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Lake Kariba " Maybe fi ve or six of them," Craig hazarded after promptly picking up fresh lion spoor. We tracked the paw prints through parched, spiny scrubland, and I often found myself gazing either upwards at towering baobabs or downwards at the occasional fossil ( Matusadona is littered with them). After 45 minutes on the move, Craig turned to say that he was sure that we'd see lions close to the lakeshore ahead. Sure enough, a small pride eventually crossed our path. " Wonderful," I said breathlessly. The next words out of my mouth were less expressive and more panicky. " Uh- oh," I uttered as two cubs veered in our direction. The youngsters' move prompted a growling lioness to mock- charge us - twice. With the errant cubs subsumed back into the pride - and suitably chastened - we were left alone. My pulse was now racing. " That's the sort of experience you get in Zimbabwe," said Craig. " Can you believe it's not even 8am? Most people haven't even started work." As we pressed on I felt I was walking on air. We eventually crossed a causeway into the remote Rhino Safari Camp, where I found a Kiwi by the name of Phil Blake. One of a handful of tourists I'd met outside Victoria Falls, he was on a similar high. He couldn't wait to show me the photos he'd taken that morning of 16 lions feasting. They'd not only brought down a kudu, but also a crocodile who'd tried to pinch their kill. Jenny Nobes, the camp's owner, has struggled to keep it running since Zimbabwe's troubles erupted. However, she feels things are looking up. After all, the lake ferry is relaunching, and a new fl ight schedule from Harare will be bringing more visitors to Kariba. Bumi Hills Safari Lodge, which sits dramatically atop a lakeside escarpment west of Matusadona, has also sensed the shifting fortunes of Lake Kariba, and recently reopened for the fi rst time in years. Its 20 opulently-furnished rooms, all with staggering lake views, cluster around an infi nity pool that seems to dissolve into Lake Kariba itself. From its wooden balcony, where guests dine al fresco, I sipped a cold beer while being entertained by elephants on the lakeshore. With their hides caked in the ochre soil, they trumpeted with muddy glee. Good times on the horizon, quite literally. ? Mark Stratton travelled in Lake Kariba and Matusadona National Park with thanks to Sengwa Safaris ( www. karibahouseboats. com), Bumi Hills Safari Lodge ( www. bumihills. com) and Classic Africa Safaris ( www. classic. co. zw). KARIBA'S CALLING CARDS HIPPO Hippos wander up to 25km a night in search of grazing. Bulls give up their territorial claims on land, when food becomes a more pressing concern. TIGERFISH The tigerfi sh ( Hydrocynus vittatus) is what puts the Zambezi River on the angler's map. This feisty game species can reach 15kg and puts up a fi erce struggle when hooked. With razor- sharp interlocking teeth and a muscular body, it is a deadly predator of many other fi sh. FISH EAGLE You needn't be a twitcher to spot an African fi sh eagle ( Haliaeetus vocifer). The ringing call and snow- white head of this iconic bird make it an unmissable feature of lakes and rivers across Zimbabwe. In just eight minutes' fi shing time - in other words, one or two well-judged swoops - this raptor can satisfy its daily food requirements. Nice work if you can get it. December 2009 Travel Zimbabwe 39 Clockwise from top left: Elephants are often drawn to the verdant shores of Lake Kariba; Craig van Zyl guiding in Matusadona; Bumi Hills Safari Lodge; The Royal Game houseboat MARK STRATTON MARK STRATTON MARK STRATTON BUMI HILLS SAFARI LODGE

Mana Pools National Park 40 Travel Zimbabwe December 2009 RIVEROFLIFE The silky waters of the Zambezi River caress the banks of Mana Pools National Park, gifting it wildlife less ordinary. The result is safari experiences that are simply extraordinary. here are four main things to watch for," briefed Tendayi Ketayi, my river guide. " Sun, stumps, hippos and crocs." Since I'd enjoyed wasabi- coated crocodile a few nights earlier, I fi gured vengeful reptiles were my biggest worry. If I bumped a stump and went into the water, they'd surely smell the evidence and be on me in an instant. Nevertheless, I was still excited at the prospect of canoeing the lower Zambezi River in Mana Pools National Park. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the park is renowned for canoeing and walking safaris, both of which offer some of Africa's greatest wildlife encounters. Mana, which means ' four' in Shona, refers to the number of the park's permanent waterholes. It's around these that sightings of some of the Zambezi Valley's 640 avian species are assured. The hinterland bordering the river is a mosaic of cracked mud pans, dry riverbeds and woodlands dotted with the albida trees whose fruit is a favourite of the many elephants. Tendayi and I cast off from Wilderness Safaris' tented camp at Ruckomechi, where pampered guests enjoy views stretching across the Zambezi toward mid- channel islands rustling with reeds. That said, one morning my vista was impeded by an elephant's derriere. The big boys aren't very courteous, simply moseying in and out of Ruckomechi at their leisure, cracking the boardwalks as they go. Once we got paddling, another big- bottomed mammal proved to be a serious impediment - the hippo. With great dexterity Tendayi guided our canoe past pods of these mammoth porkers, always anticipating their movements after they'd submerged nearby. It was at these moments when our fi breglass hull suddenly felt precariously fragile. He also made plenty of room for those leaving the land, as they'd usually create quite the swell when bellyfl opping into the river with all the fi nesse of a pub drunk. Adrenaline- inducing moments aside, we settled into the Zambezi's lazy current and enjoyed nature in full fl ow. Elephants swam across the river with trunks raised like snorkels; crocs submerged with intent as if auditioning for a Tarzan movie remake; and rainbow plumaged bee- eaters popped in and out of their nesting holes in the riverbank. As the setting sun burned the Zambezi, we drifted into the night's temporary bush camp at Vumbu. A campfi re sundowner was waiting for me, as was a comfortable tent and a loo with a serious view. Before dancing fi refl ies punctuated the dark night sky, I watched the lofty Zambezi escarpment smoulder in the day's last light. After dinner I lay on my camp bed, letting the sounds of the bush wash over me. But it was my newfound bellyfl opping friends who had the last laugh, barking, splashing and belching long into the night. ? Mark Stratton travelled in Mana Pools National Park with thanks to Wilderness Safaris ( www. wilderness- safaris. com). CHRISTOPHER SCOTT DICK PITMAN