Mana Pools National Park: the second try

Whenever Guido spoke of Mana Pools, he had this fairy-tale atmosphere in mind in the pictures. An atmosphere as if elves or gnomes would soon appear. The visit in 2019 was more than disillusioning. The atmosphere was nowhere to be found, it was unimaginably dry after the rainy season and after three nights we had to leave the park with an elephant sighting and countless tsetse fly injuries at Sonja. Already in 2019, however, it was clear to us that we would return. Now, about 3 1/2 years later, the time had come. We left the Eastern Highlands and hit the road. The route is too long for a non-stop drive and in addition to the necessary overnight stopover, we decided to make one more stop. We are happy to share the story of that.

Gosho Park and two surpises

When we stayed in Bulawayo at Burkes’ Paradise, we met Henry. Henry is a bus driver and drives children from a private school home. They live at the school and are home for a week every few weeks. During that week, Henry is off and when the time comes, he picks up all the kids and brings them back to school safe and sound. Henry also spent his week off at Burkes’ Paradise and so we talked with him several times. The conversations were very deep and we got to know Henry as a very likeable person. When he found out about our plans, he recommended a stopover at a small private recreational park between Mutare and Harare. This park houses a small campsite and a bush camp. 

When we arrived there, we learned that students from a neighboring school were staying and studying at Bush Camp. The staff member sent us to the campsite and recommended a campsite that was a bit on the outskirts, as there was also a group of teenagers on parts of the campsite. We followed the description and as Guido turned the corner we saw a large school bus parked on the edge. Guido speculated that Henry was staying at Gosho Park and Sonja laughed at him. When we found our camping spot, a nice little campsite next to a huge round rock surrounded by a small mopane forest, Sonja inspected the facilities. Guido, meanwhile, was setting up camp and just as he finished, Sonja stood in front of him, grinning. Next to her was Henry, laughing up to his ears.

We are amazed

What a surprise! Our joy was great and we talked again for a long time before we accompanied Henry to the camp. This time he was not chauffeuring Zimbabwean school children, but an Austrian men’s and boys’ choir! This choir was on tour in Africa and had a performance that evening. The next day they drove on to Victoria Falls before traveling to Zambia and flying home after various performances there. We were totally blown away. Not only did these guys have fantastic voices, but they also had the opportunity at a very young age to expand their horizons and see the world. In the evening we had a satisfied feeling of happiness in our stomachs and slept wonderfully. The next morning we set out to see what Mana Pools National Park had in store for us on our second visit. 

Guido speculates about Mana Pools

After another overnight stay in Chinhoyi – we still knew this place from 2019 – the final stage to the park followed. Behind Makuti, you have to get an entrance ticket at the permit office, otherwise you don’t get in and have to drive these kilometers twice. The actual bookings are then made at the reception in the middle of the park. In Mana Pools National Park the same conditions apply as in the other parks. As a walk-in guest you get attractive conditions, but here you are limited in your choice. The special rates in Mana Pools are only valid for the Main Camp. We have never been bothered by this, because the campsites, directly on the banks of the Zambezi, peppered with regular visits from wild animals of all kinds, is worth every penny. 

Whether we might have neighbors 50 meters away is completely irrelevant to both of us. During the drive, Guido laughed playfully and said that he had a certain feeling in his stomach that the park would have some great sightings in store this time. He speculated on wild dogs and special moments with our favorites, the elephants. Lions, he said, did not play a bigger role. Of course, he was only speculating – he couldn’t know that in any way.

For the start a herd of buffalo

We did the procedure and passed the two barriers at a distance of 30 km. After another 45 km on corrugated roads we drove through Mana Pools, passed Long Pool and now knew for sure: We are back!  A visit to the reception brought clarity: Chitake Springs, a place at the other end of the National Park, was fully booked for the whole month and was not available. The Main Camp was available as usual, so we booked ourselves there for three nights without further ado. We had hardly arrived at the campsite when we spotted two massive buffalo walking comfortably out of the undergrowth towards the campsite. After a few minutes, a small herd was on the campsite, spread out and grazing comfortably. They reached our vehicle and made no effort to avoid us. When a elephant bull appeared and started scraping the bark off a tree right in front of us, we were finally flashed. That was a promising start. 

Bathing elephants and a hippo

After the elephant had retreated and the buffalo had left us our comfort zone again, we relaxed and recovered from the exhausting journey. The evening game drive was cut short. At Mana Mouth, a lioness was walking leisurely along the shore. To get there, a water crossing was necessary. Sonja didn’t want to do this, but agreed to it when it became clear that avoiding it would mean a detour of about 45 minutes. The passage turned out to be totally easy – not even the four-wheel drive was necessary. Unfortunately, the lioness was in the meantime in an area inaccessible to us and so we only managed to take photos for documentary purposes. We soon drove to the Zambezi, where we had an appointment with Dutch people. We had already met them in the Caprivi in Namibia and met them again by chance in the camp.

During a sundowner we could watch elephants in the evening light, a hippo grazing comfortably and some elephants ending their trip to an offshore island with a demonstration of their swimming skills. What a first day. Satisfied and happy, we fell asleep.

Mana Pools National Park reveals the fairy tale atmosphere 

The next day was characterized by exploratory tours. We got an overview of the individual regions and their current condition. In the beautiful morning light, some of the pictures created the fairy-tale atmosphere that Guido always saw before his eyes. The most extraordinary picture of this series is probably the hippo walking through the fairy tale forest. Otherwise, bull elephants dominated the picture. Back in the camp we were able to capture the cheeky nature of the Vervet Monkeys with neighbors. The little thieves robbed us of our last nerve. Whatever we had in front of our noses was endangered as soon as our eyes turned away. These thieves managed to steal things from the table while we sat at it. What they once had in the way of edibles, they would not give back. Tupperware or other packaging they threw off the tree after a while. They developed into a real nuisance. We adapted our behavior and left absolutely nothing edible standing or lying around anywhere. 

Back on foot

Together with the two Dutchmen we booked a bush walk for the next morning. In the morning light Mana Pools presents itself quite extraordinary. We wanted to use this with the fascination to explore the bush on foot. We were very happy and arrived punctually at 06.00 am at the reception. The ranger, he called himself Talent, was also there and ready. He rode along with Stefanie and Dan in the car and after a short drive and a familiar briefing about how to behave on a bush walk, we finally set off. We enjoyed being on foot again after 3 1/2 years. It is so much more harmonious than going by car. The feeling of integration came back immediately. We explored the area and approached several bull elephants. One of them had been collared and we hoped to experience the Boswell trick of standing on his hind legs. The bull tried it, but unfortunately did not manage to lift his weight with his legs. So it remained stretching in quite wonderful atmosphere. The spectacle was repeated in several places in the park.

Lions and a pleasant surprise

After a little over an hour of bush walk, we returned to the cars and drove to Mana Mouth. We wanted to change regions and see what we would find there. On the way we met game vehicles from the surrounding camps and learned that lions had torn a waterbuck. Talent led us to the spot and we guessed the body of a lioness in the dense undergrowth. She was there feeding on the waterbuck. There was not much to see and after the other pride members had eaten their fill and were lazily lying in the undergrowth a short distance away as well, we decided to move on. 

There was a rumor that wild dogs were at Mana Mouth. As soon as we got there, we saw two more cars parked and people running to the river. We did the same and to our total delight, we spotted a pack of Wild Dogs lying near the river in the shade. Some went to bathe and drink in the river. Sonja’s eyes lit up and the day was saved. More than that, Sonja was finally reconciled with Mana Pools

Nature is unique

A single morning can be so bursting with abundance. First the elephants in the special light and then the Wild Dogs, which gave us the opportunity to be very close to them and who tolerated us. We finished our tour with Talent after a while, took him back to the reception and returned to camp to rest over lunch. In the late afternoon we went again on our own to Mana Mouth and to our delight the Wild Dogs were still there. Now we even had the fantastic opportunity to observe them from a different perspective. The next morning we left Mana Pools National Park satisfied and happy and drove towards Kariba. There we prepared for the border crossing into wild Zambia. Mana Pools showed us this time what is possible if you are lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. What a magnificent, almost magical place!

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