Jul 222010

Victoria Falls at sunrise

It’s hard to think of a superlative that can be used to describe my recent adventure in Zimbabwe.

Incredibly friendly people, gorgeous landscapes, breath taking wildlife experiences, all in a safe area with hardly any tourists.

The adventure started when I flew in to the town of Victoria Falls. Esther, a wonderful local guide took me on a tour of the falls and it’s different view points. During the walk she advised not to go out at night. After working in Nigeria for 6 years I wasn’t surprised at this advise but was quickly assured that it was elephants, buffalo and baboons that I had to be concerned about, not people!

Sunrise at the falls was spectacular and there I was, photographing one of the seven wonders of the natural world and I had the place to myself.

The purpose of my visit to Zimbabwe wasn’t just to photograph Victoria Falls but also to travel by canoe down the Zambezi River in Mana Pools National Park.

Canoeing down the Zambezi River

A Cessna 206 took three of us to a small airstrip at the western end of the Mana Pools National Park. Here we met our guide Nick and his team and soon we were on the river.

The idea is that the guests sit in the front of the canoes and enjoy the ride, whilst Nick and his assistants Tim and Tonia do the paddling. In strong currents we helped but the goal was for us to relax and take photographs.

Within minutes, we saw our first group of hippos. Over the next three days we saw an astonishing number of them; it is estimated that around  5,000 hippopotamus live in Mana Pools National Park.

One of the groups of hippopotamus along the Zambezi

When you are sitting in a canoe; a large, fast moving hippo suddenly seems a lot more intimidating than the ones at a zoo! Nick made sure that we stayed a safe distance from hippos but as we learnt on day 2, some hippos choose to hide. I’ll save that story for another day….

The variety of wildlife along the river is incredible. We soon saw crocodiles, African fish eagles, short tailed eagles, a variety of kingfishers, waterbok, elephants, water buffalo, impala, egrets, wart hogs, baboons and much more.

Enjoying a beer at the end of the first day

Before we reached our first camp, we rafted the canoes together and I enjoyed a beer as we watched the sunset.

Within a few hours this had become one of my best wildlife experiences ever. The solitude, lack of other tourists, sense of adventure and viewing experiences were unprecedented and this was just the first day!

At the start of the next day, Nick took us on a game drive followed by a walk. It was evident that Nick enjoys taking his clients on a walk through the bush, it was certainly exciting not knowing what be round the next corner.

Nick leading the way

Using a dry river bed as cover, we sneaked up to a herd of grazing water buffalo and then sat and watched them as they ate their breakfast.

This was one of the many incredible experiences that Nick took us on over the three days. His 50 calibre rifle was a reminder that these animals are wild and that we should plan for the unexpected.

At the end of each day we stayed in a mobile camp. This was luxury camping with proper beds, en-suite facilities and awesome food. After dinner we would sit around the fire swapping stories, watching the stars and discussing the plans for the next day.

It’s hard to choose a single highlight from such a memorable few days but I have to admit that Nick’s ability to take us safely up to bull elephants was astonishing.

He would raft the canoes together and we slowly drift toward the elephants, then stop and watch them eat, then drift a little closer…

Up close and personal with an African bull elephant

We ended up right next to the elephants as they munched away. No need for a super-telephoto here, I was using a 50mm lens!

On this trip I wasn’t just a spectator but felt like a participant in the excitement of a typical African day.

I’ll be returning to Zimbabwe in 2011 as part of my Adventure in Africa photo tour. I can’t wait and I’m sure that this will be the start of many trips to Zimbabwe.

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