Close your eyes and picture untouched stretches of golden grasslands scattered with tangles of trees creating a mosaic of rustic pigments for miles on end. Nestled beneath the trees and the stunning African Sky is a toasty fire pit and a canvas tent that blends in so effortlessly with the colours of the landscape.
Deep within the Hwange National Park lies African Safari Walks, who offer an ‘out of Africa’ bush experience. With not one building in sight, impala and antelope take place where pedestrians would be, the earth wears the imprints of elephant, lions and dazzles of zebra. Wildlife call this paradise home, and for a brief moment, this can be your experience. The camp is nestled on the banks of the Lukozi river. Regardless of the river being dry most months of the year, it is no doubt a majestic view. Elephants roam along the thirsty river bed, where they create cavities with their trunks in the dry surface, in search of water. This is a spectacular sight to witness right in front of the camp. There is also a high chance of seeing other game in the river bed, which include leopard, lion, hyena, buffalo and more.
Hosted by professional guide Kaz Dube, you will embark on walks through the depths of the park, over protruding peaks overlooking endless grasslands. With Kaz’s expertise and passion for the bush, you will with out a shadow of doubt thoroughly enjoy the experience.
We at African-Eye recently had the privilege of spending 3 nights at this unique camp. We have been on numerous safaris, and this was undeniably a ‘bona fide’ safari. The camp is lit up at night by only solar powered lights, lanterns, and a rustic campfire. With no wifi or signal, the glare of your cellphone screen will be forgotten and a dusting of stars take its place. The simplicity yet sophistication of this camp, and the explicit remoteness and untamed nature of the surroundings create an essence of authenticity, which these days is rare.
Day One…The Trek Through Mopani Woodlands…
Waking up to the sound of hyena calling, we threw on some comfortable clothes, stepped out of the tent into the crisp morning air nipping our ears and nose, ready for an adventure full morning.
No time for coffee, we made ourselves comfortable in the game drive vehicle, cocooned in blankets we set off. As we approached Mandavu Dam, our eyes lit up to the sight of freshly made coffee and cooked breakfast waiting for us. The sun crept up the horizon, radiating a golden glow onto the surface of the water as we took that first sip of coffee, warming our bodies like a stream of lava. The only sound breaking the silence was a symphony of birds, punctuated by the profound snort of a wallowing hippo. A warm aroma of bacon and eggs wafted over to us, chasing away the bite of the cold that clung to the tips of our nose and ears.
With satisfied stomachs we begun our 7km walk back to camp. We followed a pathway created by elephants, through rugged terrain, stepping over fallen logs, dodging thorn trees, identifying animal spore, hiking over protruding peaks. Kaz shared his exceptional knowledge with us, but one thing that really took us by surprise was that Hyenas are actually part of the cat family because of the internal structure of their ears, fascinating! Four kilometres into the walk we came across a small summit, still following the elephant path, we were utterly perplexed that they could stumble their way over this rocky peak effortlessly, the flexibility of these colossal creatures is impressive, they can get to places you would never imagine. Our legs now leadened, we approach the top, peering down over the boundless plains that the park boasts, you come to an understanding just how expansive the park is and the irrefutable beauty it offers.
Now approaching the heat of the day, we plodded on for the last stretch of our walk. Despite the mornings being so icy, in the midday heat you can almost see blisters in the atmosphere, the radical change in temperature is mind-boggling. Pleased to return to camp we had a light lunch before a much needed afternoon siesta. I must admit this was my first time taking part in a walking safari, for all those first-timers out there who are unsure whether you should do one or not, it is truly an indescribable feeling being on foot in the depths of the untamed bush, you feel so vulnerable yet so exhilarated that around any corner you could bump into a wild animal. Nevertheless, it is an experience like no other and we felt safe in Kaz’s capable hands.
That afternoon the sounds of a herd of elephant in the river bed foraging for water woke us from a deep sleep. With much excitement Kaz led us down into the river bed where we came no further than 49 metres from these magnificent animals, we watched them for a good 15 minutes and left without them having any knowledge that we were there. Still drowsy from the afternoon nap we poured ourselves a strong coffee as Kaz prepared the vehicle for a game drive.
With the warm afternoon air blowing through our hair, over the bumpy, dusty roads, we spotted numerous kudu and other antelope along the way, including one of my favourite, giraffe. I find the goofiness yet gracefulness of these animals endearing. We tried to approach these beauties by foot, but as we all know giraffes have exceedingly long necks, which makes it hard to get close to them before they spot you and understandably run away from us peculiar looking creatures (to them).
One of my favourite parts of the drive was encountering an old bull elephant rummaging about for water in a dried out river bed. Perched on some rocks, we sat watching him for a few minutes, placing his trunk into the ground and miraculously bringing out copious amounts of water from what seemed to be an entirely dried out part of the river bed. Kaz enticed us in some fascinating facts on these animals. We could have spent hours watching this old bull, however, pressed for time, we rushed off to our next destination for sunset.
When we arrived Kaz and his team swiftly set up some drinks and snacks for us to revel our taste buds in. As the sun started sinking the cheers of wine glasses and G&Ts’ rose, while staring over what seemed to be endless miles of water with old tree stumps projecting out in the distance.
Taking in the picturesque scene, out of the tall grass they appeared, with their thirsty trunks elevated, briskly strutting towards the dam for an evening drink. The arrival of these majestic giants was so in tune with the serene atmosphere, and with a beverage in hand, the dancing colours of the sunset over the water, the sudden drop in temperature, flocks of birds taking off preparing to roost for the night, hippos whaling ready to come out and feed, I was so moved by the tranquility of the scene and thought to myself, if I had ever seen magic, this is it.
Day Two … The Search For The Black Rhino
After a well rested night, we woke to the aroma of fresh coffee brewing and the campfire bursting in flames, ready for us to warm up our frigid hands. I can’t quite put my tongue on it, but there is something so unique about early mornings when you are in this setting, a cup of coffee tastes like nature’s gift, and the fire seems like a kindle of joy, all the simple pleasures of life that we usually take for granted back in the city, we seem to appreciate more out in the bush.
Shortly after breakfast, we drove to an undisclosed location, where we would commence on a 5 km walk in search of the elusive Black Rhino. In high spirits, we trekked our way to the Rhino’s haven. The imprints of this mystical creature were embedded in the earth. Droppings so fresh the steam still wafted into the air. He was so close, yet so far. Our hearts were racing with excitement, discreetly ransacking through the thick bushes, we traced his tracks to a natural spring where we suspected he might be having a drink. Although we did not manage to spot the rhino, it was nonetheless a thrilling experience to be so close to one of the most endangered species on this planet. Unquestionably, we will return and continue on this endeavour in hopes to spot the Black Rhino, even for a brief moment.
That afternoon we used the time to unwind and relax before embarking on our last game drive.
As if sensing that we were leaving soon, the wilderness revealed us a host of surprises. As they say, the best is saved for last! Our first sighting was a male hyena strolling down the road in front of us. It is a fairly rare phenomenon to see hyena in the early hours of the afternoon as they are nocturnal creatures. My highlight of the drive, as I’m sure was everyone else’s, was coming across the notorious Painted Dog. We spotted them no more than 20 metres from the road, the colours of their fur blend in so seamlessly well with the patterns of their surroundings, that had we driven past a couple of minutes later we might have missed them. In admiration we watched the dogs frolic with one another before they moved off into thicker bush.
The day was drawing near to an end once again, and it was about that time to clink our glasses together. We stopped off at Masuma Pan for sunset, where we sat in a platform overlooking the pan, with hippos eyeing us out from the comfort of their sanctuary, baboons acting like, well, baboons, and a large bull elephant quenching his thirst from the pan. Another dreamy setting to end off another day in Africa.
That night after dinner we sat around the campfire and conversed on our eventful few days under the enchantment of the night skies, and for a brief moment when you look up at the stars of what seems like a million fireflies scattered above you, all that stress leaves your body as a feeling of undiluted bliss takes its place. A sense of peace takes over you and nothing but breathing in the fresh air can describe all your indescribable senses.
They say that the best stories are found between the pages of a passport, and African Safari Walks has been one of my favourite chapters so far.
Written by Tanya Sherren