Fothergill – 1999

Fothergill

As th dust settled a three-week old lion cub appeared, looking bemused and obviously not quite sure hot to go about getting some dinner.

The opportunity soon arrived when one of his aunts came up for breath and he dived through her legs to get to the impala. Admittedly impala isn’t a lion’s first choice of dinner, it probably doesn’t serve as much more than a starter, but this one had died of a muscular disease and free food is always better than no food. It didn’t take long for the twenty-one strong island pride to devour the impala and as the lions dispersed to rest and contemplate their entrée, the night drew in and we reluctantly had to leave.

Back at camp there was time for a quick shower and a few drinks before dinner. There is something strangely exotic (or should that be erotic) about showering under the stars but it is an experience that one should try at least once, if not for the fact that one can attempt to gleam a few more constellations in-between washing the shampoo out of one’s eyes.

Eventually the bar beckons and as is the case in similar safari lodges around Africa many a tall tale is told about the tone that got away. In the case of walking safaris and lion encounters here at Fothergill it probably isn’t such a bad thing.

Fothergill camp is situated on Fothergill Island, thirty-five kilometres from Kariba and is a little sanctuary on the shores of the Matusadona National Park. Named after Rupert Fothergill the man whose part in Operation Noah is legendary, Fothergill is one of those little pieces of Africa that you dream about escaping to.

Initially developed in 1972 by Rob Finn of Kazangula safaris it was later taken over by Sable Safaris and more recently in 1994 by the Zimbabwe Sun Hotel Group. The lodge was refurbished in 993 by Derek & Natalie Adamson. It took two years to complete because they had to work around the guests. The lodge never closed during the renovation, so they had to ensure that the noisy work was undertaken whilst the clients /were away on game activities. The original low walled chalets were knocked down one by one and replaced with spacious en suite ones, with beautiful teak furniture and giant mosquito nets. The bar and dining room were gutted and re-furnished with the same furniture. There is a very well stocked bar and lounge which has an excellent reference library and a good selection of wildlife videos for those people who find the solitude3 and tranquillity just a little bit too much. The pool is large enough for the fitness freaks to exert some energy and the volleyball net is also a good way to work off, not the dreaded chocolate éclairs but in this case the mousse, revoltingly delicious by anyone’s standards.

From Fothergill it is possible to do game drives or walks, game cruises or the scenic Sanyati gorge cruise. From experience I have concluded that the level of strenuous exertion and concentration is normally relative to the level of one’s hangover. So it is a bit difficult to have to make one’s 6.00 a.m. game activity decisions at dinner time, when (let’s face it) one really can’t ascertain how many bottles of wine one is going to consume that night, or how many fabricated stories are going to be the result of it. It is therefore with a little apprehension that one volunteers to do a morning game walk.

The walk was however excellent and having been on a few walks in the past, it was enjoyable to learn some of the less obvious things about the African bush instead of concentrating mainly on the large game. The game was definitely there, though, and it is very disconcerting, no matter what anyone tells you, to be watching lions on foot rather than from the safety of a vehicle.

Lions were spotted on all of our activities (even if we did have to cheat a bit, the time we went to the Sanyati gorge). The gorge trip by boat is described as a scenic trip rather than a game viewing experience. The Sanyati river forms the Western border of the 550 square km Matusadona National Park and with its steep cliff sides it was clear to see how the park got its name. (‘Matusadona’ in Shona means ‘dung falling down’, and if you were sitting in a little fishing boat, looking up towards a herd of elephants this would probably be a daunting experience. Pigeons I can cope with but elephants are a bit more hazardous.) The gorge is spectacularly awesome, and a visit at sunset is particularly beautiful.

Returning with wine glasses in hand we pulled into Fothergill’s quay at the same time as the game cruise pulled in. The other guide excitedly explained to ours, how they had sat and watched two male lions take an hour to bring down a buffalo. I think they were probably more excited than their three clients had been and looked positively enthralled when we said we’d like to go and see them. Having dropped off the cruise clients we drove just five minutes from camp to see the lions carefully eyeing up the jackals who were hovering a very safe distance away from the kill. Once again we sat with the lions watching another African night draw in.

Matusadona is famous for its lion population. This is largely due to changes in ecosystems caused by the formation of the lake. The flooding of the valley and creation of the lake shore provided a perfect environment for the growth of “paincurn” grass which originated from the Barotse Plain in Zambia. As a result of the proliferation of this grass, the buffalo herds have increased and the lion population is said, now, to be the most prolific in Africa.

With the good rains experienced in Southern Africa this year Fothergill has again become an island. It has once more, become a secluded wilderness with its healthy lion pride, inquisitive elephants, and its clients happily making the most of this classic ‘bush’ experience. And if anyone out there at Fothergill can get the mousse recipe from the naughty dessert chef, please can you send it in. Thanks.

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