We often say that Victoria Falls is a year-round destination, with different experiences to offer at different times of year. We are reminded how true this is as we reflect on the approach of autumn over the past three months; a season where the falls are at their most dramatic – giving us an impressive spray cloud but preventing certain activities like swimming in the Devil’s Pool and white water rafting – and the dense green bush begins to thin and dry out, bidding farewell to the migrant birds but allowing for easier game viewing.
The months between February and April can see a significant change in the landscape as the cooler, drier time of year approaches. Although the season was shorter and accrued less rainfall than the previous year, the 579mm of rain we received over the summer kept the bush looking lush and verdant for months. The last of the big rains fell on 31 March and since then the wilderness has begun its slow transformation from green to gold.
What remains of the nourishing grasses is being enjoyed by the grazers, especially the elephants, who find the soft blades easier on their teeth than the branches and leaves they tend to have access to in winter. As water becomes more and more scarce, we will start to see the wildlife becoming concentrated around the waterholes – another reason that game viewing in winter is so much more prolific.
The warm weather remained over autumn, especially once the rains came to an end, with days staying hot and dry throughout April and beyond. With an official average temperature in the very high 20sC/low 80sF (in reality it was a few degrees hotter than that) it is an extremely pleasant time of year to be on the banks of the Zambezi or visiting the World’s Largest Waterfall for a cooling stroll in the mist.
Wildlife Movements & Sightings
Such is the reality of wildlife conservation that, once an area is secured, most indigenous species naturally find their way back, perceiving (quite rightly) less of a threat to their survival within the protected area. This has absolutely been the case at Matetsi Private Game Reserve which had, prior to Matetsi’s involvement, been decimated by poor management and rampant poaching.
Today, some eight and a half years later, the weekly sightings reports are bursting with fascinating accounts of creatures great and small. Vast numbers of elephants, buffalo, giraffe and antelope criss-cross the reserve – and in the case of the elephants, the lodge itself! – accompanied by jackals, zebra, wildebeest, hippo, baboons, crocodiles and more. Various prides of lion, both resident and transient, are seen regularly, often with cubs, while leopards which were once extremely rare in the area are being seen once or twice a week at least.
Among the most interesting and noteworth sightings this season were:
- “Bluetooth”, a large male lion, mating regularly with one particular lioness, which will hopefully lead to a new litter of cubs by mid-winter
- A herd of approximately 30 adult and 10 juvenile eland at Sara’s Pan
- An African finfoot with two chicks on a sunset game drive
- A pangolin (!) spotted late one evening on the road near the main gate
- Six seperate chameleon sightings on one game drive
- A western-banded snake eagle visiting West Camp
- A 4m-long rock python•A serval nursing two kittens at Mpisi East
- A herd of grumpy buffalo chasing a lion up a tree
- Two jackals trying to catch a honeybadger, which, if you know honeybadgers, ended badly for the jackals
- A leopard hunting and killing a large male impala•13 sable at Westwood Vlei
- A Pel’s fishing owl and a Verraux’s eagle owl on the same game drive
- Wild dogs moving along the (unfenced) reserve boundary
High water is an exciting time at Victoria Falls – while it can be challenging to see the falls themselves through the spray cloud at ground level (a wonderful but particularly soggy excursion at this time of year!) it is absolutely breathtaking from the sky. Even with ponchos, guests get drenched on the walking tour (which, if you ask us, is half the fun!) and the extraordinary sight of the nearly two-kilometre-wide river plunging into a basalt gorge from the “Angel’s Flight” helicopter tour will stay with you forever.
According to the Zambezi River Authority, which charts the water levels of the river, the falls reached their annual peak in early-to-mid March with more than 2,500 cubic metres of water rushing over the edge of the gorge every second. The graph is however indicating that the Falls are heading towards a secondary peak which is due to top out towards mid-to-end May.
The task of conserving Matetsi Private Game Reserve is a relentless and complex one. Not only is our team responsible for the health and integrity of the ecosystem – including anti-poaching and wildlife rescue operations – but also the more prosaic functions such as maintenance and administration of the land.
It is a considerable responsibility and we are endlessly proud of the men and women who so tirelessly preserve and protect this remarkable habitat. Among their duties over the autumn months was continuing anti-poaching patrols, removing wildlife snares and illegal fishing traps placed by opportunistic hunters (although thankfully these incidents are few and far between these days), and monitoring an injured lion.
The latter proved to be more challenging than expected! “Bluetooth” was fitted with a collar some time ago to help monitor him while he healed, but when it came time for it to be removed, he was less than enthusiastic. Like any wild lion, he was determined not to be approached by humans and made light work of evading the team or mock-charging them on a few frightening occasions. Eventually he was successfully sedated and checked and had his collar removed before the tranquiliser was reversed and he headed off grumpily back into the bush.
“Our 7 night stay at Matetsi was perfect… All staff went the extra mile for us. Being on the Zambezi adds another dimension to an already extraordinary experience. Canoeing, fishing, lunch and sunset cruising were an amazing addition to the game drives. One of the highlights was seeing leopard from our cruise boat. Mind blowing.The food and lodge service was sublime. Johnson was our butler. He was brilliant, anticipating our every need. The helicopter and the tour, by Nash, of Vic Falls was fantastic. We having been coming to various game lodges for 20 years and Matetsi has been our best overall experience at a game lodge. We are looking forward to returning soon.” – Viv, March 2023