Zimbabwe – Imvelo Safari Lodges, Hwange fam trip – October 2023
I knew it would be a hot and dusty fam trip. It certainly lived up to its name as suicide month but not so much for the people, it was the wildlife. Boy were they hot and thirsty but what an extraordinary experience we shared.
Starting in Victoria Falls with a wonderful stay at Elephant Camp and some fun sundowners next to the gorge, we were up early when it was both cooler and quieter to watch that beautiful curtain of water fall as the Park opened. A stunning time to visit and highly recommended. A quick breakfast at the Lookout Cafe and then on to Hwange. It takes a couple of hours to reach Dete and the road has been much improved with some modern loo stops along the way.
Dete is the departure point for the Elephant Express, Imvelo’s one of a kind rail car that transfers guests down to the Ngamo plains. A unique, fun and rewarding journey. Everyone took a turn to ‘drive’, enjoy a cold drink and we stopped and started as we spotted wildlife. Painted dog – 20 minutes into the journey was certainly a highlight. The team aboard the Elephant Express are just a joy to be with.
On arrival at Ngamo, Pete met us all and was excited to share a recent sighting of lion. There were new males in town and they were making their mark on the females. The alpha male had his eye on the female with cubs, still hidden, but she was breast feeding and certainly not in oestrus, but he was fixated. The dominant female was trying to distract him and was successful once, we all thought that was a result so the feeding female could return to her cubs but no, he was not going to let her out of his sight. What a start! A story that is still being told we understand.
Bomani Lodge is always a pleasure, a traditional tented camp in a stunning location overlooking a wonderful waterhole and open vlei. Sundowners and in the morning, breakfast served around the fire which is the focal point for all with plenty of bush tv.
We had plenty of time to do all the activities on offer from Bomani where we spent 2 nights and then Camelthorn Lodge, 1 night. Camelthorn is such a treat, on community land with the chance of seeing rhinos browsing around the lodge. The camp is run by Siboe, a lady from the local village whose opening words were ‘Welcome to Camelthorn which is at the heart of our community’.
Wonderful game drives with more time with those lions and some new cheetah boys. Walking with Vusa, it is always an adventure when you come across elephant whilst traversing thick bush.
We collected some of the school children that have long walks into school, they were all happily singing and delighted to hitch a ride. We joined the assembly and had a tour of the school with the deputy head to ensure that we did not interrupt any teaching time but as all the children have to take their exams in English they are delighted to practice, and benefit by chatting to the visitors. Off to the newly opened clinic, which is supported by the funds raised by the new rhino community project, and the Sister proudly showed us what they offer and their brand new maternity suite. As mothers have to give birth in a hospital now, this is a major help to ensure that family is close by and they do not have far to travel.
A highlight was visiting the 2 rhinos, brought to Hwange and a first of its kind in that they are on community land that is now a conservancy. We were able to walk with them and their 24 hour guards as well as meet the new anti-poaching dogs and see the ongoing training. What an experience being so close to these beautiful but prehistoric like beasts, they decided to join us whilst we were learning all about the different initiatives that Imvelo Conservation undertakes.
From here, we took the Pump Run to Jozibanini. Imvelo supports 16 waterholes along the southeast of Hwange, pumping water using hybrid pumps throughout the dry season. They are unique in pumping outside of their own concession but it is so important to keep these pumps operational, with staff at each location as these pumps are a real life line to all of the wildlife in Hwange, especially elephant. The pump run visits different pumps along the way and can be done as a full day game drive from Bomani or Camelthorn or as we did – a way of transferring through to Jozi and stopping for a lunch next to a waterhole and making sure each pump team has all they need.
Jozi is wild, it always has been, located in the depths of the Park with no-one else for miles. It is supported and manned by a community well off the beaten tourist path but a delightful team who are very proud of what they provide for their community and for conservation. The HUGE numbers of elephant we saw here and the run they made to water told a story of a long thirsty walk from Botswana with nothing else along the way. The pumped water here is truly a life or death matter for so much wildlife. The elephant completely dominate the waterhole in October and we have previously had to put out buckets of water for lion, wild dog and other plains game here just so that they can have access to water. There is a new pride of lions that have arrived, they are not habituated and tales around the campfire certainly meant that everyone was firmly zipped into their tents at night. Huge paw prints, hyena, loud calls and tussling elephant did not make for much sleep but it was thrilling and certainly unforgettable.
The elephant sightings will never be forgotten, the photography from the Lookup at Jozi are taken with my iphone!! We did take a walk which was fascinating as always but no cycling sadly, none of us was keen to meet Hannibal (Butch’s nickname for the new male lion).
So close, so intense, so beautiful, I have no more words. Those 2 days will stay with me forever.
We moved north. Nehimba was a shorter drive, taking about 4 hours, including a coffee stop and on a new graded road, it was a much smoother transfer. Beautiful baobabs to be seen, plenty of plains game and birdlife to keep us all enthralled and then on to the Nehimba Seeps. The elephants were already in situ with a few calves trying to move in on the precious minerals to be found at the Seeps and it was so green after what had been a dry and sun bleached journey.
Nehimba is all about the waterhole and pool in front of Camp, it was in constant use for our entire stay. The pool never filled as the elephants used their trunks to take the water as it fell into the pool. The pump is in use 24 hours a day and it is still not enough. Sadly, the lion, vultures and hyena were having a field day with easy pickings of the weakened wildlife, nature at its most raw. We saw it all whilst here, painted dog lapping at the Nehimba waterhole, hyena, jackal, lions visiting the staff quarters, the elephants continuing to tussle between themselves and our imaginations running wild as we listened to the noises of the night.
It is a dry heat in Hwange so easier to manage and each camp had fans to help keep us cooler.
Phew, it was time to leave the drama of Hwange, what wildlife we saw, what stories we heard, what fantastic guides – all different but all so inspiring, delicious food and plenty of cheer. We even had a quick cookery lesson to learn how to make the delicious chilli dressing at Nehimba. Everyone went the extra mile. Thank you.
We flew back to Victoria Falls, Mack Air were slick and efficient. A 35 minute hop and highly recommended. The costs are very reasonable and with the new year-round airstrip at Ngamo, I would certainly recommend considering flying in to any of the Camps.
A final night at Victoria Falls Island Camp, what a treat and wonderful to be on the Zambezi River, a perfect ending to the trip.
I have visited Hwange in many different seasons, all of them are beautiful but for pure drama I don’t think you can beat October!