We had some latitude this day to drive and explore on our own - with the proviso that we arrived in Main Camp at the other, eastern, end of Hwange NP around 2pm to gather the group together again. We had a rough map of the tracks which intersected and criss-crossed everywhere. At times we were sure we knew exactly where we were - at others we were "temporarily unsure of our position". Still we knew we had to end up somewhere with a signpost at some stage, so wandered along definite 4-wheel-drive tracks. Along with some of the usual suspects in the wildlife department, we spotted some shy and flighty warthogs who stayed around long enough for a photo, two magnificent Fish Eagles who posed for us and, more unusually, a 2 metre long Water, or Nile, Monitor who crawled out of a muddy waterhole to bask on the riverbank for us.
Eventually we located the main road which for a while was the only way east. There were some platforms and hides where we stopped and saw some basking hippos and crocodiles. Suddenly the road became tar. Or as the map said 'tarred' the past tense being appropriate: the road had been tarred in the Dark Ages and has had a distinct lack of maintenance ever since. It is quite simple the worst tarred road we have ever seen. So when we could, we took side roads and loops where the dirt road was infinitely better!
At Main Camp we indulged in hamburgers and chips for lunch and then headed out to Kennedy Camp about an hour away along a gravel road carefully looking out for wildlife along the way. And that is not just for the sightings, but to watch for them as road hazards - elephants, giraffe and kudu have all leapt out of the bush at the side of the road in front of the moving car!
Just past the camp we came across a large waterhole with up to 100 elephants from different groups drinking, wallowing in mud, flinging water or mud over themselves with their trunks slapping on their bodies. What a sight! As some groups moved off others moved in to replace them.
We returned to the campsite and set up for the next two nights. After placing our tent about one and a half metres from the perimeter fence of the camp, we were treated to some elephants coming to feast right next to us over the fence. The bigger male put his head against the very big and solid tree trunk, pushed and shook the trunk, sending seed pods falling and scattering around which they then hoovered up with delight. It was then that we realised that our tent was well within trunk reach…
This little fenced compound in the middle of the park was beautifully clean with the sand all swept and the basic facilities spotless. Simon was the caretaker and he provided us with firewood and stoked up the donkey for hot showers. One's definition of heaven can change - at the moment it is the availability of a hot shower with enough water coming through the shower rose to get wet!
Overnight we had heard both lions and hyenas competing to make the most noise and at dawn the baboons settled in the surrounding trees making their own peculiar barking sounds.
Today we were able to set off and explore on our own again. We decided to continue the loop from our camp back to the main ("tarred") road where we would check out a couple of platform hides at pans or waterholes off the road.
First sight of the day caused much excitement and several safari trucks homed in on some lionesses with cubs eating their earlier kill, a large animal now reduced to a carcass of bones and without much to identify it. We watched for a while as the cubs ate and played, climbing up and down a termite mound, their mouths covered in blood. The rest of the loop was a little travelled road with not much game as there seemed to be little water around. We did see some kudu, zebra and plenty of birds. The remoteness of this less-frequented road was wonderful. At the first hide we spotted hippo lolling in the water mostly only glimpses though as they surfaced rarely, while wildebeest and zebra grazed on the far shore. At the second hide, huge herds of giraffe and zebra grazed, with vultures arguing in groups by the water. As the bigger animals moved away, we saw a small herd of zebra racing along towards us. Two of them were kicking and biting and in the process both went down on the ground still kicking at each other with vicious intent! They continued to snap and bite until one, defeated, moved away.
We avoided the tar road back to take the much better untarred one, moving slowly in and out of short access roads to pans, occasionally seeing all the usual suspects. When almost at camp, a safari truck blocked our way and didn't seem to be moving anytime soon. Eventually we could see just the head of a cheetah in the long grass. He didn't seem to be going anywhere soon either so we edged past the truck and back to camp.