During the weekend of 23, 24 and 25 July, the annual Pumping Legs for Water bike ride in Hwange National Park took place and we were fortunate enough, this year, to be able to go along and assist with the organisation. This was the third event of its kind and attracted an original entry of 57 riders registered, ending with 53 actually taking part. A report on the ride and all that it entailed will be going out shortly but we also took the opportunity to take an extra day to check up on the water points and pumping, etc., within the park.
Having arrived mid morning on Thursday, we set up camp in the camping ground at Main Camp and after a short meeting with Warden Jura, we set off for the Hide to see Gary to catch up with his news. Passing Makwa we saw that the pan, although not as full as last time we saw it, is being pumped again and holds good water with the other natural pans in the immediate vicinity starting now to dry up. Sinanga is also being pumped again and stopping off there after our meeting at the Hide, we found a herd of kudu, two giraffe and a small breeding herd of elephant. There were two scouts on patrol in the area and this was good to see. While talking with Gary and the scouts two huge old elephant bulls sauntered out of the tree line and another rather cheeky young bull approached at speed from the opposite direction, heading for the clean water ahead of his rivals. He was not all that enamoured with our vehicles parked so close! Thursday night was a quiet evening and we were early to bed accompanied by the raucous calls of the hyenas, apparently busy at the rubbish heap near the staff quarters. On Friday morning we took the road through to White Hills checking up on water along that route. Ngwenya pan and the next one are both holding very little water, Tshebe Tshebe is also low and pumping will need to start there soon, Tshabema holds reasonable water, Kaoshe has some water and the windmill at Mabuya Mabhena is still struggling to cope. The road along that route is mostly good but there are parts that have been badly dug away by elephant particularly along a stretch near Tshabema. Shapi is certainly a success story with the windmill doing its job and the pan was looking magnificent and fuller than we’d seen it in a very long while. White Hills still holds plenty of water and there is sufficient water at Guvalala and at Nyamandhlovu pans. We were very pleasantly surprised on all three days passing by Nyamandhlovu to see so much game back in the area and all very calm and peaceful. During our past few visits we have been very worried about the lack of game in that area but small herds of zebra were dotted about, several warthog sounders were rooting around in the last remaining patches of mud, there was a fairly big herd of wildebeest near the pan with several giraffe and kudu coming and going. Most of the visitors to the park over the weekend were lucky enough to spot and photograph the Martial eagle chick on its nest close to the turn off to Nyamandhlovu and we had some fabulous views of the snowy white chick, glaring down at us from its lofty, mute spattered eyrie as well as one of the adult birds perched close by.
After lunch back in Main Camp which was beginning to get busy with folk arriving for the bike ride, we went off to Makwa to meet up with Gary. We waited there for Owen to arrive as we had arranged to go to Umtshibi to look at one of the boreholes with a view to putting up a donated solar pump there. While waiting for Owen to arrive, five elephant bulls came down to drink, so quietly that they weren’t noticed until they were almost at the water! A short while later, three more majestic old gents arrived and all eight pachyderms made for the clean water gushing out of the ground. Having waited an hour and no sign of Owen, we went off to Umtshibi where we picked up several other members of Parks staff who took us to the borehole site. Owen did eventually turn up but unfortunately, it was found that it would be unsuitable to put up a solar powered pump there. Back at Main Camp once more, things were beginning to buzz and all manner of folk were out and about, setting up camp, riding around on their bikes, the lodges and chalets filling up. On Friday evening, a booking in session for the riders took place at Waterbucks Head with riders being issued with their ride numbers, ride packs and instructions for the following day’s ride.
Saturday morning saw us up early and after loading up with the water stop requirements, we set off at half past six down to Kennedy One. At Makwa we came across a herd of stately buffalo bulls and a little way past, we found a large breeding herd of elephant peacefully browsing along the side of the road. Unfortunately, we don’t think the riders on either day saw much in the way of game which was a little disappointing. On getting to Kennedy One picnic site and having set out biscuits, sweets, cooldrink, water and cut up the oranges, there was very little for us to do until the first batch of riders came in so we took time out to do a spot of bird watching. Vincent, the camp attendant, has been very good about filling up the bird baths in the camp and we saw an astonishing array of birds coming down to the water. It was delightful to see. We knew that the elite group of riders were arriving by the sound of laughter and cheers as attempts were made to win Gary’s ten dollar bet that no one would be able to ride through the thick sand at the entrance to the Hide road by the Parks boom. One of the youngsters almost made it but by the sounds of the merriment, obviously everyone was enjoying themselves. It was quite something to see the groups of riders arrive, all kitted out in their sponsored shirts which looked very professional and all of the riders arrived with a smile on their faces. There was much ribbing, teasing and laughter from all the groups and it was clear that everyone was having a thoroughly enjoyable outing, despite having to work hard through some of the worst bits of road. Once the last group of riders had departed for the final leg to Ngweshla, we packed up and joined the end of the ride. We went off on one of the loops through the erioloba forest on the far side of Kennedy vlei where we came across a few groups of elephant. Fortunately, the elephant were all very peaceful and carried on quietly munching as the road twists and turns so much amongst the trees there that getting away from an enraged pachyderm would take some doing! Back on the Ngweshla road, we caught up again with the riders but took the back road round to the picnic site so that we could see the final riders coming in through the gate. With all the riders and their support vehicles and families, the picnic site was seething and once again, much fun was being had by all. After cooking up some lunch, and seeing folks beginning to load up bikes and depart for Main Camp, we decided to go on and have a look at the Mangas as we’d been told that Manga Three and Manga One were being pumped again at long last. It was fortuitous that we decided to go that route as just before Manga Three we came across a young man and his girlfriend who were stranded, having holed the sump of their vehicle on a nasty rock in the middle of the road. No one uses that road if they can possibly avoid it as it is not at all pleasant to drive on so the young couple were extremely relieved to see us. We managed to tow the vehicle back to Main Camp, making a short stop at Manga Three, unfortunately, finding the engine not working and no water in the pan. As we approached Manga One, a magnificent roan bull galloped away from the pan and we were delighted to hear the engine working with plenty of water flowing into the pan from an overflowing trough that has just been completed. That area of the park has been without regular water for many, many months so it is excellent to see that efforts are being made to get water supplies down that end of the park again. There was sufficient water at Jambile with the engine going and water was flowing into the pan. On Saturday evening there was a short prize giving ceremony, instructions were issued for Sunday’s ride and then everyone settled down to enjoy an excellent braai and an enjoyable evening was had by all.
On Sunday morning we met up with some of the early birds back at Waterbucks Head for a cup of coffee and an egg and bacon roll before we headed off to set up the day’s water point for the riders. This time we went on past Caterpillar which was holding good water and Dopi which is also looking good. We set up the water point in the erioloba forest just past Dopi and just as we had set out everything, a vehicle arrived with folk from the horseback safari camp, out looking for a huge male lion and his female consort who had been having a determined go at their horses overnight! So, with just the two of us we kept a wary eye – and ear – open for anything unusual while we waited for the first group of riders to arrive. Most groups had been plagued with punctures along the way but organisation was such that there were few delays while attending to those and once again, everyone arrived in good spirits. Packing up after the last of the riders had gone on, we took a quick trip to Nyamandhlovu before going back to camp to join everyone back at Waterbucks Head for the final prize giving and a boere roll which heralded the end of the 2010 Pumping Legs for Water event. Some folks had to head straight off for home but most of those who were staying the night met up at the Nyamandhlovu platform in the evening for sundowners and snacks. We had been given permission to stay out until eight o’clock and although it was cloudy, obscuring the moon, it was still a delightful way to end a very successful weekend.
On Monday we had further meetings with Warden Jura and after breakfast and packing up camp, we went across to the school to have a look at the vegetable garden that had been put up in March and to drop off some oranges for the pupils which had been left over from the ride. We were delighted to see that they had an array of vegetables growing and the fence was in good condition. They had also brought in manure and one of the teachers told us that they hold some of their environmental study lessons in the garden. Hopefully next time we go up we can take them some more seeds and they also requested some form of pesticide.
We should like to commend the committee and organisers of Pumping Legs for Water for the tremendous effort that was put into an event of this nature, raising much needed funds for the water project. The sponsors have also made a significant contribution for which we thank each and every one and of course, the event would not go ahead without the wonderful people who took part either as competitors or supporters. It was such a celebration of life and the camaraderie and fun that everyone experienced made for an amazing event. A very sincere thank you, one and all, from WEZ, Matabeleland Branch and the animals in Hwange.
PS We have included some of the riders in this newletter as some of the folks at the event expressed a wish to receive our periodic Hwange reports. If you do not wish to receive further updates, please let us know and we will exclude your address from the mailing list. Thanks to all for your support.
John and Jenny Brebner.