Swimuwini Rest Camp

Night surprise!

At night, returning to our bungalow at Swimuwini after a hot shower I took a detour to investigate what looked like a small pond. From a distance I shone my torch in the general area and I froze in my tracks. There was a crocodile there!

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Without moving I maintained the light on the reptile’s head -all I could see- and I not only saw it moving but also its eyes shone under the torch’s light! “This is amazing” I thought while watching the beast. I dropped my towel and other shower implements and slowly approached the pond in the dark until I estimated to be close enough to have a good view. Then I switched on my torch again.

To my relief it was a false alarm but a clever ruse nevertheless! Someone had somehow placed a tree trunk semi-submerged in the pond with the intention of making it look like a croc. Whoever he/she was succeeded with me! The movement and shiny eyes were not fiction as the head was a resting place for a bunch of toads [1] that were using the wooden croc as their resting place!

 

I returned to the bungalow and the following morning I came back to the pond for a better look.

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During the day the trunk was more obvious but less so when the toads were on it adding some greenish colour and movement to it!

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Luckily it was a wooden croc but it was nice as it offered a good opprtunity to see the toad’s interaction and to take some nice pictures of the batracian colony.

 

[1] From Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frog). “The use of the common names “frog” and “toad” has no taxonomic justification. From a classification perspective, all members of the order Anura are frogs, but only members of the family Bufonidae are considered “true toads”. The use of the term “frog” in common names usually refers to species that are aquatic or semi-aquatic and have smooth, moist skins; the term “toad” generally refers to species that are terrestrial with dry, warty skins”.

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Gonarezhou three years later. Southern area

After our accidented Chipinda Pools stay, we got to Mabalauta in mid afternoon. By that time we were already famous, expected and treated like VIPs (or silly old folk?)!

A booking was indeed ready for us at the reception but, on arrival to the Swimuwini camp itself we noted that our favourite bungalow was available. Negotiations follow as it was more expensive and finally, through an additional payment, we secured it.

Not only the bungalow was comfortable but it was beautiful. It had a great view of the vast expanse of the Mwenezi River below and it also had its own “resident” baobab next to its entrance.

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Our bungalow by the river and the views from it, below.

It even had the added and valuable bonus of a bush cellular phone signal! We have learnt that cellphone signals are often found at weird places such as under the third marula tree facing the river or by placing your phone inside a cut out shampoo container hanging on the pole holding the entrance gate of a camp! In this case, the signal was obtained in the center of the backrest of the middle veranda armchair and, capriciously, nowhere else! So we were connected.

Fungisai, the camp attendant we knew from the last time, was still there as helpful as usual. This time she sported a bigger smile and she was very happy with the new park management as they were getting things done fast and their salaries were now being paid in time. There was a busy atmosphere around camp with the garden being refurbished and the various bungalows re-built. A look at the ablution block’s brass fittings’ condition further testified to the staff willingness to get on with the work!

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Taking good care of the brass fittings!

This time we had electricity and hot water at the ablutions block provided by a donkey boiler (also known as a Tanganyika boiler in East Africa) that worked great but that will soon be replaced by solar heaters. After enjoying its abundant hot water, we agreed with my wife that there are no better showers than these albeit their environmental friendship can be argued!

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The donkey full blast.

Swimuwini (Place of baobabs) is one of the nicest national park camps we have ever stayed. It is not only small and beautiful but not many people stay there. For the first two nights we were alone and only then one more family arrived the third night. I believe that this will soon change when the on-going refurbishing work gets completed.

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We spent some time exploring the camp admiring its plant and animal life. There are four bungalows that come with their own baobabs and a super tree is located at the staff village. In addition, the camp is splashed with impala lilies (desert roses in East Africa) that come in all shapes and sizes and are incredibly beautiful.

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Another special of Swimuwini is the herd of Nyala (Tragelaphus angasii) that daily walks through the camp grazing and browsing on their way to and from the Mwenezi river. We remembered a rather large male from our previous visit but now, apart from it, there are at least two more young males and about ten females and young. They are tolerant of humans so we could approach them on foot and take a few pictures before they disappeared in the thicket behind the camp.

We drove many km carefully looking for game (we all know that my wife can spot anything that is there!). Impala were plentiful again but no Greater kudus were seen. A herd of about a dozen giraffe kept a prudent distance and they were seen mainly drinking in the distance down at the Mwenezi river (see above). This time we only heard jackals but did not see them but spotted three young hyenas walking around camp.

We saw a few elephant bottoms crushing through the brush and, eventually, caught a glimpse of two at the Nyamugwe pan. The sighting lasted for a minute perhaps and they were off! Clearly, despite the new management, it will still take time for the elephants to tolerate humans as it is clearly spelled at the sign that is found in Wright’s tower down the Mwenezi river, close to Malipati.

 

DSCN0225 wright tower Gon Aug 17 copyThe camp offered further entertainment in the evening as the baobab crumples were the home of bats that would come out and hunt for insects under our veranda light.

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The first night the camera trap -a great new addition to our safari gear- pictured a genet looking for left overs around our bungalow. In the camera we saw that it had started visiting our place between 19:30 and 20:00 hours so we decided to wait for it during the second night. We were immediately rewarded with several visits and a few (bad) pictures!

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Albeit small, the Mabalauta section of Gonarezhou offers a nice drive along the river where a few river pools can be visited. Rossi pools offer a great view of the river where patience is rewarded with the arrival of different animals to the water. While you wait you will find entertainment counting the crocodiles either swimming or basking under the sun and, when the wind stops and the ripples settle, tilapia shoals can be easily seen moving about in the shallows while tiger fish patrol the deeper green pools in search of prey and the occasional terrapin surfaces to take a lungful.

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Rossi pools.

A couple of kilometres further down the river the rather ugly Wright’s tower offers another nice view of the river. Searching for the origins of the tower I learnt that Allan Wright was a District Commissioner that was largely responsible for the establishment of the Gonarezhou National Park in 1975 so he probably built the tower [1].

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It was also in this general area that S.C. ‘Bvekenya’ Barnard, the notorious hunter and poacher roamed during the early 1900’s avoiding the police by moving to different countries around Crook’s corner the point where the borders of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe converge. Bvekenya’s errands have been immortalized by T.V. Bulpin in his book “The Ivory Trail”.

But that is a different story.

 

[1] Allan Wright described his time in Nuanetsi District in his books Valley of the Ironwoods. A Personal Record of Ten Years Served as District Commissioner in Rhodesia Largest Administrative Area, Nuanetsi, in the South-Eastern Lowveld (1972) and Grey Ghosts at Buffalo Bend (1976) both now out of print.

 

 

Gonarezhou National Park Safari Diary – Day 1

We are back and trying to catch up with all issues left on departure and the new material!

I will be writing and posting information as it becomes available and cleared by my Senior Editor.

I start with reports on the time spent at Gonarezhou in a diary form and then a few entries on Kruger National Park.

Please note that I could not post before as there were technological challenges that, in the absence of my son I could not solve!

 

The first view on arrival at Swimiwini Rest Camp.

The first evening view of the Mwenezi river on arrival at Swimuwini Rest Camp.

26/7/14 – Harare to Mabalauta

We left Harare at 07:30 hs and drove through Masvingo to the turn off at Rutenga. As it was a Saturday the traffic was light, and the lack of lorries to and from South Africa was particularly welcome! The road from Rutenga to Mabalauta was rough but it did not offer any specific difficulties apart from the dust. Fortunately it was just a question of leaving it behind as there were no cars in sight for the entire journey and very few people on the road. Obviously, there is not much traffic going through to Mozambique via Sango!

We got to the Chipinda Pools junction at 15:00 hs, after 86 km. At this point you can branch off to the northern area of the park, which is larger and better known by us. So we drove on and, after a further 32 km we turned into the Mabalauta entrance road to the right, leaving the road which would have taken us to the Mozambican border about 20 km further on.

We got to Mabalauta at about 16.00hs to check in. At this point we were casually informed that Swimuwini Rest Camp, our destination, had no electricity as the power line had been cut a couple of days earlier. Now, if you have had the mixed pleasure of being with us on safari you should know that good food is normally an important part of the deal. As this usually involves cooking, the absence of electricity was a blow to my wife, the Chef (in haste I add that this title only applies in the kitchen territory…). A potentially major culinary crisis was in the making as she was highly displeased.

The issue wasn’t the lack of electricity, but rather the fact that we had not been forewarned in order to adjust the menus! The staff, seeing the unfolding drama, added that there was firewood and that everybody cooked on the fire! The Chef just looked on… Trying to defuse the bomb I changed the subject asking about game occurrence, trees, plants and flowers but only partially succeeded. In hindsight, I probably did more damage than good when I mentioned that hot water may not be available either! Another fulminant look came my way.

Again, the staff came to my rescue stating that the firewood would be free and that there would be assistance available. As for hot water, it was true that the chalet would not have any but we could shower at the ablution blocks which was supplied with hot water by a Tanganyika boiler. We moved on, taking part of the crisis with us!

By the time we got to the rest camp things were better as plan B was developed and whatever remaining crisis residue there still was dissipated on arrival, as the view of the camp was beautiful. Its nine bungalows were nestled on high ground and three or four of the chalets had their private -and very large- baobab tree. As if this were not enough, the place had an abundance of desert roses that happened to be in full bloom, marvelous pink brush strokes in the otherwise brown landscape.

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A few chalets come with “baobab en suite”

The chalets were well equiped and the ones at the front had a magnificent view over the sandy Mwenezi river that runs in front of the camp. Several water channels were still running, cutting through the sandy banks. There were reeds where the water was more permanent with abundant water bird life and fish along with noticeable frog activity (quite vocal at night).

We were the only guests. Nyala was the name of our house and, although it did not come with its baobab tree, it overlooked the river with an ideal overhang for watching the action in the sand, about three metres below. And action there was but closer to home! As the Chef was inspecting the fire cooking facilities and taking control of the situation, a loud crashing noise came from the river, followed by a rather large animal that avoided her at the last possible second and bounded away. Recovery of her wits took a while (we have learnt that this time increases with age!) and, despite the shake she was still able to identify a Nyala derriere that, judging by its dark hue, was a male of the species. It was a narrow miss and we then understood the reason for the name of our chalet! It was a relief that there were no casualties and that there was no need to change the chalet’s name in my wife’s memory!

The male Nyala resident at the rest camp.

The male Nyala resident at the rest camp.

The Tanganyika boilers were glowing and beckoned us to the shower place after sunset. Despite the blaze and to our great disappointment, only a lukewarm trickle came out of the showers so we abandoned the project. The following morning we learnt that rather than a technological hitch it was human error: someone had forgotten to open the mains water tap!

Apart from the male nyala that hung around the camp looking for protection, we saw some impala, baboons and warthogs. They all seemed to come in XXL sizes. To end the evening, a small bat landed on my wife’s shoulder while she was coming back into the house and it refused to move until it was persuaded to climb on a towel and allowed to fly off. Bats have great difficulties taking off from the ground and need to climb to the appropriate height and then launch themselves from that height in order to become airborne!

The bat on my wife's shoulder.

The bat on my wife’s shoulder.

A final look around revealed that the right rear tire appeared to be a bit deflated but we agreed that not much could be done until the morrow so we went to bed, dusty and “shower less”. The latter is my preferred option on safari as I am a morning shower person. The Chef was not at all amused though…