After talking to the manager it seems that this is a frequent occurrence. If they were full they said they could put us on one of the other larger sites anyway. So my suggestion is to turn up there at 6pm and ask if you can stay. If they are adamant and say no you can make it back to the gate in an hour or so but you will be after closing time, but they do night drives so there will be someone at the gate. Chances are though there will be a vacant site or they will double you up.

Chobe is definitely worth a visit, probably at any time of the year, At this time of year though most animals seem to hang around the riverfront so you will spend most of your time driving along the roads there.

Moremi National Park

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:36 pm
Sep 172011

Moremi National ParkIt is a long drive from Ihaha in Chobe to Third Bridge in Moremi so we were on the road at 6.15am. The road is good tar for about 40km south of Ngoma gate, from there it becomes sandy tracks or gravel all the way to Moremi. At Chobe we were told that we would need to take the western transit road then head east through Mababe, entering Moremi at South gate and then head north to Third Bridge. When we got to the south of Savuti we forgot about needing to go through Mababe and turned west for Moremi North gate instead. The going was fine until a few kilometres north of Khwai where we came across a large expanse of water with what looked like a number of tracks through it. Wayne got out and walked them all. The best option was solid ground, but at one point it was deep enough to come over the tops of his legs and was about 15 metres across. Hmmm decision time. Do we turn around and go through Mababe or continue on? We decided to turn back given we were on our own and did not know whether there would be any other water crossings that were worse than this one. Just a couple of kilometres back though we came across a local heading the way we had just come from. He told us he was going to cross it, had done it the day before and there was no deep water further on. He agreed to cross first and wait for us to cross in case we had any issues so we turned around and went back. He crossed the water without issue, but it still took us a few minutes to decide whether we were going to cross or not, during which time a herd of elephants decided to cross a few metres away. We needed to cross now or turn back. With some nervousness we went for it and crossed without a problem. Phew! There were a couple of other smaller water crossings, although one was nearly as deep but shorter in length but they were not a problem. Once we reached Moremi North gate they told us we would still need to go down to South gate as the northern route was blocked with water, but we had saved quite a detour by taking the water crossing.

Red Lechwe, Moremi National ParkFinally about 5pm we arrived at Third Bridge to be told that the camp manager wasn’t there and they couldn’t decide what campsite to put us on (someone was already on the one we had booked). Another couple also arrived and were told the same thing. After about 30 minutes the guy told us both to go to the same campsite and share it in case someone else turned up and had booked the currently vacant sites. Hmmm I don‘t think so. Someone was on our site, but we had to share in case someone else turned up and we were on their site? In the end the other couple went to the site he said and I told him we would go to another site and IF someone turned up they could share (knowing full well the site we picked was really too small to share and they would put them on another site before they would make us share). Not surprisingly no one turned up and we had the site to ourselves.

09153126a_resizeThe camp is nice and our site was grassed although I don’t think all the sites are. The showers were really hot with full water pressure (always a bonus), clean and fairly new. The camp is on some water but the reeds are really tall and there was so much water around that we didn’t see any animals in camp. We heard lion a couple of times and hyena but that was about it.

As there was still so much water in the delta a lot of roads were blocked and impassable. It was worse up at Xakanaxa where we could really only find one route to take. The game was pretty sparse as well because of the water although we did see a cheetah and her cub and a pride of lions on our last day. During our 4 days there we saw impala, elephant, giraffe, kudu, red lechwe, topi, cheetah, zebra, wildebeest, warthog, hippo and lion although none of them in any great number.

Lions, Moremi National ParkSecond bridge was out and you either had to take a detour or do a water crossing. One day we were parked right near the bridge and heard two local vehicles coming at a hundred miles an hour towards the water crossing. One went through fine, the other though ploughed into the water and came to a grinding halt as they sunk into the mud. Turns out the first car took the usual route but the second one wanted to try one of the alternative routes to see if they could make it – and I thought the locals knew what they were doing! We went over to help them out. The winch really struggled to pull them out as they were buried up to their axles in the mud, but eventually it succeeded.

Both of us had really been looking forward to Third Bridge but in the end were somewhat disappointed. The park and camp are lovely but we were hoping to have animals in camp and lots of game around but the abundance of water meant that was not going to happen. Oh well, we’ll just have to come back again.

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