Mana Pools has long been on my bucket list of local places to visit, so I was delighted when two friends persuaded me to join them on a spur-of-the- moment escapade.
By Claire Holman
The road is a good one, and it is an easy journey, especially if you do set off early. A trip to Mana is definitely worth the long hours in the car! Long before dawn, we stopped to make coffee and have a bacon roll at Lion’s Den, though it wasn’t open, and by 7:00, we had reached Marongora. There we registered to stay at Mana for 2 nights, which is a simple process, and continued on our way. Just past Marongora, we turned off the tar road onto a gravelled, puddled road. Two weeks prior to our trip, Mana had received 110ml of rain in one downpour, meaning the bush was now dense and verdant, and there wouldn’t be much game to see. We were stunned and delighted to see the Rukomeshi River in full low, but disappointed when a spontaneous game of “Pooh sticks” was aborted after the sticks got stuck against the bridge supports!
The road from the Rukomeshi River to the Parks Of- ice was a little more difficult to navigate, having borne the brunt of the previous wet weather, and we were glad of our 4×4. Though we saw nothing then, there was clear evidence of four-footed friends along the road, raising our hopes of future sightings. Interestingly, the elephants here are the only ones in Africa which have learnt to stand on their back legs to reach higher branches in the acacia trees; that alone is reason to visit, so keep your camera handy. The National Parks have seven camps along the Zambezi River, and they vary in price according to how close to the bank you wish to stay. We chose a site just away from the River’s edge, paying $30.00 per night. Those on the river’s edge were $75.00 a night, and all the camping spots accommodate up to 6 people.
On this occasion, we were one of only two sites occupied, which was, quite honestly, wonderful; I imagine that during peak season it would be jammed to the gills with visitors! The ablutions, whilst basic, are maintained, although they could do with a little work. There was plenty of hot water – not that the weather warranted it. We had set up camp by 9:45 that morning, which meant we had plenty of time to explore, and after a cup of coffee we packed a cooler box and set off to Long Pool for lunch. On our return we discovered to our chagrin that the baboons had investigated our belongings, and run off with a roll of toilet paper
…. Thank goodness we came with four! After our close call with the baboons, we learnt very quickly to pack away anything small and easily lifted.
On the following mornings, we were up at first light,On the following mornings, we were up at first light,brewing coffee. Although we’d heard hyena and lion during the night, there was no sign of them around the camp, and certainly no damage to any of our be-longings, which we’d heard could have been an issue. Then, still slightly sleepy, we took coffee, rusks and a blanket to sit up on the bank at Mana Mouth, watching the sun rise. An early breakfast meant a full day of dis- covering the park. Whilst at Mana, we were able to go walking around the park, although driving does mean you can go further and potentially see more. You can get out the car and walk around, but be very aware of your surroundings first: we discovered a hippo nearby on our last morning.
The Parks office does take bookings for canoeing and guided walks, should you wish, at a rate of $10.00 per person per activity. Zimbabwe’s guides are world-renowned for their knowledge, so take advantage of this. Going in the dry season means you see more game, but it is likely to be very hot and the river will be low, so consider going in the rainy season. If you do travel in the rainy season, be sure to travel in a 4×4 to get you out of any tricky spots. Mana is a little slice of tranquility that recharges your batteries and gets you ready for the year ahead.