By Bert Duplessis
SOUTH AFRICA & ZIMBABWE TRIP REPORT – PART 6
NOV 14 & 15 – LITTLE MAKALOLO CAMP – HWANGE GAME RESERVE
From Ruckomechi we flew cross-country – around 1 hr 30 minutes – initially right over the wall at Lake Kariba, then past the Chizarira area, eventually to Hwange National Park, where we would spend the next 2 nights at Little Makalolo Camp.
I have been sending clients to Little Makalolo for many years (my colleagues having visited the camp several years ago). Now I know why everybody comes back from this beauty of a small camp with such great reports. The rooms are really nice – although some of them are a bit close to each other – there is a pool, and the lounge and dining room is first class.
What really sets the place apart from a run of the mill camp is the large artificially maintained water hole right in front of camp, with its own log-pile hide.
Barely 20 minutes after arriving in camp, Kathy and I were driven to the hide by our guide Tendai who is also the General Manager of the two Wilderness Safaris concessions in the area. Tendai is what every young guide should aspire to be: professional, courteous, very knowledgeable with great ability to anticipate game behavior and movement and funny to boot!
We were soon ensconced in the steel frame partially buried in a massive log pile, and not long afterwards the first of several elephant herds walked out of the woodland to the waterhole, accelerating the closer they got.
Initially drinking in a tight group, they soon start to disperse, all the while continuing to slurp up multiple gallons of water every few seconds.
We were highly entertained by the antics of several very young baby elephants, some of whom had not quite mastered the myriad of muscles controlling trunk movement. This resulted in some strange – even hilarious – twisted trunk formations. One of the youngsters even gave up on the whole trunk thing, simply kneeling down and drinking by mouth, the way most of us do it.
Over the course of perhaps 90 minutes or so we saw three different herds come through, ranging from 5 to about 20+ elephants.
We returned to camp for a little unpacking, enjoyed afternoon tea (the food at Little Makalolo was the best in Zimbabwe!) and then set out for an afternoon game drive. There was quite a bit of general game in the area, including giraffe, kudu, zebra, eland and lots of steenbok. The game was not as concentrated as at Ruckomechi, and sometimes 20 minutes or so would go by without anything of interest being seen especially when driving through the woodland.
The scenery at Little Makalolo is superb, with different types of woodland consisting of mopane, false mopane and very striking rosewood forests, amongst others. Birdlife was exceptional with lots of birds of prey, rollers, shrikes, bee-eaters and other woodland species to be seen.
For sundowners Tendai stopped the car about 15 meters or so from the edge of a large pan (pumped waterhole) where an elephant had very recently died. Tendai was careful to keep us upwind of the elephant which was being besieged by various species of vultures and Marabou Storks.
Soon a huge herd of elephant appeared out of the bush and started to drink on the opposite side of the waterhole. They were very thirsty and some of the younger elephants were almost running by the time they made it to the edge of the water. Between Kathy and I we made hundreds of impressions of elephants in all kinds of poses and stances.
Then things started to get really interesting. Initially one of the large herds of elephant started to move around the pan, circling back and passing right in front of us, walking from our right to left, almost all of them giving us a glance before moving on. It was something! I have neglected to mention that the three of us were sitting outside, next to the vehicle, facing the pan, with the vehicle right at our backs.
Just then, Tendai said that another herd had approached from behind and sure enough, by standing up we could their large ears and trunks across the top of the seats. They were staring at us too.
Cautiously at first and then more boldly, they came around on the left and right hand side of the vehicle, padding right by us on their way to the life-giving water. I realized that Kathy was starting to get a little stressed with the near proximity of so many elephants when her camera went quiet and she just sat there taking in the spectacle. Awesome! A gin and tonic never tasted so good.
Several lions had been seen in the Makalolo Camp area the previous day and we heard them calling from time to time during the elephant episode. So on the way back to camp Tendai was on the lookout for the pride. It was almost completely dark when we finally saw them. Seven adults lions including several young males were walking right towards us, spaced about 20 meters apart. One by one they passed the vehicle on our right, so close that we could hear their large feet crunching the dry vegetation and lightly thudding on the soft sand.
Some of the more bold lions stayed quite close to the vehicle, never leaving the road. The more cautious ones took a bit more of a detour. All of them gave us a good look, one of the females stopping momentarily to try to get a fix on us, and one of the young males speeding up and accelerating as he went around, a bit more wary and skittish than the others. Another magic moment in Africa!
15 November: A new life bird for Bert’s Africa list
Our objective this day was to find a Rackettailed Roller, a bird which had eluded me for nearly 30 years – and to hopefully see some Sable Antelope as well. On the latter the results were somewhat disappointing: we saw two Sables that morning but neither of them was close enough for a usable photograph.
The search for the RTR turned out a lot better. It took a while to find the first one in a stand of false mopane and rosewood forest. The dipping flight initially gave it away and I could clearly see the spatulate tail feathers a bit later, nailing the identification. It was a case of ‘better view desired’ though. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long: about half an hour later we enjoyed superb close-up views of the RTR with clear views of the pale blue breast (no lilac like the Lilacbreasted Roller) and of course the tell-tale tail.
At the very next waterhole we visited, there was a massive herd of 500+ buffalo and we spent probably 40 minutes or so just sitting there and watching them come, drink and go. Quite a spectacle. Not long afterwards, we enjoyed a delightful late morning brunch in the bush, courtesy of the Little Makalolo catering staff. They really do go to extraordinary lengths to keep the guests happy!
By early afternoon we were at nearby Davison’s Camp – a perfectly fine alternative option in the area if Little Makalolo is not available and great for travelers on a slightly smaller budget. At Davison’s we also observed Wilderness Safaris’ Children in the Wilderness program in action: this philanthropic effort takes groups of up to 24 disadvantaged children into the Wilderness for a nature, wildlife and educational experience. The 11 & 12 year old kids were just completing an early afternoon project, following on which they entertained the guests with some very lovely and moving ensemble singing.
From Davison’s Camp we drove to the eastern portion of the concession which ends at the railway track stretching from Victoria Falls to Bulawayo.
For a while, we watched an extended baboon family – especially the youngsters – get up to all kinds of antics. Then we were alerted to the presence of a different pride of lions, which we observed for a very brief time in good light. Unfortunately it had taken us too long to get there, so there were very limited opportunities for photographs. The drive back to camp was in the dark and mostly quiet but we did manage to see some springhares, a large-spotted genet and a civet, which livened things up a bit.
As before, the evening’s dinner was excellent with a wide variety of vegan options in addition to the more conventional chicken and beef main course options.
Early the next morning, we were out on our last game drive at Little Makalolo, spotting more elephant, some good sized wildebeest herds, kudu and enjoying some really nice views of eland, before we had to say our goodbyes and board a Caravan which would take us back towards the east, to Lake Kariba.
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