We left Malawi with heavy hearts as the friendliness of the Malawians and the majestic scenery of their homeland had provided us with the most memorable few weeks. However, as soon as we arrived at the border into Mozambique we were immediately brought back to African reality.
We passed through the Tete corridor of Mozambique and made an unwanted detour to Harare after Winchester was making some strange grinding noises. But those noises seemed to stop in time and we decided to carry on in our quest for Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands. Our first stop was Aberfoyle Lodge in the Honde Valley. The drive to Aberfolye was an interesting one, and being a Monday morning the cops were out in full force and equipped with every speed gun in Zimbabwe, they were certainly looking to get their week off to a wealthy start! With speed guns that were last produced before I was born and speed limit signs every 126 kilometers, we had no chance. After a total three of speeding fines, we finally made it to Aberfoyle Lodge. A picturesque settling nestled within the rolling hills of the highlands, which are covered in either indigenous forests or tea plantations, it makes for a beautiful sight. Aberfoyle is a birders paradise and we managed to get a number of “lifers” – including a Lesser Seedcracker – a mega tick! Playing golf at Aberfoyle was also an amazing experience, although disappointingly we bogeyed the last 2 holes for a level par 36. We played a one ball American scramble on our trip and managed to get a few 9 holes in. Armed with just a few irons, wedges and a putter, a fanny pack to hold our balls and tees, it was great to get a chance to play some golf on our adventure.
Next stop – Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. We were filled with excitement as we entered Mozambique. We had heard so much about the amazing National Park that is Gorongosa. However, we were left extremely disappointed. With the political tensions in the country we were not able to summit or even visit Mount Gorongosa and as result could not search for the elusive and highly sought after birds, such as the Green Headed Oriole, that live on the mountain and nowhere else.
The National Park itself was also a disappointment. The campsite is very average (and that’s being generous) and the fact that you cannot collect wood nor do they sell firewood makes it almost impossible to make a fire – a simple element we wouldn’t live without. And yet they do have Wi-Fi! Due to the extreme poaching that has happened in the park, the elephants there are extremely aggressive and they do not allow self-drive vehicles for this reason. We did go out for an evening drive with a guide and were very impressed with the scenery, as well as general game. This truly must have been one of the most epic places in Africa before humans arrived to mess everything up. The variety of scenery was amazing! People often talk about the Fever Tree forests in the Pafuri region of Kruger but you have not seen a Fever Tree forest until you have visited Gorongosa! So after the lack of firewood, inability to go up Mount Gorongosa to get those endemic birds, and inability to self-drive in the park, we spent just one very brief night in Gorongosa before we headed back to Zimbabwe.
We made our way directly to Seldom Seen in the Vumba Valley, a spot we knew would produce the birding goods – and it certainly did! We spent 3 nights birding with an old friend, Buluwezi, and playing golf at the majestic Leopard Rock. Craigles became a 500 man on our second day at Seldom Seen, and what better bird to do it with than the Mooi Meisie, the African Emerald Cuckoo! We certainly celebrated in style!
Our last stop in Zimbabwe would be Gonarezhou, a park we had very little knowledge of but we were eager to see some animals again after the past few weeks of not seeing too much.
Gonarezhou is a park with some of the most incredible views I have ever seen. Riverbeds, cliffs, floodplains, Baobabs, Jackalberries and serious amounts of Mopane separating these little spots of heaven.
To say the campsites of Gonarezhou are basic would be an understatement – they simply consist of a beautiful clearing with a magical view and a long drop. No water, no dustbin, nobody for tens of kilometers, no nothing. But that is what makes the park and the experience so amazing and memorable. Being on your own in the middle this pristine wilderness, listening to the sounds of the night and staring at the iridescent night sky.
From washing dishes in the river, to sundowners in the river, from listening to lions roar all night while enjoying a whiskey, to observing the magnificent view on the top of the Chilojo Cliffs while enjoying an Amarula coffee, from spotting snakes from our hammocks while reading, to chasing a Mozambican Spitting Cobra out of the campsite, Gonarezhou is a place I will never forget. It is a place where you can forget about civilization and simply enjoy the unspoiled habitat that surrounds you.
We finally arrived back in South Africa and with the grumpy and incompetent border officials we wondered why on earth we had returned, but we abruptly changed our minds when we entered our first shop and were spoilt for choice and fresh produce!
Kruger National Park is one of the most amazing spots in South Africa and having both not explored the northern parts of Kruger we thought it would be a sin not to. We meandered along the Luvuvu River enjoying the scenery and the birdlife, before heading down to Olifants where we were joined by Umkhondo, Marianda and Kate for our last night in a National Park. We spent many hours searching high and low for the Egyptian Vulture that had been seen in the area in recent times, but had no luck and resorted to having a few Klippies around the fire.
Waking up to witness the sunrise over the Olifants River was great way to spend our last morning in a National Park.
Our last stop – Finsbury – heaven on Earth! Fishing, birding, exploring, hiking and enjoying a few drinks around the fire with family and friends. There really could be no better way to end off a five and a half-month African adventure.
And what an adventure it was! Simply put – the best few months of our lives! 19 832 kms, 508 birds, 85 mammals, 8 countries and a trillion memories I will never ever forget.
Thanks for following and until next time… WILDBOYS 4 LIFE!