And because it’s such a long hard slog to get there by car (I’ll tell you about the nitty-gritties in the next post), you don’t get many people venturing there independently.
In fact, most visitors we saw were well-heeled foreigners who had flown in and were being driven around by knowledgeable guides from one of the upmarket (read expensive) lodges inside the park. With six to ten visitors in one vehicle, it made the roads seems far less cluttered than those of a park like Kruger. In our six days there, we saw fewer than ten other independent drivers in the park.
In the dry season (winter), wildlife congregates at the water so you’re likely to spot elephants, buffaloes, leopards. There are also endemic subspecies like Thornicroft’s giraffe, with their white legs and faces, and Crawshay’s zebra, which don’t have the brownish shadow-stripe of their cousins, the Burchell’s. They were pretty special for us because they were new, something we hadn’t seen before in South Africa, Namibia or Botswana.
Since some of the roads hug the river, we saw many groups of waterbuck and lots of hippos and crocs lazing in the river or on the banks. We even saw a hippo lumbering down the middle of the road as he crossed from one lagoon to another part of the river. The river bends back on itself regularly, so if it’s first on your left, it later pops up again on your right.
We enjoyed watching small groups of elephant, though we haven’t yet determined whether their small size is because all the big ones were poached in the 1970s and 1980s, or in fact if this is a smaller forest elephant subspecies. When you’re used to Kruger-sized jumbos, it’s strange to see what looks to be a youngster with an even smaller baby in tow.
Birding was good in July too, with lots of water birds: sacred ibis, fish eagle, open bill, saddlebill, brownheaded kingfisher, yellowbilled stork, whitecrowned lapwing, hamerkop. We were also lucky enough to see a huge colony of whitefronted bee-eaters taking flight together in a multi-coloured display. I’m told, however, that the best time for birding is later in the year, when the summer migrants swell the numbers to some 400 species.
In the next post: getting there, roads, maps, GPS and other need-to-know stuff.
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