Day 290: Into Hiding

Thur. 30th May 2013

Zebras aren't a black and white issue!We are saying goodbye to Vic Falls today and heading off for a couple of weeks of exploring Zimbabwe by ourselves. The first couple of stages are pretty easy – indeed, our first stop at The Hide in Hwange National Park is likely to be very luxurious. It is certainly the most expensive place we have stayed in on our trip. The National Park is part way along the main (Cape Town to Cairo) road that runs between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo.  So we’re catching the Pathfinder bus to the park and after our stay will head on to Bulawayo. What we’ll do after that, we’re not quite sure yet but that is a problem for another day.

Our tent!!The bus leaves from our hotel (it seems to park there overnight) so it is very convenient for us and we are waiting by the bus at 6:45 just to make sure that they don’t go without us. Its good to be on a proper bus again –  even if shortly getting underway, the steward opens up with a prayer. It was fine travelling on Janis but she was built for rough roads. Having a normal coach implies good roads which is how it turned out.

Roan AntelopeEven more conveniently, the bus stops at the Safari Lodge by the park entrance where we are met by Jean from The Hide who loads us up into a safari truck and we head off. Its about 50km from the Safari Lodge to The Hide and Jean warns us that it will take a couple of hours as the roads get quite bumpy. The good news is that we have a mini game drive as Jean points out animals to us (including this relatively rare Roan Antelope that looks a little like a cross between a Kudu and an Impala.

A bath with a view!On arrival at the camp, we find that it is all that we’d hoped for. We’ve been upgraded to a deluxe tent that is positively enormous. We have lots of space a huge double bed, an outdoor shower, a bath that looks out over the vlei (flat) to the game trail and, best of all, a verandah that gives a prime view of the vlei and the water hole. Right on cue a couple of elephant head back into the bush from the waterhole. It going to be tough here!

Its hard having a drink when you are a giraffeThe main lodge, like at Moremi Crossing in the Okavango delta, is essentially a thatched roof supported by wooden beams. At lunch (we arrived just in time), the food is great but we are distracted by the views. After lunch we head up to the viewing area upstairs and that is even better. Even if there weren’t any animals it would be a wonderful sight but when you add animals – like this giraffe spreading open its front legs so it can reach down to drink – it becomes truly magical.

Our private safari truckIt isn’t just our meals and drinks that are included with our stay but also the game drives – morning, sunset and night. Camp is quiet at the minute with only ourselves and another (Irish) couple here this afternoon and they pass on the sunset drive. So, after afternoon tea (more hardship!) we are introduced to Daffy who will be our guide whilst we are here and we head off on our own private game drive – but only after Daffy has checked what we want to have for our sundowner drinks and loaded them up onto the truck.

Lilac breasted rollerAt around 4pm, like Lord and Lady Muck, we sit up high on our safari truck and head off – first into the concession area owned by The Hide and then into the park itself. The heat is starting to go out of the day and more animals are coming out – we see more giraffe, a family of zebras (including the one in the lead photo) and more impala. The diversity of the wildlife is incredible both with feathers and with fur. Getting photos of the birds is by far the bigger challenge – they don’t pose for very long. My photo of the Crimson-breasted Shrike is not quite sharp and the Yellow-billed Hornbills teased us all afternoon. My favourite though is this Lilac (breasted?)  Roller with its bright blue stripes on body and wings.

Elephants at the waterholeAs the sun gets low, we stop at one of the waterholes for our drinks and to watch the elephants splash in the mud. The natural waterholes are drying up now (we have only seen rain once since arriving in Africa over a month ago) and so the elephants are interested in this one for the mud which they want to smear over their skin. This not only helps to cool them down as it dries but it also forms a barrier to prevent insects from biting them. I’m not sure I want to meet any insect that can get an elephant to notice its bite! Still they seem happy enough splashing around in the muddy water.

Mum feeling protective about her babiesDaffy says that the elephants know that there is more and cleaner water at the waterhole by The Hide (as that is pumped up from and underground aquifer) and that they will be heading there this evening to have a good drink. Sure enough, on our way back we see them heading toward The Hide and come across this mum being protective of her two little ones. When we headed out, the waterhole was quiet. Now it is a very busy and noisy affair and the elephants seem to have taken charge and consigned the smaller animals to the far side. Conversation at dinner is interrupted periodically by harrumphing or bellowing from the elephants and as some leave after having their fill of water we can see more arrive.

Giraffe in the early evening sunLike the other game parks we have been to, there is no access to Hwange after 6pm when everyone needs to be back in their camp or lodge. However, The Hide have their own concession area which they are allowed to drive around at night. And so, after dinner we head out once again – all wrapped up with two fleeces and a blanket – for our final drive of the day. We see a different set of animals – sadly, still no big cats – but a beautiful Eagle Owl, some Spring Hares bouncing around like miniature kangaroos and a hyena skulking around but caught in our spotlight. No photos, but still a great experience.

View from our verandahBy now it has got cold – the dry sandy soil, the dry air and the cloudless sky don’t hold the heat and the temperature has dropped to just a few degrees above freezing. (-14C is the coldest temperature that has been recorded here). So, after getting undressed, there is no hanging around before we jump into bed. I’m interrupted, though, by a squawk of pure joy from Janet as she discovers a hot-water bottle waiting for her in bed. I think we’re going to be spoilt here. It might be a different story when we are ‘proper’ camping up through Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania but, for the moment, we’re just enjoying what we’ve got.

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