As you have gathered by now, I do spend a great deal of time in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe.
During the middle parts of August I privately guided two incredible people through Mana and we had a sensational experience! I never get tired of visiting this incredible woodland. There’s just something about it that keeps drawing me closer, that always beckons for another visit.
The closest thing I can think of is a wild love affair, a romantic story sinking its roots deeper and deeper. Me and Mana, we have a thing going on.
I wanted my guests to experience this same feeling, these same emotions that continually arise within me. I can honestly say that I have never had a disappointing experience in Mana. There’s always something, big or small, waiting in line to take your breath away.
The beauty of Mana Pools is that you need not see any of the typical must-see species. Many game reserves fall flat on their faces when after a day or two you come up “empty-handed”. A place like Mana is different.
The sheer scenic magnificence of the woodland, the purity of the light and the sense of total wilderness, that’s what it is about.
If one happens to come across any of the cats it is a complete bonus. There’s a healthy lion population on offer and the chances are very good of an encounter. Mana is also a stronghold for some of the largest free-roaming wild dog populations in Africa! These are all large draw cards, yet when you don’t see them you are still fulfilled in so many ways!
My guests on this safari completely immersed themselves within the experience.
They did not come with predetermined expectations.
They came to experience Mana, to step back in time to a way Africa used to be many years ago.
We spent 7 days exploring this wilderness and it was incredible! During the month of August the grip of the dry season becomes very evident and it quickly becomes apparent the land and animals are in desperate need of water. It is still too early for rains as they tend to arrive only towards November or December.
This harsh landscape sets the tone for beautiful scenes though.
We would wake long before first light and set out for safari whilst the chill of the evening’s cool still tingled your skin. This is one of my favourite times of day on safari. There’s always so much activity at night and one never really knows what awaits around the next corner during the first minutes of early morning.
The blue light during these early morning hours can be so captivating. It creates a canvas for photography so different from any other places out there.
On one particular morning we came across the large eland bull pictured above. These massive animals are usually associated with open grassland, far from any potential woodlands. Yet here in Mana, you often see them within the forest floor and it makes for stunning photography.
Eland are absent for most of the summer season and early dry season. Once water dries up elsewhere they become dependent on the Zambezi River, and this draws them out on to the open floodplains. They also rely heavily on seedpods from the flowering Winter Thorns.
On one morning en route back to camp, one of my guests spotted a mother elephant and her vey young calf feeding in a swamp. The scene was so idyllic and we simply had to take the opportunity to capture the memory.
We watched for an hour as they gently moved through the swamp, accompanied by different species of herons. It was just beautiful and once again proved why these pleasant moments make your Mana experience so unique.
Being back at camp in Mana can be very rewarding in itself. It’s always a great idea to keep your camera within view.
On this occasion and as they so often do, a young elephant bull wandered in to camp and decided to snooze during the midday heat for an hour or two, and did so right next to my tent.
My guest and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and we snuck up to the bull. Elephants have such beautiful features, yet there’s always more focus on their outward strength and size.
This private safari gave my guests and I plenty of time to get to know Mana on an intimate level.
We spent a large deal of time simply watching and learning.
One particular scene really intrigued me. During the dry season there’s little food available at ground level. Many of the herbivores depend on two forest species to provide them with their daily intake of valuable Winter Thorn seed pods.
When elephants and baboons feed they tend to be a little messy. Elephants often leave large portions of a broken branch uneaten, and baboons drop many leaves and pods to the forest floor as they move around in the tree-top canopies.
This creates the perfect opportunity for ground-level herbivores such as impala, waterbuck, kudu and eland to get a much needed meal. Nature is beautiful in the way animals often help one another, mostly without even realizing it. The pod that the impala is targeting above is filled with important nutrients and will sustain him through the long dry season.
We obviously could not spend time in Mana without searching for subjects in the incredible, unique light on offer within the forest. This is far easier said than done.
You see, in Mana you have a small window of opportunity to capture that rich, luscious sunlight as it whips its way through the forest floor and canopy. That kind of light only appears for a few minutes at the close of day and you’ll do well to find both the light and a suitable subject in one place.
This kind of light is undoubtedly what keeps many travelers coming back time and again to Mana Pools. It is just so unique and different to anything else out there, I am sure you can agree?
The time was drawing nearer for our departure. It always seems like there’s just not enough time. Time really flies past in Mana and you always feel like you could spend just one more day there.
On our last couple of days we were rewarded with some intimate, special encounters.
We spent time with a lone elephant bull feeding within the forest. He would walk from tree to tree, stretching up high in search of branches within his reach. I loved him because he had a beautiful way of stretching, so flowingly and seemingly effortless.
He would swing his hips out to the side and lean forward, enabling him to heave his heavy head and tusks even higher up into the branches above.
He then stretched up and gripped hold of a sizable branch.
All of a sudden and with a thunderous “snap”, the branch came crashing down! It landed at the feet of the large bull, kicking up a large cloud of golden earth. That branch was as thick as my waist and it took hardly any effort from the large bull to break it.
My guests were alongside me and perfectly positioned to capture the incredible action, something one does not get to see that often! What an experience!
My guests had seen all they could have ever hoped for and more! Mana really showed them an amazing time and they were already planning their return safari.
I really wanted to spend time with a particular big old bull during the last light of day, on our last day! The first mission was to find him.
Fortune was on our side and during the last hour of sunlight we spotted the wise old bull feeding on the floodplain. He was accompanied by more bulls, as he so often is. Why spend time to find him? Well, he has a special trick up his sleeve, something that has left many of my guests, literally without breath!
As the last sliver of sunlight illuminated the dust at his feet he heaved himself on to his back legs, thrusting his trunk into the tree canopy above. There he stood, perfectly balanced on his two hind legs, a sight almost hard to find believable.
After grabbing hold a suitable branch above he restored the balance of things and planted all 4 feet firmly back on the earth below! The most beautiful, indecipherable colours flared up alongside him, a moment almost too beautiful to behold!
My guests had been offered a slice of heaven, a glimpse into the supernatural. To see such beauty with your own eyes is a privilege few will ever have.
Thank you so much for reading along! I would love nothing more than to introduce this wilderness to all of you at some point. It really is the kind of place far better experienced than read about.
Till next time,
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