We’re sprawling on the upstairs deck of our Hwange safari lodge, sipping ice-cold beers and watching impala and waterbuck come to drink from the floodlit pan. We’re waiting for the drum roll that calls us to dinner. Another perfect day in Africa is sliding into night.
After lunch and the indulgence of an afternoon nap, we clambered back onto the open 4x4 for a sunset drive, armed with another clued-up guide and a cool box full of drinks. Three hours and a slew of bird sightings later, hubby was cooling off before supper with a quick shower under the stars while I wallowed in scented splendour in the freestanding bath in one corner of our tent.
And then all there was to do was sip on our beers until the chef called us for dinner, a delicious experience at a 20-seater teak table with chairs so heavy you needed both hands and a few manly muscles to move them.
But in case we were lulled into thinking we were in a five-star hotel in Paris or Milan, a scorpion scuttling across the roof of our tent reminded us we were in Africa. In the wild. No doubt someone would happily have come to deal with our scorpion for us, if summoned – it was that kind of place – but we did the Bear Grylls thing ourselves, knocking it gingerly into a basket and releasing it into the night.
But we didn't care; there were trade-offs for being there off-season. The bush was lush and we got to admire the teak forest, acacia woodland, Kalahari sandveld and open grassy plains. We were also thrilled to see so many birds – kori bustard, Bradfield’s hornbill, crowned crane, striped cuckoo, crimson-breasted boubou, broadbilled roller, shafttailed whydah – the list went on and on, because summer is definitely high season for birding.
We got a lot of help from the guides, especially Mark, who spoke Bird and could imitate just about any one of them you could ask for. He whistled dolefully at the black cuckoo, said ‘tsee tsee tsee tr-r-r-r’ to a rattling cisticola and even huffed softly to a group of zebra, who accepted his assurances and didn't run off. We were part of the bush instead of just driving through it.
On our last sunset drive, guide Daffy asked what we’d like to see, as if he could conjure it from his khaki hat. We suggested elephant, and he drove out to a river line of trees where he thought they may be. He was right. As the sun set and the light softened, a breeding herd approached our open vehicle, passing by so close we could almost stretch out to stroke a wrinkly trunk or a little one’s bristly head. It was a hold-your-breath moment.
1. The main event is game drives – early morning or sunset drives – with guides who know the bush and are still excited by it.
2. Because The Hide is surrounded by a private concession, a bonus is the chance to go on early morning walks or night drives, something not allowed in the main part of Hwange.
3. There’s a plunge pool to cool off in when the heat gets too much to bear.
4. Sit on your private verandah, or in one of the lounge areas, to watch animals that visit the pan. All ten tents face the pan.
5. Eat, eat, eat. From breakfast to lunch and dinner, with mid-afternoon tea and cake thrown in for good measure, the chef and his staff will treat you deliciously throughout.
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