17-Jun-2004 -- It was on return from a few days spent at the magnificent Victoria Falls that Julie and I visited the Confluence lying one or two kilometres from the international border in Hwange National Park. Hwange, covering about 5,400 square miles or 1,394,000 hectares, is the largest game reserve in Zimbabwe and lies up against our western border with Botswana.
On the way to the Victoria Falls we took the precaution of visiting the Warden at Main Camp to inform him of our plans, seek his permission and also, as we thought we may have to leave the safety of our vehicle and walk through the bush, to enlist the assistance of one of his rangers. This proved to be absolutely the right thing to do, and the end result was that of superb co-operation from Warden Wachenuka of Main Camp and his staff at Robins Camp.
Robins Camp is in the northwest of Hwange some 160 kilometres from Main Camp and 39 km from the Confluence as the crow flies. We entered the park at Robins after sixty or seventy km of reasonable gravel road from the main Vic Falls road and arrived at 11:30. We met the Warden and Rangers, Mabutho Nyathi and Patrick Sibanda. It was Patrick who was assigned to accompany us and Mabutho who looked after our needs at the camp. The two of them couldn't have been more helpful.
Patrick went off to get his self-loading rifle and we departed at about 12:30 - gun, camera and GPS at the ready. The drive took in some Park's tourist roads, rangers' tracks, fireguards, and what had at one time been a security road between Botswana and Zimbabwe during the war of independence. Due to severe constraints facing the Park’s department, except for the tourist road, none had been graded or otherwise maintained for some time. The security road, which had been wide, long and dead straight for many kilometres at a time, was now just an elephant track. Although an elephant is a rather wide animal, in relation to a pick-up, it leaves a very narrow track!
The Ranger told us that the last vehicle to travel along this route as far as we had done was in January. The abundance of elephant footprints and droppings and the complete absence of any human or vehicular tracks was evidence of this. When we left the vehicle to walk the last kilometre through the Mopane scrub it felt as though we were walking where no other human had before. Patrick, our ranger and guide confirmed that this area is only visited by wild animals and the occasional cross-border ivory/rhino horn poachers and the Park's Rangers trying to catch them. We later found out that on this very day two poachers had been killed in a firefight with the Rangers some 40 km to the northeast of our Confluence.
Although the Mopane scrub is extremely thick, the various elephant paths in criss-cross directions made our walk through it relatively easy and we found the Confluence with no problem. Photos taken, congratulations all round and we made our way back to the vehicle for the three and half hour trip back to Robins - only about 45 km by road but the going so bad with trees across the track, pans, elephant mud baths (often dry), long stretches of Kalahari sand, and elephant footprints set in the now dry mud of the Mopane vleis made our going very slow. We had done about five km when we actually saw our first family of elephants cross the track and blend into the trees - this, after having been witness to all he evidence for the past four to five hours. It was quite pleasing to me that we didn't come across them whilst on foot.
Our return to the camp was at 19:40, it was dark and we were therefore very pleased to see that Mabutho had organised a chalet for us, started the wood-fired hot water system and talked the restaurant owner into standing by to make us, the only people in camp, a meal. The next morning after a wonderful night's sleep, we made a cup of coffee on the open fire, with the help of Park's staff blew the grass seeds, sticks and Mopane leaves from the radiators, said our thank-yous, and left for Main Camp taking the tourist route, viewing the game and the other magnificent sights.
If visiting a Confluence could ever have been more enjoyable - it's hard to imagine.