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.

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!

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

Another Day, Another Border

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:09 pm
May 272011
 

We left Vumba and headed the short distance to the Mozambique border, picking up Ken from Tony’s Coffee House and giving him a lift on the roof (as you do in Africa) to work.

The border was, as usual, chaos. There were heaps of semi trailers lined up both on the Zimbabwe and Mozambique side. Again we had no issues and took about an hour to do both sides. For those travelling, here are the details:

  • Enter the Zimbabwe gate where you get a gate pass.
  • Drive through utter chaos with vehicles coming at you and construction and people everywhere. (Just drive past all the trucks until you see some buildings).
  • Be directed by what I think was a tout to park.
  • Go to immigration and wait for the official to finish reading his newspaper article and get your passport and gate pass stamped.
  • Go to the next counter and hand over your Temporary Import Permit. No questions were asked, nothing was checked (too easy).
  • 5 mins later drive to the exit gate (chain across the road). One guy tells you to park, another guy asks what we have, to which we reply “camping gear” and he accepts our gate pass and allows us to leave.
  • Wait for the chain guy to lower the chain, then for the car behind you to move and leave Zimbabwe.
  • Enter the Mozambique gate where there are 2 police officers sitting at the side but too lazy to move. A tout will go and get your gate pass and tell you to park.
  • Get out of the car and get your gate pass off the tout and tell them you do not need their help and will organise insurance yourself. (They did follow us nearly the whole time we were there, but didn’t keep hassling us).
  • Go to Immigration where there will be no forms and you will have to ask to get one.
  • Fill in the form, line up and then be given the Visa form.
  • Fill in the Visa form. The Visas now cost $78 + $2 for the form (go figure?). A very large unexpected cost! The official was at least helpful and pleasant when we asked him for information such as the border names and address details for Gorongosa.
  • Line up again. Wait for the official to gather all the paperwork then disappear into another room to sort the visas.
  • 5 mins later be called into another room where they take your photo and left and right index fingerprints which are then printed on your visa. (No wonder the visas now cost so much!)
  • Go back to the counter and wait for him to fill in more paperwork and stamp your passport and gate pass.
  • Go to the next counter and pay $2 for a Temporary Import Permit. Read the sign that lists all the things you must have in order to get a TIP, none of which we were asked for (and I don’t think we had them all either), and be thankful.
  • Go outside and purchase Insurance for $23. We went to the first place as there was another westerner there who had done the crossing before and we were told the insurance is the same price everywhere anyway.
  • Drive to the exit gate and wait  5 mins before anyone shows up. In the meantime a semi trailer decides to drive past all the other semi trailers and completely blocks the road. Thankfully the official made him move.
  • Arrive in Mozambique where 10 money changers will wave Mozambique Meticas at you assuring you they have the best price. Keep driving and find an ATM.
  • Welcome to Mozambique.

Great Zimbabwe Ruins

 Posted by Elizabeth at 7:24 pm
May 262011
 

After making it through the Beitbridge border without too much trouble, we then faced the road to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins near Masvingo. We had already decided that we were not stopping for anything until we made the ruins, so 4 hours or so later, having had banana sandwiches made on the run, we arrived safely at the ruins. There were a couple of police road blocks, but they just asked for our Temporary Import Permit and where we were headed and waved us through. We turned off the main road and took a minor road for the last 30 or so kilometres. It was a single lane tar track with dirt either side, that looked like it had had one strip laid for each wheel and then filled in at the middle. The edges were crumbling away and it took some driving skill to stay on the track as it was only just wide enough for the Land Cruiser.

The Great Enclosure, Great Zimbabwe RuinsWe were warmly greeted and paid our $5 each to camp and $15 each for the ruins. The camp is just a grassed area with some ablutions that were probably built around 1930 and haven’t seen a lot Hill Complex, Great Zimbabwe Ruinsdone to them since then. They did though have piping hot water and decent water pressure which is always a luxury. There is a security guard from 6pm to 6am.

8am this morning we paid $3 each for a guide, which is well worth the money. His name was James and he was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. He took us around the ruins for about 2.5 hours and explained everything to us. They are pretty impressive, especially considering they were built around 1200AD and the walls have no mortar in them. Some walls have been restored, but the vast majority have not been touched.

     Hill Complex, Great Zimbabwe RuinsGreat Enclosure, Great Zimbabwe RuinsGreat Enclosure, Great Zimbabwe Ruins

Mid morning we left the ruins via the scenic road over the dam, and headed for Mutare which is at the Mozambique border. The people were really friendly along the way and seemed generally pleased to see us as we passed them, a much nicer experience than when they put their hands out as you pass. The scenic drive is worth the effort as it passes over the dam through some scenic countryside and villages. The road is narrow and quite windy, but most of the way it is good tar. The last third is a dirt track, which is a bit rough, and you need to know which road to take as there are no signs. We passed numerous police road blocks, the vast majority of which we were waved through without stopping and those few that we were stopped at just wanted to know where we were headed.

Tony's Coffee House, VumbaOur original plan was to camp at the Mutare Municipal Camp, but on inspection neither of us felt we would be safe there. It is not fenced, very close to town and we would be the only ones there. Instead we headed for Vumba where we would find a cheap hotel. Vumba is a mountain village right next to Mutare. It is very scenic and a lot cooler than the city and I am sure it is a great weekend retreat. We stopped at Tony’s Coffee House as we had heard excellent things about it. It is a beautiful building in equally beautiful surroundings and was a bit of luxury Tony's Coffee House, Vumbafor us. They serve excellent coffee and about 100 different teas as well as scrumptious cake. Wayne had a Chocolate Whiskey Cake and I had a Macadamia Cheesecake. Everything was served as if we were the Queen of England on beautiful china, silver teapots and damask napkins, it was all very posh and quite a treat from our usual dining experiences! It is not cheap though, $35 for a coffee, tea (both of which are bottomless) and cake each (neither of us could quite finish our cake as the servings are very generous). The staff are really friendly and Tony came and had a chat to us for a while. All in all it was a lovely treat for us.

Whilst at Tony’s one of the staff, Ken, asked us if we needed somewhere to camp. He told us his wife worked at Ndunda Lodge, which had burnt down a couple of years ago, but about a week ago they had opened again for Ndundu Lodge, Vumbacamping. So of course we headed for Ndunda as camping is a much cheaper option than a motel. Mavis met us at the gate and showed us where we could camp. They are still in the process or sorting things out, but we had a nice grassed area sheltered from the road with large trees, a table and a bbq that we used to have a fire as it was quite cold at night. We were their first customers since they reopened, and so the first to use the amenities. They have repainted and put new fittings in, but there was no electricity so they left candles for us. They heated the water with a donkey, but unfortunately whilst the water was hot, only a minute trickle came out of the showerhead, so it was a bit tricky trying to shower! That said though, it is a fine place to stay if you need somewhere near the border and I am sure they will sort out the shower issue. Camping was $8 per person

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