Zimbabwe first stop...Land of the Giants!

Zimbabwe first stop…Land of the Giants!

Bulawayo receded into the smoke-hazed distance as the Pilatus climbed steadily to a safe 20 000 feet, above the layer of brown haze thickened by the seasonal bush fires that proliferate in July and August.

The patchwork subsistence cultivation patterned the dry bush below us and we dozed in companiable silence. I glanced out of the oval window and recognized some of the local landmarks of this national park, which is an area the size of Wales. The waterholes that lay like carelessly scattered coins across the bush had tiny dark dots clustered around the edges…..I smiled as I recognized them for what they were….elephants!  I leant forward and tapped one of the ladies on the knee as she dozed…’Hey Diane, we have your first elephants..’. Immediately, her eyes sprung open and she peered out of the window.

We spent three nights at Little Makololo, and saw possibly 1000 elephants in that time!

We also saw a respectable number of other herbivores and carnivores as well, but first, let’s land and drive to camp. The aircraft flared and landed perfectly, the bumpy runway announced a Zimbabwe touch-down. The pilot had thoughtfully banked over a waterhole on the approach, exposing about sixty elephants drinking there! The first antelope we saw were a goodly herd of eland which skittered off a short distance as we slowly approached, the elephants ignored the vehicles as they drank and pushed and squealed at the round concrete trough.

Matriarch and calves at a waterhole

Matriarch and calves at a waterhol

 

 

I looked around at the faces in both vehicles…..a rewarding sea of smiles and excitement. I sighed happily….THIS was going to be good!

Pamberi ne Zimbabwe.

 

 

 

 

 

Lolling, replete lions ignored us as we drove by.

Lolling, replete lions ignored us as we drove by.

We spotted a group of lions at the next waterhole en route to camp. They lay replete, confident and ignored us too…later we discovered they were full of sable meat. A female by the look of the mane we found in the bush.  Whilst we watched the lions in awe, a large roan came strolling warily out of the bush and immediately spotted the lions. He stared fixedly at the cats, and then trotted off a distance before turning briefly once again to stare at the lolling lions.

 

 

 

 

 

The warmth and soft glow of the fire.....

The warmth and soft glow of the fire…..

The campfire held us all in its soft glow that evening, as the temperatures slid down the scale to minus 2C!

 

 

 

Another First from Greenville!

“After two nights in Jo’burg, we managed a major culture shock, when we sat in a open vehicle watching a pride of lions from a scant 25 yards!” or so the journal entry said. My ‘Family’ had never been to Africa before, bar the Matriarch, and I sat watching the awe and wonder on their fresh faces as they absorbed the presence of the lions. It is a great privilege to take folk on their first ever safari! I never tire of it.   The one very large and scarred lioness sat up, yawned prodigiously which evoked a rapid-fire of camera shutters and then stalked over to pee casually just behind our vehicle. Under my seat, in fact. Large eyes all round.  This was before we were even halfway to camp!

Afternoon lions.

Afternoon lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The afternoon drive produced another treat…..a leopardess with two 3month old cubs!   Not only that, but she allowed the cubs to suckle within 30 feet of our vehicle, watchful but at ease with our presence. We watched as she played with the little spotted things, batting them so gently as they ran at her on unsure legs and squinty eyes. They would stalk her white-tipped tail and roll over it hugging it with their front paws, biting at the furry length, until she would snarl quietly and gently bite them with her whiskered jaws agape. Once they took fright at something and bolted for a small slit in the base of an old lead wood tree  into which they squirmed and hid for a few moments before peeking out, and seeing their mother relaxed, they reappeared.

She allowed the cubs to chase and catch her tail.

She allowed the cubs to chase and catch her tail.

 

Contentment

Contentment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunset that evening was a first for the Family, and as the last light deepened into burnt reds we packed up and headed back to camp.  Dinner was on the verandah, and the frogs (very few at this time due to low winter temperatures) squeaked and chirped in the reed bed along the edge of the lagoon.

Early night, for an early start and a whole new day!

 

 

 

Singita Mara River camp…

We travelled to Tanzania via Migore, two plane rides and a long transfer by road. We saw more of semi-rural Kenya and its’ neighbor than we had seen elsewhere….a medley of color, movement, smells and efficiencies all conducted with a surprising degree of benevolence and lack of haste. Such a contrast to our way of life. The toilets at the border were different too…a dollar gave one a moments privacy in the ‘loo’!

The last flight was smooth and we wended our way around a storm front many miles wide, our flight undulating slightly as we banked gently to the left over the  distant settlements far below us, clusters of rounded roofs surrounded by a chequerboard of greens. The drive into camp passed through sparse woodlands of Acacia dotted on a wide palette of waving, yellow-green grasslands that undulated into the horizon. A lone lion wandered along the tracks briefly and disappeared when he lay down a few yards from the road. We carried on, following a soggy twin-track that parted the grasses like a comb through hair. Giraffe appeared periodically in the distance. A pair of mating lions lay to the side at one point, sated with sex. The lion had a badly injured front left leg which hindered him when he followed the slim haunches of his lady love.

Our welcome into camp was just that, most welcome and we settled in for a quiet evening with a view of the Mara river, glistening in the moonlight.  The tents were terrific, typical of what travelers expect now with the Singita brand and the dinner table was humming with excitement for what the morning would bring.

River view

River view 

The main public area is well appointed and comfortable with enough room for several private sitting areas.

The main public area is well appointed and comfortable with enough room for several private sitting areas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The main tent was oriented longways, with an unhindered view of the Mara river, and the guest tents are the same. The Singita polished style is clearly apparent here.

One of the tents, from the entrance. Every tent faces the river.

One of the tents, from the entrance. Every tent faces the river.

Interior of an accommodation tent.

Interior of an accommodation tent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a great start for everybody on their first visit to the Serengeti……lions on the road, and then a fabulous camp on the river.  It was from here that I wanted to drive out and find the migration, hopefully as it was crossing the river for the first time this season!

You mean we really are going to sleep in a tent……in the bush? But there’s lions here….

Richard’s Camp is a classic!   Located in an isolated valley overlooking a small water course in the Mara North conservancy. Kenyan’s do create great bush camps and have some of the greatest locations in their lovely country. Hosted by Finlay and Hannah, and their Masai staff the family had the most wonderful first ‘bush camp experience’. The Masai guides showed them lions within the first 10 minutes of being on the track back to camp! Spoilt, I said……’Camp’ was finally reached after a two hour drive over typical post-rainy season tracks, with topi, zebra, gazelles, giraffe ….lions……interrupting our passage.  That afternoon we were enjoying a sundowner…as it should be, when some (more) lions we had seen (with 12 young cubs between four lionesses) decided to stalk a buffalo we had been watching over the rims of our G&T’s. Chaos ensued…..as we packed/drank/cuddled glasses and scrambled back into the vehicles to see what the outcome of their chase was…..they missed!

Richard's Camp, dining room and lounge area overlooking the water course.

Richard’s Camp, dining room and lounge area overlooking the water course.

Richard's Camp tents are all 'river facing' with great views.

Richard’s Camp tents are all ‘river facing’ with great views.

Over the next few days we covered considerable ground, including a balloon flight over the Mara river. Wow….was a common comment. (All these superfluosities…) All manner of plains game, and elephant too filled our days and memory cards. It was outstanding.

 

 

 

 

 

One of the highlights here was after we had taken a long walk with the Masai over hill and dale, dotted with classic flat-topped Acacias and gazelles. A herd of confused wildebeest stared at our noisy happy group as we neared the fire and snacks which was a surprise. Thanks guys!   Hyenas sloped past us as sat around the fire to a busy den a few hundred yards away. There were fifteen pups, sub-adults and adults around it before we left. The little black pups resemble teddy bears and galloped around the den interacting with each other and the older animals with equal familiarity. Amazing!

The half light before night.

The half light before night.

 

The end of the walk...and sundowners at a fire overlooking the plains.

The end of the walk…and sundowners at a fire overlooking the plains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner was served under a different grove of trees, with the chairs arranged before a small pan, ringed by lanterns…..another total surprise moment. Thank you again….ALL the staff of Richard’s Camp. You set the bar for the trip!

Contemplation

Contemplation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second Stop…Masai Mara

We left camp at 8, and eventually lifted off for the Masai Mara with a full compliment on board, at 0930am, all bound for the west, and the rolling plains of this famous region. The carpet of trees of the Aberdares ended with the farmlands, and then the abrupt ridge of the Rift Valley appeared with Naivasha looking brown and full. No flamingo’s from that height. More rolling hills and forests, cultivated squares of land, scattered ‘targets’ of Masai villages and finally in the distance, the empty green plains of the reserve and the Oloola escarpment. The Mara river edged with trees snakes from one side to the other, finally sliding away from the escarpment and across the plains at Kichwa Tembo.

The pilot made a perfect landing!

5 star tent..!

5 star tent..!

Bathroom section of a great tent

Bathroom section of a great tent

Lewa Safari Camp

Up the next morning and away we went. Two of the group decided to stay behind with a mix of ‘needing to recover still’ and a brief tummy upset. So, we took off into the expectant morning with the air fresh and the day ahead full of surprises. Spotted hyenas returning home after a night’s hunting. Not commonly seen here, and so we followed them to a waterhole where they slopped around noisily, getting their fill and then lay in the mud briefly. A herd of zebra watched them warily from a short way off.  A herd of Cape Buffalo wandered in and took over the waterhole and the muddy area around the pan too.  We carried on.

A picnic breakfast had been set up for us on a hilltop…..what a view!

Giraffe, elephant, gazelles, oryx, zebra and some great birds filled our morning well…….and the most unusual of all….the bright blue scrotum and red willy of a male vervet monkey!  This attracted a LOT of mirth and ribald comment.  The poor chap was quite taken aback with all the photography.  Another surprise was a female cheetah with her 8 month old cub!

Back at camp a fabulous lunch was served in the ‘pool house’, amidst superb starlings, weavers and a cloud of doves. They all had their own ‘table’ set way away from us humans, but they were fun to watch.

Neat and simple

Neat and simple

Simple, but very comfortable

Simple, but very comfortable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tea was at 3.30pm, and then set off again.  Black rhino with a calf and then the biggest herd of Grevy’s zebra AND Common zebra feeding in the same proximity but with towering fever trees as a back ground!!  The afternoon light was gilding on this picture and we enjoyed it to the max.  After a gentle drive through the forest we stopped for a sundowner with a steel-blue gray sky, and a hadeda ibis silhouette.

Nightjars flitted across the road on the way back, and as we approached camp seven lions appeared in the headlights gamboling and chasing eachother across the dusty track into the grass on the left….fading into the night like dust in the wind. A green eye glowed briefly in my small flash light and the shapes were gone. All was quiet.

 

Tan and Pang Family Safari

First stop, Serengeti!

The Caravan banked and turned at last, curving down towards the tiny strip, a smudge on the sketchy green of the plains, just inside the sinuous curves of the Grumeti river silver and smooth, that winds its’ way across this part of the Serengeti.  The two Singaporean families who were my guests on this trip chattered excitedly in Hokin and English as I pointed out animals, and suddenly the dark ‘dots’ took form. ‘Gavin, Gavin….THESE are wildebeest??………….’  A dark mass of animals walked  along the edge of the river, some of the herd rested amongst the scattered flat topped acacias, like carelessly scattered toys.  The dark ‘cloud’ of moving creatures represented for me one of the earth’s most unique and wonderful spectacles.

They had traveled across half the world to see this…the annual migration in the Serengeti.

A tiny percentage of the population feeding quietly in northern Serengeti

A tiny percentage of the population feeding quietly in northern Serengeti

The bulk of the herd had moved on ten days previously, but there were still A LOT of White-bearded gnu, as they are correctly named.  Thousands upon thousands of these bovids still remained…the vanguard of the million or so that perennially make this trek across the plains. The pilot grinned to himself. He had heard this excitement many times as flew travellers in to the bush strips at various points of entry in the Serengeti, and still he smiled…excitement of this nature is infectious! Read more…