Seeing in the dark – ZZZ’s in Zimbabwe

There’s always a danger of becoming blasé about travel and the wonders awaiting us. A trip into Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, proved to be a lesson about preconceived ideas, for us.

Passionate about wildlife photography and exotic travel – we seek the unique discoveries that only Victorian explorers could realistically aspire to.  Attenborough and Palin, now always there before us, create expectations almost impossible to fulfil.

With our jeep surrounded by feasting Lions, cubs mewling around their mothers as they wait for the majestic male’s scraps, it’s stunning but imparts a sense of déjà vu – we’ve been here via TV with Attenborough in blisteringly sharp HD, filmed over months, not minutes and it’s an incredibly hard act to follow.

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With ‘The Dove’s Nest’ tree house at The Hide in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, I’ve conceded a last night touch of romantic luxury with Cherrie; salve for an otherwise arduous itinerary. For me, it smacks of Honeymooners in muslin draped beds with champagne chilled to further immunise them from African reality – but it helps to keep Cherrie onside.

Cherrie: Well, I love the idea!

Dinner’s over at the main Hide camp and our guide asks what we’d like in the Dove’s Nest for drinks; together with our hot water bottles and walkie-talkie! We’ve mistakenly assumed the tree house is within the safety of camp.

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After a long drive into the pitch night our headlights pick out a solitary, imposing tree. A wooden staircase spirals up to a rickety ‘garden shed’ high in the sprawling branches. With a torch our guide points out the toilet at ground level, the viewing platform halfway up, the totally inadequate pencil-thin bolt securing the flimsy door of our shed and the temperamental walkie-talkie that might eventually summon help ‘in emergency’.

The jeep’s departure distils our total isolation in the bush – absolute darkness, absolute quiet.

Cherrie: I suggested to an unusually reluctant Geoff that we open the bottle of wine that we’d brought with us and watch the fading glow on the horizon over a glass or two. Under duress – pointing out that it was already pitch black – he opened the bottle and poured us a glass each as we stood on the veranda looking into the eerie darkness. Geoff was somewhat surprised to find that I finished my glass in a couple of minutes – it was far too chilly to stand around in the open drinking wine!

Huddled uneasily together for warmth, we fall asleep in the rudimentary bed – no honeymoon suite, this.

Auooorgh! Oof, OOF!  A lion’s resonant cough at the base of our tree startled us into immediate recollection of the simple staircase to our vulnerable wooden box in the sky. The chills of the night and those running down our spines prompted immediate need for the toilet – impossibly distant at the base of the tree – but we don’t move a muscle. The strident lion heightened our senses to previously unknown levels and only its eventual departure instilled sufficient courage for hushed conversation.

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Dawn brings relief – survival even – and realisation that it’s preconceived expectations that destroy the wonder of discovery.  We’ve now seen in the dark.

Cherrie: Our stay in ‘The Dove’s Nest’ was part of a few days at The Hide in Hwange National Park. We’d driven from Victoria Falls and whilst this was interesting in terms of scenery/villages etc I think we’d investigate a bush plane if we went again. The Hide is extremely well run – as are most safari lodges – and the ‘tents’ are luxuriously appointed and a real pleasure to return to. Cuisine was excellent and the team who work at the Lodge couldn’t do enough to help. Don’t be surprised to have wildlife running through the camp at night and we were certainly transfixed by a lone lion roaring past ours. You’ll get the best of both worlds with The Hide being on its own concession land (more freedom) whilst also being adjacent to the National Park. We met some very interesting people there and it still amuses me that Geoff wittered on about our league tennis play to a chap who he hadn’t twigged was the great Fred Perry’s son!

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Cherrie's Notes

For flight information to Victoria Falls and beyond see:

http://www.skyscanner.net/flights-to/zw/cheap-flights-to-zimbabwe.html

For a tailor made multi-centre holiday: TLC World

For The Hide, Hwange National Park: http://thehide.com/

For current visa and vaccination requirements see:

https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/zimbabwe

We were informed that we needed Yellow Fever jabs even though we weren’t coming from a yellow fever infected country. The vaccine is not always in ready supply in UK and might have to be specially ordered. It can have worrying side effects for certain people and certain ages, so make sure you check with your nurse in order to make an informed choice. Having been through all of this palaver, no one bothered to check our vaccination certificates at all at port of entry or departure – but obviously you can’t always rely on that!

The Hide, Hwange National Park http://thehide.com/

See also:

Cherrie’s Safari Packing list

Geoff’s Safari Photography Tips

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