Expert Reviews – Mana Pools NP

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Mana from Heaven
Overall rating

Mana Pools is about as wild as it gets – particularly as you are allowed to walk here. It never feels very busy, so long as you avoid southern African school holidays. Mana Pools is one of the most beautiful reserves in all of Africa, with its mighty Zambezi River frontage, the eponymous pools and the hauntingly photogenic glades of large riverine trees. Add to this beautiful scene groups of elephant moving through the sunlit forest. If you’re really lucky, you might also see one of the old bulls standing on his hind legs to reach the branches of the trees to eat. It is thought there are just a handful of bulls who have learnt this trick. I have also always been lucky with wild dogs here – though somewhat frustratingly, each time they have materialised on the last hour of the very last game drive.

Wild adventures in a land of giants
Overall rating

Mana Pools is a pristine wilderness half the size of Surrey that became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. The mile-wide Zambezi runs along its northern border, forming a natural barrier between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Back in camp at the end of the day you can sit with a sundowner and watch the sky change color from apple green to burning orange behind the 4000ft contours of the escarpment on the Zambian side of the river. No wonder many visitors consider this park to be the most beautiful in Africa.

Mana means ‘four’ in the local Shona language and refers to a quartet of oxbow lagoons created by the river’s former meanderings, but the park’s greatest glories are the open woodlands that grow at the edge of the floodplains. Here, all around, giant trees reach for the light: sausage trees, massive strangler figs and groves of evergreen Natal mahoganies. But most impressive of all are the majestic glades of winter thorns.

Arching overhead like the tracery of a medieval cathedral, their interlocking branches create endless aisles of dappled shade beneath which, in the company of legendary walking guides such as Stretch Ferreira, you can go looking for lions and wild dogs or close encounters with the park’s big tuskers.

The elephants like to hang out in the jesse – the dense scrub that blankets the park’s hinterland. But during the day as the heat builds up there is a general movement toward the woodlands. First come the breeding herds and then the solitary bulls, lured by the opportunity to feast on the winter thorns’ nutritious seedpods. Then, with luck, you might meet some of the best-known individuals, such as Boswell, who has learned to stand on his hind legs to pluck the choicest pods with his trunk.

Although the Zambezi Valley has lost all its black rhinos and large numbers of elephants to the poachers, it is still in good shape despite President Mugabe’ years of misrule, with a choice of genuine bush camps such as Rukomechi (ideal for canoe trips on the Zambezi), Vundu and Stevens’ Camp.

A beautiful riverside environment in the tranquil Zambezi Valley
Overall rating

Although not as popular as Hwange because of its proximity to Victoria Falls, I think Mana Pools definitely has the edge on jaw-dropping scenery. The lazy meanderings of the Zambezi provide a lovely river frontage flanked by forests of wild fig and ebony trees, and the mountainous Zambian escarpment is a beautiful backdrop. On our visit, the river couldn’t have been a better environment for game viewing. We saw large groups of herbivores congregating on the floodplains, while the only sounds that disturbed the peaceful setting was the splashing of a lone bull elephant in the shallows, and the thud of a crocodile as it slithered into the water. The park is also home to a number of predators including lion, cheetah and spotted hyena, but despite them being difficult to see, it’s not often that a visitor leaves Mana Pools without seeing at least one of the carnivores.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.7/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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