The road to Hwange

Leaving the rushing waters of Victoria Falls behind, my family and I followed a road fringed by twisted boababs and teak forests that glowed red and orange in their autumn foliage and into the dry and isolated heart of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. For the next week, we would be hosted at Machaba’s three classic safari camps and discover an authentic safari experience that I thought was long forgotten.

Geography and history of Hwange

Hwange is the largest national park in Zimbabwe covering 14600 square kilometres. It butts onto the Kalahari and is part of single and magnificent, unfenced ecosystem that extends into Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. Hwange’s natural pans and river systems are filled with water in summer, but it is essentially a dryland area and the game here relies on waterholes.

Originally the hunting grounds of Lobengula and Mzilikazi what game was found in the region was hammered during the early colonial times, but it became as a game reserve in 1928 and was placed under the stewardship of Ted Davidson. He was to Hwange what Stevenson Hamilton was to Kruger, and what Norman Carr was to South Luangwa, and helped the park take its first baby steps to become one of the great tourist parks of Africa.

Davidson drilled 60 or more waterholes in order to keep the natural pans topped up during the dry season and the effect was dramatic. From a population of just 4000 elephants, the herds swelled to more than 40 000. Buffalo also swelled in numbers and so did the prides of lion and other species.

Elephants of Hwange

Verney's Hwange, David Rogers

Elephants are the star species in Hwange. If you visit any waterhole from about 3 pm during the dry season  all you need to do is crack open a beer and watch as family after family take their thirsty turns. It’s not uncommon to see 200 elephants at a time and its a photographers delight to see the  thirsty youngsters arrive leading the dusty charge. Manga one, two and three waterholes were very close to Verney’s where we spent our first three nights and these became our popular sundowner spots.

Elephant slurp upwards of 20 000 litres a day so the waterholes take strain during the height of the winter months as do the forest which become victim to their enormous appetites.  The matriarchs never learned the long walk to the winter watering points and if  it were not for Zimbabwe Parks, Friends of Hwange and other donor groups  pumping the elephants would die.

Verneys Camp and the people

Verney's Hwange, David Rogers

 

Verneys has enormous canvas tents, luxurious linen and sophisticated fittings and the most delicious food. We loved sitting at the fire under the stars listening to the sounds of lions, hyena and elephants, cooking pizzas with the friendly staff and watching animals come to drink at the waterhole. The experience was typically Machaba  — a company that has  hand picked teams with years of experience and a cabinet already full of awards from their tented camps in Botswana.

In Zimbabwe they have an additional asset. For here in Zimbabwe, from customs to park officials, from professional guides to the those newbies lighting lamps, it’s hard to match the people for their with warmth. And their guides are among the finest in Africa.

Verney's Hwange, David Rogers

What you will see in Hwange

Verneys  is set in a teak forest in a remote area of the park and despite being just 12 months old, roan antelope, giraffe, zebra, elephants, kudu, lion and other game are finding its waterhole in increasing numbers. Hwange has 107 species of game (more than any other park in Zimbabwe) and and if you stay put at waterholes towards August and September when the dry season sets in who knows you might encounter. Wild dog, aardvark, serval and pangolin are among the special species found here.

Deteema Springs

It was a 5-hour drive through the forested heart of Hwange to reach our next camp at Deteema Springs. Here water gurgles from the rocks right in front of camp and, from late afternoon through the night, thirsty elephant bulls could be seen sipping at the source, like old boozers at a bar. The tents were a shade smaller than Verney’s but just as comfy and the location was amazing.

One morning, the deep booming roar of a male lion stalking its territory woke us in the early hours.  At dawn, we followed his saucer-sized spoor right through camp along the edge of the Deteema waterway where we found him with females and cubs lazing on the dam wall. Apparently it was a fragment of a pride of 32.

We also had some of our best birding in the area around Deteema. The are 420 species of birds found in this IBA (important bird area) and these include martial eagle, racket tailed roller, southern ground hornbills, innumerable yellow-billed hornbills and good numbers of pearl spotted owlets.

Robins Camp and Deka

Deka, Hwange, by David Rogers

Deka

Machaba also runs Robin’s Camp which lies a 30 minute drive from Deteema and was  previously Zimbabwe Parks Board accommodation. It has been rejuvenated with big lawns, great rooms, a swimming pool, a friendly bar and restaurant, and a campsite all of which are ideal for self-drivers.

Yet another Machaba creation lies to the west of Robins at Deka. From the deck we could hear lions calling from Botswana and if we looked beyond the pool over the scrubby plains we could make out buffalo crossing the Deka River into their territory. How I would have loved to spend longer at this remote and wonderful camp.

A great investment in Zimbabwe

While wildlife and parks appear to be in great shape in Zimbabwe, the countries economy is under the cosh.  Consider visiting one of the community projects which Machaba support and to realize that supporting tourism here is supporting the people in Zimbabwe who need it most.

Hwange felt like the African parks some of us were lucky enough to grow up with – along with Mana Pools, South Luangwa and Kruger Park. You cannot experience better elephants anywhere in Africa and if you spend time you will discover its myriad other secrets. The trees in the park alone are incredible – in addition to  teak forests, there are  star chestnuts, giant camel thorns, Jackal berries, marulas, twisted baobabs, cathedral mopane and much more.

Find out more.

You can find out more about Machaba on www.machaba.com. For bookings please contact david@davidrogers.co.za as we are an agent for the company. You will never pay more by working through us. David Rogers is a lodge photographer and photo guide.

Verney's Hwange, David Rogers

You can see more pictures on these links

Deteema Springs (Machaba)

Verney’s Camp (Machaba)

Deka Camp (Machaba)