WEEKEND IN HWANGE
An impromptu decision at the beginning of the week led our little group of friends from an average weekend in Bulawayo, to a short getaway in Hwange National Park. Friday after lunch we packed up ready to go camping; the plan being for 2 nights but if anyone saw our vehicle they could easily have mistaken us for an expedition to Cairo. 4pm we arrived at Main Camp to check in with the ladies at the desk: Florence and Juliet, as fast as we, or should I say they, could check us in, considering we only had just over an hour’s worth of Sun left. Off we rushed to find some game before our sundowners, lo and behold in those 4km to Dom Pan we were welcomed into the park by the ever present impala, a proud family of warthog strutting across the road, missioning off into the bush with their tails erect, little aerials bouncing about. The smell of the winter bush, dust heavy in the air, sharp contrasts of the golden, burnt orange, purple grasses singing in the wind, the dishevelled grey, dormant bushes waiting for the Spring to return. And of course the majestic elephant stripping the bark off of the trees, examining us in a most patient and sedentary fashion. We watched the Sun, a red ball of fire slip lower and lower into the violent smokey and dusty horizon, smelling the chill of night creep into the air.
Back at Main Camp that evening we were fortunate enough to have a honey badger visit our campsite on it’s rounds searching the perimeter for food, not once but twice that evening. Before our enthusiastic group of game viewers recognised it for what it was, we were first of the mindset that it was a very strange dog creeping about in a most stealthy catlike manner, but with haste. Eventually it did dawn upon us that it was in fact a honey badger.
The next morning at the crack of dawn, we waited at the gate along with another vehicle or two, waiting for the park’s “business hours” to commence. And off we went, arriving at Dom once again, but this time the pan had an addition of 9 lion: 3 males, 4 females and 2 cubs. Not a bad way to start a Saturday morning! We watched them for a good two hours, saw the females playfully chasing each other up and down.
The cubs focused their energy on an old buffalo skull, taking turns in wrestling it. After breakfast, we started our trek to Guvalala Platform where we were camping Saturday night, stopping in at Nyamandhlovu Platform for a coffee break, and yet again we ran into the same “herd of lions” (to quote our good friend Craig). The lions lay in the shade of a leadwood tree (Combretum imberbe) watching some wildebeest grazing nearby. At one point a sounder of warthog got a little too close to a lazing lioness and found themselves at the wrong end of a chase, somehow managing to sidestep her advances. She retired to her lazy patch of slumber and we continued to watch the pan’s approaching guests: 45 thirsty giants. Over the 4 hours we were there during the middle of the day, we were visited by over 250 elephant.
Mid afternon we moved on to our camping spot: Guvalala Platform. At that time of the day the two platforms were at opposite ends of the spectrum concerning presence of game. Guvalala was quiet, even dead. But as the crepuscular hour crept closer, the elephants trickled in until the late hours of the evening when their numbers gushed through the pan.Amidst that chaos a few jackal snuck in for a drink, leaving the same way they came. The traffic of the grey ghosts continued until about 4 in the morning, and only then were we bathed in complete silence.
On our way out of the park Sunday morning we crossed paths with the Painted Dog Conservation team searching for their pack. Unfortunately, we did not see the wild dogs but here is an excerpt from their page as to what followed our departure: “After going for days missing the Nyamandhlovu pack, Jealous, our head tracker, got them yesterday right in the act. Guvalala Pan was the centre of theatre as the pack chased an adult kudu and her calf into the water around sunset. The kudu calf was under threat of drowning and kept swimming, the average temperatures had dipped and the drama was complicated by the usual thieves – Kleptoparasites in carnivore language, who congregated due to the commotion and darkness. Hyenas forced the dogs to flee and the kudus chanced and took off with both parties going hungry.” Sadly, our time in Hwange has come to an end, next time perhaps we drop in for a week. Memories of the bush will last us until our next adventure. Hopefully that will come sooner rather than later. That is the greatest perk we have of living in Africa, being near to the bush.