In Zimbabwe the contrasts are really vast between the wet and the dry season. Earlier this year, we came to visit Hwange with the special intention of spending time at Ngamo – a massive open flat pan area in the south-eastern part of our Wilderness concession.
The last time we visited was in September 2012 and the difference was so extreme that I could hardly believe it was the same place. At that time I remember watching three elephants walking from the treeline across the expansive pan towards the waterhole. Their outline shimmered in the heat haze that burned up from the parched earth to create a mirage effect as they wearily traipsed along until they picked up the scent of water. Even in their excitement, their weary bones could not make them hasten to get there and the agony of their determination was heart-breaking.
But in January, it was like I was on a different planet! Where previously the ground was completely barren resembling a moonscape, now it was green and covered in short grass. It was a most impressive sight. Sitting on the bonnet of our vehicle, I could look through my binoculars starting on the left and revolve all the way round, almost 360 degrees, and have game in my sights at every stage.
Now at this time, there were large areas of the expansive pan that were under water with flocks of water birds fishing around the shallow waterways. Where the roads normally would be, large puddles filled any slight depression. Hottentot and red-billed teals would bob around, dipping their entire head and shoulders into the cool water while their bottoms pointed skywards with little wiggles as they paddled around.
Autumn cools down the morning and evening temperatures of May. The rain stops at the end of January so now the water is drying in the heat of the afternoons. The shallow floodplain of Ngamo is no longer a wetland. The grass is thinning like an old man’s hairline and the game is slowly dispersing.
There is one thing in this lifetime that we can all be certain of and that is change. Just as no two snowflakes are the same, no two days are the same and here, in our little slice of heaven in the Hwange National Park, we can feel the witch of winter creeping up to grip us in freezing temperatures and dry landscapes. Animals will seek out the waterholes for replenishment and there will be lots of game activity of a different nature.