Bwindi – Uganda – May 2001
The ultimate rain forest
A World Heritage Site, in the south west corner of Uganda, Bwindi – meaning ‘the dark place’ – received National Park status in 1991. The 345sqkm park reputedly has the richest ecosystem in Africa and up until recently was a wildlife sanctuary. Its home to ten primate species which includes over half of the world’s endangered mountain gorilla population. Bwindi’s environment is perfect for them. Depending on the time of year, the climate is steamy, hot and damp or misty, cold and damp…
Immense trees, vines and epiphytes form a ceiling of green which excludes light and heat. Few villagers make it past the forest boundaries – cultural superstitions tell of cursed spirits and lethal accidents. Unfortunately, this area of Africa is politically very volatile. It was brought to the world’s attention in 1999 when there was an horrific incident involving tourists and gorilla’s – the type with AK47s. Security has improved as both the government and local people appreciate the value the tourist dollar brings on the local economy. It’s best to check the latest travel advice before visiting.
Western Uganda’s infrastructure isn’t fantastic. In 2001 their was an extremely basic camp within the park, but the forest sounds more than make up for the decay of the toilet block. A few luxury camps have popped up outside the park. Most people stay in Kibale, where the hotel names conjure up ideas of luxury and grandeur. But names can be deceiving!
Chobe – Botswana – May 2001
Popular but not overcrowded
Chobe is 11,750sqkm is full of diverse habitats and is home to the country’s most varied wildlife. Game drives and boat tours along the park’s 60km of river frontage are popular game viewing options. For a more exciting safari you can hire a car and discover the fantastically under-utilised area of Chobe’s hinterland. But make sure you are fully self-contained. You are unlikely to see huge numbers of people and once you‘ve finished your supplies there‘s nowhere to get any more.
Water and dust
As the dry season advances, water evaporates and animals from the dry Kalahari sand interior relocate to the Chobe River. Most visitors think of Chobe as the river, its floodplains and the game that live close to its banks, but there’s a lot more to Chobe. Venture into its interior, to the stunning Ngwezemba region or to Savuti and you‘ll think you‘re in a completely different park. Stiflingly oppressive hot October temperatures are in stark contrast to bitterly cold winter nights. The animals living here compete for the minimal water and food. The joy of seeing Savuti lions may soon diminish if you watch them set about killing an elephant calf.
Outposts and air conditioning
If you visit northern Chobe, you’ll either be based at, or stop over at, the rather uninspiring outpost town of Kasane. There are numerous campsites and upmarket lodges situated on the river throughout this sprawling town. Anglers tell of great moments reeling in enormous fighting tiger ﬁsh whilst watching hundred strong elephant herds crossing the river to Namibia. We all know about fisherman’s tales though, although the bit about the elephants is undoubtedly true.
Etosha National Park – Namibia – May 2001
The crème de la crème
Tales of prolific game, fantastic facilities and a few bevies whilst watching game and visiting the camps ﬂoodlit waterholes at night have boosted the park‘s already awesome reputation. Etosha – meaning ‘land of dry water’ – is situated in the arid region of northern Namibia and covers 22,270sqkm. It’s 6000sqkm salt pan takes up 23% of the park and is the remains of the worlds biggest lake, which dried up a mere 12 million years ago. Only the southern section of the park is open to the public and here game (during the dry winter months) concentrates around natural springs and man made waterholes.
Damara, Herero, Wambo and Bushman tribes happily inhabited the area until the Germans arrived in the 1850’s and hunting became the order of the day. In 1907, animal annihilation eventually induced Namibia’s Governor, Von Lindequest, to proclaim the area a 100,000sqkm national park. Today, San descendants are the park’s main employees. Herero women, still wearing traditional 18th century style dress, watch the animals drinking that their ancestors once hunted. Natural rejuvenation of animal herds has been so successful that the days of the ‘Great White Hunter‘ seem a distant nightmare.
At Etosha’s three camps you will be revoltingly spoilt – each of which has a swimming pool, restaurant, bar, floodlit water holes and excellent facilities. If day long game watching proves too strenuous, why not cool off at the pool or take a picnic to the camp’s waterhole. Okaukeujo, the most established waterhole receives the greatest number of animals but watch out for the nocturnal wanderings at Halali. If a leopard you‘re watching disappears behind some adjacent rock then it’s probably a good idea to retreat back to camp.
Hwange National Park – Zimbabwe – May 2001
Elephants for Africa
Elephants and Hwange are synonymous. It’s rumoured that Hwange has Africa’s highest density of them. Approximately 40,000 (in 2001) of the gentle giants eat and excrete thousands of tons of the park’s vegetation daily. At 14,650sqkm, Hwange is Zimbabwe’s largest national park. It has – justifiably – been called one of Africa’s ‘aristocrats’, although there are no Dalmatians here – just wild dog, brown and spotted hyena, jackals and foxes. If you’re looking for a game drive then Main Camp is the place to ﬁnd one. Thankfully the drivers haven’t quite developed the Egyptian hard sell technique yet.
Land fit for animals
With summer temperatures reaching 40°C and minimal rain, Hwange has only ever been suitable for game. When the nomadic San first occupied the park, their environmentally friendly existence worked well. But in the 1900’s, Matabelelands tribal King Mzilikazi decided the area would make a good hunting ground. Amazingly, he didn’t annihilate all the animals and some were left for Frederick Selous, the infamous elephant hunter to kill. Mercifully, when white farmers arrived they took one look at the dusty soil and inhospitable environment and decided to move onto greener pastures.
Nocturnal stopovers and wanderings
Hwange’s importance on the Zimbabwean ‘game trail‘ has resulted in abundant accommodation. Private lodges, camps, B&Bs and hotels cater for every preference imaginable. The National Park‘s three camps are the cheapest and also the most basic – if you stay in one of these, watch out for animals wandering through. A torch is a good idea when walking back from the bar at night, especially if you‘ve had one Zambezi beer too many…
Kalahari Gemsbok National Park – Namibia – May 2001
Red sand and savannahs
In the north-west corner of South Africa’s Northern Cape province, nestled on the borders of Namibia and Botswana, is the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. The 9510sqkm park crosses into Botswana joining up with the 28,500sqkm Gemsbok National Park. The fence less area is one of Africa’s largest protected wildlife areas and an excellent example of the ‘Peace Parks’ concept. Extreme degrees of weather, inhospitable surroundings and the distinct lack of water makes the area unﬁt for human inhabitants. With summer temperatures reaching the early forties and winter nights dropping below freezing, the transient bushmen, along with an excellent array of game, have been the parks only inhabitants.
Bushman and gemsbok
Animals congregate around the often dry Nosseb and Auob rivers, which bisect the park joining at the southern gate of Twee Rivieren. Numerous boreholes have been sunk along the rivers pumping water for the animals to drink. Rain produces a sea of grass interspersed with wild flowers and desert melons. Although scenically stunning the extra ground water can disperse the game.
Eco-friendly car trips
There are three lodges in the park. The main one is Twee Rivers at the parks southern exit, which boasts a shop, pool and restaurant. The more remote Mata Mata and Nessob camps have chalets, huts and a campsite – their shops are stocked with basic provisions although fresh fruit and vegetables are rather scarce. Due to environmental concerns, off road driving is prohibited, which same people view as a drawback. However the eco-friendly visitor should be more than happy with the prolific game that they see from the parks two main roads, which follow the rivers.
Karoo National Park – South Africa – May 2001
Nondescript yet awesome
Having visited the park, you‘ll understand what they mean. Initially it appears rather nondescript, but drive further into its interior and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Apart from its stunning scenery – courtesy of the Nuweveld Mountains and its 61 mammal species – it has the richest desert flora anywhere in the world. Over 9000 species of succulent plants live here including the star tree, indigenous only to this area. Barren plains, flat topped tablelands, koppies, canyons and cliffs – this is the ultimate Karoo landscape.
Walking over dinosaurs
The arid countryside has historically been home to small farming communities, but there is evidence to suggest that some 240 million years ago the odd dinosaur or two roamed the plains. Fossils of the short legged and beaked Dicynodonts have been found here and their artefacts are displayed on the short 400m Fossil trail. Today’s reptilian oddities include the world’s highest density of tortoises with six species inhabiting the park. Another trail is the equally strain free and educational mile long Bossie trail. For something more strenuous, try the extremely scenic three day, two night Springbok hiking trail. It takes you through and over some stunning terrain.
Camping and Dutch Cape architecture
Whilst you are not going to see a leopard kill or the ‘Big Five’ in the ﬁrst hour (or in any hour for that matter), the park still remains surprisingly popular. The National Park cottages, chalets and campsites have stunning views across the Great Karoo and have an annual occupancy rate of 80%. You can explore on you own or opt for the guided 4WD trails. Karoo National Park also has night drive options.
Kruger National Park – South Africa – May 2001
The world’s largest peace park
According to the South African Tourism Board, Kruger is one of the worlds top 16 National Parks (not that they are biased or anything). A lot of people must agree as the park receives 600,300 visitors annually who provide £13 million in revenue. Situated on the eastern edge of South Africa, the park originally occupied 2,000,000 hectares. However, in November 2000 the largest park in the world was created when Kruger expanded. It crossed the border into Mozambique and merged with Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park forming the 957,l25sqkm new Peace Park. Being the size of Wales and larger than Israel you’re not going to see vast swathes of the park unless you have a revolting large amount of spare time.
First class and famous
Kruger is not one of Africa’s greet wildernesses in the true sense. Tarmac roads, efficient staff and a proficient reservation office may leave you in shock, especially if you’ve visited parks elsewhere on the continent. As well as numerous campsites Kruger can boast 3250 beds in 24 rest camps of varying standards. Outside the park there’s an overwhelming amount of places to stay be it in a B&B or one of the numerous adjoining private concession areas.
Walks, drives and camps
With its excellent infrastructure and the luxury of a detailed map, nothing can quite beet hiring a car and exploring. For the more energetic there are seven different guided overnight hikes of one or two nights in length. For a different perspective try a drive after sunset to see what the African night has to offer.
Liwonde National Park – Malawi – May 2001
The essence of Africa
John Cleese will not see ‘herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plains’ but he will see a hippo every 20m in the 40km stretch of river that winds its way through Liwonde. At 548sqkm the park is not vast – neither does it have a huge variety of game – yet its atmosphere, scenery, fantastic bird life and animals will leave you feeling that you’ve experienced the Africa of yesteryear.
David Livingstone travelled the Shires waterways whilst looking for the African hinterland. The park hasn’t changed much since then. It‘s a sea of tranquillity in an area of Malawi, where vast populations living in poverty have (out of necessity) destroyed its surrounding environment. Luckily, subsistence poaching is minimal. Today fishermen in dugouts happily share the Shire with the 3000 plus hippos and its numerous and often monstrously large crocodiles.
Boats and flags
Tourism infrastructure around Liwonde is limited but this adds to its ’Out of Africa’ charm. You‘ll probably stay at the park’s only lodge, aptly named Mvuu, meaning hippo. Situated 38km up the Shire from town you can drive there during the dry season. Once it rains, you will have to convert your car into ‘amphibious‘ mode. If this is not an option, take the scenic three hour boat cruise from town or the dry season road, which finishes on the opposite river bank to the lodge. Here you get out of the car, hope that the elephant herd doesn‘t charge you and raise the ﬂag to summon the lodge boat, which ferries you across the river. Liwonde’s game viewing options include guided game walks and drives, daytime boat cruises and the very unique night time boat cruise.
Mana Pools National Park – Zimbabwe – May 2001
A walk in the wilds
Mana‘s name derives from the four ‘mana’ (pools) near Parks HQ, which formed when the Zambezi River was dammed at Kariba. Mana occupies 220sqkm of Zimbabwe’s Middle Zambezi valley and was declared a World Heritage Sight in 1984. The stunning Zambezi Escarpment forms the parks southern boundary and the Zambezi River its northern. Here canoe safaris negotiate hippos and sandbanks with spectacular game viewing. One of Mana’s great attractions is that you are permitted to walk unaccompanied anywhere in the park. You are also free to camp out in the wild in small bush camps. But, watch out for those lions sleeping off that zebra breakfast.
Time to Absorb
To truly appreciate Maria you need plenty of time. It’s not a minibus type of park where you zoom around in an afternoon ticking off various species. Mana devotees will tell you about the importance of quality time spent watching nature at work; the many lunches interrupted by elephants deciding to feed on the tree shading your table and nights spent listening to hyena‘s mischievously frolicking around your tents.
Take me to the river
Prior to the construction of the Kariba dam, annual ﬂooding, malaria and an inhospitable environment kept humans at bay. The park up until recently only opened for the six to eight months of the dry season. When the rains start the roads become bogs and the park used to become a sanctuary for the animals. Sadly now people that brave the conditions can enter all year around. There are four private national park lodges within the park as well as 24 camp sites at main camp. There are a number of ‘exclusive’ camps, which in Mana means just you, nobody or anything else. Dubious quality long drop toilets and a dilapidated BBQ pit is all you get for your money. That’s if you don’t count the fantastic view, inquisitive animals and remote African wilderness setting.
Matopos National Park – Zimbabwe – May 2001
In Zimbabwe’s south-west, Matopos (or Matobo) is an outdoor enthusiasts dream. Game can be viewed by foot, on horseback, on an elephants back or by car. It’s also an excellent place to see Black Rhino.
The giants playground
The fenced-in Whovi game park is home to Zimbabwe’s highest concentration of Black Rhino and is just one section of the 425sqkm park. Throughout the adjacent wilderness areas there are abundant hiking trails and cycling opportunities. Don’t, however, assume that there are no animals outside of Whovi. Curious leopards have been known to follow hikers along the main dirt road just 100 meters from park headquarters at Maleme Dam.
Trance like dancers
Bushman inhabited Matobo’s caves thousands of years ago. Their surreal art depicting hunting scenes and dances dates back to 1400BC. The best caves to visit are Bambata and Nswatugi, both within easy walking distance from the road. Ingwe cave is reputed to have some of the best paintings in Zimbabwe but visiting requires a strenuous five hour hike there and back. The park’s name is linked to the area’s 3000 year old giant granite kopjes. Apparently they reminded Matabeleland’s 19th century King Mzilikazi of his councillors ‘balding heads’ or ‘Matoboo’ in Ndebele. Cecil Rhodes, the infamous coloniser was so enamoured with the area that he chose to be buried there. His grave lies atop a huge granite ‘whaleback’ and is named ‘World’s View’ – the views from here are truly fantastic.
Warthogs and rhino’s
The park is an ideal self-drive destination, although you’ll need a guide if you’re going to go looking for Rhino on foot. Numerous Bulawayo based safari operators specialise in day tours to Matobo – lodges and guest houses adjacent to the park will also take you into Whovi game park. There are stunning views across Maleme Dam from the lodges at the park’s headquarters. However, campers at Molemi Dam should look out for the overly inquisitive warthogs – the older ones are renowned for quite successfully terrorising people that intrude on their quest for food. Horse riding is available in the National Parks in both areas and you don’t have to be of jockey standard to appreciate it On horseback you can get within metres of the rhino and get to experience warthogs running through your horse’s legs.
Nyika National Park- Malawi – May 2001
Up high and windy
Nyika sits 2000m above sea level and is said by same to have the most beautiful plateau in Africa – same individuals bizarrely compare it to Scotland. Admittedly the cool moist weather that ﬂows up the mountains from the lake is rather north European, but there the similarities end. With average temperatures of 14 degrees Celsius and 1200mm of rain fall per year, you definitely need waterproofs and layers. Iron-age villagers lived in the plateaus shadow, while the fear of Lake Kaulime’s snake spirit stopped all but the brave venturing onto higher ground.
Where are the zebra striped minibuses?
Thankfully nothing much has changed in this respect, Nyika is still far from the maddening crowds, You won’t ﬁnd your ‘minibus-tick-list-tourist’ here. Access is via a 120km dirt track, although you‘ll need a 4WD after any substantial rain. On arrival the views, bird life, flora and mammals will leave you wishing you’d come for longer and thanking those that didn’t.
Few companies have exploited Nyika’s potential and consequently, there are only a few places to overnight. Chelinda rest camp has rooms with cosy leg ﬁres and a campsite. If you don’t have a car, make the most of the freedom to walk unaccompanied or alternatively take a bike – there are lots of tracks criss-crossing the area around Chelinda. If you are feeling particularly energetic, try one of the six wilderness trails lasting from one to six days. For anything overnight you must take a guide, a good idea considering the park’s high leopard population. A day’s horse riding is a great way to experience the park. If you fancy putting your backside through extra pain opt for one of the two to ten day luxury riding tours. The park even caters for anglers who can find moments of solitude fishing for rainbow trout in the well stocked rivers and dams.
Okavango Delta – Botswana – May 2001
The worlds most spectacular flood
Before the annual flood arrives, the landscape is mainly flat and dry and only the main water channels survive the heat. Then the water arrives from rain much further north and transforms the savannah into shallow lagoons dotted with palm fringed islands. For most people, the ultimate Okavango experience involves game watching whilst being poled along the delta’s channels and lagoons. The other main game viewing are game walks, scenic ﬂights, horse traits and elephant safaris.
The delta is home to human and mammals alike. The ‘Banoka’ or ‘river bushmen’ were some of the earliest inhabitants. Later in history the Mbukushu tribe moved the inhabiting Bayai tribe out. They themselves were later forced to leave by the Batswana who are now the dominant tribe in the area. The delta was nearly lost when Rhodes decided to turn it into farmland – thankfully this was one of his least successful ideas. Mining companies have, however, shown more than a casual interest in the prolific water source.
There are limitless camp-sites in the delta. All you need is a tent, sleeping bag and a mokoro (dug out canoe) and you can camp wherever you get the urge. If you fancy something more luxurious (like a bed), you’re sure to ﬁnd something to satisfy your tastes among the lodges of the Delta or in the sprawling village of Maun.
Queen Elizabeth National Park – Uganda – May 2001
QE2’s 2000sqkms straddles the equator in the Western Rift Valley and is bordered by the Mountains of the Moan and Virunga National Park. The park’s scenery is as varied as its game – lakes, craters, forest and savannah all have their own special corner. Due to the normally appalling conditions of the parks tracks, few visitors get further than park HQ at Mweya lodge. If time allows though, head south through the beautiful primate rich Maramagambo forest to the Ishasha flats, famous for its tree-climbing lions. The Kyamburu River Gorge in the north east is the spot for viewing black and white colobus, red-tailed and vervet monkeys and chimpanzees,
Lakes, craters and channels
Lake George and Edward are home to hundreds of hippos and water birds – ﬂamingos are often found in the park’s seven lake-ﬁlled craters. There are 88 craters altogether, mainly concentrated in the park’s northern section – but check the road conditions before you go. A boat cruise on the 32km long Kazinga channel is a must and will give you excellent sightings of hippo, buffalo and elephant – and encountering lions coming down to drink occurs more often than you may think. On the cruise you’ll pass the local fishing village, which attracts hundreds of storks, pelicans, cranes, cormorants and water birds, which scavenge for the fishermen’s leftovers.
Wherever I lay my hat…
Apart from a couple of lodges in the south, accommodation is only really available at Mweya. The rooms are basic, but adequate enough. The campsite is also on the ‘no frills’ side, but does boast stunning views across the channel. Evening walks of any description definitely require a torch. Remember, don’t turn it on at the last moment – hippos are Africa’s most prolific human killers. If you are without a car the lodge offers game drives, guided walks, the channel cruise and visits to bird watching hides.
Serengeti National Park – Tanzania – May 2001
A 14,750sqkm, the Serengeti’s Maasai name of Siringet means ‘wide open space’ although, when two million herbivores migrate onto the southern plains, it starts to look rather small! Positioned in the north west of Tanzania, it’s bordered by the equally famous Ngorongoro Crater to the east and Kenya’s Maasai Mara to the north. Tsetse ﬂies have been the Serengeti’s blessing – this prolific disease-carrying ﬂy stopped any human and cattle invasion over the years.
Humans first home
Olduvai gorge in the east of the park is one of the world’s ﬁrst human homes. Dr leakey’s excavations uncovered the remains of our oldest human ancestor who was approximately three million years old. A visit to the museum and ongoing archaeological excavations is both fascinating and humbling.
Wild camping takes on a new meaning
Compared to other African countries, Tanzania’s park entry fees and accommodation are extortionate. However, for the princely sum of US$40 per person (2001) you can camp at the exclusive Northern Lobo Lodge and get dubious tong drop toilets and a tap. Lions however love the place and their roars will keep you awake for mast of the night. Other interesting scenarios have involved hyenas running between tents and ﬂysheets. For a more luxurious option, stay at one of the excellent upmarket lodges, which come with their own airstrips and private game reserves. For the ultimate Serengeti safari experience, take a baloon trip from Seronera lodge.
South Luangwa National Park- Zambia – May 2001
Famously unknown walking paradise
Since it is less well known than its East African counterparts, South Luangwa has the feeling of a more remote, almost unexplored Africa. The park covers over 9000sqkm and is home to leopards, lions, elephants and giraffes and over 4013 species of birds. Through the park runs the Luangwa River, which is home to crocodiles and thousands of hippos. South Luangwa is renowned for its walking safaris, which give you the chance to get very close to the wildlife. You could end up standing on a dried riverbank, watching hyenas feasting on a buffalo carcass. Or, if you are lucky enough, you might catch a glimpse of a lion before it sees you and quickly disappears into the bushes.
Walking safaris can last from a few hours to several days and if you pick the later option you will sleep in bush camps inside the park. Another fantastic way to see wildlife is to participate in a night safari in an open-top vehicle. The park changes completely after sunset and you can spot animals that you will not see during the day, such as leopards or the elusive bush babies and night apes.
Hike to canvass and thatch
There are several lodges in South Luangwa ranging in price from cheap to luxurious – and well maintained camp-sites outside the park. If you sleep in a tent, watch out for the baboons they will steal your food from your tent at the earliest opportunity. The camp-sites and lodges organise game drives and walking safaris with professional guides who are experienced and very knowledgeable about all things Luangwa. Most lodges are only open during the dry season from April to October, but some campsites stay open all year.