For a spectacular Zimbabwe safari experience in pristine wilderness, visit Hwange National Park and its neighbouring reserves in the northwest of the country. If you go in the dry, winter season from May to October, you’ll get to see enormous herds of elephant and buffalo gathered at the waterholes.
The time for our Zimbabwe safari had finally arrived, and my partner and I were thrilled to explore Hwange National Park and its neighbouring reserves. Our field guide, Tonderai, scanned the horizon as we drove through a magnificent, wooded landscape.
‘This area is made up of four interlinking parks – Hwange, Matetsi, Victoria Falls and Zambezi – and was set aside for the purpose of conserving wildlife in its natural habitat,’ said Tonderai. ‘Hwange alone boasts over 100 mammal species, including 25 kinds of predators, and more than 400 bird species. It’s one of Africa’s strongholds for elephant, with more than 35,000 in the park. The buffalo population is also enormous – estimated at over 10,000. There are no fences, so animals move freely between the four parks.’
We learnt that the region’s tall grasses abound in lion, cheetah and hyena. Baboon and leopard frequent the wooded and rocky areas, and the parks are also home to a healthy population of African wild dogs.
It wasn’t long before Tonderai spotted grey lumps in the distance and we hastened in their direction. After a few minutes, we rounded a bend and there they were. A maternal herd of elephant at a waterhole, bathed in honeyed light. We spent a long time with the herd, which was completely relaxed in our presence.
At first, I snapped away with my long lens, hardly able to contain my excitement. But after a while, I put the camera aside and simply drank in the scene. We listened to the low rumble coming from the elephants’ stomachs, the chatter of birds in the trees and the gentle flapping of the giants’ ears.
‘The conservation area comprising these four parks offers one of the most diverse wildlife experiences in Africa,’ whispered Tonderai. ‘Habitats range from dry Kalahari sandveld in the west to teak woodland savannah (locally called Gusu forest) and open grass fields in the northeast. There are even some mountain forests and heaths in the uplands. The parks have no perennial streams, other than the Zambezi in the north. But water is found at the pans, vleis and pump-supplied waterholes – fantastic places to watch game.’
We drove southeast through flat country covered in a mixture of teak and mopane woodland. The vegetation slowly turned to acacia woodland, dominated by mature camelthorn trees. We were approaching the Kalahari wilderness. This is hot, sandy, open country. We saw hundreds of elephant, herds of sable antelope, two lioness with five adorable cubs and a pack of wild dog chasing a steenbok through the long grass.
During the dry, winter months from May to October, game concentrates around the man-made waterholes. As this was June, we were richly rewarded. Tonderai drew to a halt at a picturesque waterhole. The scene was enchanting: a queue of frisky zebra, wildebeest herds, Plasticine-limbed giraffe and cavorting baboon.
Next thing, a vast herd of buffalo lumbered into view like a dark army of horned warriors. They advanced in regiments on the waterhole to slake their thirst. The sun set behind them, adding more drama to this affecting scene. It was the perfect end to one of the most astonishing and fruitful game drives I’ve ever experienced.