Stuck in the Mud

Kubu Island and Hwange – October 2018

Pippa and I left Cape Town on 28 September and had 2 overnight stops on the way up to Martins Drift border post. We stayed at Travalia near 3 Sisters and Hullabaloo in Lichtenburg. Both offered decent accommodation at reasonable rates.

Our overnight accommodation on the SA side of the border post was at Klippan Lodge where we met up with John, Judith, Kevin and Cathy. The rooms and facilities were very nice with attractive views overlooking the Limpopo. It’s self catering but with a very nice covered deck and braai area.

View from Klippan overlooking the Limpopo River

The border crossing at Martins Drift the next morning was fairly quick (about 1 hour) and without any hassle. We filled up with diesel at Serowe before driving through to Kubu Island via Letlhakane and Mmatshumo. This was our first visit to Kubu and I must confess to having been a bit worried about road (track?) conditions getting there. I needn’t have been. At that time of year it was very dry and bar a few sandy patches and rough sections in the first few kilometers the rest was easy going.

Cathy, Kevin, Judith and John on the viewing platform

We arrived at Kubu at about 4:00pm and set up camp on site 7. It was flat and looked to be the most suitable camp site for ease of movement for me in a wheelchair. Not the best of views from there looking out at the pan but good enough for our 2 night stay. The temperature was mid 30’s and with no breeze or wind a whiskey with lots of ice was very welcome. Having left Klippan at 7:30am it had been quite a long day.

Baobab in our campsite

It was hot again the next day and we spent most of it relaxing in camp. Pippa and I went for a drive around the island later in the afternoon while the others went for a walk to explore the area. It really is a fascinating place and well worth a visit. For me 2 nights was enough though.

Pippa having a walk on the pan
Pippa’s view looking back
Beautiful sunset with all the Baobabs being shown off

We tried a bit of star photography that night but with no success…I’ll stick to wildlife in future! My attempt at star trails was rudely interrupted after a couple of minutes when John shone his torch across camp to have a chat with the others gathered by the fire. The Baobab came out nicely but the blurred stars and torch effects makes the photo look like something out of a Giles cartoon (older folk might know what I mean!).

No prize-winner but fun all the same!

It took us about 5 hours to get to Nata from Kubu Island. We had a false start initially (heading off in the wrong direction) and later on I managed to lead the convoy off into the wilderness. Fortunately Kevin’s sense of direction helped us get back onto the proper track!

We filled our fuel tanks and bought more drinking water in Nata before carrying on to our overnight stop at Panda Rest Camp outside Pandamatenga. We arrived there at about 4:30pm.

The accommodation at Panda Rest Camp was rustic but comfortable. We had a couple of drinks and a very decent meal in the restaurant that evening before retiring for an early night.

Cottage at Panda Rest Camp

We had a very quick and easy border crossing at the Pandamatenga border post the next morning. It was quiet and the Zim officials were really friendly and seemed to enjoy having something to do and someone new to chat to.

We were booked into Ngweshla for our first 5 nights in Hwange. Having read reports of road conditions between Robins and Main Camps we decided to go the long way around via the A8 main road and enter Hwange at the Main Camp entrance. A longer distance but a much shorter travelling time. The road from Pandamatenga border post to the A8 is really rough and uncomfortable, especially the first section to the Robins Camp turnoff.

We arrived at Main Camp at 1:30pm after leaving the border post at 9:30am. After checking in we left for Ngweshla at 2:30 and got there at 4:30 with a couple of game viewing stops along the way. It was a pleasant drive and the road condition along that stretch was pretty good.

Feisty young elephant having a dust bath!
Roan Antelope

Ngweshla is fantastic. Charles is the caretaker there and does a great job of looking after the picnic site and ablutions. What a nice guy! He was always very helpful and insisted on helping Pippa and I offload our tent and set up camp.

It was very hot with temperatures again in mid 30’s but there is plenty of shade in the camp and we had a bit of a breeze which helped. Our sundowners were very welcome after another day on the road.

Ngweshla Picnic site with Pippa and Charles having a chat
Sunset at Ngweshla

We all thoroughly enjoyed our time at Ngweshla. For those who might not know, it’s a public picnic spot but allows exclusive camping for parties of up to 12 people (minimum of 6 or at least payment for minimum of 6). We didn’t find the day trippers who stopped off there during the day a problem and in fact quite enjoyed chatting to them. Nice to have the site to ourselves from 6:00pm to 6:00am though.

The site has a fence around it which has been badly neglected…a warthog could have stepped over it behind our tent. I enjoyed going to bed wondering what visitors might have a sniff around! In fact, on our first night there an Elephant came in and pushed a tree over a few meters from John’s car (he and Judith were in a roof-top tent). They parked away from all trees the following 4 nights!

Charles trimming part of the fallen tree
Giving Charles a hand to pull out the tree stump! 🙂
Photo courtesy of John and Judith
John recognised that some help was needed! 🙂
Photo also courtesy of John and Judith

We were lucky to have a couple of Lion close to the camp the whole time we were there. According to Charles the 2 males have taken over the pride from Cecil (infamously killed a few years ago). The rest of the pride were apparently feeding on a kill a few kilometers away. Unfortunately they weren’t visible from the road.

One of the lions resting in the shade
A shake of the head
Early morning drink

We saw plenty of Elephant around Nqweshla. John had a close encounter with some of them on one of our morning drives to Kennedy pan. There was quite a big group browsing near the road. They all seemed calm but one of them became a bit agitated and threatening. John was alert to it though and was able to comfortably give it some distance.

Showing some love in the mud!
Family parade next to the pan
Sundowner time

We explored most of the loops and tracks around Ngweshla. All are very scenic and we were lucky to have some good sightings of various animals in the area.

Sable Antelope
Hitching a ride!
Surveying the scene
Female Kudu

There was also a nice variety of birds on show. Kites were particularly prolific flying around the pans.

Yellow-billed Kite
Pippa’s favourite…Lilac-breasted Roller
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
Swallow-tailed Bee-eater
Magpie Shrike
Kori Bustard
Lappet-faced Vultures
Glossy Starling with a bite to eat
Crested Barbet

We went to Somalisa Pan on our last morning at Nqweshla. John spotted the tracks of the 2 Lion on the road and lo and behold, when we got to the pan, there they were lying under one of the trees. I guess they were on their way to meet up with the rest of the pride in that area?

Waiting to meet the ladies of their pride
Resting in the heat of the day
Alert to our presence though!

All too soon our time at Ngweshla had come to an end and it was time to move on to Deteema for our last two nights in Hwange.

Group photo with Charles before we left

First stop was Main Camp. We’d heard on our way in to Hwange that there was a fuel crisis brewing but hoped we’d still be able to get some diesel at Main Camp. No luck. We had enough to carry on to Deteema so the choice was whether to cut through the park or go the long way around again. After chatting to the staff at Main Camp we decided the long way round would be best (which would also give us the chance to try and get fuel in Hwange town). The internal road is apparently in very bad condition and very slow going.

We stopped at a couple of petrol stations on the way to Hwange town but no fuel was available. Quite a sight seeing the queues of cars parked along the side of the roads waiting for tankers to arrive!

There are 2 petrol stations at the turn-off to Hwange town so we pulled into the Engen one first. Again no luck so we went to Glow Petroleum across the road and pulled in next to the diesel pump. An attendant came across and told us they had nothing available. We chatted for a bit I and asked if he knew of anywhere in town that might still have stock. He shrugged his shoulders and after a while said ‘hang on’. Off he went and a few minutes later came back with the manageress who asked if we could pay in US$ cash. I said we could and they filled my tank. Cash up there is certainly King!

Much relieved we went on our way to book in to Deteema at Sinamatella. The drive to get there through the coal mine was not the best…a very depressing sight!

Coal mine at Hwange

We got to Sinamatella at about 1:30 and did the necessary checking in for Deteema. I wanted to get some ice while we were there but we were told that we’d have to wait another 15 minutes for the shop to open. The rest of the group were keen to get going so Pippa and I said we’d catch up with them at Mandavu picnic site where we were going to stop off for lunch. The staff at Sinamatella gave us directions to get there and after finally getting a HUGE block of ice, off we went.

View from Sinamatella

A couple of kilometers down the road I saw a sign at a turn-off indicating Mandavu via Salt Pan 8km. My Garmin had the distance as 13km if I carried on straight so I turned to take the shorter route. Not very clever! The track was in really bad condition with sections that looked as if they had been washed away. A fair bit of rock climbing was needed! It was very slow going but we eventually found our way to the Mandavu turn-off.

To cut a long story short, we found the others and after a quick bite to eat carried on to Deteema and got there at about 4:30 (after first pulling into the construction site of the new lodge in the concession nearby…that was a heart-sinking moment seeing all the construction workers and their tents and not realising that the picnic site was a bit further down the road).

Two nights at Deteema isn’t enough. We’d have liked more time there but 2 nights was all that was available. The picnic sites are popular with good reason! With only 1 full day we were torn as to whether to go out and explore the area or to stay at the camp and view the comings and goings from the hide. In the end we decided to stay in the camp.

Sunrise at Deteema
Looking at the sunrise across the dam

We knew there were Lion in the area, having heard them in the early morning, and hoped they’d come down for a drink. No such luck. Quite a variety of other animals though and also birds so we were kept entertained throughout the day.

Morning view from the hide at Deteema
A Yellow-billed Kite looking for something to eat
Lilac-breasted Roller with it’s morning catch
Senegal or Burchell’s Coucal ?
White-browed Coucal?

I stayed at the hide while the rest of the group went for a short walk across the dam wall with the camp attendant.

Viewing the scene from the other side of the dam
Buffalo in the late afternoon

The Elephant herds only started arriving very late in the evening and it was already getting dark. From a photography perspective that was disappointing as the shots that we got were with very slow shutter speeds and high ISO…not a good combination. It was very entertaining though. They started arriving in smallish groups but it wasn’t long before the whole dam was surrounded and there were plenty of them in the water drinking and splashing in the dark. An amazing experience to see and hear!

One of the earlier groups to arrive
This chap came for a drink closer to the hide – inquisitive?
More Elephant arriving just before it got dark

There was quite a commotion later that night with lots of trumpeting. We shone our torches across the dam and picked up what we assumed were Lion that were disturbing the herd. It didn’t last long and a short while later we caught sight of the Lion on the other side of our camp. The rest of the night was very quiet.

Facilities at Deteema are a bit run down and certainly not as good as at Ngweshla. It’s clean and looked after as best as possible but Zimparks need to spend some money on maintenance. A toilet seat would be a good start! The setting and the hide certainly make up for it though. Hopefully we will go back some time.

Final group photo before leaving Deteema and Hwange

We left Deteema at 7:45am and got to Sinamatella just after 9:00am. No “short-cut” via Salt Pan this time! From there we went back to Hwange town to top up with fuel. The shortage was still very much apparent but we once again managed to get some diesel paying US$ cash.

Pippa and I went on our way to Harare with an overnight stop in Bulawayo. The rest of the group travelled back to South Africa via Victoria Falls and then back down through Botswana.

We stayed at the Southern Comfort Lodge in Bulawayo where we had a very pleasant evening with our friends from way back…Gordon and Sally. The lodge was comfortable and had a nice pub and restaurant. The staff were all very friendly and helpful.

After spending about an hour driving around Bulawayo the next morning we finally found a service station that would give us some diesel…again for cash US$. Our trip from there to Harare was uneventful except for passing petrol stations with long queues of cars parked along the side of the road. Thank goodness we managed to find diesel in Bulawayo!

Cars lined up as far as the eye could see waiting to get fuel
All waiting to get some fuel

Our week in Harare with Jill and Ant (Pippa’s sister and brother-in-law) was really nice…as always! It was good to see the family and a few friends again. It was sad to see how people up there are struggling though. Currency problems, fuel shortages and high prices, even for food basics, are an every day reality. The cautious optimism with the change in government leadership a year or so ago has very definitely evaporated.

We left Harare early on Sunday (21 October). We were very grateful that Ant and Pippa’s brother (Roy) had both sourced some diesel for us which saved us having to try and find any at the over-crowded fuel pumps.

After a brief stop at the Lion & Elephant Hotel, where we’d arranged to meet Pippa’s nephew (Stephen) and his partner (Wendy) for a coffee and catch-up, we got to Beit Bridge border post just before 3:00pm. It was surprisingly quiet and took less than an hour to get through both the Zim and South African sides of the border. Amazing!

Our over-night stop was once again the Lalapanzi Hotel near Louis Trichardt. We enjoyed our stay there in 2016 but sadly our experience this time was very different. The room we were allocated was functional but without character. It also needed some repairs with the ceiling cornice hanging loose over the bed. Unfortunately the manager wasn’t able to find anyone to fix it…it was Sunday! I had visions of it falling on top of us during the night. It didn’t thank goodness! 🙂

Cornice hanging over the bed

Dinner was also very disappointing with a set menu that consisted of what looked like a left-over carvery. We’ll be looking for a different lodge or hotel in future.

We were on the road again at 5:30 the next morning and arrived in Colesberg at 4:30pm where we stayed at Skietberg Lodge. The room was comfortable and very acceptable as an overnight stop.

Finally, after 3 long days on the road from Harare, we arrived home mid-afternoon on Wednesday 23 October. As always, it was good to get back to one’s home comforts!

Another very enjoyable and worthwhile trip done and dusted. Kubu Island and Hwange are certainly well worth a visit. Now…where to next?

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