Inside The Ultimate Elephant Tour

Ultimate Elephant Safari

The African elephant is considered to be one of the most iconic animals in Africa. They are a sought after animal for both photographers and non photographers. I have been privileged to spend many many hours in the field with these incredible animals and I still can't get enough of them.

There are so many different studies going on around the world about these beautiful creatures, which gives us great depth into the life of these gentle giants, but what I love about all of this is that there is still so much for us to learn about them.

Have you ever just sat in the middle of an elephant herd, put your camera down and just taken in your surroundings? It is amazing what you start to notice, how individuals interact with one another, how mother and calves act towards each other, how safe guarded the calf is, the silence in which such a massive animal can move and their general behavior, it is truly fascinating. It is one of my favorite things to do, to sit with a herd of elephants while they go about their daily business, I find it gives me a sense of peace, it's a rather calming feeling if you embrace it.

Mana Pools

This tour begins in Harare with a short flight into Mana Pools National Park. It's a truly beautiful flight as you see the woodland area of Mana Pools open up to the incredible flood plains and the mighty Zambezi River. Its the perfect way to kick start your safari.

Mana Pools National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a beautiful 2,196 sq. km wildlife conservation area in northern Zimbabwe.

Mana means "four" in Shona, (one of the main vernacular languages in Zimbabwe) and it refers to the number of large permanent pools left by the Zambezi River as it flows into the flood plain. Mana is known as one of Africa’s best game viewing areas, as many large animals come here in search of water. It is also an excellent area for bird-watching, being rich in vegetation diversity from river frontage to forests of mahogany, wild fig, acacia albida and baobabs. The landscapes in Mana Pools are beautiful too, dotted with acacia trees, whose shade becomes vital to the parks’ more than 12,000-strong elephant population in the dry season, as well as a sprinkling of vibrant plant life. Far away from any human settlement, you’ll relish the feeling of remoteness here. Surrounded only by extreme wilderness, leaves one speechless.

On each safari activity, you are accompanied by a local guide as well as a Wild Eye guide. Combined, they both have a wealth of knowledge and are there to give you the best experience possible. The beauty of Mana Pools is being able to get out of the vehicles and be on foot amongst the wildlife. It's a great opportunity to get out of the vehicle and experience this first hand, it's a completely different perspective and makes for one incredible experience.

The local guides are very good, not only with understanding animal behavior, but also understanding specific animals in the area. This allows us to maximize our time and be able to get close encounters with these gentle giants in a safe environment. Its a very difficult experience to try and express in words, but the best way I can explain it, having been to numerous safari destinations is, being out on foot, on the open flood plains, walking amongst a rich array of wildlife gives you the feeling that you are part of the environment and that is one of the best feelings in the world.

Where we are staying in Mana Pools:  Zambezi Expeditions

Our idyllic tented safari camp is our first stop on this Ultimate Elephants Tour is located only meters away from the edge of the mighty Zambezi. The camp is warm and charming and is hosted by a team that puts your comfort and experience first. Exquisite cuisine, campfire stories & the sounds of Africa permeating your canvas tents all form part of an unforgettable encounter with Africa.

Zambezi Expeditions showcases one of the most magnificent settings in Zimbabwe's iconic Mana Pools.

Comfortable yet classic, the camp offers the kind of intimacy with nature that can only be achieved by immersing yourself in the heart of the wild.

Set under the shade of winter thorn and ebony trees, each tent has en-suite bathroom facilities with hot bucket showers and the main area has charging facilities for your all-important camera gear.

Fall asleep to the sound of the flowing river and chuckles of hippo and wake up with the dawn chorus to a spectacular African sunrise.

At Zambezi Expeditions you will connect with nature in a deep and meaningful way.

The Ultimate Elephant Tour
The Ultimate Elephant Tour
The Ultimate Elephant Tour
The Ultimate Elephant Tour
The Ultimate Elephant Tour

Hwange National Park

Hwange National Park is the largest wildlife reserve in Zimbabwe, occupying roughly 14,650 sq. km. It is in the northwest corner of the country, about one hour south of Victoria Falls by air, and is distinctive by its deep Kalahari sands which blew across the continent aeons ago and now support ancient hardwood forests, savannah grasslands and acacia trees.

The park is named after a local Nhanzwa chief, and was once the royal hunting ground for the Ndebele warrior-king Mzilikazi, before being classified as a protected National Park in 1929.

As you’d expect from a park of this size, the breadth of wildlife species is astounding. Over 100 species of mammals reside here, whilst almost 400 species of birds decorate the skies. Perhaps most exciting is the 40,000-strong population of tusker elephants, whose presence is world-renowned and a joy to watch day after day.

The dry season (from July to October) is the best time to visit Hwange, as large concentrations of wildlife– particularly the wonderful elephant herds – descend upon the area to drink from the waterholes in order to survive in this hot and unforgiving environment. Yet, whilst the rains from December to March will see the wildlife dispersing across the park, thus making them harder to spot, the summer showers also bring forth stunning vegetation. This ensures mesmeric bird-watching opportunities as the local population finds itself bolstered by the migrants coming down from the Northern Hemisphere. Hwange National Park truly is a year-round wonderland.

Getting there

After leaving Camp in the morning to transfer by road to the Mana Main airstrip, we will board a scheduled flight to Hwange National Park.  The flight from Mana Pools to Hwange is around one and half hours.  Once we have landed in Hwange we will transfer by road to Somalisa Expeditions, still stopping for any photographic opportunities along the way.

Where we are staying in Hwange National Park:  Somalisa Expeditions Camp

Our second Camp for this Ultimate Elephant safari is Somalisa Expeditions Camp.

Somalisa Expeditions exudes adventure and brings you face to face with Africa’s giants. Situated in the perfect location with a very productive waterhole right in front of the Camp, you can sit in your armchair and let nature venture to you.

Capturing the ambiance of a mobile camp but with all the trimmings, Somalisa Expeditions offers with authenticity and comfort. Slightly more grounded with common areas on the land giving you a closer connection to the true wilderness experience, without sacrificing any luxury. The honest and genuine design of this camps truly grants you the space to explore Africa as it should be.  Here you can make yourself at home in Serengeti-style tents with contemporary finishes.

Somalisa Expeditions is a place of bonfires, where stories and laughter are shared and where the striking African sky evolves from a bright orange blaze, with silhouetted acacia trees on the horizon, to the twilight of the night sky. The camp also has one of the most productive waterholes situated right on the deck, this allows you to get some really great and close opportunities to photograph the large herds of elephants that are a constant flow coming down to quench their thirst. It's the perfect spot to sit back and relax in between safari activities.

The Ultimate Elephant Tour
The Ultimate Elephant Tour
The Ultimate Elephant Tour

The Chobe River

This is the last stop of this incredible safari and it truly ends off with a bang!

Activities during our stay - After an early morning wake up call, we will have some tea/coffee and a light meal we will board one of the Pangolin photographic boats and explore the Chobe River.

The river itself is home to an abundance of birdlife and wildlife, which from a boat makes for some powerful and unique photographic opportunities. As the days start to heat up, a number of different animals including elephants come down to the river to cool off, feed on the nutritious food and quench their thirst.

A big highlight of this part of the trip is watching and photographing the elephants at eye level as they swim and play in the channels while they move from one island to another in search of better food.

During the day in between activities, you can either go rest in your room or you can sit down with your Wild Eye Photographic Guide and work through some the images you have taken before heading out in the afternoon for another boat trip.

The afternoons are particularly good on the river as it is still very hot so there is always something to see and photograph and with such diversity in wildlife, it really is a magical place to finish off this safari.

 

Getting There

Upon arrival at Victoria Falls Airport, we will be met by a representative who will give us a road transfer, which is roughly about 1 and a half hours drive to Kasane where we will clear customs and enter into Botswana and be staying at the Pangolin Hotel.

Where are we staying in Chobe: Pangolin Hotel

Pangolin Chobe Lodge sits atop a hill above the town of Kasane in close proximity to the main entrance of the Chobe National Park. This vantage point overlooks the panoramic Chobe floodplains and has superb views of the region’s dramatic sunsets.

Each of the 14 charming bedrooms at the lodge are airconditioned and have en suite bathrooms with shower and toilet. All rooms have a number of plug points and storage places for camera equipment and luggage.

The main areas of Pangolin Chobe Lodge are relaxed, stylish and made up of the dining room and swimming pool terrace on the lower level, whilst the upper floor features an editing and workshop area and the bar. Walls are graced with an array of incredible, inspiring wildlife images. There are ample places to simply relax and reflect on each day’s ventures.

Chobe National Park is one of Africa’s most desirable locations for wildlife photography. It holds woodland and riverine habitats, home to an abundance of game. Large herds of elephant and buffalo are a distinctive attraction and birding is nothing short of astounding. You will explore the Chobe riverfront by safari boat and discover the heart of the park in customized safari vehicles.

Gear Recommendations

Mana Pools offers a unique variety in vegetation, from the open floodplains close to the Zambezi river.  With the majority of encounters being on foot, you don't want to carry gear that is too heavy.  A lens similar to the Nikon 80-400mm or the Canon 100-400mm work well or alternatively if you are considering prime lenses a 300mm 2.8 or 400mm lens would work well.  The Albida forests in Mana Pools are particularly impressive early in the mornings and late in the afternoons and you would without a doubt want to go a bit wider with your composition.  A lens that is equivalent to a 70-200mm would work perfectly.

Hwange's vegetation is generally a bit more dense, however a lens of up to 400mm would be sufficient.  A wide angle lens would without a doubt come in extremely handy, especially when photographing Elephants coming to the Camps waterhole.  A lens equivalent to a 16-35mm or 24-70mm would be ideal for photographing these gentle giants around camp.

Being out on the Chobe, the choice of gear above will serve you well in this area as well. With such a diversity to photograph on the river, having a wide range of gear allows you to maximise each photographic opportunity that comes your way.

This is Why Travel With Wild Eye

  • Three iconic destinations combined into one incredible adventure.
  • Intimate on foot encounters in Mana Pools with two experienced guides.
  • Exploring the beautiful flood plains of Mana Pools in search of Gentle Giants is an exhilarating experience.
  • Close encounters with Elephants at Somalisa Expedition Camp
  • Big herds of Elephants during the dry season in Hwange
  • Seamless road and air transfers between destinations.

We look forward to welcoming you on this Ultimate Elephant Safari.

Until next time,

Trevor

Ultimate Elephant Safari

This tour provides an amazing opportunity to spend time with Africa’s giants in some of the most breathtaking landscapes. The combination of Mana Pools, Hwange and the Chobe not only allows you to view Elephants in different environments, but also to observe vastly different behaviour.

Mana Pools and Hwange Safari

Mana Pools & Hwange are two incredible parks and wilderness regions found in the northern reaches of Zimbabwe. The parks still represent the qualities of a safari experience of old. Still largely undiscovered and wild, both regions will present you with a glimpse of this special "old" Africa, the way Africa was perhaps a century ago. You'll get to experience the endless vistas of the Mana Pools floodplain adjacent to the mighty Zambezi River, and then spend time further inland amongst the giant cathedral-like Mopani trees where Kanga Camp lies.

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