Best Safaris in Africa cont……
Zimbabwe’s Big 3
Combining Hwange, Matusodona and Mana Pools in your Africa safari tour and then adding on Victoria Falls must rank as one of the best African safari experiences on offer. Hwange offers the best overall safari wildlife experience with over 100 mammals present. Matusodona, with its forests of dead trees and the Big 5 on the banks of the Zambezi River, is a photographer’s dream. Mana Pools with its great walking and canoeing safari options and the presence of wild dog round off what is truly an awesome wildlife safari. Together they offer some of the best holiday destinations in Africa.
When you add the largest falls in the world, the Victoria Falls, which is also an adventure mecca and has some of the best accommodation in Africa, there are few holidays that can beat this.
– Hwange National Park
One of my most exciting walking safaris in Africa was in Hwange. We had heard a lion roar the previous night while in camp. The camp owner, a wildlife guide himself, took us out early in the morning in search of said lion. After about an hour of following tracks and carefully traipsing through the bush we were rewarded with a magnificent black-maned male lion, who just so happened to have settled down under a bush within sight of the camp, if we had only known. Standing about 30m with nothing but fresh air between you and a lion is exhilarating to say the least.
Hwange has no fences, so animals are free to roam in and out of the park, however they prefer to stay in the park as water is readily available throughout the year. Hwange has over 100 species of mammal but is particularly well-known for its elephants, with over 50000 in an area roughly the size of Northern Ireland. Besides the Big 5, Hwange has a healthy population of cheetah, one of the largest populations of wild dog and is home to the rare roan and sable antelopes.
Accommodation in Africa, particularly in the major wildlife reserves, is of a very good standard and Hwange is no exception. Ranging from standard to 5* luxury, accommodation is varied and spread throughout the park, providing options for most pockets.
Hwange is comprised mostly of Kalahari sand, which is on average about 50m deep, so any water quickly drains away. Most of the animals live on the huge pans in the south and east of the park and these areas have no perennial rivers so the wildlife, particularly in the dry season, are dependent on made-made waterholes. This makes game viewing in the dry season particularly rewarding as the animals congregate around these water sources.
Horseback safaris are a welcome recent addition to the range of safari activities possible in this beautiful park.
With Hwange being a short hop by light aircraft from Victoria Falls and only a 2-hour drive, combining the Victoria Falls with the superb safari opportunities in Hwange is almost a no brainer.
Fun Fact: Hwange is the largest park in Zimbabwe.
– Matusodona National Park
Little-known Matusodona in my opinion is one of the most beautiful holiday destinations in Africa. I had the privilege of visiting this park as part of a house boat safari that took us from Binga to Kariba. The house boat stopped for the night in one of the inlets on the lake shore and we piled into a tender boat and made our way to one of the lodges further along the lake shore for afternoon tea. While we ate cake and sipped our drinks, elephants could be seen dotted around the flat floodplain surrounding the lodge. It was however on the trip back, just after sunset that was truly magical. The water of the lake was mirror calm, not a ripple and not a breath of wind. It was almost impossible to tell the water and sky apart as the boat weaved through a forest of dead trees dramatically silhouetted in the water. It was so peaceful and stunningly beautiful that I wished I could have bottled that moment and kept it with me forever.
Set on the southern shore of Lake Kariba, Matusodona boasts the Big 5 but of particular interest are its population of lions and huge herds of buffalo. These lion prides are known to add hippo and crocodile to their diet along with buffalo, kudu and other antelope species.
It is the remoteness of Matusodona that makes an African safari there peaceful and the beauty of the lake that makes it more than special. Changa Safari Camp, Bumi Hills Safari Lodge and Rhino Safari Camp offer some of the most remote accommodation in Africa.
Fun Fact: The Jenje Boys, the dominant males in Matusodona are known to kill elephant. 25 in the last 2 years
– Mana Pools National Park
Imagine gliding quietly along the shores of the Zambezi River and turning a bend only to find your way blocked by an elephant. Walking along the flood plains where you can see right to the mountains on the Zambian side of the Zambezi River and coming within spitting distance of a huge herd of buffalo. These and more are the thrills that await you on a canoe or walking safari in Mana Pools National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As can be seen in the picture above, there is a unique light that settles over the Zambezi River at sunset. At the same time of evening it seems that the whole of the African bush holds its breath for a while a this is the essence of a true African safari, pure enjoyment.
Mana Pools extends from the Zambezi Escarpment in the south to the alluvial terraces of the Zambezi River and the river itself. During the rainy season, these floodplains are covered with water and the game move to the higher ground of the escarpment. Most camps in the park also close during this time. During the dryer season, the river meanders slowly along the Lower Zambezi Valley and there are many islands and inlets, most dotted with animals who make good use of the shady forests during the heat of the day. This abundance of game also means an abundance of predators making for a very exciting safari destination, particularly on foot.
Game viewing in Mana Pools is easy as the vegetation is either low and/or sparse. The undergrowth of the forests and thickets is thin and the grasses of the floodplains relatively low result in game being easy to spot.
While Mana Pools is one of the best places in the world to view lions, leopard and wild dog, giraffe and rhino will not be on the menu. Giraffe never naturally occurred in the area and most of the rhino were poached out, so the remaining remnant were removed to a safer environment.
Accommodation ranges from camping to luxury safari lodges. Being so remote the best way to visit Mana Pools is by flying in on light aircraft which is relatively inexpensive and well worth the money spent as it just makes your African safari tour that much richer.
Fun Fact: Mana Pools is the only National Park where you can walk on the floodplains unguided, so you have a chance of encountering one of the Big 4 up-close-and-personal.