It is well known that the Makalolo and Linkwasha Concessions are the most productive tracts of lands in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, so the decision to travel to this area is an easy one. The only difficulty is choosing where to stay. With three superb camps, each offering similar scheduled activities – game drives, walking safaris and cultural experiences – and traversing rights, the decision can be daunting. So I set out, in the green summer months, to discover what made each camp so unique. “Horses for courses,” is what I discovered, and here’s why:
If you’re looking for a down-to-earth, economical experience, then Davison’s is the place to be. Don’t be fooled by the word “economical” though as the service is impeccable, the food delicious, the nine guest rooms (including a family tent that sleeps four) are extremely comfortable and the spacious main area, with bar, lounge dining room and fire deck, is a real focal point. To boot, there is an open and expansive pool area and a stunning upper deck which is a great place for watching the game on the plain and around the waterhole – around which, incidentally, the camp is built.
Communal dining, with other guests and a manager and guide, is standard at the camp. Again, I would be wary of the word “communal” as this is certainly not a “canteen” but rather a convivial dining experience where a group of likeminded individuals gathers to enjoy a hearty meal together. Getting to know the staff and other guests, is just a part of the experience, where fascinating cultural stories are shared by a smorgasbord of nationalities around one table.
Having said that, should you prefer to dine with just your group or family it is no problem for anyone. In fact, nothing is ever a problem for this team and I would go so far as to say that they are probably the most caring and humble staff on the concessions. Their willingness and enthusiasm to bend over backwards to make your stay one that you will remember forever is unfailing.
Special touches that stand out: the assistant manager keeping an eye out and finding the rare racket-tailed roller for me; a lantern-lit dinner under the stars; and a gin and tonic ready and waiting for me on arrival from a long game drive.
Having moved directly from Davison’s to Little Mak – as they like to call it – I was immediately struck by the small size of the camp. The dining, lounge, bar area, pool and fire deck are well-appointed for cosy living with clear views over an expansive and busy waterhole. I loved the rooms here: they are discreetly hidden from one another in the bush and beautifully open and airy with stunning olde-worlde finishes such as copper basins and outdoor showers. Of all the Wilderness Safaris camps in Hwange, Little Mak is probably the one that reflects the anticipated authentic tented safari the best.
Little Makalolo also has two distinguishing features: the log-pile hide found at the waterhole in front of camp and the star bed sleep out at Madison Pan, a 20-minute drive away. Both are there to enhance your “up close and personal” experience with nature. The log-pile hide can present some thrilling game viewing experiences, where huge elephant feet fill your whole view. Be warned, the playful splashing of these great pachyderms is likely to mean you’ll be included in their daily watering! The sleep out is altogether a more restful experience, with the starry starry skies shining down upon you while the wild sounds of Africa lull you to sleep.
Aside from exhilarating experiences, intimate living and of course sumptuous food, this camp is abuzz with delight. The staff are phenomenal. The warmth and friendliness of every single member of the team – including managers, guides, waiters, housekeepers and chefs – makes this truly a home from home experience. Creating the Wilderness journey together has clearly strengthened their relationships with each other and their enjoyment of life is reflected in their work and their service. Laughter is never short at Little Mak. Just as you are likely to find an elephant around every corner, you will find laughter too. When it came to saying goodbye to my newfound friends I was awash with emotion.
Finally to the new camp; the one that everyone has been talking about. Linkwasha has been operating for just under a year, and is proving to be extremely popular for those looking for a luxurious base for their Hwange wildlife adventures. Linkwasha’s position at the abundant Back Pans – a vast plain dotted with waterholes – is superb; couple this with the legendary adjacent Ngamo Plains and you are set for a very productive safari right at your doorstep.
Linkwasha is a more personal affair and the staff are genuinely discreet. The focus on luxury and service is key here and the staff – from management to housekeeper – have been groomed to attend to your every whim. The food is exceptional and the dining experience glorious. Brunch is served on the deck right on the edge of the plain under the shade of the great mopanes. Dinners are set in various luscious spaces to make the most of the surrounds – my favourite was dining on the deck above the pool while an elephant drank from its cool waters.
The rooms at Linkwasha are sumptuous; right down to the indulgent mattress on your bed – from which you will have to tear yourself in the early hours, after your wakeup call! There is nothing in this extravagant tent that they have not thought of to make your stay comfortable. The main area is located on various levels, and there is ample space for privacy should you require it. The elevated pool is a seriously good place for quiet reflection or a gin and tonic while you watch the unfolding wildlife interactions at the waterhole and on the plain.
Saying goodbye at the airstrip with two of my superb guides - Buli from Linkwasha Camp and Mike from Little Makalolo
In conclusion, Wilderness Safaris truly has something for everyone in Hwange whatever your pocket, group status or temperament: sanguine, choleric, melancholic or phlegmatic! What is for sure is that you will be blown away by the people, wildlife and experience no matter where you decide to stay.
Written and Photographed by Monica Jooste, Copy Writer for Wilderness Safaris