I have just finished hosting multiple safaris to this incredible destination. Mana Pools is such a beautiful Reserve and is situated on the northern side of Zimbabwe, bordering Zambia by the incredible Zambezi River.
This destination is one that is very close to my heart. I first visited it a number of years ago and from the moment I entered the park, I knew that there was something special, something unique and something that I had to experience for myself. Over the past couple of years I have been fortunate enough to guide guests to this beautiful National Park.
A common question that I get asked is why Mana? What is so special about Mana Pools?
I wish there was a simple explanation to this, but the best way I can explain it, is that you simply have to experience it for yourself. Mana Pools, comes from the local language, Shona. Mana in Shona means 4 and that refers to the four remaining pools on the flood plains. Each year during the rainy seasons, the Zambezi river rises and the flood plains fill up with water and the reserve becomes accessible only by boat.
Once the dry season comes, the flood plains dry up, leaving the remaining four pools of water. The dry season is the best time of year to visit Mana Pools, as it is relatively warm, but by no means unbearable.
There is no water away from these pools and the Zambezi River for many kilometers/miles inland. What this means is that the majority of animals move down into the flood plains for water, but with it being the dry season, there isn’t very much vegetation so animals need to adapt and help one another.
The predators generally always thrive during the dry seasons, although the days can be warm, it’s a good hunting opportunity for them. As the dry season goes on, the weak, old and young start to show their weaknesses and become targets for the predators. Survival of the fittest, that’s just how nature controls its population, through natural selection.
Accommodation I stayed In during my time in Mana Pools:
Nyamatusi Camp is situated on the banks of the renowned Zambezi River and is a representation of the surrounding environment. The camp is reminiscent of days gone by and is inspired by nature. Nyamatusi comprises of 6 spacious and well-appointed luxury tents, each with its own private deck and plunge pool, offering remote views overlooking the Zambezi. Nyamatusi is positioned in the eastern section of the Mara Flood Plains and in prime position to get into the flood plains early in the morning.
Zambezi Expeditions offers one of the best ways to experience Mana Pools on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River. 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. 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. The camp is also a semi permanent camp, which is broken down at the end of the season and then set up again around April/May.
What makes this camp isn't just its location, the people are incredible and make the experience so much more enjoyable.
The diverse area has multiple vlei lines, river systems of the Ruckomechi River, and mixed woodland types from Mopane woodland to Jesse bush and riverine forests. Kanga Pan itself is the only known water source in the area available throughout the year, making it a hub for wildlife and a delight to explore on foot. Pristine and undeveloped, this area gives you a pure, unspoilt, private African safari experience.
From my personal experience, I would advise doing one drive, just to get a lay of the land and to see the area, but other than that, you really do not need to leave the camp. During the day there is a constant flow of animals coming to the water and I must say, sitting back, enjoying a Gin and Tonic while watching the animals come down for a drink in the late afternoon is really special.
As soon as the sun sets, the waterholes becomes active with a variety of nocturnal animals such as civets, hyenas, lions, leopards and a whole bunch more! The camp also has a spotlight that you can scan the waters edge for any activity before and after dinner.
A day in Mana Pools
A typical day in Mana Pools consists of the following:
The day begins with an early morning wake up call, normally around 05:15am. This is then followed by a continental breakfast around 05:45am at the fireplace with some tea/coffee while listening to the African bush wake up.
We try leave camp as close to 06:00am as possible, the reason for this is with the time of year we host safaris to Mana the sunrises around 06:15am, so I like to get a jump on things early and head out to see what we can find.
Morning drives are normally from 06:00am to about 11:00am sometimes shorter sometimes longer depending on what we are seeing or not seeing, but more often than not we are back after that time.
We head out on safari in a vehicle, this allows us to cover more ground and once we either find tracks worth following up on(in which case we get off the vehicle and track) or we see something worthwhile walking to and taking photographs of, we then hop off the vehicle.
We are normally back by midday for lunch (lunch is normally discussed on our drive back to camp). We have some down time where you can either have a siesta or work through images in Lightroom and do some post-processing.
High tea begins at 15:30pm (also optional and depends on our plan for the day). This is normally an assortment of sweet and savoury foods with cold beverages served before heading out at 16:00pm for our afternoon safari.
We return to camp around 18:30pm - 19:00pm and have dinner around 19:30pm - 19:45pm where we discuss the day, the sightings we had, the plan for the following day and just enjoy the campfire and each other's company.
What to Pack:
- Long Sleeve shirt - Light weight (purely for protection from the sun)
- Long Pants
- Short Pants
- Electrolytes or Rehydrate sachets
- All clothes to be neutral colour(this is for when you walking to blend in with our surroundings)
- Good walking shoes
- Bug spray
- Camera gear(straps are also good to have to carry the cameras while walking)
- Binoculars (not essential)
- Light weight jumper (the mornings are a little fresh when leaving camp)
- Adapters for charging gear etc
Mana Pools allows you the chance to create a wide diverse portfolio of images.
I would recommend the following(or similar):
- 24mm - 70mm F2.8
- 70mm - 200mm F2.8
- Fixed 400mm F2.8
My reasons for the above suggestions is, because Mana has so many different opportunities to capture. The wide angle lens is great for landscape shots, like sunsets, sunrises and also the magic light that fills up the flood plains.
The 70mm - 200mm F2.8 is great for taking images of animals in their environment and is also easy to carry when approaching elephants on foot and looking to capture their sheer size and is the ideal lens to use when hoping for one of the bull elephants to stand on their hind legs. The F2.8 helps hugely when light is a bit tough, especially early morning and late afternoon, although the light is beautiful it is often soft and having 2.8 allows you to maintain a nice face shutter speed and keep your ISO settings low.
The fixed 400mm F2.8 is just a pure beast in Mana Pools. It allows you to get nice close up detailed shots(even on walks) having the aperture of 2.8 and shooting at eye level creates for some pretty spectacular images. Its also a nice lens to have for bird photography. Their is a wide range of bird life in Mana and during the periods we visit, its the nesting time for the colonies of Carmine Bee-eaters and is a great opportunity to photograph them flying in and out of their nest sights in the banks of the Zambezi River.
My Personal highlights of Mana Pools:
My love for Mana Pools started the very first time I ever laid eyes on the flood plains. This was a good few years back, but I remember what it was like to drive through the Mopani woodland and suddenly look around and be in the middle of this incredible floodplain. The light, the landscape, it just felt like I had stumbled into a dream. It is a destination that no matter what I type or who long I speak about it, I will never be able to do it justice.
There is just something different about it and yes, I have mentioned the walking. There are plenty of reasons why Mana is so special, but a huge personal highlight of mine is being able to be off the vehicle, whether it be searching for an elusive Pel's Fishing Owl or approaching one of the big bull elephants, being on foot just feels so different and being on foot in Mana can't be compared to any other bush walk I have ever done.
I also love all the small moments, the small moments in between the big moments. Sitting outside my tent in the morning and listening to the bush wake up or watching my guests facial expressions when they approach a big elephant on foot or just simply sitting around the camp at night and enjoying being out in the middle of the bush in the middle of Africa... It's simply spectacular!
Until next time,
Best of Mana Pools
This experience is set apart from any other and will showcase all of Mana Pools to you across 11 days. Nestled within the Zambezi Valley lies a creation of nature still pure, splendid, untouched and wild. With the mighty Zambezi flowing to the North, the wooded floodplain to the South plays host to one of the most astonishing wildlife experiences in Africa. This is a unique safari experience to Mana Pools in that it offers the opportunity to explore both the wildlife-rich floodplain as well as "the last waterhole" further inland known as Kanga Pan, as well as a 3 night stay at the wildest place in Africa - Chitake Springs.
Best of Mana Pools Trip Report 2022
What an adventure this was! This incredible eleven-day adventure took our small group of only five guests into three different areas within Mana Pools. This safari is a unique experience as it offers the opportunity to explore both the wildlife-rich floodplain as well as "the last waterhole" further inland known as Kanga Pan, as well as a 3 night stay at the wildest place in Africa - Chitake Springs.
This is an experience that everyone will enjoy. Photographer or not. Apart from the very close up, on-foot encounters with elephant, lion, leopard, wild dog and so much more, this safari as been designed to offer great wildlife, landscape and safari activity diversity.