Nestled within the Zambezi Valley lies a creation of Nature still pure and splendid, untouched and wild.
With the mighty Zambezi flowing to the north, the adjacent floodplain plays host to one of the most astonishing wildlife experiences in Africa. Mana Pools allows one the rare privilege to travel back in time to a Africa we all wish we knew, a Africa free of human encroachment, a Africa of our dreams.
Far removed from any urban landscape, Mana Pools has the special ability to transport you away from taxing modern-day living. Large elephant bulls balancing precariously on their hind-legs as they reach seven or eight meters into the canopy of an Ana Tree, prides of lion stalking Cape buffalo on the open floodplain during the heat of the day, or African wild dog running freely in pursuit of impala within the riverine forests.
Wildlife encounters are endless and intimate.
It is one of Southern Africa’s most undeveloped national parks, and that’s not a bad thing. The park welcomes its visitors to leave the confines of their vehicles, allowing you the life-changing experience of seeing Mana’s majestic wildlife on-foot. This is a rare opportunity to encounter nature in an intimate way, face-to-face and utterly exposed.
You will be stripped of all pretenses, time will stand still.
In these moments you will find yourself totally vulnerable, you will discover exactly what lies beneath your fragile outer being.
In Mana Pools, the wildlife encounters don’t end once you are back at camp. Elephant’s will pass through camp on a daily basis in search of seed pods produced by large Ana Tree’s. It is not uncommon to have lion or leopard pass through camp at night either.
This is a wilderness experience in it’s purest form.
The Kings of Mana Pools greet the morning sun in a way only he knows. His thunderous roars fill the forest and reminds all of his sovereignty. These “battles of sound” resonate throughout the Zambezi Valley on most nights. Falling asleep whilst listening to these combatants is a feeling not easily described in words, it is requires first-hand experience.
Prides within this eco-system are often on the hunt for Cape buffalo. They will seek out herds within the thick surrounding Mopane forest, but during the hot dry-season buffalo emerge onto the floodplain, presenting lions with daytime hunting opportunities.
Elephants dominate the forest landscape. Herds typically don’t comprise more than four or five members, and bulls are dotted about throughout the floodplain. Younger bulls will often shadow a larger bull. The large bulls have the ability to reach high into the Ana Trees, an ability the smaller bulls still lack. They simply feed on that what the older bulls leave behind.
Once a massive Ana Tree gives up its footing on earth and collapses to the ground, the deafening sound reverberates through the forest. This distinct sound is sweet music to the sensitive ears of an elephant. The fall of one of the giant trees can attract the company of many elephants over a five or six day period. From the earth it grew and to the earth it will return. Fallen tree’s provide an essential form of food for elephants throughout the dry season.
Word has gone out about a spectacle very few have ever witnessed.
During the driest season, a phenomenon takes place within Mana’s floodplain that comes to most of us as something near-impossible, yet to the animal in question, a mere innate behaviour. Food is scarce as the forest floor dries out and leaves little sustenance for Africa’s large grey beasts. The older elephant bulls at Mana Pools have developed the ability to defy the laws of gravity. Looking up at the succulent branches of the Ana Tree’s above, they gather their weight below and heave themselves up and within reach of the tree’s branches. They will perform this incredible feat time-after-time. It is a special skill and only displayed by a small number of capable Mana bulls. To play witness to such an event will leave you absolutely breathless, heart-thumping and hands shaking.
It is beautiful, it is Africa at its best.
Africa’s painted wolves also call Mana Pools home. These mottled dogs are undoubtedly Africa’s most successful large carnivore when it comes to hunting, and Mana’s open landscape provides them with ideal hunting pastures. Impala are readily available and seeing wild dog in full pursuit of prey is an unforgettable experience. These dogs are also comfortable with people on foot, and an opportunity to view or photograph them without the confines of a vehicle is pure bliss. To look into those massive eyes with nothing separating you but the air between, is something never to be forgotten.
Mana Pools is not all about the larger animals. There’s so much beauty to be found around virtually every corner. Zebra and waterbuck are abundant. They enjoy the shaded woodland during the warmer parts of the day, and can be found on the move in the earlier and later hours of the day. Africa’s largest antelope can also be found here. The sight of a large Eland bull within the Ana Tree’s is something very special. They are prone to more grassy habitats and seeing them within this stunning landscape is so refreshing and unique.
The local baboon troops can also provide endless entertainment. They are plentiful on the floodplains and their echoing calls ring out across the Zambezi Valley in the early hours of the morning as males pronounce their dominance to their rivals.
Also, by heeding their deafening alarms calls, one can be drawn to the presence of a predator.
Mana will turn from a green and lush summer to a harsh and unforgiving winter landscape. This adds tremendously to a photographer’s needs. The quality of the afternoon light is riveting. Dust kicked up during the day hangs like a thick fog across the Mana landscape, and fires lit by local tribes within the Zambezi Valley to keep warm into the evening all add to a golden light that can only be found within this paradise. July through to October is undoubtedly the best time to visit.
Any opportunity to visit this dramatic corner of Africa should never be missed. I have not met a single person who would not return to Mana Pools.
There seems to be a magnetic quality that draws you back time and time again, a need to explore further and to experience more of what Mana has to offer.
The remoteness of the park, the sheer size and the breathtaking beauty all come together to create an African experience unrivaled in equality.
Africa’s Garden of Eden will change your life and leave you wanting more.
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Marlon du Toit