In the afternoon at around 4 o’clock we enjoyed a tasty high tea and savoured a number of delectable treats and savoury snacks down on the Sky viewing platform. This is an elevated walkway down the river. It is an ideal spot to enjoy a cup of tea while gazing out across the floodplain at Elephant or Buffalo. Then we headed down to the launch station where we got on our boat for our evening sunset cruise.
We were heading out on one of the little speed boats as we had a small group. Other guests were heading out on an elegant double deck cruiser. The engine puttered to life and we drifted out into the current. We headed upstream and soon saw a small group of Buffalo bulls heading towards the lodge – they would later come up close while we were enjoying our boma dinner.
We drifted up to a pod of Hippo which alternated between ducking between the water and popping up to cast a wary eye on us. A couple of them were yawning and showing off their huge teeth, and we suddenly felt quite vulnerable in the boat! Two youngsters were romping around and mock fighting, butting each other and opening their jaws wide. This is good practice for the mating season when they are older.
Continuing along the river we reached a break in the banks where there was a well worn path that was used by many Elephants. The park is said to have one of the highest concentrations of Elephant in the world. Suddenly a large matriarchal herd came hurrying down to the water’s edge, trunks stretched out in anticipation of quenching their thirst. Our knowledgeable guide Chipo told us that they spend the day foraging in the dry interior of the park where there is no water, and usually come down to drink in the evening.
There was a very small baby Elephant in this particular group. He did not yet know how to use his trunk and instead dunked his whole head into the water to drink. Other Elephants waded waist deep and sprayed themselves with water with their trunks. They seemed unconcerned with the boat stopped just a few meters away. It was wonderful to be so close to these gentle powerful animals.
When the herd moved off, the sunset cruise continued. Further along we saw a herd of majestic Kudu come down to drink. Turning a bend in the channel the floodplain opened up in front of us, we could see for miles, and there must have been about five herds of Elephants and many more scattered across the floodplain.
Chipo guided the boat into a quiet back channel and cut the engine. A stately Fish Eagle was perched on a huge dead branch. A herd of Giraffe was silhouetted against the horizon. A huge Bull Elephant was pulling up tufts of grass nearby and we could hear him chew. Chipo opened the cooler and out came perfectly chilled beers, cokes or wine. There was also some delicious snacks, peanuts and biltong.
We sat watching the sky and water magically change colour as the sun set. We were there in November which is when the summer migrant birds arrive and African Skimmers were attempting to catch fish in the backwater near the boat. These are extremely agile birds, we marvelled at the exceptional control they had to fly with their beak just skimming the water.
Chatting quietly we watched Impala and Zebra grazing on the floodplain. Then Chipo fired up the boat and we headed back towards the lodge. A huge herd of several hundred Buffalo appeared out of the bush and came down to drink as it was getting dark. Sadly we could not linger as we had to get back to the lodge before it was pitch dark, and we were eagerly anticipating the boma dinner where there would be a Marimba band.
By Michael English