In 1985 Chris van Wyk was awarded a concession in the Linkwasha Wilderness on the South Eastern edge of Hwange National Park. There was no air strip or cell phone or wifi , the only contact with the outside world was via a crackling HF radio ,it was a truly wild place.
The transfer into Linkwasha Camp was a three hour game drive down a dusty, corrugated road into the middle of nowhere. At Ngwesha Picnic Site the road turned into an unmarked, sandy track that snaked off even deeper into the wilderness. Gradually the brush opened up to wide grassy plains that were studded with Ilala Palms and threaded with shallow “pans” that were a magnet for wildlife in the dry season. Forests of ancient teak trees were framed by endless blue skies and off in the distance, the herds of Zebra seemed to shimmer and dance in the midday heat.
Arriving after sunset, guests were welcomed by a string of flickering paraffin lights and the stillness of a million stars. The evenings entertainment consisted of sitting around the glowing embers of the camp fire , listening to the eerie call of Jackals and the distant grunting roar of our resident male Lions as they moved ever closer to camp.
With time and patience , the large herds of Buffalo came to trust and accept our presence. One of Dad’s favorite past-times was to cover the guests in mud and have them leopard crawl out into the middle of a clearing where they would hide in the shade of a Combretum thicket, to watch the Buffalo up close. His guests would always return late for meals, ravenously hungry, sunburned and grubby, picking thorns out of their hands and knees while they gabbled excitedly about the nerve wrackingly close encounters they had enjoyed. One thing was certain if you went out on a walking safari with Chris Van Wyk, you would be going home with memories that would last you a life time!
The resident Wildebeest herd moved in and took to sleeping close to the Honeymoon Suite and on one occasion, their grunting completely terrorized a young English couple on Honeymoon. They had no clue what was making all that noise and after a sleepless night (and one imagines not much romance), they demanded an immediate transfer back to the safety of civilization AND a full refund in compensation for their terrifying night!
Moonlit nights in the sweltering heat of October always revealed a story. On one occasion we watched in horror as a lioness stalked our resident White Rhino cow with her calf as they were approaching Makalolo pan. With the ongoing threat of poaching , she had been “de horned” but this had been a controversial decision as it was thought that it might compromise their ability to defend their young. Clearly the hungry cat had the same thought and we watched anxiously as she stalked closer and closer in the half light. It turned out we needn’t have been too concerned, as soon as the mother Rhino spotted the Lioness, she put her head down and charged, catching the Lioness unawares. With a single swipe of her hornless snout she sent the hapless cat somersaulting through the air before crashing back to earth with an audible thud. The Lioness sat up with a bewildered look on her face, before bolting off into the darkness! It was a huge relief to know that the Rhino were able to protect themselves from predators even without their horns!
Once cannot describe the peace that comes from sitting in silence at at a waterhole at the end of the day watching the burnt sun disappear below the dusty horizon, entertainment provided by the occasional barking baboon, as his troop climbed into the nearby Ilala Palm trees to roost for the night . Large herds of Elephants led by their towering Matriarchs would march by within meters of where we sat – rumbling and trumpeting and rejoicing to have finally reached the freshly pumped water at the pan ,after a long days walk.
For 12 years we watched the resident pride of lion raise their offspring ,their cubs learn to hunt on the short grass plains in front of camp. At that time the dominant males were a powerful trio of brothers who bravely defended their territory against all-comers. Each year in the green season Buffalo, Zebra and Wildebeest dropped their young and as their numbers increased, they in turn supported the growing pride. Sadly many of the younger male lions looking for their own territories ,crossed out of the Park across the railway line into hunting areas and were never to be seen again .
In the dry season of 1997 the Matriarch of our resident elephant herd and her oldest daughter waited patiently and watched from a distance as Val van Wyk and a team of staff worked tirelessly to free their dehydrated calf who had become stuck in the mud. Mum and her helpers watched with elation as the wobbly little grey bundle ran off and was reunited with the herd.
The winds of radical change were blowing across Zimbabwe once again , as chance would have it, this would be the last time that guests of Nemba Safaris would see these gentle giants of Makalolo Pan. Dumbfounded and completely devastated at the news they had lost the Linkwasha Concession, Chris and Val van Wyk packed up their tented camp and moved on to new adventures. It was a great privilege to have shared this special place with travelers from around the world. They say that an elephant never forgets and I often wonder if the Matriarchs daughter has taken her place as the leader of the herd and if we were to return to this remote wilderness, would she raise her trunk in the sunset breeze at the waterhole and remember us?