By Anton Crone, photographer, journalist, adventurer & endless wanderer. On his 3-4 month solo motorbike trip from Cape Town to Tanzania, Kenya and back to South Africa via Mozambique he keeps us posted on this adventures. Follow Ant’s blog www.brightcontinent.co.za or Twitter @antoncrone
A friend told me the only way to see Gorongosa is by helicopter. He drove here many years ago to find few roads, impenetrable forests and virtually no animals. After returning to his regular seat in front of the TV, he watched a string of wonderful documentaries on Gorongosa the most spectacular footage of which is shot from the air. But – bully for me – up I went. Greg Carr, philanthropist and patron of the Gorongosa Restoration Project, gave me a seat in his chopper – the perks of being a journalist. And you know what? It was utterly fantastic. But flying over a parking lot in a chopper would be fantastic because, well, choppers are incredibly cool machines with swishing blades, awesome whirring sounds and an amazing godlike ability to fly, hover, and spin on a dime.
They are also incredibly expensive so it wasn’t long before this poor journo was back on earth trudging through forests and crawling between Palm fronds and Baobab trunks. But, hang on! I was crawling between Palm fronds and Baobab trunks! When have you ever seen these trees together? And then Mopani and Fig and Fever trees and bloody great Cycads, all on the same short trek through a forest. And so it became apparent to me that Gorongosa is, without question, the most diverse ecosystem I have ever come across.
Where before we were speeding over waterbuck in the air, in the forest I was rooted to the ground having a staring contest with a majestic male Kudu and his harem; taking beard growing tips from handsomely hirsute Nyalas; tapping into my primitive roots mimicking the barks of Baboons and standing mesmerized before golden spider webs so fantastically colourful in the dappled light that they were virtually kaleidoscopic.
Since my friend was here, much has changed. The restoration of Gorongosa is in full swing. The mammal population is on the rise, scientists are looking under every rock and up every tree so they can to learn as much as they can to fulfill the commitment to restoration. More tracks have been made and on one night, tracking a Lion with scientist, Paola Bouley, and vet, Rui Branco, we were delighted by 7 Civet and two Porcupines on one strip of wild highway. We often stopped to observe Night Jars that used the track as a landing strip.
One day, we watched jet black sables with scimitar horns weave through a forest of beautiful, yellow-green fever trees through which the newest trail threads. This is the route to the new Kubatana Camp and Asilia Africa’s Rob Janisch and Blessed Mpofu drove me there for a sneak peak. Kubatana is situated in open woodland on the bend of a river, a promising spot for animals in the dry season that will be drawn to the pockets of scarce water. There is a giant crocodile who hides close by, growing fat on these creatures. Each of the tent sites is dominated by a grand tree – Fever, Palm, Teak and Fig. Four sites are on the river bank with a view over the river, yet each is secluded. Two sites are a little further away from the main camp, one of these for the honeymooners – because those animal sounds travel far at night – and each has a grand view of a watering hole.
And if its total seclusion you are after, if you really want to test the volume of your primeval yowls, how about this: A “Star Bed” miles away on a hillock dominating immense plains of grassland, surrounded by 8 Baobab, the grandest and oldest of which (about 1,000 years) will be your perch for the night and the frame to the immense star-scape above – all yours.
Getting to this site was wonderful as the route took us through the Fever trees once more, down into a lush, forested river gulley then up again where it opened up onto an immense grassy expanse dotted with palms. And there it was in the distance. Mount Gorongosa. Who needs a chopper when mountains are so awesome from the ground.