The Zambezi River is the very essence of ‘true Africa’. Its banks are abundant with wildlife and its water full of hippos, crocodiles and tiger fish. Mana Pools, Zimbabwe, is one of the few places in southern Africa where visitors are permitted to explore on foot without a qualified guide.
September is the end of the dry season and many of the smaller watering holes have dried to mud, forcing animals to congregate around the larger pools and the river. Mana Pools has long been on my bucket list and everything was in place for the trip of a lifetime.
However, I had one serious concern about this adventure: Zimbabwe.
Forever in the limelight, particularly this year with the export of 24 elephant calves to China and the hunting of Cecil the lion. How can one support a country that does such a thing? However, after a fair amount of research it became clear that boycotting Zimbabwe was not the answer, nor would it solve any political problems.
The reality is that Zimbabwe is in financial dire straits and a large part of the country depends on tourism. Without the revenue from tourism, national parks will be forced to sell more animals to countries such as China and agree to the release of more hunting permits. Further down the line local people will lose their jobs and be forced to poach bush meat. Ultimately, it is not the Zimbabwean government but the wildlife that suffer from a lack of tourism and income.
Another concern I had was: safety in Zimbabwe. Having heard some horror stories about border posts, we avoided Beitbridge and travelled up through Botswana, entering Zimbabwe through the Plum Tree border. With the exception of lots of forms to fill out, the border was hassle free. The roads between Plum Tree and Mana Pools were in excellent condition. We broke the journey with a night in Gweru to avoid Harare. Before and after every major town there was a police road block. We had prepared for this and ensured that our car met all the Zimbabwean regulations.
As you travel north you begin to climb into the mountains and look out over the hazy flat areas below. The first gate to Mana Pools is nestled at the bottom of a mountain and from there to the main reception is about 70 kilometres of corrugated dirt road that takes about an hour and a half.
We stayed at Nyamepi camp site, on the bank of the Zambezi river, for a total of six nights. Every night we had hippo, spotted hyena and elephant in the camp. On one night a leopard and a pack of wild dogs passed through the campsite and most nights we were awoken by lions calling close by.
We spent the mornings and afternoons driving and walking and took advantage of the shade and fantastic views from camp in the middle of the day.
Elephant sightings are guaranteed at Mana Pools – we spent a great deal of time with these grey giants, both in and out of the vehicle. There is not much in life that can compete with the feeling you get when you can watch an elephant feed whilst sitting quietly on a termite mound. We hoped we would be lucky enough to see one reach up onto it’s back legs to get the seed pods from the Ana trees. Our patience paid off and we had several great sightings of this incredible iconic feat.
We were fortunate enough to see several prides of lions with tiny cubs and one morning found a female wild dog. When she moved away from the road we set out on foot to try and follow her. We walked through a tree line into an open area and after ten minutes spotted 11 wild dogs resting in the shade. We sat in the shade of a tree nearby watching them for the best part of an hour.
We found a few big herds of buffalo and on one morning spent 45 minutes successfully tracking a young male leopard. The bird life is diverse and I was pleased to see the Lilian’s lovebird and Ayes hawk-eagle.
If you have time and a love for wildlife, adventure and walking you will not be disappointed with Mana Pools.