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Hwange National Park

Somalisa Camp - off the beaten path in Zimbabwe

Gill Staden, eTN  Jul 07, 2010

Somalisa Camp is in the southeast of Hwange National Park, off the main beaten path and in an area where the wildlife was said to be exceptional. There are several other private camps in this section of Hwange, and they all have their own concessions.

We had stayed the previous night at Hwange Safari Lodge, so we arrived at Main Camp, Hwange, by around 9:00 am to meet Dardley from Somalisa. He told us to drive ahead and he would see us at the lodge – we couldn’t get lost, he said. And we didn’t.

The drive takes a southern turn just outside of Main Camp and heads through a teak forest, arriving at Makwa Pans after 15 km. We found some game scouts walking through the bush – they told us they were patroling for poachers but had found no signs of any.

We continued on to Kennedy 1 & 2 waterholes seeing a bit of game – giraffe, ele, kudu, warthog. Finally we took a turning into the Somalisa Concession on a sand road, which took us to the camp.

The camp is set in a grove of acacia trees (camel thorn), overlooking a waterhole. It is a tented camp with 6 tents and a main marquee for dining and lounging. In front of the marquee there are a couple of decks, one of which was half way round a plunge pool - the far side looked a bit trashed and had been filled with rocks. What was this all about, I wondered. I soon found out.

In the distance I noticed four bull elephants walking through the grass towards the camp. They came straight to the plunge pool and started to drink. The elephants had decided the pool was theirs, and it is impossible to argue. That is one thing about elephants – they like clean water, disliking the muddy water in the pans after they had churned it up. Throughout Hwange we found that the eles used the pans for a bath but came to a source of clean water to drink.

Also at Somalisa were three Americans who had taken a week out from the World Cup in South Africa to go on safari. They had been brought to Somalisa by Humphrey Gumpo who runs a company called Tailormade Safaris. They were having a great time in Zimbabwe having toured Matopos, now Hwange, and would end their safari in Victoria Falls Town. Tailormade Safaris does exactly what its name implies and makes up safaris according to the wants of the clients. Humphrey certainly knew his bush and was excellent at guiding and entertaining.

Meanwhile Josh and I had Dardley for company. Dardley guides and manages Somalisa Camp. His knowledge of the bush was unbeatable and he loved it, too, which showed. After being "in exile" in Botswana, working for Wilderness Safaris for many years, he had decided to come home to Zim and was happy that he had decided to do so. He didn’t care about the towns, hated queues and TV, and just wanting to be in the bush.

Henrietta, the hostess, had only been at Somalisa for a couple of months having been a city girl in Bulawayo. She loved it, too, and had already made friends with all the birds who came down for breakfast.

The tents at Somalisa are spread out along the treeline, and at night, we had to be escorted to our tent – with no fences the wildlife was free to roam throughout the camp. This included elephant, hyena, and lion. One morning after my shower, I emerged from my tent to find three large bull elephants standing nearby. I retreated to my tent and waited for them to pass. It is their space, after all. I was merely a visitor.

We spent several hours watching the eles as they came down to drink at Somalisa’s pool. One of them, obviously tired of carrying around his trunk, curled it around and rested it on his tusks and stood like that for some time just watching us... as we watched him.

Our two days at Somalisa were spent touring the park all wrapped up in layers of jumpers, scarves, and ponchos. It was so cold – Dardley showed us trees which had been frosted a few days before our arrival.

Fortunately for us, the food was excellent, and we ate heartily to keep us warm. And, at the end of the day, our beds were warmed with hot water bottles. Such luxury!

Somalisa Camp - off the beaten path in Zimbabwe
Photo by Gill Staden

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