My husband David and I recently went on what some have called the ‘trip of a lifetime’ to Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, where we took part in the annual game census.
My next novel, yet to be named, is set in Zimbabwe, and therefore I can consider this vacation as research.
Monday October 22, 2018
‘Crooks’ Corner’ is a name given to the place where three countries meet — South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and was a favorite escape route for shady characters in the past, for obvious reasons. These days there are border posts and some control over who passes between the three countries.
We went early to fetch our rental 4×4 vehicle from Bushlore, a Toyota Hi-Lux extended cab. It was kitted out with just about anything a person could need for overlanding in Africa, including a complete kitchen set, a fridge with its own battery that kept running when the vehicle was off, a table, chairs, multiple accessories, a tent complete with bedding, a water tank, jerry cans for extra fuel, an extended fuel tank, two spare wheels and a heavy-duty jack. There are several of these companies, but this one was recommended — https://bushlore.com/ (thanks to Viv Thome from 2BWild Safaris, http://www.2bwild.co.za/ ) They also provided most of the required paperwork for the border crossings, plus vests and red triangles and the signia on the vehicle, but we had to buy our own third party insurance for Mozambique–available at any Outdoor Warehouse store.
There are no shops in Gonarezhou, and nothing to speak of in that part of Mozambique, which means we had to create a menu to plan what food and drinks to buy.
Malaria is prevalent in the region, so it is recommended that one take preventative drugs. Being the driest time of the year, we opted for homeopathic malaria control, available from pharmacies in South Africa.
We spent the day packing our supplies.
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
We set off at 7:00 am from Colin Jackson’s place in Wilro Park, Gauteng, our home away from home. We met up with John Franklin and Jenny Crickmore Thompson at a petrol station on the N14 Highway. We had connected with them online, and agreed to drive together.
We parted company when they headed for Punda Maria Camp in Kruger National Park and we went further north to Pafuri River Camp adjacent to Kruger’s Pafuri Gate.
Masisi is a small village with one petrol station, and is the last place once can fill up with diesel before the border.
It is well-signposted and easy to find.
Pafuri River Camp is privately owned–not a part of Kruger National Park, and situated beside the gate into Kruger Park.
It is delightfully rustic if that’s your thing. The tented cabins are on raised platforms, each with a well-equipped kitchen underneath and a separate toilet. We had a hot shower in the communal ablution block.
Each cabin has its own yard, bonfire place, and braai ( barbeque).
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
We left Pafuri River Camp at 7:00 am and entered Kruger National Park via Pafuri Gate, where we had to pay a ‘conservation fee’ in the amount of R166. You have to go through the park to get to the border post. There is no way around.
We arrived at the South African Pafuri Border Post just after 8:00 am and met up with John and Jenny.
There was a slight delay when the South African police had to call Johannesburg to verify that we were allowed to take the vehicle across the border–despite the confirmation letter we produced, but we weren’t held up for long.
At the Mozambique Border, we had to go through immigration first, then customs and then the vehicle was searched. There is a limit on bringing alcohol into the country, but I haven’t been able to find the definitive information. We had a little extra hidden away in various different locations.
The customs officials questioned us for a while and asked if we had any cool drinks or beer, but at no time did we feel threatened or uncomfortable. They eventually gave up and gave us directions to the closest Limpopo River crossing.
We turned at the first left turn in the track, after 1.7 km, as they had explained, and followed a winding, narrow dirt road through a stand of fever trees and across the floodplain down to the Limpopo River. (About 3 km). Coordinates of the crossing are: S21deg 12” 54.88’ ; E032deg 12” 27.24’.
At this time of the year, the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River (Rudyard Kipling) was very low, and the water posed less of a challenge than the soft sand. We stopped to let the tires down to 1.8 kpa, and both vehicles made the crossing without a problem. We left the tires at that pressure for the entire visit, as the going was rough and slow the entire time and there were lots of sandy river crossings.
If you can’t read the writing on John and Jenny’s Land Rover, it says: ‘The Soutpiel Safari’.
We followed the dirt road through villages and primarily along the border with Zimbabwe for 57.5 kms altogether. The Nuanetsi River crossing, (22.5 kms) was all sand.
The road was predominantly straight, and was not maintained, (nor were the roads in Gonarezhou), with potholes, ditches, gullies, dongas, washaways, rocks, sand and corrugations, not to mention dust, and travel was slow. A couple of times, it wound through villages and was not that easy to follow.
At one stage the road forked and both roads looked like they were well-traveled, so we randomly took the left fork. It was a welcome surprise when we reached the tar road in the Mozambique border town of Chicualacuala, and the border post, after about two-and-a-half hours from the Limpopo River.
They don’t like cameras at the Mozambique border post. I took a picture of the building and was told immediately to delete it, but then they allowed me to take another one after I had requested permission from the officer at the gate/boom.
In Zimbabwe at the Sango Border Post I asked permission and they said photographs were not permitted. I managed to get one of the sign, though. After some questions and another search, we were allowed to proceed.
They questioned John and Jenny for a long time and we waited for them outside the boom–perhaps because John had a British Passport as opposed to our South African ones.
Five kms after entering Zimbabwe, we reached the Gonarezhou National Park gate and were allowed to enter after our reservations had been confirmed. We drove what we later found to be the long way round to Mabaluata, where we signed in and paid for our accommodation because we hadn’t been able to pay online for whatever reason. We then drove 5.6 kms to Swimuwini Chalets (the place of baobabs) on the Mwenezi River, with a huge baobab just outisde.
We stayed in the one-bedroom Cordyla Chalet, which was a delight.
The large bedroom contained a king size bed complete with mosquito net, and led into a spacious bathroom with a wonderful doorless shower.
These chalets were all on solar power and we didn’t see any places where we could charge our electronics. We used the vehicle for that, plus a solar phone charger that worked well.
The open-plan verandah housed a kitchen, living room and dining area, and of course there was a braai (barbeque) available. The staff at this camp were extremely helpful with directions, and knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna and the condition of the roads through the park.
The baobabs were in flower, and there was a little zen birdbath.
We had been told that the vehicle fridges were not very good, and we were afraid the meat would defrost, so we put veggies in the car fridge and the meat in a cooler with lots of ice. The fridge froze the vegetables and we had to throw them all out.The fridge in the chalet had an excellent deep freeze and we were able to re-freeze the meat.
So now had nothing with which to make a salad.
The sunset on the river was spectacular.
Thursday, October 25, 2018
We decided to drive to Muwatomba and Rossi Pools in the hopes of seeing some game and also beautiful scenery.
We saw impala, buffalo, kudu (which were very shy), duiker but no elephants.
The Pools were beautiful and we had a lovely picnic in the thatched lapa and watched the crocodiles way below.
That evening we took chairs to a remote part of the river and watched the sunset again, with sundowners, of course.
Words cannot describe how peaceful and perfect it was to sit out there in the middle of nowhere in Africa with no one else anywhere around us. The gates to the park closed at dusk but no one seemed to mind us sneaking in after dark.
Then we remembered — there is no ‘they’ in Africa to tell you what to do.
Friday, October 26, 2018
We drove up north to our next camp, Chipinda Pools, through the center of the park.
The signs were not always visible, like these that had been smashed up on all four corners, and it was extremely important to have a map. Our GPS needed town names and did not accept the names of the camps in the park, so it was mostly useless. It could show where we were, and when we came to a crossroad, but the roads were not named, and we relied mostly on the map, and measuring distances between points.
We saw these giraffes on the way, plus impala, kudu, and a flock of guinea fowl.
The route into Chipinda Pools requires a river crossing using the Causeway on the Rundi River.
This crocodile didn’t want to get out of our way while we were crossing.
In Chipinda Pools we stayed in the “Tented Camp.” The sleeping quarters were made up of a spacious tent on a concrete floor, with a brick kitchen and bathroom attached, and a deck overlooking the Rundi River..
There is also a separate campsite with communal ablution blocks, where each campsite has a lapa with a concrete table and floor.
The monkeys stole our bread before we even knew they were around. So, no more sandwiches. They watched us all the time after that and we had to make sure we left nothing open for even a few minutes.
The view from our tented chalet across the river was stunning, with elephants browsing across the river, and hippo’s grunting all night.
One evening a croc took a young nyala that was enjoying the new leaves just below our chalet.
There was an elephant browsing near our chalet, with an injured leg which he dragged, and it obviously caused him some pain.
He objected to us walking too close, and charged us. We had to duck behind one of the bomas separating the chalets, and then he stood outside for a long time before moving off and crossing the river.
Saturday, October 27, 2018
This was the day we were to take part in the annual game census. We left at 6:30 am and drove with another team, Chris and Les Grobler and Hugo to Tembawahata Pan some 5 hours drive away.
We crossed the Runde river at Bopomela to the south side of the river and later crossed back to the North side at Chamuluvati and headed up to Tembwahata Pan. Here we encountered a herd of disgruntled elephants and waited for them to move off before continuing.
The pan was stunning and teeming with elephants, impala, zebra, and waterfowl. At one time there were probably more than 100 elephants drinking and eating the weed around the perimeter of the pan.
We found a good position on top of an anthill.
The game count started at 12:00 midday Saturday and went on all through that night until midday on Sunday.
The elephant herds just kept coming, with lots of newborn calves, and we witnessed a matriarch rescue a tiny calf that went into deep water and started drowning. Wish we could have captured it on video.
There wasn’t a lot of activity overnight, but two male elephants walked past our vehicle at close quarters in the dark hours. We could hear lions, but despite the bright moonlight, we didn’t see them.
Sunday, October 28, 2018
We packed up and left the pan at midday when the count was over.
We decided to drive back on the north east via Pombadzi River, where we encountered a lot of game including eland, Roan and a very large herd of buffalo. We saw numerous small parties of elephants., mostly bulls. We arrived back at Chipinda in good time for sundowners after a much-needed shower.
This was the view from our deck.
That night we had another gorgeous sunset as we tallied up our count and filled in the paperwork.
Monday, October 29, 2018
We drove over to the Chilojo Cliffs viewpoints via the causeway, and then through Bhenji Weir, Tondo camp and the Nyavasikana. The cliffs themselves are quite unique and beautiful, and the view from up there is awesome.
Interestingly the vegetation up there was very different from the lowlands and appeared to be well-grassed. There were quite a number of kudu and impala on the plateau as well as elephants, which really are all over the park.
Later we headed for Chilojo 2 campsite where we were to spend the night.
We crossed the river at Fishans Causeway and met up with John and Jenny again, and they joined us camping at what was a delightful camp site providing a wonderful view of the river and cliffs from the bottom.
Contrary to all warnings from various folks, we never encountered any baboons at the camp. It appears they had nicer pickings that day at Hlaro and Directors camp.
Tuesday October 20, 2018
Back to the south via the Nyavisikana Game Trail and then to Center Pan and Gorwe pan. David saw a lion at Center Pan where we stopped to brew a cup of tea. The only carnivore we saw all the time, and it was very shy and didn’t hang around. We did hear lions most nights, and one of the nights we heard a hyena.
We travelled south to Points 4 and 3 on the map, and then across the main road and back to Swimuwimi.
Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Sad to leave. Heading home. Bye bye Zimbabwe until next time. We left the park at 7:30 am.
When we arrived at the Zimbabwe customs post at Sanga, there was a slight problem. The official who had let us through the boom into Zimbabwe had forgotten to write our details in ‘the book’ so they had to call a military intelligence officer, who was very pleasant and righted the problem without any fuss.
Looking at the book, we noticed that we were the first vehicle to pass through the border post in three days.
In Chacualacuala, the Mozambique customs official had not remembered to bring his office keys, so we waited while he fetched them. He was extremely helpful, and spoke good English. He organized a guide to get us onto the right road to head back towards the Limpopo River crossing and South Africa. This was the him, with the guide on the back of the motorbike.
The only traffic on the road to the south was in the form of donkey carts, which moved out of the way to let us pass. I always feel sorry for the animals.
For most of the way there was no sign of human presence on the road, but there were a couple of villages with signs telling their name near the Nuanetsi River. The village near the Limpopo didn’t have sign, but it was easy to spot the pink house. The road winds its way around and in between a few huts, and if you get to the blue huts, stay to the right. If you go round them to the left, you’ve gone the wrong way and your GPS will take you to the crossing 12 kms away.
The crossing over both the Nuanetsi and Limpopo Rivers went smoothly, and we arrived back in at the South African border post at 12:30 pm.
Most of the time we drove alone, and decided not to take a satellite phone, even though we had no phone service. We felt confident that we would be okay, but for anyone who is nervous and doesn’t have anyone to travel with, it is probably a good idea.
Driving through Kruger National Park, we headed for Punda Maria Camp, where we stopped for lunch. They have a petrol station, a general store and a restaurant and bar.
We got back to the Pafuri River Camp in the late afternoon.
Thursday, November 1, 2018
Drove back to Midrand, Gauteng and returned the vehicle in pouring rain.
Friday, November 2, 2018
Boarded the plane for the flight back to the USA.
FINAL NOTE: We were both born and grew up in what was then Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe, and our hearts go out to the people who are struggling for survival. As we did not leave the park and there are no shops there, the horrific shortage of cash was not readily apparent, although we were aware of it.
We can only hope and pray that a solution will be found.