Pumping legs for Water at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park
(eTN) - The Hwange National Park (formerly Wankie Game Reserve) is the largest game reserve in Zimbabwe.
(eTN) – The Hwange National Park (formerly Wankie Game Reserve) is the largest game reserve in Zimbabwe. The park lies in the west, on the main road between Bulawayo and the widely noted Victoria Falls and near to Dete.
Pumping Legs for Water 2013 started off with several riders undertaking to ride from Bulawayo to Hwange the day before official proceedings. Congratulations to those who rode all the way either in their relay teams or individually and well done to their respective back up teams.
July in the park is one of the better times to visit. There are some natural pans still holding a bit of water, the pumped pans bumble along, the bush has died down some so viewing is easier, colors in the bush are stunning with the trees and bushes out in their winter coats, there is still sufficient browse and grazing, the landscape is not yet lunar-like, the animals don’t yet have a desperate air about them and the sun rises and sun sets are unimpeded by dust and smoke from veld fires.
After registration of all the riders and the usual briefing on Thursday evening, the Waterbucks Head was soon abandoned as everyone took to their beds. However, all was not quite quiet as Colin, Adele and Gael, having finished their dinner, strolled over to their vehicle only to be confronted by an enormous ellie, who, having just shaken an erioloba tree with mighty force, showering Colin’s vehicle with pods, proceeded to calmly vacuum up the pods quite unconcerned about the three humans wanting to escape! By six fifteen on the chilly Friday morning, Waterbucks Head was again beginning to bustle as riders and organizers started arriving for coffee or tea and their egg and bacon rolls. Being in charge of the half way watering points, we left the gate at six thirty and at Makwa watched as four daggaboys plodded into the pan for an early morning drink. Further along the way, near Kennedy One, we disturbed a cheetah on a kudu kill. The animal streaked away, closely pursued by a spotted hyena but when we went back to look at the kill, we could just make out a second cheetah slinking away in the bush on one side of the road while another spotted hyena was obviously waiting to dash in to rob the kill.
The Kennedy One water point was a welcome break for the riders who, unknowingly, still had a tough ride ahead of them. Unfortunately, since the reconnoiter team had driven the route, part of the road between Kennedy Two and Ngweshla had been recently graded so the riders had another sticky parch of sand to contend with, making it pretty tough and tiring going, particularly at the end of the day’s ride. We believe the break at Ngweshla went well and some of the participants were lucky enough to see gemsbok amongst a small herd of sable. When we got back to Main Camp after being down to Guvelala there were several “happy” folks enjoying their relaxing time. On Friday evening, most gathered back at Waterbucks Head to listen to Brent Staplekamp who is with the Lion Research team. He gave us a very informative and interesting talk on just a small part of what they are trying to achieve with the lion population in Hwange, mainly on how they are working with the communities on the boundaries and what they are doing to try and chase marauding lions back into the park.
Early Saturday morning was a ditto of Friday morning, with folks gathering again early for breakfast. We headed off as soon as the gates were open and the ride for that day was down to Guvelala and back with our water point at the platform before the turn around. As the second group of riders prepared for their start, they were temporarily delayed by a pack of wild dog chasing after a hapless kudu through the Main Camp lodge area! It was, apparently, quite spectacular as they watched the dogs racing up and down the fence trying to get at the young kudu that had jumped the fence. The third group of riders then actually witnessed the dogs take down the kudu just near the administration offices. All that was left was a bit of skull and four hooves which all disappeared overnight. What a lot of excitement! The only other “kill” that was observed that day was a poor frog who’s back leg was clamped firmly in the jaws of a variegated bush snake underneath the eaves of the Guvelala platform. Whether or not the snake won, we will never know as both creatures disappeared into the roof.
On Saturday evening everyone gathered for the prize giving and final speeches and to enjoy the braai that had been laid on by Waterbucks Head. Amongst other awards, a ride medal was presented to a delighted Lonely, the waiter. The story goes that a bicycle had been given to the Main Camp community after last year’s event, on condition that one of the staff ride in this year’s ride. Well, Lonely the waiter was the designated rider! The first day of the ride he’d actually ridden in his waiter’s outfit of white shirt, black trousers and highly polished black shoes. Fortunately, by the second day, he’d been kitted out with a PLW T shirt and various other passed on bits of clothing more suited to bike riding. Lonely was on duty first thing each morning and was back waiting tables as soon as each day’s ride was over – with a huge smile on his face! Well done, Lonely.
Well done, indeed, to all the riders who rode in the spirit of the ride and who raised the much needed funds. Some riders brought in significant sponsorship which is very much appreciated – thank you. Although the number of riders was down this year – 61 riders in all – we are hopeful that once again a significant amount has been raised for the water project. We anticipate another hard dry season and every dollar is precious. Of course, an event of this nature could not take place without all the wonderful sponsors, all of whom will be contacted individually but a HUGE thank you to you all. Thank yous go to the Parks staff and the staff and chef of Waterbucks Head as well and to all the support teams. A BIG and special thank you though must go to the main organizers – Adele, Colin, Mark and Colin. Well done you guys.
On Sunday morning several riders took the optional extra of a leisurely ride from Main Camp to Safari Lodge and back, while we set off down to Ngweshla for the morning. We came across a herd of about 700 buffalo in the vlei between K1 and K2 – quite a sight! At Ngweshla we saw plenty of animals – elephant, wildebeest, roan, giraffe, zebra, sable, hippo, kudu, impala and waterbuck. In the afternoon we had a quick visit to Caterpillar but apart from some elephant and a naughty tag team of baboon teenagers playing around on the corrugated iron roof of the pump attendant’s hut, there was nothing else around. On Monday morning, before departing the park, we had a quick drive to Ngwenya pan and were lucky enough to come across a mother cheetah and her three grown cubs – these animals having been seen fairly regularly around the place. Beautiful animals. At Ngwenya we were visited by a stately old elephant and three, rather skittish kudu bulls before heading back to Main Camp and then home.
Grateful thanks to all who made this year’s ride the success it was.
John and Jenny Brebner