This leg of the trip is all about seeing the ‘big five’: elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and water buffalo.
The transfer to Hwange game park takes most of the morning. There is free seating on the plane – so as soon as it appears, we all line up in the sun; the locals cannot believe their eyes. We are met at our destination by the Sikumi guides, who look like they should still be in school – but really know their stuff. Sikumi Tree Lodge has individual tree houses, complete with running water, a flushing loo, carpet, mosquito nets – and resident lizards. There is also a communal eating area and a campfire – but no fence to keep out the animals. In the mornings, we try to ignore the paw prints around the base of our tree.
We set out on our first game drive in the early evening and see loads of animals, but no big cats. However, we finally get to see an elephant or 50! It seems facile to say this, but they really are big – especially close up. Their behaviour at the water hole is disgraceful; attempting to chase everything else away. The giraffes and antelopes give in gracefully, but the crocs need more persuasion. One small elephant even tries to stamp on a hippo’s head – but is ignored! Sunset is magnificent and we drive home in the dark, using the spotlight to search for leopard. Total body count is one owl and a wild cat.
The morning game drive starts at 05:30 after tea at the campfire. Despite warnings, which we have chosen not to believe, the cold is a shock – especially after getting out of the shower. We don’t see many elephants, but we glimpse a rhino in the distance, and have a close-up encounter with our first wild lion. It is much more impressive than the caged ones, even with a broken paw, especially when it roars and pounces at one of the other vehicles.
Most of the day is spent reading and soaking up the sun before joining a group taken out by Aubrey and Ceta Pakenham, owners of Sikumi. We learn all about dung beetles and the sexual habits of various animal species. Sunset is even more incredible than the day before, and is not marred by the overabundance of Land Rovers and a lack of leopards. We finish the day at the campfire, discussing the merits or otherwise of culling elephants.
Another wonderful day of game drives, this time with guide Ian, who prefers the Sikumi estate to Hwange; we visit areas devoid of other vehicles, without the continual crackle of walkie-talkie radios alerting the guides to every sighting. At night we visit a distant waterhole where more than 60 elephants, of all ages, come to drink at one time. The lone giraffe and single water buffalo don’t stand a chance. We see two lions in the distance too intent on eating to pay attention to us – and in the last ten minutes of our last drive, we finally see a leopard. Our mission is complete!
Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.
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