We are off to Mozambique! – the ultimate dream of Azure warm waters and the romance of a bygone era of coastal trading beckons us.

First of all we are heading to Gorongosa National Park – known in the 1960’s as the place where “Noah left his Ark” because of the vast herds of game.  Unfortunately however the park was ravaged by the civil war in Mozambique. While the dramatic landscape remained largely untouched, the animal life was all but obliterated.  Then in 2008 The Carr Foundation, a U.S. not-for-profit organization, teamed with the Government of Mozambique to protect and regenerate the ecosystem of Gorongosa National Park and to develop an ecotourism industry to benefit local communities for the next 20 years.  Today this forms the backnone of a drive to restore the Park to its former wildife glory. Animal relocations from the Kruger National Park, including elephant and lion, have been successful and plains game numbers have increased incrementally. It isn’t the Masai Mara yet, but it is a remarkable wilderness area, with 54 different biomes, and ever changing landscapes. The plains recall images of Busanga Plains in Zambia, the Sand Forests northern KwaZulu Natal, while the Gorongosa Mountains and Lake Urema are evocative images in this 400 000 hectare park. Explore Gorongosa is the first, and currently only, concession in this wilderness, offering comfortable tented accommodation with bucket showers and eco-loos, and unparalleled day and night access to activities in the Park. Expect plentiful birdlife, plains game, lion sightings and a sense of being in a remote and exotic part of Africa.  After a few days here we would suggest you head to a simple yet stunning lodge on the beach.

Benguerra Island Lodge captures the essence of Mozambique beautifully. With squeaky white sand, a protected bay and a catamaran that sails into the sunset with freshly caught fish barbecuing on an open fire, it ticks all the boxes of an island getaway. Yet it is aspects like a weathered dhow that serves as beach bar, a beach bonfire at pre dinner drinks and staff in flowing white Arab robes that make it more than this and give it an evocative edge. Ironically, the cyclone which destroyed the lodge nearly two years ago now has had a hugely positive influence in the rebuilt and re-designed casas, vast suites directly on the beach with private pools, giant copper baths and an intriguing blend of African and Arabian influences.

For a slightly more eco-rustic beach stay we would suggest Guludo Island Lodge is an innovative lodge built out of a desire to provide a sustainable lodge within the tourism sector to help the NEMA foundation (an organisation which fights child poverty in Africa). The foundation currently supports 12 villages in all aspects of life, and as an interesting twist to a stay here, guests can choose to become involved in one of the projects – or indeed just enjoy the beauty that this part of Mozambique has to offer. In keeping with the organic element, every aspect of the lodge has been designed with ingenuity at its best, from the showers – a creative version of the bucket shower, to the eco- toilet system, to the locally crafted furniture and interiors in the rooms. This Robinson Crusoe element adds to the romance of a wide sweep of beach, and unobstructed views of the ocean from each room, capturing the Mozambique spirit perfectly.

Mozambique is a breath taking unforgettable beach destination just waiting to be explored.

Our Intrepid Traveller; a client’s account of Africa – Part 6

On the road to Kayak Africa camp we saw Open Billed Stork, 3 Hammerkop on Fever Tree branch (Fever tree is light  green and the bark is cooked with water for a tea for fevers), sausage trees, huge Baobab trees (and these had leaves since I am here in rainy season; usually they are just bare branches), gorgeous flamboyant trees, Spur-winged Goose, Egyptian Goose, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Lilac Breasted Roller, Brown throated weaver, Pied Kingfisher, Euphorbia ingens (Common tree Euphorbia or Candelabra Euphorb).

All over Malawi, there are raised ridges in the roads when coming to and leaving large villages to wake you up  or to let you know to slow down, etc.  Michael calls these “sleeping police.”

We entered Lake Lalawi National Park.  The lake is 580 km long and 140 km wide and is overfished.  Even with overfishing, there are over 1000 ciclids in the lake.  The park is covered with Brachystegia (Sasa tree) on the hillsides and has huge granite rocky boulders and outcrops.  Had lunch at Cape Maclear at the Gecko Lodge Restaurant.  Had fish and chips with a Lake Malawi fish.  From there I was transferred to a boat which looked like it might not make it from where it was tied up, much less for a 50 min. boat ride to Mumbo Island.  Once there, you see Mumbo which isn’t very large, and then Jumbo which is a very small, island connected to Mumbo by a 150’ wooden bridge.  This is where the 5 cottages are located and all have views of the Lake and Mumbo Island.  There are loads of birds and Mr. and Mrs. Bulbul have their territory just above my tent.  The largest non-bird thing on the island is the water monitor (Varanus niloticus).   Sorry, PH, it is a BIG lizard!!  There is a rainbow skink which is just gorgeous.  It has a light blue tail and when the sun hits its body it turns iridescent.   The only mammals are a fruit bat and otters (which I didn’t see).

The tents have two single beds and two tables inside, two chairs and a hammock outside on the deck, and the bathroom is about 10 steps away.  It is open air.  The toilet is a long-drop and when you are finished, you just throw in a handful of wood shavings.  The whole set up is “green” as there is no electricity or generator.  The kitchen works with propane gas.  After dark you have lanterns or flashlights and you go to bed early!  The showers are literally 2- 2 1/2 gall. tin buckets with a welded pipe with a shower head and faucet to turn the water on and off.  When you want a shower, you have to let the staff know ahead of time.    The tents are built on massive granite boulders.

Oh, and did I tell you I am the only person here????

Ok, so it is HOT.  I climbed into my bathing suit, grabbed mask and snorkel,  and figured the lake would be cold.  Not so,  I snorkeled all the way around Jumbo Island to see the ciclids.  Only one was of note to me–a bright blue with black vertical stripes.  The others were a bit mottle colored.  Sorry, DR!

Animals:  Hammerkop, Rainbow Skink, another lizard.

Dinner was coconut milk chicken, rice, salad, fruit, and fresh homemade rolls.

That night I thought it was pouring rain and kept putting off going out of the tent to the bathroom.  About 4 a.m., just had to bite the bullet.  Turns out it was the wind and waves sounding like rain.

Next morning we took a boat around Mumbo Island.  They have 8 pr. of African Fish Eagles on the island, White breasted Cormorant, Cape Cormorant, Black Kite, Sand Piper, 4 Pied Kingfishers on a branch, Water Dikkop, Grey Heron, juvenile African Fish Eagle, African Paradise Flycatcher.

Afternoon tried kayaking.  Then another boat ride around the island and for sunset.  more Pied KF’s, more African FE’s, Masked Weaver Red-winged Starling and a nice sunset.  Dinner of mashed potatoes, carrots, salad, herbed chicken, and homemade rolls and fruit, and joining us were geckos.

What’s happening at Governor’s Camp in the Masai Mara?

The Masai Mara had some heavy rain up until the end of the month then the weather dried out and we had a week of glorious weather. The temperature averaged about 28 degrees Celsius and we received 191.5mm of rainfall over the month of May. The Mara River rose almost to capacity a few times mostly due to rain at the source in the Mau forest on the western escarpment of the Rift Valley. All this rain followed by sunshine has caused a flurry of growth out on the plains and the savannah grasses are fantastically long, the red oats grasses are showing their fruiting seed, giving an orange tinge to the plains towards the Serengeti.

Birding has been great this month with a few species hatching young chicks and teaching their fledglings how to gather the abundant insects that are about. We still have hundreds of Open-Billed Storks in the marsh as well as a small flock of White Storks preparing for their flight back to Europe. The Jacksons Widow Bird male has been hopping up and down in the grass displaying to females, as well as many of the Fantailed and a few White-Winged Widow birds. Some of the less common birds seen were the Leviallant’s Cuckoo, Marshal Eagle, Dark-Chanting Goshawk, Grey-Headed Bush Shrike and Double-Toothed Barbet.

There are three herds of buffalo in our area at the moment, one herd is remaining close to the Marsh and it numbers around 600 individuals and two herds above the ridge numbering 300 and 200 individuals.

Massive herds of Elephants have been milling around the Musiara Marsh area and moving up to Rhino Ridge eating the grass on the plains. We have had a large presence of bull elephants, some a little testy and in musth, but mostly just content to eat alongside the female herds. A couple of mating sessions was witnessed, which is an incredible sight.

With all the elephant and buffalo manure to take care of we have had an influx of the larger species of dung beetle. They are not seen as regularly rolling their balls along, but simply dig below a prospective meal as the ground is soft in most places. The dung beetle will stash their ball below the surface and lay an egg, this will eventually hatch and the larvae will feed on the dung until it metamorphosis’s and digs its way up to the surface as an adult.

The hyena packs are fairly scattered as they are mostly scavenging at this time of year. There is one hyena den site close to the airstrip with three small black pups and two larger ones just changing colour now at about seven months or so. The scavenging took on a large scale this month when some of our guests had an incredible sighting of twenty three hyena chasing three lions off a buffalo kill, the noise and energy were unbelievable.

The Marsh Pride have scattered a bit this month, only being seen in two’s and three’s. At the beginning of the month they were spending their time in the plains close to the Marsh, and then they moved into Masai Land bordering the Masai Mara Game Reserve where their territory extends up to Leopard Gorge and to the west. In these areas the grass has been mostly grazed down by Masai cattle making perfect grazing conditions for plains game. Big herds of zebra have come in to these areas from the Loita Plains area in the east, all this game has been an attraction for the Marsh Pride. Towards the end of the month most of the pride headed back to the Musiara Marsh area.

The Ridge Pride have been seen more frequently in their usual, smaller territory. There seem to be the two pride males, three females and three cubs. They have had some lean times, but are doing well enough with the large numbers of warthog in the area.

The Paradise Pride are doing exceptionally well, they have spent more time as a pride as their hunting tactics differ. They have become specialist hippo hunters managing to take down three hippos during May. There is also plenty of plains game in their territory, as the grass is shorter in a few areas. The six males are still together, although sometimes spending time apart from each other. We are not certain which males, but certainly the younger ones cross the river to visit another pride of females. Having a coalition of six males, they most definitely call the shots in that area.
The three cheetah brothers have spent most of their time up on the high plains. This area has been slightly grazed down by the large herds of topi and other plains game that have continued to stay in this preferred area. This area gives them a great vantage point to see predators and they have added security of safety in numbers. The three boys have obviously been attracted by the bounty of prey on these plains. They have had some success hunting Topi on the shorter grass, but have mainly been concentrating on the warthog in the bordering longer grass.

There has been a single female cheetah in our area which we believe to be pregnant. A second lesser known female was also seen within our area with two cubs of about eight or nine months old.

Shakira and her cubs have not been sighted, we are sure they must still be on the west side of the Mara River. The river has been high for many months prohibiting her movement back onto our side.

This month we enjoyed some wonderful leopard sightings close to the camps with two leopards regularly making an appearance. The large male made his presence felt between the forest and the Marsh and the female leopard, which we have become well acquainted with, has frequented the Ilmoran area and the small patch of forest in the Marsh near ‘Lake Nakuru.’

Back in camp a family of giraffe have been regular night visitors sleeping on the grass in front of the plains tents giving guests a wonderful view in the early mornings.

What’s happening in the Okavango Delta?

After nearly 30 years of low flows, interspersed with occasional average flows and then the highs of 2008 and 2009, this wetland is receiving a record inflow in 2010 – a hugely important event for the biodiversity of the Okavango and northern Botswana in general.

The flood is an eagerly anticipated annual phenomenon. The level of each year’s flood is primarily dependant on rainfall in the catchment areas in Angola as well as rainfall over the Delta itself and there is a distinct short and long term cycle to the inflows and flooding patterns of the Okavango and associated river systems.

The extent and duration of the previous season’s rainfall and flood also have a major effect on the ensuing season. As 2008 and 2009 were both above average flood years, this has collectively led to this so-called ‘super year’ of 2010. These “wet” cycles usually last 10-15 years, so 2010 is about
three years into the wet cycle, moving out of the dry cycle experienced between 1985 and 2005.
What is truly exciting is that the water levels of 2010 are going to be on a par with those last seen
in the 1970s, primarily due to the following:

• The current high water tables as a result of both 2008 and 2009 inputs from flood and
• Increased inflows from the two feeding Angolan rivers (Cubango and Quito) in 2010 which
have arrived earlier than usual in the Delta.
• Above average rains over the Okavango Delta itself, with intense rainfall events as late as
April (rainfall recorded exceeded 890mm for the season).

This very special occurrence, cyclical in nature, is much needed in maintaining greater biodiversity.  The annual flooding regimes retain the very essence of the Okavango Delta – a veritable Garden of Eden. The effects are fantastic, as large grassland areas and floodplains that have not been inundated for many years and even decades, become flooded, and a continued recharge of groundwater takes place. The Okavango Delta will be gradually inundated with crystal clear, lifegivingwater. Islands will be rejuvenated and distal lakes like Ngami and Mababe will fill. Linked to Mababe and fed from the Linyanti/Kwando system the Savute Channel can be expected to have a major increase in flows, resuscitating the famed Savute Marsh at the terminal end of the channel.

The Selinda Spillway has now also joined up with the Savute Channel for only the 2nd time in 30 years.  Grassy plains can be expected to be flooded by mid 2010, and important changes in vegetation structures and the resultant movement of animal life will occur. All over northern Botswana the effects will be felt, but for Wilderness Safaris concessions, we are working hard at preparing (and
in some cases already prepared) for these changes to this unique wetland.