Kavinga Safari Camp - sensational in all seasons

Wild Zambezi • 1 December 2017

The rains came early to Mana Pools this year.  By the time we set out to spend 3 nights at Kavinga Safari Camp in the south of this beautiful Park in mid-November, more than 150mms had been recorded  in the area.

I’m afraid all the animals have gone with the rain” said Leah, our host.  “We had the lions all over the place last week, but now with all the water inland.... we’ll be lucky if we see anything at all.” “I hope you’re not going to be disappointed”, she added.

She couldn’t have been more wrong.

We had a magical, adventure-filled, sensational, green season treat at Kavinga.    The bush was bursting with exuberant new growth – an emerald carpet of lush, green, grass underfoot, vines creeping their way up the tree trunks at an almost visible rate of growth, and a thick canopy of brilliant new leaves filtering out the sun above our heads.  

Exotic arums and fireball lilies which flower only for a few days after the first rains, had burst out of the damp ground, exposing their extraordinary blooms to the bees (and our camera lenses).  The baobab trees were covered with huge, waxy, white blossoms hanging wide open for pollination by bats at night.  There were frogs and mice and beetles and crickets and scorpions busily foraging in search of insect delicacies newly-hatched with the life-giving rain.  And there were huge flocks of exquisite carmine bee-eaters lit up like jewels against the sun-drenched, rain-sculpted  sand cliffs of the Ruckomechi River in which they breed every summer.

   
And, contrary to Leah’s fears - there were elephants everywhere!   Our game-drives were filled with adrenalin-pumping encounters with skittish, trumpeting young ele bulls who decided it was great sport to expend some of their grass-fuelled energy levels on the nearest Land Cruiser full of visitors! 

Morgan, a resident older bull elephant was more sanguine in his approach.   He detached himself from his bachelor herd and sidled purposefully up to the stationary vehicle.  First he gently sniffed the radio aerial, grasped it and bent it double to test its flexibility.  When it sprang back with a twang, he calmly laid his trunk on top of the canvas roof canopy!  

He remained in that position for a minute or so, while the occupants sat rigid, their frozen faces only metres away from the tough, dark, wrinkled hide of his pungent, elephant-scented belly.    When he shifted to the front of the Land-Cruiser to sniff the bullbar and raised a foot to test it with his hefty bulk, Siraj, the Kavinga Pro-Guide drew the line.  He issued a quiet reprimand, and Morgan, clearly amused by the reaction he had provoked, sauntered idly off to join his mates.    That was one of those unforgettable elephant moments.  True Mana Magic.

But there was more to come!   Kavinga’s extensive private concession which comprises the beautiful, rugged foothills of the Zambezi escarpment, the thick riverine woodlands and sandbeds of the Ruckomechi and Chiwuye Rivers, and the mopane and baobab scrubland in between, has some extraordinary hidden treasures.  

In a  narrow river valley right up against the mountains, our guide showed us a fascinating cliff face where the exposed rock has been tortuously squeezed and  compressed into astonishing shapes embedded with beautiful, naturally-formed crystals.

What’s more, we came across a pack of seven wild dogs on two consecutive days!   Imagine!  Our own, exclusive sightings of these wonderful creatures – all to ourselves -  with NO OTHER TOURIST VEHICLE or RESEARCH CREW in sight!  NO OTHER TOUR OPERATORS disturbing the pack by bum crawling too close for their comfort!  The dogs were super relaxed, crossing the riverbed right in front of us and conveniently stopping midway for a camera pose.  Again - pure Mana Magic – without the crowds of camera-touting tourists (except us, of course!).

Kavinga Safari Camp is new – only fully opened last year.  It has an expansive central dining/sitting/bar/reception area with an upper viewing level and five spacious en-suite  “platform chalets”  - built on raised decks atop a cliff looking out over a pan and the sandy expanses of the Ruchomechi River bed beyond, where an all-year-round spring attracts animals (and their predators) from far and wide. 

The chalets are extremely practically designed, with solid outer structures forming the base for attractive tented interiors, which have every comfort you could wish for, without being pretentious.  Brilliantly designed double sliding doors with solid glass or gauze options lead from the bedroom onto a large verandah and ensure that you can control the temperature of your room  to suite your taste and keep any bugs out.  All the rooms face the sunrise, and overlook the pan, the river and the mountains.   Custom-made mosquito nets cover the extremely comfortable beds expansively and electricity and hot water are provided by solar power, with a back-up generator only when necessary.  

Tea & coffee-making facilities are provided as well as toiletries for the en-suite bathroom which houses a large shower, twin basins, toilet and plenty of wardrobe and hanging space.   We couldn’t fault the level of comfort and attention to detail.

The bar is well-stocked, and meals are home cooked with fresh ingredients, plentiful, creative and deliciously varied.  They are served either in the dining area or al fresco on the upper-level viewing deck. 

Kavinga is primarily a place for wildlife-lovers.  Daytime activities are focused on exploring the very varied habitats of the camp’s concession area either by vehicle or on foot with the attention of a knowledgeable professional guide.   During the dry season (July-Oct) you hardly need venture out of camp because the waterhole at the base of the cliff, is a magnet for all the wildlife in the area.   A cleverly-designed photographic hide built to look like a termite mound has been constructed at the water’s edge, with safe access from the camp above.  From here, the most incredible daytime or night-time close-up photographic  opportunities can be enjoyed. 

The big cats (lion and leopard) are frequent visitors, as are large herds of elephant and buffalo as well as resident antelope, including bushbuck, impala and kudu.  The baboon troupes provide day-round entertainment and there are always the birds – my favourites being the huge flocks of tiny, colourful, Lillian’s Lovebirds.

On our last evening, the camp staff had a treat in store for us.  We drove to a spot near the end of the excellent airstrip (which allows access by charter flights from anywhere else in Zimbabwe) and parked the vehicles on the edge of a very high cliff overlooking a huge bend in the Ruckomechi River. 

Out came the gin and tonics, the beer and the delicious sundowner snacks and we gazed in delight as a crimson sunset lit up the landscape and flooded the evening sky.  A herd of elephants emerged from the woodlands below to drink in water holes they had carefully excavated in the sandy riverbed.  And then someone spotted the lions!  There they were, two of them, lazily lolling about in the riverbed far below us, waiting for darkness to envelope the valley and provide the cover they need for their hunting.

It seemed that the November rains had not dispersed Kavinga’s wildlife.   They were all there - only just a little more difficult to spot amongst the extraordinarily lush green growth of summer .      

Wild Zambezi can highly recommend Kavinga Safari Camp as a fantastic wilderness experience for Mana Pools enthusiasts who would like to experience a different aspect of this wonderful National Park and World Heritage Site.   Most first-time visitors will want to see the classic Zambezi River landscapes with the floodplain “albida” trees.  But Kavinga offers something very special of its own, which is entirely different.

We have stayed at the camp in the searing heat and dust before the rains break, with huge buffalo herds kicking up the dust as they make their way to the spring to drink, with elephants jostling for space to roll in the cool mud, and a pride of lions calling between the chalets at night.  It was awesome! 

But what delighted us most of all, this time, was that it was JUST as awesome with the emerald brilliance of summer bursting from the ground and the trees, with the crisp, clarity of the air, with the dark purple backdrop of thunder-clouds forming over the mountains, and with a truly astonishing diversity of life all around.   We would have been happy with the bee-eaters, the butterflies, the beetles, the frogs and the flowers  - but the elephants, the wild dogs and the lions – well, they were just the cherry on top!

For more info and contact details: see Kavinga Safari Camp

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