EASTER IN HWANGE NATIONAL PARK (John & Jenny Brebner)
This time of the year is an almost perfect time to be in the Park. Although the bush is still very thick and the grass is high making game viewing a bit difficult, it is absolutely delightful to see the green and all the water everywhere. The days are beautiful and clear, not too hot, (unless you happen to be sitting on the sunny side of the vehicle), with glorious cool early mornings and stunning evening sunsets. And sitting around the braai fire in the evening, one can enjoy the towering and magnificent overhead canopy of stars.
We were staying at Main Camp and it was great to see most of the accommodation was taken up as well as the camp site bustling. Occupants of the two chalets next to ours had been disturbed overnight by visiting honey badgers, but as we were leaving to go out for the day at around half past six, a honey badger was still out on the prowl, nosing around various camp sites. It actually wandered right over to where we were and amused us by chasing off several members of a troop of opportunistic baboons that were obviously encroaching on its territory!
While cooking up brunch at Kennedy One we were kept entertained by the plethora of little birds coming down to drink or bathe at the little bird bath near us. Delightful to see such a mixture and to be able to study them at close quarters – violet eared waxbills, melba finches, Jameson firefinches, black cheeked waxbills, blue waxbills, spotted backed weavers and an unidentified LBJ – all taking their turn and at one stage having to wait while a large glossy starling decided on a very splashy bath, taking up the entire bird bath! A trip through the teak forest was, as always, awesome despite being “gameless” and it is one of the places we were guaranteed to see the racket-tailed rollers. At Kennedy Two we were unable to inspect the flow of water from the solar pump as there were two very large pachyderms having a drink, but the water in the pan is excellent. Also as is usual, on arriving at Ngweshla we were amazed at the number of animals and the varied species. There was a very large herd of buffalo not far from camp, resting up in the shade while some lay in a small muddy pan. There were several small brown calves obviously fairly new born with some very large cows and two particularly huge, gnarled and old, irascible looking bulls. On the other side of the vlei was a herd of zebra studded with a herd of eland. There was a magnificent eland bull with about fourteen other eland and its always a bonus to see these animals. A baby zebra kept us entertained for a few minutes, seemingly very curious about us. A couple of elephant were wandering down to drink, at least five hippo were in the main pan, a handsome waterbuck ram with fancy set of horns was lying on an anthill, and there was all manner of waterbirds fossicking around and along the edges of the pan.
The following day saw us doing the trip down the White Hills road and along the Balla Balla loop road, we stopped off at one of the natural pans which was littered with beautiful lilac and pale yellow waterlilies, teaming with waterbirds. It was delightful to see all the chicks – a couple of fluffy black moorhen chicks, three teenage dab chicks still with their stripey heads, a flotilla of at least twelve yellow and brown striped white faced ducklings and seven red billed teal babies being shepherded along by mum and dad. Luck was with us as we came across a very handsome lion catching the early morning rays not far from the Balla Balla loop road. It was fortuitous that we saw him and as he wandered off into the bush, we managed to pick up various other members of his pride. There was a beautiful lioness not far off the road but photography was not easy because of the thick grass. Another large male was seen and judging by the crunching was obviously feeding on something while snapping and snarling at three half grown cubs that were trying to sneak in closer. After a while, the cats started wandering off and we soon lost sight of them in the bush. Later in the day, we came across the same pride, doing what lions do best – all lying in a sleepy, tawny heap beside a small pan, which, again, was obscured by some rather annoying shrubs so viewing wasn’t great. This pride is well known to the lion research team and the pride seem to be frequenting the area. Along the White Hills road, we visited all the pans to get an update on the water, finding good water all along the way. Several pans had been scooped during the dry and it was great to see them holding so much water. What was particularly amazing was seeing all the waterlilies – how do they regenerate in pans that have been dry for months and months on end? Our last stop along that way was at Shapi to have a look at the new solar unit that is being tested out. It is rather an eyesore right now as testing continues. Apparently the solar heats up oil which causes steam which pushes down while pushing the water up out of the well. It is all still in the experimental stage though and the windmill there continues to do a good job. Guvelela, being one of the pans to be scooped, was looking fantastic with more water than we’ve seen there for many a year.
Out on our final morning’s drive, we tried, unsuccessfully, to find our pride of lion but as we headed back to Main Camp we came across a spotted hyena hurrying down a game trail quite late in the morning, which was a bonus. The animal had a rather nasty wound on its neck and wasn’t particularly fazed by us stopping to stare as it continued on its way. All in all, it was a fabulous break away and, luckily enough, even the Easter bunny knew where to find us.