After spending two fantastic days in Harare we got a flight to Victoria Falls. It had practically been impossible to get a flight as Zimbabwean Airlines are fairly unreliable and all flights were sold out. We got told various stories by the travel agents e.g. that ZANU-PF (Mugabe's party) where having a conference in Bulawayo so all planes had been redirected. Another travel agent said that flights schedule was normal, but they had had 40% overbookings two days earlier. All flights were actually full, however by coincidence we looked at business class tickets and it turned out that there were plenty of business class tickets available. Instead of paying $220 for a ticket we ended up paying $255, which was not too bad.
At the Victoria Falls airport we where met by Mike who was the chauffeur from "The Hide". He took all our bags and drove us to the Hwange National Park in a nice aircondioned minibus with plenty of cold drinks i.e. soft drinks, beers, and white-wine.
After just over an hours drive we arrived at Hwange National Park, where we met Daffy a ranger from "The Hide". He was there to pick us up in a 4x4 as we going through the national park to get to private concession "The Hide". This means besides having access to the whole of Hwange National Park they also have a private area inside the park, which no one has access to but them. It is a small but very exclusive place, which can only accommodate 16 guests at any one time.
"The Hide" consists of several A-framed huts all looking out towards a big waterhole. All the huts have a verandah and big bedroom and nice bathroom. For 2 of the 3 nights we were given the honeymoon suite, which in addition had a beautiful outdoor bathroom with a large bath which again overlooked the waterhole. This was absolutely stunning. The main hut was the tea and dining area, with a lovely big dining table and a very comfortable lounge and verandah. All of this with a view towards the waterhole as it was all open with no walls or glass windows - just plain open.
As we arrived we were welcomed by the manager Barry and the rest of the rangers. We were shown to our hut before joining the other guests for lunch. We had a delicious lunch before going on our first game drive with our ranger Daffy.
On the first game drive we saw lots of plains animals like Impala, Gemsbok, Kudu, Steenbok, and Springbok. We also saw lots of beautiful birds like the yellow-billed hornbill and lilac breasted roler. We drove to a waterhole where lots of elephants had come to down to drink. This was at the very end of the dry season and rain could be expected any day. This meant that the animals were solely dependent on the waterholes as it had not rained for many many months. We saw a lot of elephants at this waterhole and we got real close to them; several of them mock-charged us to chase us away.
Hwange National Park has around 40.000 elephants, which is unfortunately twice as many as a park their size should have. Normally a culling programe would in place to control the population, but due to various reasons this has not been the case for quite a few years. Many national parks in southern Africa has this problem including Chobe National Park in Botswana, which borders Hwange. One of the problems with too many elephants is that destruction of trees and other vegetation. It is easy to see where a herd of elephants has passed through.
When we got home from the game drive we had a shower and a rest before being called to dinner at 8pm. The staff would use African drums to call the guests to the meals. You are reading your book on the verandah while enjoying the animals drinking at the waterhole and you suddenly hear the distant sound of bongo-drums and you know a fantastic meal is waiting for you.
The dinners at "The Hide" were exquisite. There was a big dining table where all the guests, Barry (manager) and the rangers all dines together. The staff is so good at making everyone feel like one big family and Barry and the rangers shared stories around the table. That gave us a very special feeling and they were also very interested in knowing how our travels had been and how we had ended up at "The Hide". The food was extraordinarily good. Every nights a 3 course meal prepared by a great chef and by the time you got to the delicious dessert you were full. Naturally you still managed to eat the dessert as it was just impossible to resist. Pure indulgence.
A typical day at the "The Hide" began with a 5.30am wake-up knock with tea, coffee, and biscuits served in our hut. The a 6.00am morning game drive or game walk with a ranger (typically Daffy or Nicholas). After the morning game drive we returned for superb breakfast and a rest. Then at 10am another game drive before returning for 2pm lunch. After lunch we usally rested until the 4pm tea and afternoon game drive. After dinner we often went on a night game drive for about 1 hour. On all of the game drives the ranger brought a cooler bag with whatever drinks we had requested.
On one of the night drives we tracked 4 male lions, which we had heard earlier in the evening. There was an older lion and some younger ones believed to be his offspring. They got right into the camp as they had been able to smell some food - probably meat of some sort. It was quite a crazy experience being in an open 4x4 just a few meters from 4 very hungry male lions. However we got some very cool shots of the lions in the night.
Another very special experience was to be inside one of the hides (hidden lookouts) very close to waterhole. Here we are talking just a few meters from the edge of the water. One late afternoon we were escorted to the hide by a ranger and we "collected" again for dinner. The hide was a concrete built structure covered by vegetation and it had a horizontal opening at front where we could see everything going on at the waterhole. Again we were provided with a cooler bag with drinks and wine; so no chance of dehydrating even though it was hot. Various animals came to drink including a giraf, which has a funny way of bending its legs to be able to reach the water. As it got darker other animals started coming down to the waterhole including a hole heard of buffalos, before eventually hundreds of elephants started coming. This was a very magical experience as we were just a few meters from several huge elephants and elephant babies - whole elephant herds. Unfortunately we had to go back to dinner.
The buffalos stayed around camp during that night and around 2am Cecilie was woken up by some snorting sounds (not Christian). They came from a buffalo on the verandah eating one of the plants. As the windows only consisted of netting, and the buffalo is one of the big five, and Cecilie was still half asleep she silently got out of bed and ran in to the bathroom to hide...... while Christian went out front and smacked the buffalo on its behind and sent it away. Ehhmm...
On an afternoon game drive we came across a male lion eating a baby elephant. The kill had happened some days earlier, but this lion still wanted what was left. This was just next to a waterhole and a giraf was very suspecious of the lion and us. It probably took the giraf 30 minutes to slowly make its way around us and the lion to get to the water.
After 3 nights and 4 days we had to leave this magical place and make our way to Victoria Falls. We had been pampered 24x7 by a team of people from manager, rangers, chefs, laundry staff, everyone really! They made us feel so welcome and gave us a once in a lifetime experience. I saw somewhere that it is on a famous list of things to see before you die - no wonder! We would like to extend our thanks to everyone at "The Hide" for a wonderful time.