Click here for my selection of photos from our trip
I have now visited Stretch Ferrera's small camp on the banks of the Zambezi in Northern Zimbabwe five times (Vicky has been six times) but we have never shared the experience with Tommy so this year we take the young people when we get together with a group of friends and book the camp for a week in September. The weather is getting hot and the animals are being driven towards the river so we hope to get some great viewings of game.
It is cloudy in Harare as we wait for our pilot on the tarmac at Charles Prince Airport at 7am on Sunday morning but after a one hour flight we touchdown on the Mana airstrip to a hot clear day. After sorting out Park fees at the Park Office we are straight into some game viewing with a sighting of lions and cubs relaxing under a tree near the camp. Later in the day Olivia and the boys get a "Stretch Moment" when he takes them up close to meet Big Vic, one of the largest old bull elephants in the park and one that we have seen many times over the years.
Tuesday is Fi's birthday and we are lucky to celebrate it with some great sightings. An elephant carcass is attracting the predators and we walk to find it and see what is around. Stretch spots a large male lion in a thicket and we creep as close as we can. He growls at us menacingly as we take a few pictures before circling the bushes to come up close to the carcass. First we spot two lion cubs making a beautiful picture in the morning light and round the corner we find a group of females tucking into their breakfast. Fortunately they are too interested in feeding to take any notice of us but we all relax as we walk back towards the vehicle. Later in the day we enjoy watching a pack of African wild dogs and their 5 puppies setting off on a hunt.
Vicky has asked everyone to dress up in a hunting or leopard theme for Fi's birthday and we have a great evening with a delicious barbeque (brai) of Zimbabwean fillet steak as we are entertained firstly by the camp staff who sing and dance and then by Johnnie and Tommy on guitar with a medley from Bob Dylan to Oasis.
Second (?) scary moment of the week is when Stretch asks "who wants to go and find the lions and cubs that I tracked before lunch?". We volunteer and are soon walking up a dried stream bed when we find ourselves about 5 metres from a thicket with at least four large lions and two cubs all fast asleep. One cub lifts its head and starts eyeing us and a few moments later the ladies are silently examining us. We grab a few photos and then slowly edge our way backwards to the other side of the stream - "don't turn your back and don't run". "They let us get so close because we were already there when they woke up" explained Stretch. Sure enough when we try to get a bit closer again there are ferocious roars and we back away to a safe distance, adrenaline surging and hearts pumping away.
One little cub (on left) inspects us:
Next thing the ladies are examining us ...
... until we retreat to the other side of the stream. The lions are in the thicket opposite us:
During the rest of the week we continue to spot more lion and dogs, and manage to avoid elephants as we go on walks. Vicky spots over 110 varieties of birds and we make a canoe trip down the river - something Olivia and Tommy decide they could have done without as we dodged hippos and crocodiles. We are wonderfully looked after by the guides and camp crew and the young folk even manage the 5am wakeup drums without too much grumbling. Above all we love the atmosphere as we camp by the river, listen to the birdsong and hippos grunting in the early morning and watch elephants coming down to the river to drink against a backdrop of water and the Zambian hills. Below is a short video of our trip.Click here to see my albums of photos from the trip.