By Henry Hill
December 11, 2000
LAKE KARIBA, ZIMBABWE - My adrenaline was still flowing from the
spectacular sunrise as I watched the light stain the horizon, as
if a lion had bitten the sky. As the light danced across the surface
of Lake Kariba, I overdosed on the musical sounds of the bush. The
grunts of a male lion, the cackles and whoops of a hyena and the
screech of a fish eagle, all told me that I really was in Zimbabwe,
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in south-central Africa, and it
is about the size of California. Two rivers form its northern and
southern borders; the great Zambezi River runs along its northern
frontier to form the border with Zambia, while the more sluggish
Limpopo River forms the southern border with South Africa. On this
trip, I visited two camps in the northern region, which are situated
along the Zambezi River. I also visited two camps in Hwange National
Park. My final stop was Victoria Falls, which is one of the world's
I was paddling my canoe on Lake Kariba, along with an American
family that was also in Wilderness Camp, when we passed a pod of
hippos that cursed us with their adenoidal honks. One bite by those
tusks can cut a crocodile in half, so with much respect we went
around these overweight animals that swim like Lenny Krayzelburg
on his best day.
As the canoe slowed, I put the Nikon to my eye and was overwhelmed
by the image now in my viewfinder. To see an African bull elephant,
Loxodona Africana, at such a close distance, is something that has
to be experienced to be understood. It stood 13 feet at the shoulders
and weighed 13,000 pounds. This moment provided my most satisfying
experience while at Water Wilderness, Zimbabwe.
The National Parks along the Zambezi are legendary. Matusadona
Water Wilderness camp is located in Matusadona Park. The lodge and
chalets float by pontoons on Lake Kariba. There is a mother ship
where guests dine and socialize. Getting to the camp requires either
a canoe or motorized pontoon boat.
This area is one of the last where you can still see the endangered
black rhinoceros. Poaching has decimated the black rhino population
across its entire range, but here in Matusadona, there is a conservation
project to save them. In the Matusadona Black Rhino Intensive Protective
zone, the rhino population is protected from poachers and lions,
by armed guards.
One fault of black rhinos is their natural aggression. They will
charge at the slightest provocation or even simply on sight. This
instinct to charge just about anything or anybody is due to three
factors: poor eyesight, great curiosity and an advanced state of
being intellectually challenged. This makes them easy targets for
poachers. A decade ago, Zimbabwe had more than 3,000 black rhinos.
Fewer than 300 black rhino are left today.
Africa has a second species of rhino, the white rhino. The "white"
label comes from English-speaking hunters who misinterpreted the
Dutch wyd, which means wide or broad, and has nothing to do with
the color of the white rhino. The white rhino weighs in the area
of 5,000 pounds and is the heavier of the two, as the black rhino
is a lightweight at 3,500 pounds, although the black rhino is much
more inclined to be aggressive and dangerous.
I visited another camp along the Zambezi. Ruckomechi camp is situated
along the western boundary of Mana Pools National Park in a large
grove of acacia and mahogany trees overlooking the Zambezi River.
It has a great view of the Zambian Escarpment. I saw lions, elephants,
buffalos, kudus, waterbucks, hippos, leopards and hundreds of species
of birds. The camp gets visits from elephants that walk about camp
as if they own it.
Next, I flew south to Hwange National Park and stayed at Linkwasha
camp, which is located in a private area in the southeast region
of the park. The area is home to more than 400 species of birds
and a diverse animal population. During the winter, the area is
known for its big game, including large concentrations of elephants,
buffalos, lions and cheetahs, along with leopard.
Unfortunately, I could stay there for just one day. I was off the
next day by Land Rover to Makalolo Plains. This area is also in
Hwange National Park. While there, I saw huge herds of elephant,
more than 300 at a time. At Makalolo, I lodged in a tent set up
on a wooden deck above ground level. Wooden boardwalks above ground
connected the tents to the main lodge. At Makalolo, I was treated
to some of the best food I ever had, especially considering how
far out in the bush it is. Makalolo was incredible, and it was with
regret that I flew off again, this time to Victoria Falls.
"Smoke that thunders" is how the locals refer to to one
of the seven natural wonders of the world. It is hard to find words
to describe the feeling when you first see its massive size, hear
it roar, feel the power of its mist on your face, and watch its
flowing life give birth to rainbows. You will be moved as never
A Pittsburgh native, Henry Hill is a writer and photographer who
lives in Florissant, Colo.