Somalisa Bush Camp
Hwange National Park
We had decided to fly into Zimbabwe via Johannesburg to Victoria Falls, thus avoiding any problems at Harare, British Airways have now ceased their Harare service due to fuel shortages.
The cost of your Zimbabwe visa will depend on your nationality!
An overnight flight from Heathrow, a connection to Victoria Falls had us meeting Benson our guide for a 3 hour drive before cutting of across country & a further two hours drive to our first camp, Somalisa Bush Camp in Hwange National Park.
Somalisa Camp is set in the heart of Hwange & is an authentic bush camp. Its stunning location tucked away on an acacia island along the edge of an ancient seasonal flood plain gives it breathtaking views of the savannah plains of the famous Kennedy Vlei line.
Six tents with accommodating for two people are set out around the acacia with a main reception tent terrace & “Swimming pool” overlooking a water hole.
Our tent was furnished to a high standard with an open bathroom to the rear also there was a personalized note on hand made paper to welcome us.
The camp is open with no barriers. The local wildlife is able to pass through at leisure.
You are issued with a whistle to summon help if need be & a member of staff escorts you to your tent at all times. I should add that at no time did we feel threatened or in danger even with elephants passing close to the tent.
We were warmly welcomed by the staff & a cold beer to wash away the dust & after showering we enjoyed the sunset & with the obligatory sun-downer in hand we watched the elephants at the water hole.
There were five other guests at the camp, introductions were made on their return from a game drive & tales of the day were discussed after an excellent meal at the dining table.
Early to bed for an early start to the morrow, we had been travelling for nearly 24 hours!
“Knock! Knock!” The voice said from outside the tent! How else do you knock on a tent for an early morning call?
Cereal, coffee, tea & hard almond rusks, delicious dunked in coffee, served on the terrace watching the early morning elephants before setting out on our first game drive. I should point out that we had opted for a private vehicle an expense which we believe well worth paying extra for.
October is towards the end of the dry season, the landscape is very parched awaiting the rains, as there is little foliage & the animals need water we spent most of our time staking out the water holes with rich rewards. The water is pumped from aquifers but is very slow due to the now low water table in a number of cases the holes were nothing more than mud & some were dry due to faulty pumps. Often a park rangers lived at the pump in attempts to keep them working the story is of one Ranger who has built a small cabin to live in & if he is unable to maintain the pump he takes to living in the bush to prevent the elephants from mobbing him.
Most of our encounters in Zimbabwe with elephants were up close & personal. We obeyed the rules as guests in their world & with Benson our guide & now friend we had the best experiences ever of elephants, male & female, with babies passing with in a meter of our stationary open top vehicle.
Although we found little “Habituation” with the wildlife in general the elephants seemed to sense our peaceful intentions & after initially sensing us out they continued their daily life ignoring us completely. Yet again a reason to sit quietly & let the wildlife come to us. In this manner we were able to watch the coming & goings of the herds, as one herd trekked towards the water the herd in attendance now refreshed with a good coating of mud, moved out for dustbaths & general maintenance.
Of course the juveniles with much posturing & noise chased any baboons in the area. In turn the baboons played the game, dodge the charge & then continue grooming! Although the need for water gave us good viewing the elephants were travelling miles for food & water as there was little suitable bush to graze near the water holes & alas if there was food there was no water as some of the holes were dry with non available for a number of miles.
This dire situation led to the more vulnerable herds falling prey to lions, mainly youngsters & juveniles.
We found a number of lion kills & in the full heat of the day we found one male guarding a carcass against scavengers he was relieved by a younger male around sunset, after their greeting he went for water. All in all there were four males in the group.
The following day they had abandoned the carcass to the storks & vultures although we found the lions still in the vicinity.
Back at Somalisa Bush Camp we learnt of near tragedy involving the camp vehicle.
A young calf had got stuck in the mud around a water hole, the more the herd tried to free the youngster the deeper it went until only its trunk was visible. Forcing the vehicle between the herd & the now a still youngster, Terry the guide attempted to free the baby sensing his help the calf started to struggle & letting out a mighty squeal as it broke free bringing the mother back where she charged the vehicle. The baby then decided on a new mother called Toyota & followed the vehicle. The mother & herd in hot pursuit. Stopping the vehicle allowed the herd to gather up the youngster & return to the bush leaving excited guests & two beautiful round tusk holes in the side of the Toyota!
We soon dropped into safari routine, up at 0430 coffee, game drive return to camp about 1100 for brunch, siesta time till 1530 tea & muffins then evening game drive returning some days after dark watching the spring hares & porcupine.
I never took the siesta instead I would spend the time observing the wildlife, elephants at the water hole or shaded under the trees, birds & whatever braved the midday heat & there was beer in the cooler…..!
I mentioned earlier the swimming pool which was about 2 meters deep by 5 meters long & 4 meters wide. The water that supplied the pool also supplied the water hole I should add that the elephants had drunk the pool dry by reaching over the boundary of logs & rocks. Elephants would come to the water hole & actually suck on the pipe for water as this was connected to the pool all that could be heard was a loud sucking whooshing noise in their vain attempt for water. Elephants would come also to the boundary to check for water in the pool.
We learnt that because of the noise of the pump it was camp policy to stop it while guests were in camp as we had found so many dry holes we requested the pump to be turned on.
With in a very short time the area was full of elephants I assume the thump, thump, thump of the pump spread the news far & wide. No matter which way you looked a herd could be seen approaching from a distance finally breaking into a trot as they got near to the water.
The herds mixed together with only a few squabbles. I had taken up station by the pools edge with Benson, at first the elephant fought shy of us as our scent carried to them but finally they accepted us & by now there was about 30cm of water in the pool. The larger animals could just reach the water & with much noise took a trunk full, head back & into their mouth, the smaller animals who could not reach the water would put their trunks into the mouths of those that could reach & attempt to steal some water. Benson & I filmed away with still & video cameras only about four meters from these magnificent animals.
After dinner we would sit by moonlight & watch the elephants chasing the hyena as they also tried to get water.
We spent four exceptional days at Somalisa. Excellent food & accommodation, warm friendly staff, the greeting with a warm moist towel from game drives was always welcome. We had camera’s full of images, we had marvelled at the distortion of giraffes
as they drank, shared in the enjoyment of the elephants at the water.
Our little window into the daily life at Hwange was soon at an end but not over!
Our next stop was Rhino Island Camp on Lake Kariba, the airstrip was a two hour drive away & on our way we had a brief encounter with a White Rhino who had come down to a pool to drink before disappearing back into the bush.