Zimbabwe Trip Report - Oct 2011


Nov 12th, 2011, 04:22 PM
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Zimbabwe Trip Report - Oct 2011

My first posting here in quite a while, but had to tell you of our wonderful trip.
Our itinerary is shown below:

• Fly Sydney to Johannesburg (Qantas Premium Economy)
• 1 night at Airport Grand Hotel
• Fly to Livingstone (British Airways) then short drive to Victoria Falls
• 1 night at Elephant Camp (Wild Horizons)
• Fly to Mana Pools N.P. (Wilderness Air)
• 4 nights at Ruckomechi Camp (Wilderness Safaris)
• Fly to Lake Kariba (Wilderness Air)
• 3 nights at Bumi Hills Safari Lodge
• Fly to Hwange N.P. (Wilderness Air)
• 3 nights at Little Makalolo (Wilderness Safaris)
• Drive to Victoria Falls
• 1 night at Victoria Falls Hotel
• Fly to Johannesburg
• Fly Jo’burg to Sydney (Qantas Premium Economy)

Agent: Experience Africa, Harare, Zimbabwe.
Contact: Belinda Whitaker
Comments: First class organization. All transfers timely (we chose all lodges, camps, hotel)
GovernorPhil is offline  
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Nov 12th, 2011, 05:33 PM
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An itinerary is insufficient as a trip report. Let's hear more! What were the conditions in Zimbabwe? Did you see animals? Do you believe that you received value for your money? Was it comfortable being in a country with high inflation and political instability? Can you compare this experience with travel elsewhere in Africa? And, lots of other questions! ZZ
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Nov 12th, 2011, 06:52 PM
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Zambezi, thank you for your prompt reprimand!
I have lots of info but wanted to see if anyone was interested in the thread.
This recent trip was Ruth (my wife) and my ninth to Africa, having previously enjoyed experiences in Zambia (South Luangwa) twice, Kenya (Masai Mara, Samburu, Mt. Kenya), Tanzania twice (Serengeti, Tarangire,Ruaha, Ngorongoro, Mikumi), Botswana twice (Okavango Delta, Chobe) and South Africa (Cape Town, Stellenbosch,Hermanus).
Much of our travel was started from UK, where we lived until January 2007. Since moving to Australia the distance/cost/jet lag factors have reduced the frequency of our trips and we felt that this latest one would probably be our last.
Having said all of that, I can honestly confirm that Zimbabwe is an outstanding destination for viewing wildlife; we deliberated long and hard before deciding to go there for the obvious reasons of political instability and possible security issues. Once you get past the fact that nobody in the camps discusses these topics you could be anywhere in southern Africa. The camps and lodges we stayed at were all excellent and the guiding was invariably first class.
Detailing all our sightings would take too long; instead I offer a bullet list of key highlights at each of our camps. I hope that this will encourage more people to visit this troubled country and enhance the local economies where villagers often play a significant role in the running of the various camps.
Any questions?!!

Highlights – Ruckomechi
• 2 male baboons fighting over a female. Went on for about 15 minutes
• Recent buffalo kill by lions; vultures kept at bay by lion
• Very close encounter with buffalo – “stare out”
• Continual elephant incursions into camp. No. 10 damaged whilst occupants were in bed
• Sundowners on mini island with two fellow guests; Kevin (our guide) giving photography masterclass
• Surprise champagne rendezvous by Three Sisters (palm trees) to celebrate our wedding anniversary
• Two-hour bush walk led by Kevin hunting leopard; unsuccessful but still exciting spotting elephants in the near distance
• Leaving camp on our way to airstrip our guide Champion led us to a nine strong pack of wild dogs
• Elephants swimming backwards in the river on a couple of separate occasions
• Lots of waterbuck in the area
• Night time leopard spot – poor photos
• 10 minutes sitting next to 4 sleeping lions, one of the females snoring loudly
• Yellow billed stork attempting to steal fish from crocodile’s jaws
• Bull elephant waking us two nights in a row, appearing at front and at back of our tent
• Spotting Greater painted snipe within 20 minutes of our first game drive
• During river cruise, getting very close to river bank to see Carmine and White breasted bee-eaters
• Excellent genet sightings on three successive night game drives

Highlights – Bumi Hills
• View from our room – bush/waterhole/beach/lake/elephants
• 2 week old lion cub suckling mother
• Excellent birding on shores of the lake, especially kingfishers and fish eagles
• Recently dead elephant near lodge; cause of death not obvious
• Speedboat trip to Starvation Island, catching bream as bait for tigerfish
• Ruth caught two tigerfish, both 2 to 2.5 kilos. I caught nothing and became increasingly cross with myself – sought consolation in two large gin and tonics
• Finding nest and egg of Kittlitz’s plover on the airstrip. Watched as mum and dad camouflaged the egg and tried to distract us away from the spot
• Seeing young baboons swimming and playing in the waterhole below our room

Highlights – Little Makalolo
• Massive herds of elephants, with very many youngsters
• Lion encounter, where female with 4 cubs returning to the rest of the pride; lots of greetings and vocalisations
• Several sightings of beautiful sable antelope
• Lots also of roan antelope
• Ostrich family of male, female and 5 chicks
• Night drives always included a dozen or more spring hares
• Francolin in camp, waking us at 3:30 am and continuously calling for about 2 hours – definitely a lowlight
• Large pride of lions feeding on 2 baby elephants
• 2 juvenile zebras fighting
• Sundowners by waterhole, surrounded by scores of elephants
• Buffalo taking a mudbath
• Night drive saw leopard at small waterhole – again, poor photos
• Great herd of 50+ eland walking across Makalolo Plains
• Excellent close quarters view of yellow billed kite
• Surprise dinner for two by the swimming pool. Sound of buffalo nearby, closely followed by guides telling us to return to main dining area as there were 5 lions in the camp. We eventually had to be escorted by 2 armed guides back to our tent and enter by the side door as the lions were prowling around the front.

Would we go back to Zimbabwe - YES YES YES
GovernorPhil is offline  
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Nov 12th, 2011, 07:26 PM
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Thanks for sharing Phil!

Any photos??

Thoughts on accommodation?
KathBC is offline  
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Nov 12th, 2011, 08:14 PM
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Nice to see you enjoyed Zim as much as I did.
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Nov 13th, 2011, 08:39 AM
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Please don't consider that a reprimand but a sign of my eagerness to learn more about your trip. I'm excited that Zimbabwe turned out so well and, especially, happy to hear of Ruckomechi, my favorite place in Africa. Any mention of a previous camp manager, Troy Williamson? Also, how is the tiger fish situation in the area? Several years ago, the stock was so low that the big tiger fish tournament on Lake Kariba was in jeopardy and the one tiger fish that I caught on my fly rod was small. ZZ
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Nov 13th, 2011, 11:33 AM
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I understand what you mean about wanting to hear if there was any interest in your trip before adding more details. I have a similar trip planned for next August and my thread about it got little response. Great to hear about Ruckomechi as on SafariTalk one poster had negative things to say about it. Did you find the the game drives in the concession repetitive at all? Your report helps to reconfirm that I made the right choice in picking Zimbabwe as our next safari destination.
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Nov 13th, 2011, 02:55 PM
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Zambezi, no worries; I didn't see your post as anything other than a keenness to learn more.
We didn't hear any news about the previous manager.
There seemed to be plenty of tiger fish, just that I couldn't catch any. My wife caught 2, both about 2-2.5 kgs each and our guide snagged a further 4 - nothing weighing more than 4kgs. In November 2006 I managed to catch a 5kgs+ tiger fish whilst staying at Chiawa Camp in the Lower Zambezi N.P.

Raelond, you will have a great time at Ruckomechi; the guides, particularly Sean and Kevin are superb and will take time to explain animal behaviours from the smallest to the largest. For example, when on the way out on a morning drive Kevin spotted an angry looking male baboon he suggested we hang around for a while to see what was going on. What we then experienced was a full-on family feud, with posturing, fighting, chasing and fleeing baboons engaged in a serious dispute. We stayed with this for over 20 minutes and it was a fascinating insight for us all.
The drives can be repetitive in that you drive some distance to reach the big game area, but if you also enjoy birding (which we do) and are happy to watch and discuss smaller animals spotted along the way then it all makes for very enjoyable drives.
If you wanted to miss a game drive, you could always stay in camp and watch the elephants swimming in the river or rummaging between the tents in camp!!
I'm currently sorting through my photos and will post a link in the next few days.
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Nov 13th, 2011, 06:40 PM
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Here's just some of the photos taken on this trip. Please feel free to post comments either on the Flickr screen or here on Fodors.

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Nov 13th, 2011, 07:10 PM
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Great photos Phil! My favs are the lioness with cubs on the road and the ele thru the window at Ruckomechi...talk about perfect timing!!
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Nov 14th, 2011, 07:13 PM
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I couldn't post responses on Flickr (something to do with your settings?).

Also wanted to ask what you thought of Qantas Premium Economy.
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Nov 16th, 2011, 05:58 AM
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The Governor goes to Zim!

Will check out the photos later.

How great you saw the dogs. What is the status on them?

Lots of surprises with the hospitality, how nice.

I thought baboons were not big swimmers out of choice. So the little ones appeared to be enjoying themselves? I suppose it was very hot in Oct.

Roan and sable, such a treat. You had some nice bird activity too.

In Ruckomechi what was the boat for the "river cruise"?

I hope the gin helped save your marriage. When one spouse is a successful angler and the other is not, it can be a source of conflict. It appears you sought out a suitable remedy.

You know what this site should have? A view count. I think there are lurkers who don't respond and may never even have signed up. But they still read the posts.
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Nov 16th, 2011, 03:14 PM
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atravelynn - the dogs were a pack of 21 which had recently split off into two smaller groups. They appear to be thriving, the guides suggested sightings were becoming more frequent and prey was plentiful.
The hospitality was splendid, especially at the Wilderness lodges. We told our agent that the trip was to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary and she clearly made the lodges aware of this.
The baboons were an amazing sight. It was just like a group of kids playing, dunking each other, jumping on each others' backs and swimming what looked like breaststroke. Our room at Bumi Hills overlooked (from on high) a waterhole which gave way to bush for a further hundred metres before arriving at the shores of Lake Kariba. Unfortunately my camera didn't have the range to photo the activity, but it was great fun just watching.
The boat was a metal build with a powerful outboard motor, so we could speed across the lake before gently throttling back to drift through the rivers in the area. We were seated on fixed bucket seats which could swivel through 360 degrees and high enough out of the water to allay any major concerns of crocs, hippos, snakes or anything else which may have been lurking below.
I totally agree with your final point. As you saw with my opening post, I suspected that there may be little interest in Zim, which was why I didn't post a long and detailed trip report straightaway. It seems I may have been correct in my assumption, but there could be many who are just reading and not joining in. Fine if that's the case, but I think Zimbabwe has as much to offer the safari - goer as the other more visited spots and a broader discussion on the pros and cons of going there would be a good thing.
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Nov 16th, 2011, 03:25 PM
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I am interested in Zimbabwe and am awaiting their election schedule before committing.

Your camera may not have caught the frolicking baboons, but it did a good job on some running antelope and flying birds.

Were there any additional details on the tusk in the tree? The lion and eles is a great shot. You mention the lions got 2 young eles. Have the lions become accustomed to elephants as prey there?

It's nice you got photos of the sable and roan. Many excellent shots!
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Nov 16th, 2011, 04:35 PM
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Thanks atravelynn.
The tusk in the tree is a bit of a mystery, so I can't help you there.
The lion with the ele shot is one of many I took over a period of about 30 minutes when the two groups were at the waterhole. No real skirmishes, but an obvious sense of mutual understanding was noticed, with respectful distances kept by all (including us).
Although there were 2 instances of baby elephants being brought down by lions the guides gave no indication that this was a sign of the future; rather it was thought of as two opportunistic events.
The sable and roan were seen in larger numbers than anywhere else we've been in Africa and it was great to get a few good pics of them.
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Nov 17th, 2011, 05:59 AM
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I'm reading and interested!

I went to Ruckomechi last year and enjoyed it- I did mainly walks and water activities. There weren't any dogs around which was a little disappointing. I'm thinking about going back to Mana Pools next year and have been reading a lot about Stretch Ferreira and Goliath Safaris.

Talk of swimming elephants reminded me of watching this one elephant at Ruckomechi that got in the water and floated downstream with the current, rolling around. He then got out onto the sand bank, walked back upstream a few hundred metres and then got back in and floated down again. Then got out and did the same thing several times. He was obviously having fun.
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Nov 17th, 2011, 09:54 AM
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Phil - you got some really nice photos! Glad to hear of your good impressions of Zimbabwe. I was only there for 1 day but would like to return - so many places in Africa to go - so little time!
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Nov 17th, 2011, 11:48 AM
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Here's another "reading and interested"

About Bumi... (it isn't my intention to put a damper on this report at all, but any info. would be helpful since so few people report on these places), were you there after their male lion had been shot in the adjacent WMA? He was supposed to have been their only male, so did you see another male in the area at all? Did the lodge staff say anything about other males moving in and what that might mean for those very young cubs?

Did you visit the Wild Dog Conservation center when you were in Hwange?

Loved your pictures. Esp. the roan and sables. Thanks so much for sharing your trip.
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Nov 18th, 2011, 11:43 AM
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sangeeta - yes we were aware that the male lion had been shot dead. The general manager at the lodge was in close discussions with the park authorities about the matter. There was no sign of any new males moving into the area at the time, although this may now have changed.
We didn't get to see the Wild Dog Conservation centre - maybe next time!!
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Nov 21st, 2011, 08:25 PM
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Thanks GovPhil. If you do hear from Bumi, please keep us posted. Crossing my fingers for those little cubs.
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