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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Searching for Kapirinengu - a trip in the African bush - long with photographs

I found this amazing story in Peter Jassie's lovely, and interesting, newsletter, "Funky Munky" from South Africa. And, please bear in mind that English is Paul's second language.

Paul van Pletzen writes:
 On the road
It was about 5 years ago that I first heard about a fishing camp called Kapirinengu, situated at the confluence of the Chewore river and the Zambezi, on the border of the Sapi and Chewore safari areas (down stream from Mana Pools game reserve). 
No amount of enquiries through friends in Zimbabwe, or at the Zimbabwe wildlife authorities, could produce any information about this seemingly mystical place. Maps of the area are hard to come by, even Google Earth will get lost there! On a visit to Mana Pools and Mongwe fishing camp (in Hurungwe safari area, about 10km from Chirundu) 3 years ago, not even the warden at Makuti or the staff at Mana Pools could be of assistance.
Browsing on the internet one day, I came across a site called Zim4x4 and started corresponding with the inimitable Dick Pitman, who offers guided self drive tours, backup and advice for people keen to explore the lower Zambezi, or anywhere in Zimbabwe for that matter. He had established exclusive relationships with safari operators, concessionaires and authorities in that area, and explored and opened the routes. And he could take me to Kapirinengu! 
 Crossing the river
By sheer co-incidence, we had already planned to stay over at Doma Safari lodge en route to the lower Zambezi, to go and search for Kapirinengu ourselves. This was also a stopover for Dick and a group that he was escorting down the escarpment, so we agreed to RV there and join them, destination Kapirinengu!
My brother Pieter and I left Joburg at 5:45 on the 9th June 2010. We spent only two hours at the border at Beit Bridge, paying a R300 fee for "assistance" (if you know what I mean). Nothing had materialized about the promises of a one stop there, and it was total chaos on the Zim side, as usual.
 An African road in the bush
The road northwards is getting quite bad now. It is bumpy and wavy, with the edges deteriorating and potholes in sections. The fences are down, so stray animals and wandering locals are a serious hazard. This also a major trucking route, so one is confined to a cruising speed of about 80km/h. Driving at night in Zimbabwe is not advisable. 
There are now also toll stops ($1 fee) at frequent intervals in Zimbabwe, and after every one there is then a police road block a few km further. Heaven knows why they cannot be combined? We passed through 5 of these double stops up till Chinhoyi, and a few traffic police stops as well. We were well received and advised, and warmly welcomed at all times, but they do waste an awful amount of time. Only once, on our way back, did we have to pay a $15 spot fine for a faulty tail light on the trailer (no receipt necessary). 
A typical African stop-over - all luxuries included in the price
We slept over at Rhino Camp, just by the Shell garage at Runde River. $30 for 2 bed room, en suite. It was neat, clean and comfortable. Electricity (and in some places water) supply in Zim is still a problem, luckily the lights came soon after we had arrived. The management and staff there are very friendly and helpful, and they offer very good exchange rates for Dollars or Rands. We had a delicious steak and kidney pot pie for supper for only R30.
Fuel is available mostly everywhere in Zimbabwe these days (one is advised to take at least one jerry can along just in case) for around $1.10/litre, and we filled up in Chegutu on our second day.
We were about 40km from Chinhoyi when our trailer’s brakes suddenly jammed. Catastrophe! The trailer’s draw bar had broken. Low and behold, a well spoken local young lad with the name of Elias immediately came and offered assistance, and he knew a man with a welding shop not far away. Off him and I went to fetch the man with his welder, generator, angle grinder and the only piece of scrap in his yard: a piece of angle iron of just the right size! One hour later we were on the road again. Remarkable.
 Got anything for a hungry Elephant?
We could not reach Doma Safari lodge that evening as planned, so we stayed over at the Orange Grove Hotel in Chinhoyi. $40 for a two bed room, en suite, but the bath plug did not fit (bring your own). The lights eventually came on around supper and we had a tasty but small portion of spaghetti bolognaise for $4. 
To get to Doma Safari Lodge, turn off to Mhangura at Lions Den (lekker biltong sold there!), about 25km north of Chinhoyi. We had further directions from the lodge management, and the route culminated in an easy bush road of about 12km to the lodge.
It is about a three hour drive from Harare to Doma Safari Lodge. They have recently obtained a concession from the local council of about 250 square km in the Maninga Conservation Area and the Doma Conservation Area, on the eastern border of the Doma Safari Area. 
 Some exercise and testing the depth
They operate hunting safaris from the lodge and can do personalized hunting or photographic packages. Most species of game are available, except cheetah and rhino, but elephant is mostly only shot where and when they become a problem for the locals. Sable antelope is one of their big draw cards. The owner, Gordon Duncan, says that they are also actively involved with the local community in rehabilitating and restocking the area, and controlling poaching. One can also do guided walks or game drives.
 Crossing a river takes a long time
Their self catering bungalows are cosy, comfortable and well equipped; you only have to bring your own food and gas. The kitchen’s got most of what you need: stove, deepfreeze and fridge, pots and pans and cutlery. Bedding is provided, as well as cleaning staff. Each party is also provided with a man-friday, a fire is made every day in the donkey and fire wood is provided. The power generator only runs from 18:00 to 22:00, but if you bring some diesel, longer hours can be arranged. We paid $25 each per day for a two room bungalow (sleeps 4 or 5). Larger groups pay $75 per day per bungalow. 
As we are not hunters, our main interest was the beautiful dam next to which the lodge is situated. The dam has also been stocked with two local species of bream: Robustus (called Nembwe in Zim and Yellow Belly in Zambia) and Niloticus – both good fighters, and it is over populate with small bass and other species of bream. We spent many pleasant hours fishing, with reasonable success considering it was the wrong season, from our 3,5m aluminium boat, spending 6 days there. 
 Who's for supper?
The staff there were extremely friendly and helpful. They even took our trailer to Mhangura and back for us, for additional strengthening to the repairs. We could thus enjoy all or time relaxing and fishing. Gordon invited us to watch the rugby test between the Springboks and France on DSTV in their bar, kindly providing beer and snacks.
We met up at the lodge with Dick Pitman and his group of intrepid travellers that he was guiding along, on the16th June. They were a party of four families from South Africa, fully equipped with 4x4’s, trailers and all the off road bells and whistles, and more. 
They all had a mutual arrangement that one of the families would be responsible for at least one evening meal on the trip down from Doma Safari Lodge through Doma Safari Area, down the escarpment to the Zambezi. It all started that first night at the lodge with a sumptuous braai (with salads and everything). Man, these people can cook! 
 Look, a pussy cat - larger and with a mane!
What was intended to be a day and a half’s trip down the escarpment, eventually took three days to do 315km, and every night we were treated to something spectacular, right there in the bush! My brother and I actually started feeling awkward: how could we ever make up for this? We can’t cater for twenty people! It was agreed that were we had to do a fish supper, of fish that we had to catch, once we had reached the Zambezi, Fat chance!
The road down the escarpment passed through the Doma, Chewore and Sapi Safari areas. It was not so much 4x4-ing as slow and cumbersome – rocky, steep slopes, deep gulleys, detours, tall grass (very bad when this is in the ‘middle manntejie’) and a few not to bad dry river bed crossings. First gear 2x4 mostly, here and there low gear 4x4. Dick gave every one a radio to be able to keep in contact en route, and we ended up being dubbed ‘sout en peper’ for our call signature. 
After spending a night camping in the bush on the ridge of the escarpment, one river crossing was a bit dubious, so we had to divert via Angwa Bridge in order to get to Mkanga Bridge. This resulted in a 40km detour, but one has to report to the warden at the outpost of Zim Parks at Mkanga Bridge when travelling through that area. There we camped at Bird Camp, an abandoned camp that used to be used by the bird watchers of Zim. The 2km access road to that camp was horrible! They had ice, can you believe it? There is also an old camp (used to be a rangers dwelling) by the bridge that belongs to Zim Parks, currently being renovated. 
At about 4 o’clock in the afternoon of our third day of bundu bashing, we finally got to Kapirinengu and the mighty Zambezi. What a relief. One of the intrepid party, Johan Buys and family, had come all the way from Paarl and had spent seven days sleeping over en route up till then. They were understandably a bit “gatvol” of making and breaking camp by then! He was blessed, how ever, with catching one of the first nice sized tiger fish.
What a magnificently beautiful place is Kapirinengu! In the safari areas surrounding the Mana Pools game reserve, there were some places set aside in the old days that were intended as fishing camps. Kapirinengu is one of them. Of late, since things started to go wrong in Zim, it had been neglected, abused and abandoned. It is now being renovated by Terry Kelly in conjunction with Zim Parks, and we were some the very first people to visit again for a long time. Dick Pitman had arranged special permission for the group, as the camp would only opened on the 1st August 2010. 
It is situated in the Chewore Safari Area where the Chewore river meets the Zambezi, across the river from the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia, so there are no settlers there (hence no netting), lots of wildlife, and very good fishing. The river starts to converge around there as it approaches the Mpata gorge downstream, so the water is deep and fast flowing, and the tiger fish are mean, lean, fast and furious. Upstream other river broadens, with islands in the middle and more branches.
 Breaking camp
There will be nine campsites under an immense grove of huge acacias (anaboom in Afrikaans) each with their own ablutions, a light and power outlet, with a central freezer room and other facilities. They will also have ice. Power will be from a generator, with a battery and inverter system in parallel. They envisage the development of a lodge and mooring facilities for boats in future. Campsites will be around $120 per day, maximum 6 per site. If you don’t have a boat, such could be available, depending on demand and prior arrangement. One has to be self sufficient, but the management (or Dick Pitman) can also arrange an operator (details in the addendum) that can put together a package including transport, fishing and catering. 
We two “ou manne” were truly put to shame by the rest of the party, them catching all the fish in the first few days, from the banks “nog al” – while we had our little titanic to explore the whole river! The river was in flood (Kariba dam being 93% full), so fishing was not at its best. Johan buys got a 4kg specimen, Dick one a bit smaller and Marius Agenbag’s son Karel got the best one on his dad’s rod, when dad was napping. I put them all whole in the hot coals for our turn to cook, wrapped in tinfoil and dosed with garlic, mild chilli, salt & pepper, oil and lemon juice. Delicious, even if I say so myself, luckily it went down well.
 Banquet coming up - to morrow!
They all left after 4 days for further adventures, but we stayed on for another 5 days. Pieter eventually caught a 4kg tiger as we were drifting along the Zambian side, and I caught my first nice size on his rod, off of a sandbank, while he was in the bushes. Terry Kelly very kindly took us out on his boat and taught us a few tricks, helping me to catch a 5,5kg specimen. We really enjoyed our sojourn there, lions roaring in the distance at night, a big old bull elephant wandering around the camp at odd hours, bokkies in the open plain behind camp, fish eagle to wake one up at dawn……..
One does not have to do the arduous journey that we did to get there. From the main Harare – Chirundu road, stop and get permits at the ranger’s office at Marongora (just down the escarpment from the town of Makuti). Take the turn off to Mana Pools, but beware that the first 30km of gravel was just about the worst of our journey. It is a real vehicle and trailer breaker. At the boom by the T – junction, turn right and follow the main gravel road for about 40km. Watch for the sign to Chewore in the bushes and turn left (there might even be a sign for Kapirinengu). From there it is a reasonable bush track of about 60km, remember to turn right at Jesi road and stick to the main track. There are quite a few turnoffs that are used by hunters and Park management, but the main track is always the most used one.
When the sun goes down...
Our last destination was the Kafue river. Except for the last 30km of the Mana Pools access road (mentioned before), the many counters to report at the one-stop border post at Chirundu, and a badly potholed section of road south of Kafue town, things went well and we reached Eureka Camp in Lusaka without incident on the 29th June. 
The next day we met up with a friend, Terrence Scarr, who had flown in from Capetown. After restocking food and drink and fuelling up again, we hit the tar road for Mumbwa the next day. Yet again a few police road blocks, but we were treated with respect and friendliness by all. It’s just that Zambians en mass have no sense of distance or speed and cannot give directions. We were told by one traffic officer that the general speed limit is “more than 100km/hr”, and distance estimates would vary from 10km to 30km for the same destination. 
Following prior directions, obtained from Kafue River Camp, through the outskirts of Mumbwa, weGoogle Earth found the main “good gravel” road north to Kasempa. It was actually ok, except for the first 40km or so, and one could comfortably cruise at 70km/hr, watching out for animals and oncoming vehicles, as one passes through parts of Kafue National Park and the adjacent game management areas. We had to cross the Kafue by ferry ($20) at Lubungu, go a few km down the main drag and take the well marked turn off to the camp on a 12km dirt track.
Kafue river camp is also a new development, as are many of the lodges sprouting up in the area, but it was the only one offering self catering camping facilities at affordable prices (we paid only $20 per day). They also have a lodge kind of operation, with ready pitched safari tents, en suite (about $50 per day per person sharing, self catering) under thatch, bar and dining area. 
They do offer the services of a chef for lodgers, just bring your own food. Each camp site has ablutions, but they are not all on the river bank. Fire wood is provided, fire made in the donkey, and a man-friday assigned for general camp duties. They also have a few ready pitched canvas tents around the camp site, but I’m not sure how these are utilised. The camp was still in the final stages of development when we arrived. They offer fishing excursions and guided tours and/or walks in the park and there is a full time game ranger seconded to the camp. 
The Kafue river was a bit treacherous and narrow, full of hippos, rocks and submerged obstructions, so we did not use the titanic very much. The Kafue was also in flood, but fishing from the banks was good, if you could find an open area between the mangrove-like trees, and if one’s also not too scared to walk around in the bush, unarmed by yourself. We caught a few nice pikes and bream on spinners, and lots of smaller bream on worm. 
There were lots of lion (heard them every night, and one morning there were tracks through camp) and elephant about, but the game was generally skittish because of hunting in the game management area we were in. Lots of bushbuck and puku around camp.
 The "hotel" kitchen
The people of Zambia are very friendly, warm and welcoming, and good English is spoken everywhere. Even in the smallest remote villages this is true: We spent a whole day trying to locate the northern entrance to the Kafue Nat. Park, about 100km north of Kafue River Camp, driving up and down one section. 
The road that we actually had to take was so terrible that we would not believe any one, even after several people had pointed it out repeatedly. This turn off was marked “Kabanga Wildlife Sanctuary”, with no indication that it eventually would lead to the Park, or anywhere near, or to an entrance gate, or a town called Ntemwa adjacent to the Park. 
We also had no idea as to how far we would have to travel along this road to get to the Park – estimates by locals varied from 8km to 25km. It was badly rutted and looked like it was last used in the rainy season, so after trying about 5km, we gave up and turned around. We did not want to have a vehicle break down or some other catastrophe, being only one vehicle (Pajero) in unknown territory, on an unused road.
What a pity! Zambia stands to lose many potential visitors to the northern section of Kafue Park due to this problem. One could reach there in a Mercedes Benz, and even drive around the Park on good roads they say, just to denied access by this short, impassable section. One hopes for their own sake that they upgrade it soon.
We dropped Terrence off in Lusaka on the 7th July for his return flight, and headed for home the next day, taking three more days to get back.  
 The end of a perfect journey!

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