Hide and Seek In Hwange National Park

C. Fraser Claire

The Satisfaction of Searching From The Hides and Waterholes of Hwange National Park


Hide and Seek, Lost and Found: The Timeless Act of Safari in Hwange National Park

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Hwange National Park Quick Travel Tips | Hide and Seek In Hwange National Park: Destination Inspiration for Zimbabwe | What To Pack For a Safari To Hwange National Park |

Zimbabwe safari destination - Nyamandlovu Hide in Hwange National Park

If you love Africa, is there any word more evocative than ‘safari’? Sure, safaris come in all shapes and sizes, but every now and then we go to a place that makes the word ‘safari’ seem something of a time travelling amulet. It takes you beyond the tar, far from the reaches of city hum and stress to an Africa that defies the naming of the ages.

For me, Hwange is one such place – a landscape that seems to almost dissolve decades and gives me an idea of what safaris of old must have been like. This age defying quality does not mean the place is devoid of human touches. Hwange is a park that relies on a system of manmade waterholes, camps and concessions within the park - and cleverly positioned stayover hides.

I like to think that, upon entering, you engage in a great game of hide and seek. The ‘seek’ refers to the search for sightings in a land of famous lions and enticing waterholes. What is safari if not an act of staring into the bush in the hopes that something will stare back? I always say that my second favourite thing after finding lions is looking for them. The simple act of searching takes place against some incredibly scenic backdrops in this extraordinary diversity of landscapes at Hwange National Park.

On top of this, there are hides aplenty. If the hide and seek of safari is a little bit of childhood we never lose, spending the night in a hide is dreams conjured up in blanket forts made real. Designed for camping and self-drive safaris, the hides in Hwange National Park offer different facilities for a night or two in the wild. →


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Zimbabwe safari destination inspiration - Masuma Hide in Hwange National Park

Hides and Hideaways
While there may be a bit of traffic between the hides during the day in Hwange National Park, by night, they become private hideaways. Childhood dreamscapes look a little something like this - a private patch from which to view wild Africa.

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Zimbabwe safari destination inspiration - buffalo at Sinamatella, Hwange National Park

In the west, the hides at Mandavu, Deteema, Shumba, and Masuma, for example, are all on water, with short fences, camp attendants, and bathroom and kitchen facilities. You also get the chance to camp in the picnic sites or at the selection of hides – some of which are unfenced and unattended. The mystique of overnighting at a hide is quite powerful in Hwange, with The Hide Safari Camp taking this idea to a new level with a luxury safari offering based on the architecture of a hide.

We started our Hwange safari in the west at Sinamatella. Perched on the edge of a koppie overlooking enormous plains, this is the hide and seek of space and distance. To me, this is surely one of the most tremendous views in Africa. We arrived in scorching heat to see the plains below alive with a herd of around 500 buffalo – a murmuration of black spots extending across the grassland in front of us. We later heard that this was merely a splinter herd, with the different groups uniting in a mega herd of more than 1300 of these watchful, snorting beasts.

This rocky terrain, dotted with sharp mopani, hints at why the park was established in the first place. The land has its origins as a wilderness area that was devoid of any permanent water sources. With the coming of the railway, so some of the land became privately owned and farmed. This land was royal hunting ground for the Ndebele king. A trickle of early explorers and hunters; the gentle, transient trails of the San – these people were all this land had seen. The park was set up to conserve dwindling wildlife species through intensive management, involving the establishment of permanent water supplies through the park. →




Zimbabwe safari destination inspiration - lion and giraffe in Hwange National Park

The Pace Of The Days On Safari
Early morning drives on safari are like bonus life - especially when you're rewarded with sightings like these. The first rule of safari is 'don't run' - and that speaks to safety and the pace of the days when taking in these special, preserved spaces.

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We explored right to the park’s edges, watching elephants move between rocks and baobabs on mountainsides. Buffalo took us in with raised chins, through the corners of their eyes. We followed steaming, fresh lion tracks until the sand ran out and the rock consumed any sign of life. We toyed with the ideas of the hides we’d like to visit as we watched antelope drink at Masuma, alongside their technicoloured reflections in the water. We shuffled and reshuffled our favourites from the elephant herds at Deteema to the blustery plains of buffalo at Shumba. We heard stories of famous Kapula lions and lived stories of high-speed hippo chases at Mandavu.

On our final evening, we climbed the koppie that is the Bumbusi road – a fresh elevation from which to seek and, as it turns out, get a little bit lost. We went up and up and up, heaving the car over rocks, until the path became ill used and daylight started to dwindle. Our guide back to camp was more elephant trail than road and the rush was punctuated with occasional tree removals from the track. We made it back to camp just before the gate closed, recounting stories of our adventure around the fire that night.

From Sinamatella, we made the great migration east to Main Camp. This was a bumpy transit, the earth reclaiming the road in a fit of corrugations. We were staying outside the park in a camp called Silwane – camped in the acacia grove in front of a waterhole that attracted hundreds of elephant and buffalo during our stay. This is a wonderful place to experience Zimbabwean friendliness and the vision of wildlife areas beyond the park boundary in action. This was an easy base for daily all-day drives into the park in an area that is starkly different to the area around Sinamatella. I recognised the names of Hwange lions guiding the way to the tents in the lodge area. In seeking, this was a surprise in the familiar. →

Zimbabwe safari destinations - ruins on the road to Bumbusi, Hwange National Park


Elephants drank with bendy-strawed trunks at a pan between the palms and then walked into the distance. Even these monumental animals were given a masterclass in height and scale by these trees.
Zimbabwe safari destinations - buffalo at Shumba waterhole, Hwange National Park

Escaping the Masses
Big herds of buffalo always make for incredible sightings on safari. While many go on safari to escape the rush and crowds, there's something about wildlife in big numbers that is a luxury in modern times. The buffalo herd almost seems to take on a singularity - an organism that moves through the world under a ceiling of dust, with those on the edge like a wild, watchful cell wall.

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Zimbabwe safari destinations - young male lion in Hwange National Park

Earlier this year, I re-read ‘Lion Hearted’ by Andrew Loveridge – an incredibly insightful book on Hwange’s lions and the challenges to lion conservation and the intricate pride structures of these magnificent creatures. As the researcher studying Cecil the Lion, this book is highly recommended for a balanced and scientific account of the lives of lions in a place where our lion encounters may be fleeting but their existence is critical. If safari is the greatest game of hide and seek, all is lost without a balance of species that so importantly includes lions.

On our first morning drive, great grassy, golden plains gave us our first glimpse of lions – adorned in the blood of an elephant kill we had heard was attracting them on the other side of the railway. We were fortunate enough to see them again later on. This time, they were in the presence of a great blonde-maned male – at a sighting that is symbolic of the patience of fatherhood. As the shade of a stubby bush diminished, so his young son and lionesses piled on and around him. He good-naturedly took it for a time, until he decided the distant acacias would be a better source of cool and peace.

We were lucky enough to meet the friendly guides from The Hide and African Bushcamps’ Somalisa Camp who took an interest in our sightings and pointed us in the direction of some of theirs. The energy of shared sightings and smiles is something I will remember whenever I think back on our time at Hwange National Park – touchpoints that were a reminder of our collective seeking. →

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Zimbabwe safari destinations - game viewer drinks stop in Hwange National Park

Stop and Take It In - With Drinks
Game driving in Hwange National Park is fantastic, but the moments between drives are a quiet chance to take in the beauty of the setting. The horizon was often fringed with exquisite groves of camelthorn trees. Passing into the understory of these trees was like travelling through a portal, with light transformed through veil of the leaves into blue, haloed shadow flecked with sunlight. We saw elephants pass through, trunks past trunks in a library hush that is almost hard to believe.

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Crowded around a termite mound near Ngweshla, we saw a splinter pride of 13 lions shifting position in time to the shade. We heard that this was the territory of a super-pride of 25 lions with three dominant males. With so many lions, it almost came as a surprise to find no sign of them on returning the next day – the memory of them etched into the termite mound they had occupied the day before.

On local advice on where to go for a short drive near Silwane, we were directed to Mbiza. “Follow the railway and turn right at the palm tree. There are lots of palms and a good chance of seeing Dickinson’s kestrel.” As we approached, palms as far as the eye could see stretched into the park.

This is a place seen from the Rovos Rail train on its route to and from Victoria Falls, but this is almost certainly a 2-dimensional view. As we turned on to the plain, it felt like we had driven into the diamond, taking in the facets from within. We were dwarfed by palms – and they were dwarfed by distance, enclosing the space behind us as we drove until we were encircled by palms. Elephants drank with bendy-strawed trunks at a pan between the palms and then walked into the distance. Even these monumental animals were given a masterclass in height and scale by these trees.

The heat and wind of this summer afternoon played games of light and shadow. The wind through the palm leaves hummed a cathedral chant in one of my life’s most moving moments – there on the edge of a park in Zimbabwe. We are motes of dust indeed. It is here, between Hwange’s great trees, moving through her plains and terrains, that you can find out something new about yourself in this great game of hide and seek. →

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Zimbabwe safari destinations - elephant in Hwange National Park


Zimbabwe safari destinations - palms at Mbiza, Hwange National Park

Life In 3D
Writing this story long after our return home, I am struck by the power of my recollection of the palms at Mbiza. Driving through great, stretching plains of palms, and seeing them carry on into the distance, made this a safari of scale in a very special way - like exploring the facets of a diamond.

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HOW TO PREPARE AND WHAT TO PACK FOR A SAFARI TO HWANGE NATIONAL PARK

Pack your bags for your Zimbabwe safari to Hwange National Park with top tips from the safari packing experts. What you wear on safari works to keep you comfortable, stylish, and protected from the sun and insects - so you can relax and enjoy every minute of your African adventures. Fill your bags with the safari essentials by following our in-depth Hwange safari packing advice and get quick tips for travellers to Hwange National Park. Want to simplify safari packing? Download your comprehensive safari packing list with our comprehensive safari packing tool.

Zimbabwe safari destinations - hippo at Mandavu Dam, Hwange National Park

Grunts From Golden Waters
The great dam at Mandavu is an oasis amidst the dry and rocky terrain that surrounds it. At golden hour, the grunts and snorted fountain breath of hippos mingle with the thrown dust baths of well-watered elephants and our whispered hopes to see lions.

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Zimbabwe safari destinations - giraffe and calves, Hwange National Park

A Safari For The Ages
Something about the setting makes for exciting sightings - great and small - and an unmistakable sense of new life in a wild pocket of Africa.

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Zimbabwe safari destinations - impala at Masuma waterhole, Hwange National Park

Seeing Double
An hour at Masuma was a chance to watch impala and other wildlife walk single file down to the water to drink. They were skittish in the wind, flitting away from the water and tentatively returning - a dance to a silent rhythm.

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Zimbabwe safari destinations - elephant calf at Silwane Camp, Hwange National Park

Technicoloured Childhood
From the Acacia Grove Campsite at Silwane on the open border with Hwange National Park, we were given a daily visit by herds of elephant. Hwange is a wonderful place to see elephants doing every conceivable elephant thing: the loping swagger of bulls on the move to water, tiny miniature babies being dribbled between the feet of the herd, matriarchs issuing a potent head-shaking warning, and teenagers asserting the size they will one day assume. Every evening, elephants would make their way to the waterhole in front of camp - a susurrus through the grass and sand. From here, we'd watch their antics up close and in full colour until they disappeared into distance or darkness.

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Hwange Links:
Hwange National Park Quick Travel Tips | Hide and Seek In Hwange National Park: Destination Inspiration for Zimbabwe | What To Pack For a Safari To Hwange National Park |




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