Sunday, May 4, 2014

Canoeing at Hippo Pools in Umfumarudzi National Park

My sister and her husband Kyle, visiting from the US, had waited patiently at the top of every mountain and at the end of every trail for two weeks as our four year old took his time looking at clouds and caterpillars and asking to be picked up.  With one open day left before our two very active relatives left town, I needed a day trip.  We were tired of sitting in the car... so tired... then I remembered a national park no one ever talks about, just a few hours out of town.  (Sounds far, but not by African terms!)  I did my research, made reservations, and two days later we found ourselves at Hippo Pools on the banks of the Mazowe River in Umfurudzi National Park.

Umfurudzi National Park, approximately 760 sq kilometers, was the first national park established in Zim after the country gained independence.  It was severely poached until just a few years ago when new anti-poaching methods were put into practice. (This explains why not a single local we spoke to had ever bothered traveling out to Umfurudzi.) The park now looks to rebound from a severe depletion of wildlife.  It has new fences, new surveillance, new counting methods, and new herds of stocked wildlife, such as buffalo, zebra, and elephant.  Hopes to reintroduce the (endangered) black rhino population into the park within the next few years have left park advocates hopeful that with an increase in these populations, an increase in tourism to the area will also occur.

While speaking to a local who runs a camp on the edge of the park, I was told of how two cheetahs (once common in Zim, it has now become almost non-existent in the country) were recently relocated to the park. Once this fragile pair multiplied and flourished and large herds of other species enjoyed increased numbers, the plan was to then reintroduce other predators like lion and leopards to control populations.  Unfortunately one of the cheetahs was just killed in a village on the edge of the park.  It is hard to convince people of conservation when their farm animals (and livelihoods) are being eaten by park animals!  Umfurudzi is a perfect example of the sad challenges facing wildlife conservationists today.  

One of the challenging things about living in Africa is finding outdoor park area that is safe to walk in free of predators.  It makes having a four year old an extra task when you have leopards and lions on the brain, so we were quite okay to find ourselves sharing hundreds of miles of outdoor space with just one shy cheetah. Though we didn't see as much wildlife as a number of other parks in Zim, the gorgeous canoeing trip and our enthusiasm to help a re-booting tourism push in the area more than made up for it all.

(Above) sister Caryn and hubbie Kyle get on their gear

We hiked to the edge of the river, over a wire bridge that my four year old is still talking about

before getting on a canoe to get to the other side of the river where our equipment waited.

"Agressive" hippos meant that we had to walk a little ways downstream before starting our 4 km journey.  They don't call it Hippo Pools for nothing…

We started our journey just next to the weir.  Here Caryn and Kyle sit beside our guides.

The weather and scenery could not have been better.

The perfect-sized rapids gave us a little exercise and Jonas a bit of extra excitement.

It's hard to find "family friendly" in Africa.  We have found oodles of places to go and things to do that we cannot get into with Jonas.  Hippo Pools was a fun adventure for all of the personalities in tow!