(somewhere along the way our counting of days went awry – that’s what happens when you spend some much time in the bush – so we’re actually further into the trip than we thought)
Fri 4th Nov & Sat 5th Nov – Camping, Mana Pools National Park Sun 6th Nov – Dema Villas, Harare
(our days and dates also got all confused along the way as well – what day of the week it is hasn’t really been very important to us recently)
Lake Kariba – Mana Pools National Park: 159km
Sun 6th Nov – Dema Villas, Harare
Lake Kariba – Mana Pools National Park: 159km
Game driving within Mana Pools: 75km
Mana Pools National Park – Harare: 404km
Total km travelled since Nairobi: 7,521km
Of which Kian has game-driven: 579km (7.7%)
Over the years I’ve spoken to several people about where their favourite campsites are in Africa and the name ‘Mana Pool’s has come up many times. So, it was with high expectations that we ventured to the park from Lake Kariba and I have to say that as a wild camping destination, it was pretty amazing.
We pre-reserved a site without having any real idea about exactly where we should be and feel we ended up very lucky. New BBC campsite is, like pretty much all of the sites, right on the edge of the Zambezi River. The location was perfect for our small camp … we were able to tuck ourselves away on a mid-level bank so nobody driving on the roads behind would have known we were there, and the eland and other taller browsers had nibbled away a shady hollow that our tent fitted into perfectly. Many other campsites we saw were quite open, with only one big tree for shade and quite visible from the roads.
Wildlife was on our doorstep, a fact highlighted to us as we were trying to set up camp, when a small herd of elephants, including a tiny little calf, walked straight up to us. We’d been watching them drink but as they moved closer, we stood next to the vehicle but eventually took evasive action, clambering into the car, as first the mother and then the little calf came to investigate us. Hippos and crocodiles constantly kept a watchful eye on us from the water and our quick check that we weren’t on a major hippo highway water entry point turned out to be correct, although several grazed the riverbanks right under our tent at night.
We had clear views up and down the river and during the day there was a constant stream of animals and birds coming to drink and feed. Impala eyed us warily, ‘dagga-boy’ buffalo glared at us and baboons and monkeys thankfully mostly kept a respectful distance from us … although Kian and his ‘Monkey Squirter 2000’ (a water bottle with a squirter) may also have had something to do with that. As a side note, I finally heard a decent explanation for why big male buffalos are called ‘dagga boys’ – it comes from the Shona word ‘dagga’ meaning ‘dirty’, as those grumpy old males are often caked in mud. We were treated to a rather special bird sighting right in front of our camp, a great view of a Black Egret hunting in the shallows – he curls his wings to join them, forming an umbrella that shades the water below him and attracting the fish he feeds on.
In regards special sightings, those of you who have been on safari with us will probably know the pangolin is an animal I’ve always wanted to see. I’d only ever seen half a dead one prior to our visit to Mana and I can now say that I’ve seen half a dead pangolin twice … the main office had the carapace of one sitting on top of their filing cabinet as well as a rather ghoulish collection of jars containing, amongst other things, an elephant foetus … fascinating but not what we were expecting when we went to buy our park tickets.
Of all the campsites we’ve stayed at on this trip, this has been by far and above the nicest to be in. There were no facilities, other than a pretty dilapidated long drop, which was out of the way, and we ended up setting up our own ‘loo-with-an-absolutely-amazing-view’, which was a far more pleasant place for us all to while away some time. At every stage of day or night, there was always something going on along the river and it was very easy to spend time sat in the shade of our winterthorn tree or out by the campfire under the stars just enjoying being out in nature.
We ended up only 20km upstream of where we had stayed at Chula Camp, in the Lower Zambezi National Park on the Zambian side of the river, but the experiences of the two places was quite different. There we were looked after by a professional safari outfit and had their boats and canoes to enjoy time out on the water. Here in Mana Pools, we were under our own steam and were primarily game driving ourselves around the park.
The name Mana Pools comes from the Shona word Mana, meaning 4, which refers to 4 old ox-bow lakes that hold water late into the season. In fact, 2 of these still held usable water and this gives wildlife a little more area to roam over. The elephants were stars of the show once again and the park is famous for several named big bulls who are known to reach up and end up on their hind quarters to get at vegetation out of the reach of everyone else. We didn’t see any great displays of this, but had several close encounters with these very calm (and curious) chaps. We found a very lazy, rather beaten up old male lion one evening, snoozing down by the river banks but our main aim was to find Wild Dogs for Gillian. We came up empty handed for a day and half of searching then, on our drive out of the park, we found a pack of 9 fast asleep under an acacia tree right by the roadside. They are beautiful specimens here, seemingly bigger and healthier with more pronounced painted patches that the ones we’ve been lucky enough to see in Laikipia.
One thing that surprised me was that there wasn’t actually a massive range of tracks available to us … because it’s so dry, we inevitably mainly stayed close to the river and there are two main roads that ran up and downstream from our camp, with limited loops coming off them, most of which just went to other campsites. There were some long looping tracks back into the mopane woodland but we tried a couple of these and they weren’t very productive. I think we were also lucky to be visiting and quite a quiet time of year as we really didn’t encounter too many other people out and about. There are over 30 campsites in the central Nyamepi area, where we ended up, and another 20 or so further out and I can imagine that during very busy periods, such as school holidays, the place could feel very crowded with lots of self-drivers charging around all over the place. I would then have been happy in my safari chair, enjoying the view from camp and spotting animals and birds with a cold drink in hand! Maybe I’ll finally get to see all of a living pangolin this way …