Nestled along the meandering banks of the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, Mana Pools National Park stands as a testament to the raw majesty of nature. What sets this destination apart is the rare opportunity it affords visitors to approach big game on foot, an unparalleled and intimate encounter with Africa's iconic wildlife. Here, the term "mana" translates to "four" in the local Shona language, a fitting descriptor for the four expansive pools that define the landscape.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is not just a safari; it's a journey into the heart of the wild, where the ability to walk among elephants, lions, and other majestic creatures creates a unique and unforgettable connection with the natural world. Mana Pools is a sanctuary where the pulse of the earth beats in harmony with the rhythm of your footsteps, making it an exceptional haven for those seeking a genuine and immersive safari experience.
Each year, our Mana Pools & Kanga Camp Safari affords guests the opportunity to explore two iconic regions of Mana Pools National Park; the floodplain and the remote inland Kanga Pan. Two completely different yet complimentary safari experiences.
Rather than a day by day trip report I thought I'd share some photographic highlights and encounters from each of these areas to give you a better idea of what to expect when visiting this very special destination.
The Mana Pools Floodplain
Tall, stately mahogany and ana trees dominate the skyline, providing shade and sanctuary for a variety of wildlife. These iconic trees are interspersed with acacias, ebony trees, and albida trees, forming a unique canopy that shelters the floodplain below.
In the wet season, the fertile soils of the floodplain burst into life with lush grasses, attracting herbivores such as elephants, buffalos, and impalas. As the water recedes during the dry season, the floodplain transforms into a patchwork of open grasslands and scattered woodlands, creating a picturesque and varied landscape.
The Zambezi River, with its meandering channels and lush riverine vegetation, further enhances the beauty of the habitat, providing a lifeline for the park's inhabitants and creating a haven for water-dependent species.
Our time on the floodplain literally starte and ended with fantastic sightings of the resident pack of Wild Dog. Our first afternoon was spent watching them laze in the late afternoon sun right on the edge of the Zambezi before they scattered and headed off on what was ultimately a successful hunt.
This was very similar to our final morning when we spent a morning with the pack having found them just after they had caught and killed a male impala.
The floodplain of Mana Pools is without a doubt one of the best places to photograph these endangered animals. Firstly because they're seen so regularly here, but more importantly because one is able to be on foot and shoot at eye level. I feel that this is a crucial element of a captivating wild dog image - eye contact, catchlight in the eyes and a pair of attentive ears pricked front and centre.
Photographs aside, the experience of being on foot and within only a couple of metres of this endangered species is quite something.
Speaking of being on foot, one of the key attractions of Mana Pools is being able to spend time with the very relaxed elephant bulls that spend their time forgaing along the Zambezi River during the dry season.
One of the key attractions is the bull known as "Boswell" who is not only very relaxed with the presence o people on foot, but is well known for his ability to rear up on his hind legs as he stretches high into the canopy to access the fresh leaves and branches that are out of reach of all of the other elephants.
We were fortunate enough to have several encounters with Boswell, many of them were right out in-front of camp and two particular encounters were enjoyed all by ourselves.
But Mana Pools is not just about Boswell or elephants in general for that matter, there is an incredible diversity and array of photographic opportunities on offer. One of the "lesser expected" highlights of our recent visit was a morning spent with the Carmin Bee Eaters that were nesting on the Zambezi River Bank.
Carmine bee-eaters are colonial nesters, meaning they nest in colonies with other individuals of their species. These colonies can range from a few pairs to thousands of individuals, depending on the availability of suitable nesting sites and food sources.
Photographing these beautiful birds is never easy but having many of them in one location and returning to the same spot regularly certainly helps up the hit rate!
Kanga Camp and Kanga Pan
This secluded pan is nestled within the heart of the park, about an hour and a half by road from the flood plain of Mana Pools, and offers visitors a unique and intimate safari experience. The location of Kanga Pan is characterized by its semi-arid environment, particularly during the dry season when water becomes a precious resource. The pan itself plays a crucial role as a vital water source in the region, attracting a myriad of wildlife seeking relief from the parched landscape.
Surrounded by mopane woodlands and open plains, Kanga Pan transforms into an oasis during the dry season, drawing a diverse array of animals that depend on its life-sustaining waters. Acacia trees dot the landscape, providing shade and vantage points for predators, while the pan becomes a focal point for herbivores such as elephants, zebras, and antelopes. Kanga Pan's significance lies not only in its role as a watering hole but also as a hub for wildlife interactions and a prime location for observing the circle of life unfold in this remote and pristine habitat.
The seasonal ebb and flow of water in Kanga Pan create a dynamic and ever-changing environment, showcasing the resilience and adaptability of the park's flora and fauna. In the wet season, the pan may expand, surrounded by lush greenery and an abundance of birdlife. As the dry season ensues, the water becomes a magnet, drawing in herds of animals, creating a wildlife spectacle against the backdrop of the arid surroundings. Kanga Pan stands as a testament to the delicate balance between water resources and the diverse ecosystems they sustain in the captivating wilderness of Mana Pools National Park.
Spending time here at Kanga Camp was the perfect end to our time in Mana Pools and the "arm-chair" safari experience was a welcome change from the relatively active days on the floodplain.
Since the pan holds the only water in the area one doesn't have to head out on game drive - everything comes to you!
On one afternoon we had an elephant bull drinking in front of the deck, 2o metres around the pan a leopard was quenching her thirst whilst, on the other side of the wooly caper bush, a pride of 12 lions lounged at the edge of a pan watching 6 buffalo bulls.
Everything literally comes to you!
Would you believe that the above image was taken from my room? It just so happened that i had the best view of the pride of lions so the whole group walked aorund and spent some time photographing the lions from my room.
We did also jump into the vehicle to get a it closer and also to explore the nearby river beds and open pan systems but, in all honesty, if you're here in the dry season there is little reason to leave camp!
All in all, the combination of the Mana Pools floodplain and Kanga camp further inland, offers our guests the opportunity to get a true feel for the diversity that Mana Pools has to offer. The variety of photographic opportunities and activities on offer makes for a unique, exciting and diverse safari all at the same time.
Join us in Mana Pools
Experiencing the thrill of spending time of foot with Elephants in the breathtaking Albida forests is something that no words could ever accurately describe, it simply has to be experienced! Our Mana Pools & Kanga Safari combines 5 nights on the floodplain with 2 nights at Kanga Pan.