There is no doubt that Mana Pools, in the northern reaches of Zimbabwe, is one of my favourite wilderness destinations in Africa. It’s towering forests of winter-thorn acacia, mahogany, ebony and fig trees line the mighty Zambezi River and filter an unmistakeable blue light onto the wildlife below. It is a haven for those guests seeking the best of Africa’s walking experiences, photographers keen to get a new angle and those wanting true adventure. A Mana Pools experience gifts a totally new perspective, not just on safari but on life. This is a window into oldest Africa.
During the dry season a 12 000 strong elephant population descends on the area to drink from the river’s plentiful supply of water and to feed from the Ana tree acacia that gets pods at the end of winter. When we visited now the area was experiencing a severe drought but even in typical years this UNESCO world heritage site has some of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Africa. Some of the prolific species include eland, baboons, impala, elephant, lions, wild dogs, crocodile and hippopotamus.
Some of the largest elephant bulls in the area have made themselves famous from developing the ability to stand up on their back legs to reach for the highest and thus tastiest branches. Once they grabbed hold of a branch with trunks extended they release their bulk downward and return to the ground with a crash of vegetation following suit. On our very first morning in Mana we headed out on a walk and came across one such individual fondly named, Boswell. He was being followed by an entourage of female elephants and their youngsters who were hoping for the scraps he leaves in his wake. We spent an hour or so trailing this group on foot, something a majority of the animals have become accustomed to in the area. At one point we moved ahead of the herd and strategically positioned ourselves on a fallen tree that the herd was moving towards. We sat patiently and they eventually browsed towards us. Boswell, showed particular interest and wondered to within a few meters of us. Take a look at the video below.
If you’ve ever felt the enormity of an elephant next to you from a vehicle, then just having your small frame unprotected next to theirs takes it to the next level. It’s an incredibly dwarfing, exhilarating and ultimately humbling experience.
In fact at lunch time everyday we had these welcome visitors moving through camp. We would move from our delicious meal to the lounge area and quietly sit as they came within touching distance of us.
Another incredible highlight was tracking and viewing wild dogs on foot. We found the pack of twelve on a hot afternoon resting in a gully alongside the river. As it started to cool they began to rise, greet each other excitedly, play and then move. As we sat on the warm Zambezi soil the pack walked passed within meters of us at eye level, completely unfazed by our presence. Some of you may find this alarming but wild dogs have never been recorded attacking a human in the wild. The gift of Mana as well is that after a long history or people roaming this area on foot, animals have become as accustomed to us in that way as they are to humans in a vehicle in other wildlife areas.
This particular pack had pups that weren’t with them at the time and thankfully they went on to make an impala kill that filled them enough to be able to head back to the den site to feed the young. Dogs can run at about 50km/hour for about 5 km and are understandably thus very difficult to keep up with when they get on the move so we were particularly lucky to even find them on their kill, even if it was only to see them finishing up the remains.
The adrenaline-inducing experiences didn’t end there. We also had remarkable moments with lions. Some of these included finding a pride finishing up the remains of a buffalo they had killed on an island in the river and resting in the blue evening light as elephants grazed with the foothills of the Zambian mountains serving as a backdrop. We also found another pride on a waterbuck kill and the third on a young elephant that had succumbed to the drought, a sad reality in the current conditions.
Other special experiences included canoeing on the Zambezi followed by a sunset drinks stop on the river bank, explorations into the centre of a living a baobab and an afternoon watching the stunning Southern carmine bee-eaters flying in and out of the nesting holes in the banks of the Zambezi.
The African bush camps staff are the most incredible people and one of my highlights was watching them drum around a blazing fire under the thick milky way as the closest shooting star I have ever seen streaked the sky behind them. From the quality of food, guiding, hosting to all the tiny touches along the way this team went above and beyond. If you fear camping, then this version of glamping will cure you for life!
I could tell you that Mana Pools is pure wilderness but ultimately it is an ineffable place; it must be experienced. I already hear it calling me back home again.
Reach out if this is an experience you’re looking for.