The sound of a coffee tin falling to the ground woke me from a light sleep. I peeked outside my tent to see a genet sniffing around the table where we had prepared dinner the night before. It is 4am and almost time to wake up. I had a restless night because of lions calling all night, against the rumbling soundtrack of the mighty Zambezi River just 5 meters from my tent. There was no need for dreaming last night as my dream had just come true. I have woken up to the sounds of Mana Pools. Nudging my friend Morkel to wake up we both hurriedly got dressed and readied ourselves for what we hoped would be an epic morning. We had no idea what lay in store for us.
After gulping down a breakfast of coffee and Ouma’s rusks we headed out before the sun could kiss the top of Mana’s beautiful trees. We had seen some big elephant bulls the day before and had hoped to find them before sunrise. Our mission? We desperately wanted to capture the moment these massive beasts lifted up onto their hind legs in order to feed off the tall trees. Yes, you heard correctly, elephants standing completely unaided on their hind legs. It seems to defy gravity and it is a learned behaviour only performed by the largest and most experienced bulls. As if by magic we spotted the very same elephants feeding within the Ana Tree grove a mere twenty minutes from camp. The land cruiser came to a jolting stop and the excitement in the air was tangible. Thanks to Mana Pools National Park visitors are allowed to leave their vehicles at any point and for any animals. The animals have adapted and tolerate people amazingly well, though care should still be exercised.
Morkel and I grabbed our lenses and bags and set off into the forest to get ready for the anticipated action. We placed ourselves in the elephants path (but at a safe distance) in order to photograph the largest bull lit from behind as the sun peaked out through the tree canopy. The bull grew curious and started walking straight towards the two of us. Now let me tell you, even though you know he has seen many people walking up to him, the sight of a 6 ton tusker ambling towards you is absolutely frightening. You have no cover and no tree will help you escape from him. We retreated, giving him some distance as we switched to telephoto lenses. Words cannot fully describe the emotion of seeing these elephants stand up on their back legs. We were both completely overwhelmed and the excitement was almost too much to handle. After about an hour with them the moment finally came, the moment that will stay with me forever. I had my eyes on a tree I had hoped he would walk up to. If he obliged everything would be perfect, the flawless photograph. As he walked to the spot I had hoped for I could not believe my eyes. My heart started throbbing as I checked my settings again and again to make sure I would not mess this shot up. As he reared up to reach the high branches with a perfectly clean, beautifully lit background behind him I fired away. I knew I had nailed it. My hands were shaking so much I could not immediately hit the “playback” button. I have never felt so absolutely relieved in my life. I knew I had captured something great today, something few have seen or witnessed before.
This is what Mana Pools does to a person. Countless testimonies along the same lines come from past visitors to this forgotten wild paradise. Mana can’t be described in a sentence, paragraph or essay. It needs to be experienced. Once you have drunk from its boundless beauty you too will have a once-in-a-lifetime story to tell friends and family.
All photos © Marlon Du Toit
Africa Geographic Travel and Marlon du Toit are running an epic 5-day safari in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe’s gem and one of southern Africa’s most iconic parks.
Marlon du Toit will lead the group and be on hand to assist all participating guest photographers.
A fully-catered, comfortable tented camp will be setup near Nyamepi in Mana Pools National Park, on the banks of the Zambezi river, a privileged location to absorb and appreciate this most magical outpost.
Mana’s prolific game and birdlife, flowing vistas, magical sunrise and sunset light and privileged access on foot to predators and elephants promises to keep participants thoroughly entertained with endless photographic opportunities.
Truth be told….this expedition is aimed not only at photographers but can be enjoyed by all safari enthusiasts seeking a true wilderness experience.
Find more about this trip at http://africageographic.com/travel/mana-pools-with-marlon-du-toit
Christian Boix | General Manager | Africa Geographic Travel
Tel: +27 (0)21 762 4974 | Fax: +27 (0)865194138