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Let's talk Mana Pools National Park. (Zimbabwe)


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#1 Game Warden

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Posted 12 June 2011 - 10:26 PM

So who has been, where did you stay, how was the accomodation and tourist infrastructure? What sightings did you have? What are your recommendations for Mana Pools National Park? Feel free to post anything which you think will be of interest to those visiting below, including photos.
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#2 Paolo

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Posted 13 June 2011 - 02:23 PM

I hope someone else will chime in, since my experiences in Mana Pools are not recent (I was there in 1993 and 1997), even though I will visit again next August (on a private mobile camp, spending 5 nights at Mucheni - along the Zambezi river - and 3 nights at Chitake Springs in the interior).

Mana Pools was fantastic in the 90s. From what I can gather, it is still fantastic nowadays.

The landscape is unique, with floodplains dotted with sausage trees and Faidherbia Albida, giving the area the feeling of a magical, well tendered parkland, and the Zambezi Escarpmment providing a majestic backdrop. There are also areas of very dense bush (called "jesse") and mopane woodland. The top of the Escarpment is covered by southern miombo woodland.

Two notable features are the pools (particularly, the four main pools - "Mana" means four), which are basically relic courses of the Zambezi, and Chitake Springs, a kind of gorge at the foothills of the Escarpment which in the dry season provides the only water in a 40 Kms radius and obviously attracts a plethora of animals.

Do not make the mistake of considering Lower Zambezi NP in Zambia as equivalent to Mana Pools: it is not. When I visited Lower Zambezi (a very worthwhile protected area in its own) I was amazed to see how the general game was much less plentiful and varied than in Mana Pools. The main reason is the different topography of the two parks: the Escarpment on the Zimbabwean side is at a far greater distance from the river than in Zambia, and thus the floodplains - rich in nutrient - are mauch more extensive in Mana Pools than in Lower Zambezi.

As to wildlife, Mana Pools is very famous for its elephant, but also buffalo, hippo, waterbuck, greater kudu, common waterbuck, eleand, impala, bushbuck and zebra are plentiful. There are also a few nyalas. Predators include lion, leopard, wild dog and spotted hyena, whilst cheetah is occasionally seen. Birdlife is excellent too.

Accomodation in and around Mana Pools ranges from self catering units to mobile tented camps to seasonal luxury tented camps. Activities are very varied, and consist of game drives, walking and canoeing. One of the best way to experience the wilderness of Mana Pools is a multi - days canoeing/walking trip, sleeping in fly camps along the way.

It would be interesteing to have some input in this thread by our Zimbabwean Safaritalk members.

#3 twaffle

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Posted 14 June 2011 - 12:52 AM

I can't add to this thread as I haven't been yet but want to say that I, too, was caught up in the thought that the Lower Zambezi would be the same as Mana Pools but was told otherwise by someone who has visited both. One day I will get there I hope.

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#4 tonypark

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Posted 14 June 2011 - 12:12 PM

Let's not forget that Mana is a prime self drive destination as well (unlike the Lower Zambezi National Park). (I should add that I did once stay in Sausage Tree Camp in the Lower Zambezi which was truly beautiful. The setting was wonderful, but we did most of our game viewing on the water and didn't seen nearly as much as one would see on a drive in mana on it's good road network).

Getting back to my point, Mana Pools boasts what I reckon is the best range of self drive camp sights in Africa - as long as you don't mind lion, buffalo, elephant, etc, wandering up to and through your campsite on their way to and from the Zambezi.

Mana's main camp, Nyamepi, is unfenced, with stands set under beautiful big Natal Mahogany trees. It's best to get one of the sites on the river if you can - though beware aforementioned animals. We had a pair of lionesses circling our tent one evening on our first visit. They'd come into camp in search of the herd of buffalo that had taken up residence among the tents. Fortunatley the lions were scared off by a charghing elephant!!!

It's that sort of place.

Outside of Nyamepi there are a number of satellite campsites which one books for a single group. We've stayed at the BBC camp, named after the film crew that stayed there years ago, and there are a few others.

We've also stayed in the lodges, but not for some time. I've heard one or more are being rennovated, or have been rennovated. The price to stay in these has skyrocketed in recent years. REports of the standards of facilities (everything is gas and solar - no electricity in Mana) varies greatly.

The great/crazy thing about Mana is, of course, that you can walk anywhere you want to. Great if you are an experienced bush person - crazy if you are an ordinary tourist. People have been injured and killed in this park, so do be careful.

What I really like about the walking policy is that if you go for a drive you're perfectly able to stop your car, get out, and have a little picnic. Now that, my friends, is good fun.

I've tracked lions on foot there (former ecologist and warden Norman Monks collared some of the parks lions and last time I went you could pay to go out with the new ecologist as he radio tracked the lions, then approach them on foot with an armed ranger), and I've come across wild dog while on foot.

It is, quite simply, one of the best places on the continent to visit. I'll be back there later this year, hopefully around September/October.

#5 kittykat23uk

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Posted 15 June 2011 - 04:42 PM

A few of the Safari talk ladies including myself are about to book a wild dog focused trip here for next summer so this topic is quite well timed. :lol:
If an experience is amazing enough to be "once in a lifetime," I want to do it every year.
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#6 Paolo

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Posted 15 June 2011 - 04:48 PM

A few of the Safari talk ladies including myself are about to book a wild dog focused trip here for next summer so this topic is quite well timed. :lol:


Then, I guess I will have to do a proper trip report this time around....

#7 russell

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Posted 15 June 2011 - 05:47 PM

Mana Canoe Trail - My No 1 African Experience.

Au revior ST - its been a pleasure, see you in 2015!


#8 Game Warden

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Posted 15 June 2011 - 06:19 PM

Mana Canoe Trail - My No 1 African Experience.

Why?

"Return to old watering holes for more than water; friends and dreams are there to meet you." - African proverb.

 

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#9 tumba

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Posted 15 June 2011 - 06:23 PM

Mana Pools my favourite subject!

Which safari company are you travelling with Paolo?

I have been to Mana a few times, I sort of discovered the place by accident, when I first went to Africa (2003) I went to Zimbabwe to visit a friend who took us on a trip to Lake Kariba then Mana Pools and finally chitake. Zimbabwe is not a place that I would have chosen to visit if I had not known someone, I had always dreamt of visiting the famous east african parks, Zimbabwe was just a place with a repulsive president. However sitting on the banks of the Zambezi with a sundowner watching everything coming down to the river is when I felt I had really found the africa I had hoped for.

I have been back twice since once to chitake for 3 weeks and the last time in 2009 to mana pools. I think at mana you get the feeling of being in the thick of it as the animals come down to the river. As Mr Park says the walking thing is crazy/great, I have had many great experiences at mana on foot, but also some that still send a shiver down my spine. My 3 week chitake trip was amazing, the lions were incredibly active and hunted in or around the spring every day all the other game was having an incredibly hard time at the height of the dry season.

As for wild dogs I have always been lucky with them, on our 2009 trip we saw dogs pretty much every drive and approached them on foot on a number of occasions. They also were active hunting across the floodplain by the mucheni's where we camped, I obviously cannot talk for now but in 2009 they were very active, lots of stories of them chasing prey through camp.

The only thing that would ever stop me recommending Mana Pools is that I think its relative obscurity amongst african parks and peoples reluctance to travel to Zimbabwe is what keeps visitor numbers down.

#10 Game Warden

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Posted 15 June 2011 - 06:51 PM

The only thing that would ever stop me recommending Mana Pools is that I think its relative obscurity amongst african parks and peoples reluctance to travel to Zimbabwe is what keeps visitor numbers down.

Tumba, in many people's minds, (especially at Safaritalk), this is the perfect recommendation! ;)

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#11 Paolo

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 09:13 AM

Which safari company are you travelling with Paolo?



Craig Van Zyl (his company is called "Classic Africa Safaris"). We will spend 3 nights in a in Matusadona (in a place called Makuzapela), then, as said, 5 nights at Mucheni and 3 nights at Chitake. Thereafter, we are going to Gorongosa NP in Mozambique. We will stay in private mobile camps, with the exception of Gorongosa, where we will be at Explore Gorongosa ( a seasonal camp).

Craig will also be our pilot and will fly us throughout the trip, including all the way to Gorongosa.

#12 Game Warden

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 10:17 AM

Can we stay on topic about Mana Pools here, and leave the discussion about upcoming trips for the Trip Planning forum. Thanks, Matt.

"Return to old watering holes for more than water; friends and dreams are there to meet you." - African proverb.

 

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#13 Paolo

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 10:42 AM

Sorry, Matt. I I was just answering to a question. If you deem appropriate, you can delete my post.

#14 tumba

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 06:19 PM

Sorry my fault did not realise that was straying off topic.

#15 wilddog

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Posted 17 June 2011 - 01:59 PM

Did a six day canoe trip down the Zambezi about 5 years ago, ending up in Mana at Nyamepi camp. Very wild there and I loved it! All that wonderful walking in an area not densely populated with tourists or anyone for that matter. In fact when I was last there, we only came across another 6 people on the drive out of Mana.

I am heading off for next trip which includes Mana next week. Will be staying at Chitake this time and have no doubt there will be a few more people this time but do not expect it to spoil it.

Really recommend Mana, it is a very special place.

Edited by wilddog, 17 June 2011 - 02:00 PM.


#16 Atravelynn

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Posted 18 June 2011 - 02:10 AM

In 1995 was on a mobile walking safari with a group of rowdy South African birders who enjoyed their gin. Natureways did a great job of guiding me separately from this chummy group that loved to throw dung at each other. At one point I gazed up at the trees and said, "Look at that cat-faced bird." It was a Pel's Fishing Owl and only I saw it. At the time I was not aware of the magnitude of the sighting.

Later around the campfire the congenial, good-natured group readily included me in their conversations and their rounds of gin and tonics. I did my best to keep up with this exuberant bunch but was reaching my limits for alcohol intake. Talk turned to family and I enthusiastically explained that my sister had recently announced her pregnancy and would have the results of her ultrasound when I returned home from my safari. I went on to announce--or should I say the gin announced,ďIím so excited to be finding out whether Iíll be an aunt or an uncle.Ē

For the record I was an aunt.

It seems like everybody here is going to Zimbabwe!
When you think of a rhino, think of a tree (African proverb)

#17 kglo

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Posted 18 June 2011 - 10:44 AM

So I was just thinking about my May 2010 trip to Africa today, and popped on by Safaritalk because I can't sleep. I saw this topic and am taking it as a sign I have to return to Africa asap! I am certainly not at all an experenced safari-goer (or safaritalker - I think this is only my 3rd or 4th post?), having been to Africa only once, but thought I'd chime in anyways, as Mana Pools was one of the most amazing places I have every visited.

Anyway, my first and only safari started out at a mobile tented camp (I think - forgive me if I have the wrong "lingo") in Mana Pools, with Classic Africa Safaris. We had the absolutely most incredible time there ever - it was everything I dreamed of Africa being and more. We had the whole park to ourselves (well, we did see one other vehicle, self-drivers, who had just seen a pack of 17 wild dogs...we didn't see them, unfortunately, but admittedly didn't expend any real time tracking them, because this being our first safari we just wanted to see what we happened to see - everything was simply fascinating for us first-timers).

Back to the camp, it was amazing, right alongside the river at Mucheni (sorry, cannot remember which Mucheni without going back to my journal). Gorgeous, gorgeous scenery - the sunrises and sunsets over the Zambezi were spectacular and many an early morning was spent admiring the view and listening to the hippos snorting nearby. Speaking of hippos, my tent was the last of the three, and right beside a hippo trail. And when I say right beside, I mean almost ON the hippo trail because every night they'd head on up out of the river and literally rustle the canvas - quite the shock the first night, but super cool. I was grateful that the bathroom was between my bed and the hippos. On that note, how the heck do they provide a flush toilet and hot water shower in the middle of the bush in Africa? That's not really what we call "camping" around here...awesome! The host of the camp was phenomenal and the food was pretty among the most fantastic I have had anywhere, ever, and I have no idea how it was all prepared so well over a fire. The meals were gourmet to say the least.

Now on to the park/wildlife. We had hired our own guide, so cannot comment on the Classic Africa guides. Funny story: the guide we had hired injured himself in a riding accident a couple days before our safari was to start so he sent a stand-in and we didn't find out until we got off the plane in Mana! The stand in was phenomenal and made each and every moment amazing and it was actually a bonus, because we got to do some canoeing, which the original guide doesnít do anymore. The afternoon we arrived, we set out to track lions on foot - quite the introduction to Africa! It was such a rush, especially when our guide, in all seriousness, as the roars were getting louder, turned around and told us that lions will often mock charge, and should this happen we were absolutely not to turn around and run, but rather stand our ground. Luckily I did not have to test my fortitude in this regard, because we had to turn back before we found the lions due to impending darkness. We tried again a few times to find lions on foot, but the actual seeing them while on foot will have to wait until next time. We did circle a thicket containing a mother lioness, but she never did pop out Ė probably her cubs were too young, we were told.

Other wildlife experiences were amazing. We didnít actually see many lions until we went over to Chikwenya (saw one or two in Mana), but we saw (on foot of course) elephants, waterbuck and the like, baboons, buffalo, warthogs, zebra, tons of different birds, etc. etc. etc. I would have to get out my journal to list everything, but the best part was that we got to stay and watch whatever we wanted as long as we wanted Ė a better experience I must say than Botswana where we went next. We also went canoeing, an interesting (okay, maybe even a bit scary at times!) experience given that the water levels were reportedly the highest theyíd been in decades, meaning the hippos were displaced from their usual spots, so we had to be particularly careful. We came super close to hippos, saw a 14 foot croc up close, and got to navigate a channel that had never in recent memory had water in it before. It was amazing.

I think from an impartial standpoint, the wildlife sightings may not have been what an experienced safari-goer would consider outstanding, but keep in mind that we didnít actively track anything (except lions on foot) as for our first time we wanted the full immersion in the real Africa, and wanted to just see what we came across and also spend more time on foot than in the car. We could have Iím sure found the wild dogs Ė their tracks were everywhere. Also, it was essentially still wet season due to the late rains so animals were very dispersed still. Despite this, from my perspective, there were still animals everywhere and it seemed each time we turned a corner there was something new. One cool experience was going around a bush and almost tripping over a genet (I think it was a genet, maybe a civet, donít have my notes out). It was also amazing to be able to approach elephants on foot (carefully, I might add!).

Sorry this has turned into a novel, but I just canít help myself, I was so impressed by Mana Pools. The scenery and landscape was spectacular, and I think I didnít realize just how spectacular until we got to Botswana, which was a bit boring scenery-wise in comparison, and I think that driving around for hours and hours in a vehicle is just not as much my thing as actually getting to walk around. For me it was much more real and authentic than the somewhat Ďremovedí driving around for days on end. Some of my favourite moments were not actually seeing a new animal, or getting even closer than we had previously, but just being able to spend time in such a gorgeous setting, sitting admiring the view, taking in the sights, sounds and smells, and simply soaking it all up - not to mention the great conversations with our guide and hosts and learning so much about the wild areas of Africa and also its people and history. Sundowners 30 feet from a hippo splashing in the middle of a pool, and knowing that we could leave back to camp on our own time rather than rushing to make it to a group dinner at a pre-determined hour was priceless.

So long story short, I WILL be returning to Mana Pools. I would like to go during the high season (although I did really like the wet season as the animals were all in such good shape and not thin and hungry) and I would like to go to Chitake Springs as well. May not go back to Okavango Delta and Kalahari, even though the wildlife sightings were great (lions; leopard; wild dogs; hyenas although no cheetahs and not the rhino) but Mana Pools and Chikwenya, definitely.
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#18 wilddog

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Posted 18 June 2011 - 11:09 AM

The only thing that would ever stop me recommending Mana Pools is that I think its relative obscurity amongst african parks and peoples reluctance to travel to Zimbabwe is what keeps visitor numbers down.

Tumba, in many people's minds, (especially at Safaritalk), this is the perfect recommendation! ;)


Totally agree GW

#19 white stork

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Posted 20 June 2011 - 12:32 AM

I would like to echo Tumba's sentiments above - you can travel all over Africa and see some incredible things but sitting by the banks of the Zambezi at Mana Pools with a sundowner and watching the world go by is my favourite memory of the continent. Many people I have met who have been to Mana say that it encapsulates all they had ever dreamt of Africa.

If you get a chance get out of Nyamepi and say at some of the private campsites - be prepared for eland, elephant, buffalo and lions to walk through you camp on a daily basis though - I would highly recommend BBC, Mucheni 2 and Ndungu.

Don't expect to see 5 leopard a day or 20 lions on a kill each morning lke you might on a guided safari in Bots (although you may well see those things) but take a while to walk without a guide beneath the albidas on the floodplain down to the Zambezi and you will realise that you are in a place that is completely unique.

#20 Atravelynn

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Posted 20 June 2011 - 01:44 AM

Kglo, what superb timing you have! Your "novel" does a great job of capturing Mana Pools. I congratulate you on picking Mana Pools for your first safari. Looks like it was grand! Hope your return is in the near future.

---------------------
More Mana talk.

Shortly after arriving in MP for a mobile walking safari, I noticed my foot was swelling as if from an insect bite. It started to REALLY swell up so that night I was afraid to remove my shoe for fear of not being able to get it back on. Barefoot is not how you want to spend a walking safari. So I slept with my boots on, which is what cowboys do sometimes, and took off the next morning with one oversized foot that returned to normal by day's end. My guide thought it might have been a scorpion bite. That's much more romantic than just a bug bite, but I would have thought there'd be more of a reaction (fever or something) had it been a scorpion.

Edited by Atravelynn, 20 June 2011 - 01:48 AM.

When you think of a rhino, think of a tree (African proverb)





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