Mana Pools with Natureways

Walking, canoeing and game drives, followed by hot showers, fresh oven-baked bread and a comfortable, warm bed. Every. Single. Day. Natureways made sure we had every comfort conceivable. And they managed to ensure we had all these things in Mana Pools National Park, a wilderness more than two hours by road from the nearest town. In a country currently without a national currency and crippled by fuel shortages!

Here are some photos of food served at camp, because that’s the most common question I get asked! Note that vegetarians/allergies are well catered for if you notify Natureways but you need to do this in advance.

On our 6 night safari, we stayed at two different campsites: “Camp Zambezi” (CZ) on the floodplain, and “Camp Chitake” (CC), located inland near the remote Chitake Spring. Both were private and scenic in their own unique way. Were they quiet? Well, there were no human sounds, but plenty of hippos grunting at night at CZ and lions roaring (on both sides of camp!) at CC.

Both sites were set up perfectly prior to our arrival and tidied up each day while we were out exploring the park. You could easily stand up inside your “bedroom”, even if you were over 6 feet tall. Beds were of the stretcher variety – very comfortable – and the bedding was cosy and warm. There was also a screened area out the back containing a chemical toilet in case you had to pee in the middle of the night!

The shared long-drop loo and camp shower were a few metres from sleeping quarters, with staff filling up the shower bucket with hot water every evening so you could wash away the day’s dust.

Every morning, someone would awaken you with a cheery “good morning” and fill your canvas camp basin with hot water. Once you were up, there was a good chance coffee was ready – brewed on the camp “stove”.

After a light brekkie, depending on wildlife movements, the weather and the mood of the group, our guide(s) would discuss what we would do that day. No two days on our trip were ever the same, and we always came back to camp for a proper sit-down brunch/lunch or dinner.

Sunrise over the Zambezi from our campsite

Our group covered distances daily ranging from 5km to 15km on foot and by canoe. Pace was dictated by the slowest person in the group, the terrain, and of course, Mana Pools’ many, many animals!

Here’s a good example: one day, as we were about to embark on our first canoe outing, two lionesses were spotted nearby, looking for an easy impala meal. For the next hour, we stood riveted on the riverbank, watching the tense situation unfold. Two crocs also quietly joined the hunting party. Fortunately (for the impala), nobody died! Our late start meant facing afternoon squalls on the Zambezi, but is there any better way to work up an appetite?

Canoeing on the Zambezi is a unique experience and only possible if you’re staying on the floodplain (ie. at Camp Zambezi). You travel in Canadian-style flat-bottomed canoes, usually in pairs, both paddling with a plastic paddle. The Zambezi is a broad river with a strong current, so visitors usually paddle downstream. In the water and on the banks are heaps of hippo, and plenty of crocs, so you’re constantly jacked on adrenaline trying to avoid them (or at least, I was!).

The wind was strong and I was nervous at first, but the canoeing experience was so worth it!

Early on, I noticed that our guide tapping the fibreglass canoe with his paddle. When I asked him why he did this, he said it was to “alert sleeping underwater hippos” of our presence. Presumably because hippos don’t like being awoken by canoes gliding overhead! The other “exciting” thing that kept happening was that every time we got close to a pod of hippos lying on the bank, they’d rush into the water towards us. “To safety”, our guide said, while paddling along serenely.

At certain points on our canoe trip, we’d stop to walk. Once, we came across a impala dead beneath a huge tree. From the prints on the sandy ground, our guides surmised that it was a leopard that had made the kill just minutes before, but the stealthy feline was nowhere to be seen. We would return later on foot, and get a fleeting glimpse of it.

From Camp Chitake, there was only walking available but you only had to saunter down to the spring line from camp (a distance of 5 metres) to encounter all sorts of creatures looking for a drink. The Chitake Spring was the only water for miles around, attracting both predator and prey alike.

The animals were a little skittish – especially around vehicles – so often, we just sat quietly behind termite mounds or beneath trees waiting for wildlife to come for their daily drink. Steer clear of fragrances (bees love coconut!) and bright coloured clothing as you don’t want to stand out in the bush. For more tips, read this article.

Chitake also offered enormous, ancient baobabs plus few other things you’ll have to find out when you visit. It’s that remote we were virtually the only humans most of the time. And while I’m all for self-driving and exploring independently, in Mana Pools, I’d recommend seeing the park with the best guide you can afford as you’d never find half the things we saw on your own. It’s also one of the only parks in Africa you can canoe plus you’d never know where to go alone, on foot!

We organised our entire safari with Natureways, who helped arrange road transfers between Lusaka and Mana Pools. Between the food, accommodation and experiences we had, we cannot recommend them highly enough!

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