Hwange National Park, a block of Zimbabwe big enough to get lost in, not see anyone for days if you didn’t want to, elements of dust, heat, desperation and wildness. I love the place with an ache deep in my soul, I feel as though I know it, though how anyone can truly know a place like this! It has that special knack for creating inspiration within a person, you feel as though you’ve never left, even though the calendar tells you you have not been back for at least 8 years, so much has remained the same. In a place where human interference is kept at a minimum, the only changes are made by the only true residents. The animals! Humans are visitors, only allowed in the Park for short periods of time. Even the Luxury Safari lodges are only allowed to build temporary buildings of wood and grass, and have valid concessions for 10 years at a time. So barring the occasional forest being blitzed by herds of elephants who have decided that they will take on the role, unknowingly, as the architects of the bush, and demolishing everything in their path, turning forest into plains, nothing really changes.
The adventure began when I had such a creative need building inside me I knew it would only be relieved by an inspirational trip to Hwange to take photos for my art. There comes a time in every wildlife artists life to find new material for their paintings, and only the photos you take will do! None of this searching on the internet for images for us, we wanted to hunt down, be surprised by the unexpected, be in the right place at the right time. We needed to know our image was unique, no-one else in the world had that exact same photograph. The same for wildlife photographers. And so the dream became a reality when myself, Shannon Cocker my sister and nature lover, Nina Goodwin a fellow artist and friend, and Leanne Mackay, a very keen amateur photographer and a long time friend and travelling companion, hit the road. Shan was also our dedicated driver as she wasn’t too interested in burdening herself with a camera, merely wanting to soak up the love, live in the moment, and have a few bottles of beer. We were the perfect team. It took us a mere 3 hours to reach our destination, in fact even less really, as we dawdled a lot. Now on another note, we are all attached in one way or another to other souls in our lives, husbands, boyfriends and children. And they were all left behind, abandoned if you will, and left to fend for themselves for 3 days. Needless to say, they all survived, only one small disaster coming to fruition with my son, which my husband, Chesney, dealt with like the pro that he is….
We drank some beer, (maybe too many?), saw cheetah on our first stop in the Park, had a picnic and almost got wiped out by a very cheeky troop of baboons, and the bird book was used as a missile to try and hit it before the baboon bore down on us to steal our lunch, we picknicked wth mopani flies, very irritating tiny bees attracted to moisture, therefore tend to end up in your nose or in your eyes. We basked in the glory of solitude, watching 100’s of elephant cannoning down the hill to drink from the pan, all by ourselves. We caught a large pride of lion on the last day, because we changed our route and chatted to a bulawayo boy who’d just spent most of the afternoon with them. We were almost locked in the park as sundown arrived as we were still trying to get to our rest camp. That poor hyena was rather traumatised I think! And the photos! Yes, we got what we came for, peace, fun, companionship, relaxation, close encounters and lots and lots of amazing photographs.
Hwange is amazing. Zimbabwe is amazing. They have the knowledge, expertise and the facilities. And yes, Zimbabwe still has all the animals you’d ever want. So don’t put it off. Go!