South Africa + Zimbabwe
Earlier this month I closed my laptop, packed a suitcase, and left my everyday balancing act for South Africa and Zimbabwe for another safari trip. I thought it would be nice to share with you some of the pictures that Zak and I took over the days we were there, and also tell you a little bit about what we got up to.
As you guys may know if you've watched my previous South Africa vlogs, when I was ten years old my mum and stepdad took me to Mala Mala Game Reserve, and it was love at first sight. I'm always hesitant to describe anything as 'magical', but for little me it really was magical watching these animals in their natural habitat and going about their daily business. Because Mala Mala is a private reserve that borders Kruger National Park (there being no physical boundary, though), the animals are well accustomed to the vehicles and you can get quite close to them, and there's a lot of them. I immediately wanted to go back, but it took the family eleven years to make the return trip, this time with my little sister in tow who was now old enough to go on the safari drives. That was in October 2015, and I swiftly followed it up with another trip in June 2016 with Zak as a joint birthday present (best present ever!) You can watch all of these vlogs over on my vlog channel here. This time I got to go with both my family and Zak, and also go to another lodge in Zimbabwe as well. I've already started a little fund to go back as soon as I can. I feel incredibly lucky to have gone as much as I have, and while it may seem a little crazy to some to keep going on a holiday which is ostensibly quite similar to the last, every time I go I see completely new things. This time around, I saw Cape Hunting dogs, which are a rare sight seeing as they're endangered animals.
At MM, you get up early (this time of year it's around 5:30), meet with your ranger who will be driving your vehicle and spotting the animals at 6, and head out for a few hours. They're pretty flexible about basically everything, so if you want to be out all day you can (me next time I go…), but you usually then head back for a full breakfast, rest, have lunch, get ready, and then head out for another drive in the afternoon. Even though the routine is pretty intense for a holiday, I find it an incredibly relaxing and peaceful experience. The WiFi is slow (that's what you get for being out in the bush), and you're out in the Land Rover for hours and hours at a time. Of course, watching the animals is always a highlight, but no matter what I see I always just enjoy being out driving around and taking it all in. Between drives I generally napped (if you're up late chatting and drinking you'll need this nap!) and read my book. There was really nowhere better I could have gone after such a busy few months to recharge and slow down. I had planned to take some outfit pictures for the blog or maybe even video of outfits, but as soon as we got there and I wanted to be out as much as possible, I realised this would be quite difficult with the routine of it all, so I'm sorry about that guys. It did help to have a proper break too, I can't remember the last time I felt so relaxed!
Like I said, we saw two packs of hunting dogs; I'd resigned myself to not seeing them this trip just because of how keen I was about it and how many people I'd said it to, but amazingly we saw them on two separate days. We saw countless lions (I think about six prides), and for this reason I think the leopards were a little more difficult to find (they tend to be wary of lions, especially as there were so many around), but we still saw quite a few by the end of our four nights. One of my favourite sightings this trip was a young mother leopard and a juvenile of a few months. We followed them for around forty minutes, as they played with each other and cleaned each other. As our ranger said, it's pretty rare to see two leopards socialising like that (jumping out of the reeds trying to surprise one another was especially great) because they are such solitary animals.
After four nights we headed to Zimbabwe, to a lodge on the edge of Gonarezhou National Park called Chilo Gorge. Obviously there was a huge political overhaul in Zimbabwe at the end of last year, and after visiting I'm hoping more than ever that its prospects will improve, including its tourism, because from what I've seen so far (and I'll be back!), it is an incredibly beautiful country. Gonarezhou is a little bit of an unusual choice in terms of Zimbabwe, and it is often overlooked for Victoria Falls and Hwange, but it was completely stunning and untouristy. Because it’s a national park and not a private reserve, the vehicles we were in couldn't go off-road to follow animals, or do night drives, meaning we saw fewer animals (no predators), but we actually saw a lot more than I was expecting. All the different kinds of antelope, warthogs aplenty, zebra, crocodiles, hippos, elephants. I'm hesitant to say that the animals were 'wilder' because the animals at Mala Mala are certainly wild, but because of the much lighter tourist traffic in the area, they were less accustomed to the vehicles, meaning we got charged by elephants a few times. Our guide had grown up in the nearby village, and we were completely safe with him at all times, but my pathetic little self found that aspect a little more anxiety-inducing. The landscape is a lot more dramatic than at Mala Mala, and so even though we saw fewer animals it was still very beautiful and enjoyable being out on the drives. The lodge is quite isolated apart from the neighbouring village, and it was incredibly tranquil; it's set on the Save river, which provides beautiful views, especially at sunrise and sunset. I really enjoyed it and I'll definitely be going back to Zimbabwe. I also really recommend Chilo Gorge because not only is it stunning and more out of the way than some of Zimbabwe's other attractions, but it performs such an important role locally in keeping both the animals and the local community existing side by side in ways that help them both.
I have the post-holiday blues that is for sure, but I'm just looking forward to when I can return next! I hope you guys enjoy these pictures, like I said in one of my recent videos, I didn't want to vlog this time just so I could take a step back for a few days and rest, but I couldn't resist sharing these with you. Now it's time to get stuck into my essays…