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One of Africa’s last great wilderness areas

Africa

Brendan Seery

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Elephants are not afraid of water and are good swimmers.... they often cross to islands in the the Zambezi River in search of the choicest food.The handsome lilac-breasted roller.Vultures always have a sharp eye open for grub.Hoopoes use their beaks to pry insects from bark.A Wilderness Safaris' game drive vehicle in the shade of an Acacia Albida tree in the dry Little Rukomechi River.Rukomechi is the stamping ground of one of the best-known elephants in Mana, an agile bull who goes by the name of Boswell. On this occasion, it was only a young animal which disturbed the author's afternoon slumber.

 

Harare - The Zambezi River, at sunset, has a way of putting you and your insignificant human life into perspective. As the sun is swallowed by the mountains on the western side of the Zambezi Valley, a stillness falls, a transparent cloak over the flood plain.

The breeze falls to a sigh and your eyes are drawn to the inexorable flow of water. Who cares how many swimming pools-full pass before your eyes in the short time you are mesmerised. You blink and look again. It still flows strong, as it does, every second of every minute, of every hour, of every day, of every month, of every year - for millennia.

You realise you are but a brief eddy in the current of life.

Even sitting in a boat moored to the bank, sipping chilled white wine, with the accoutrements of comfortable civilisation around you, you realise that the Mana Pools National Park in northwest Zimbabwe is one of the last great African wilderness areas.

Not far away, pods of hippo grunt and splash in the shadows, while slothful crocodiles absorb the last of the late afternoon sun. In the banks of reeds, groups of elephants thrash, crash and chew as they feast on the succulent, water-fed leaves.

Further away from the bank, in the riverine thickets, lurk the predators. Lion can cover many kilometres following their prey, whether it be kudu, water buck or even buffalo - but they know that there is not much cover close to the water and that it makes sense to wait until a water-filled beast heads away from the river.

Earlier in the day, on the Wilderness Safaris’ game drive vehicle, guide Mhondogo Kamba showed us where a large eland - the biggest antelope in Africa - had been unable to escape the determined, co-ordinated attack by the local lion pack.

All that was left was a small bone or two and a solitary vulture harvesting the last scraps of sinew. He pointed out where the carcass had been dragged off further into the forest by a group of hyenas, once the lions had had their fill.

The Wilderness camp at Rukomechi is truly a magic place and, even for a company which has many memorable safari experiences across the African content, it still draws rave reviews from guests.

It’s not difficult to see why. There are just 10 tented suites (including two larger ones which cater for families) so you are not going to be crowded out by people. The tents are luxurious, but at the same time intended to have a low environmental impact and green footprint. So, don’t expect aircon - you’ll find it in some other Wilderness camps, but not here.

Each tent has a solar array, which powers the lights and fan inside the tent and there is a solar-powered geyser. There is space and old school safari elegance and comfort. From the central deck, you look out directly to the flood plain, river beyond and, in the distance, in Zambia, the mountains which form the start of the Rift Valley.

There is a central lounge, deck and eating area - inside if it is raining but out under the sky and stars most of the time.

The whole camp is located in the heart of the riverine forest, which is dominated by the tall spreading Acacia Alibdas (the ana tree) which are beloved by the elephants for the tasty pods they carry.

Rukomechi is the stamping ground of one of the best-known elephants in Mana, an agile bull who goes by the name of Boswell - presumably because he should have been in a circus due to his amazing ability to stand on his hind legs to get the highest albida pods with his trunk.

The elephants are not at all nervous about the humans in the camp (well, would you be, if you were that big?) and guests often see the pachyderms moving quickly - but almost silently - around the tents as they go about their foraging.

During the day, you have to be careful and if you are nervous the guide will escort you. But at night, an escort is mandatory. It’s a reminder - along with the bellows of lion and barking of hippos - that this is, after all, a wilderness, and people are the intruders.

The power of nature is such that, when the Zambezi floods, the camp at Rukomechi and its even smaller, more exclusive neighbour downstream, Little Rukomechi, are closed in November and re-open only in April. Often the camp must be completely cleaned up before receiving new guests.

That, for me, only adds to the appeal of the place. Concrete and glass should not be what an true African bush experience is about.

Getting to Rukomechi can seem daunting for South Africans.

You can drive in - most people go in through Plumtree from Botswana to avoid the queues at Beitbridge - and then you can branch off in the middle of the country, without having to go through the capital, Harare, towards the border settlement of Chirundu. You can drive in to Mana Pools and leave your vehicle at the national parks headquarters from where Wilderness will collect you - or you could leave your car in Chirundu and go in along the river via boat.

Wilderness also offers the option of flying in from Harare or Victoria Falls on scheduled services by light aircraft, though there are restrictions on luggage and weight.

There are those who say a day at Mana Pools is like a month in civilisation. When you eventually head home, you feel as though you have been away for ages. And you wonder about all the things you think are important back in the city.

It’s not long before you want to be back, watching the Zambezi flowing on, unstoppable.

Independent Traveller

 

If You Go...

Wilderness Safaris Ruckomechi (and Little Ruckomechi) Camp is a scenic location in the heart of the Zambezi Valley’s Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe.

Rates are from R3 900 per person per night for SADC residents, sharing on a fully inclusive basis, which includes accommodation, all meals, scheduled safari activities, laundry and local brand drinks including beer and wine, bottled water and tea/coffee.

Rates valid until June 14, 2017 (excluding peak dates). Contact [email protected] to book.

The membership programme offers unique rates.

Visit www.wilderness-residents.co.za for more information. Ts and Cs apply.

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