Rhino Island Safari Camp
Matusadona National Park
It was rather cramped in our little four seater aircraft for the flight from Hawange to Kariba a flight of just over an hour, we encountered some buffeting as we crossed the Zambezi rift, thank you BA for the little emergency bags we carry for my wife in situations like this!
From three thousand feet the landscape bore the marks of its formation all those years ago with the large lava flow ridges clearly visible.
We were met at the grass strip by Jenny, proprietor Rhino Island Camp & with our bags safely stowed we set out for the camp 45 minutes away by boat.
Rhino Island Safari Camp is set on a peninsular at the mouth of the Ume River on the shores of Lake Kariba, Matusadona National Park. The camp enjoys stunning views of the nearby Matusadona mountains and the Lake.
This rustic camp accommodates a maximum of twelve guests in six twin bedded rooms on stilts overlooking the lake. The rooms are built of wood with thatched roofs, reed half-walls and roll down reed mat blinds at the front. Each room is en suite with an open air shower, flush toilet and hand basin. The rooms are situated discreetly along the shoreline and offer magnificent views of the lake.
The main boma comprises an elevated wood and thatch dining, lounge and bar area and is the place to meet, eat and relax.
Shower an excellent light lunch & out for a game drive….Well nearly!
There was a herd of elephants feeding along the lake shore, so instead of heading out into the bush we decided to take a closer look as there were a number of youngsters. We got stuck in soft sand & while the staff from the camp recovered the Land Rover we sat & watched, kicking at tuffs of grass to loosen them, pulling them out with their trunk then swishing them to & fro across a foot to remove any traces of sand before passing them to their mouth.
With the Land Rover now free, we set out into the bush, Benson checking for spore & a short reconnoiter of the area to head us in the right direction the following morning. We returned to camp for sundowners & an excellent dinner.
There may be shortages in Zimbabwe but what they have they made the most of it. The food & hospitality at all the camps we stayed was exceptional, if you have a sweet tooth wait till you try the cakes & biscuits made in camp!
All drinks on our trip were included in the price & each menu was announced at the table by the staff. All officials we met, police, immigration & rangers were also extremely friendly & helpful.
We were roused from our sleep by the rhythmical beating of drums!
All activities at Rhino Island camp are announced by drums played from the main boma. The drums this time were our early morning call!
Coffee & toast, we were away before the sun was up. As this was Rhino country.
Yup! You got it our first encounter was elephant! A large bull grazing blocking the track & in no hurry to move! So we sat & enjoyed his company. Finally & without hurry he decided to move off into the bush for better offerings passing within arms length as he passed us.
Benson, forever vigil found lion spore & rhino spore. We found lion! A lone female, but due to lack of habituation we were unable to get close, at about 300 meters she vanished into the bush. We had seen the rest of the pride at a distance earlier, water buck & impala watched them as they returned from the lake in the early light.
We left the vehicle & set out on foot in the hope of finding recent rhino spore, there was a small watering hole in the hills where it was hoped we would find fresh tracks.
Matusadona because of the escarpment & the lake is very isolated & black rhino have been relocated there to reduce the poaching also captive bred rhino have been released there.
A boma is built for night protection & the rhino with an attendant spend time until the animal knows the area until one morning it wakes to find the human has gone. A very traumatic time for both!
Any tracks we found were a day or so old but we did enjoy the spectacle of a sea eagle with a guinea fowl, struggling due to the weight of its quarry.
We spent the day following old spore with no sighting or fresh sign of rhino.
Woken again by the drums we set out the next morning with high hopes yet again we tracked old spore by foot to no avail.
The sun was high & the day hot. On our journey back to camp it was decided to check out 3 baobab trees that stood on the high ground & were the only shade for miles.
There were signs of a male rhino in the vicinity. With in the hour of walking we found a fresh midden & with Benson following the spore we trekked nearer to the trees. Following hand signals we stopped near each tree while Benson went ahead alone to check. In the shade of each tree were elephants dozing, some with young stretched out fast asleep. We found a fresh midden & tracks but because of the elephants we had to circle the high ground in the hope that we could pick up his trail on the other side.
Unfortunately after circling the area no further tracks were found, it was assumed he was dozing in the shade with elephants.
Back to the Land Rover, our clothes soaked with sweat, unload our empty water bottles & back to camp for a beer, shower, another beer & lunch. Hmmm! That cold beer was going to be good!
Huh! Forget the beer!
As we dropped down to cross the isthmus that linked the island to the mainland on the edge of the scrub was a large boulder except it wasn’t a boulder it was Mvura! A captive bred female rhino released here at Matusadona, she had bred & had a wild born calf.
Her & the calf, a male, lay in the shade at the edge of the scrub. The calf against the bush & Mvura in a protective position between him & any danger.
We spent a good while with them, Mvura every so often would stretch out to check on his well being & stand up to allow him to suckle.
Untill now I have never looked on a rhino as being beautiful but she is, it may have been motherhood, I’m unsure but I am now in love!
That afternoon as we were preparing for the game drive a strong wind built up, everyone hoped it was the harbinger of rain alas no but the sunbird in her nest by the cookhouse had the ride of her life!
The ever present elephants on the shoreline, with much squealing rushed for the shelter of the bush & very soon there were none to be seen!
After the wind had died time was spent replacing everything displaced by it & we set out to game drive. The winds had upset everything as we spent an uneventful two hours no sign of spore in the freshly levelled sand.
On our return to camp we were informed that a VIP & more guest were arriving the next da, till now we had been the only guests.
By now with the skills & knowledge that Benson had he was now nicknamed “Super Ranger” & everyone was falling around laughing at his attempts to swagger! As “Super Ranger” we had decided he should enter the boma swagger up to the VIP, tossing his hat like a frisby,10 meters to hook onto a Buffalo horn. Trouble was it was my job to dash down the steps to recover it every time he missed & it sailed over the balcony into the bush!
Ah Ha! Jehmbe! It was those drums again! 0430 time for up & at ‘em!
Again at the isthmus we got lucky & we believe the same pride of lions from previous were laid up in the shade this time cubs had joined them, a nervous herd of Impala were close by.
What was worrying was the pride was about in the same position as the rhino the day before. There were no sign of her or her calf but why had the lions travelled this way? Except for the lions & cubs the morning was uneventful.
The discussion at the lunch table was off the impending arrival of the VIP & his party.
That afternoon we took a boat out on the lake following the shoreline exploring the inlets & many side waters. Upon our return the new guests had arrived as well as the British Ambassador & were sat round the camp fire with drinks.
I have catalogued our meeting under “Diplomatic Kipper” in jokes about Africa!
The following morning, the drums! The drums!
We were due to leave for Manna Pools so Kath had a lay in & Benson & I set out for a short bush walk before breakfast, boat trip & flight out.
We were met on our return by my excited wife. “She’s here! She’s here! She was right out side our room when I got up”.
Mvura had decided to visit the camp. As she was hand reared at Imari she often visits but her wild born calf is ready to take on anyone who goes near her. “You keep away from my mum” With a full grown rhino wandering around camp mayhem ensued. She took a liking to getting behind the bar! After considerable damage she was enticed out with cabbage turning the bar over as she left. Meanwhile the calf having charged everyone in sight took to the safest place deep inside the thorns. Our worry over the proximity of the lions eased. He knew what to do! There was no way a lion would ever reach him if he done that & Mvura really had polished & honed her horn.
Alas we could not remain for all the excitement, we had a plane to catch. With our gear loaded aboard the boat in a dry place we set out.
Problem was Nyaminyami, was not in a good mood.
When the Kariba dam was built in 1957 it trapped the river god Nyaminyami in the lake but his wife was in the lower reaches of the Zambezi every now & then the god would show his anger! This was one of those times we arrived at the airstrip soaked!
Our next stop Manna Pools a forty minutes light plane flight away up the Zambezi circling the dam on the way & no need for the bags this time!