There are few places in the world that have the capacity to enthral as much as Mana Pools in northern Zimbabwe. With ancient gallery forests fringing the Zambezi River’s sandy banks and looming escarpment in the background, the floodplains of this World Heritage Site make it instantly recognisable in photographs. This part of the park is “busy” by Mana Pools’ standards but compared to virtually any other southern African reserve in June open to the general public, it’s refreshingly quiet. Then, if you head inland as we did – to Chitake Spring – there are only three campsites, meaning vehicles become as rare as wild dog sightings on a game drive.
Aside from seclusion, Mana Pools offers variety in activity. You can walk (with a permit from the Parks office) or you can canoe the broad Zambezi, dodging crocs and hippos. Best of all, you can do both activities on the same trip and often on the same outing! To greatly maximise your chances of good wildlife sightings, I’d strongly suggest you do them with an experienced and qualified guide, as the animals in Mana Pools are very shy and not at all habituated to humans or visitors. An experienced guide will also show you plenty of interesting things you would never find on your own.
Of course, you can also partake in game drives, so long as you return to your campsite by 6pm.
We travelled with Natureways, who were incredibly helpful from the point of booking all the way through to our final transfer. Our guides Mark and Manu could not be faulted, upholding the highest safety standards throughout our adventure.
So, is walking and canoeing amongst wild animals dangerous?
The short answer is yes, it can be. However, if you approach any animal with respect and you listen to your (experienced) guide, any risk is minimised. Also, bear in mind that no animal intentionally wants to harm you, and in a group possessing three firearms, humans pose far more danger to the wildlife than vice versa.
Here are some tips to increase your enjoyment:
- Blend in. Wear earth-coloured clothing (khaki and tan work well) and be sure to have comfortable walking shoes. The terrain is mostly sandy, but there is also sticky mud/black cotton soil and riverbanks comprised of loose rock. You may also have to crawl or shuffle on your bum at times, keeping low so as not to scare away the animals.
- Be sun smart. Always carry a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses as it’s very sunny, even in Zim “winter”.
- Smell au naturel. Take it from me, African bees love coconut sunscreen!
- Cover up. Wear long pants to protect your skin from thorns and a long-sleeved shirt to avoid tsetse fly bites/sunburn.
- Drink lots. G&Ts are a sundowner classic but you should also carry a reusable water bottle for hydration.
- Exercise patience. We sat waiting in a natural “hide” for hours, and eventually, got great close-up sightings of buffalo and elephant drinking from a spring. Another time, we waited for a leopard to come claim its impala kill. It did come down from the tree above an hour later, but our movements in a mad rush for cameras scared it off!
- Never, ever run. If you come across a “growling bush” as we did later in neighbouring Zambia, back away from it slowly and never take your eyes off the animal(s).
To read about our experience with Natureways, click here.
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