Trip Report: Mana Pools Safari, 17 – 22 July 2017

Marlon duToit All Authors, Marlon Leave a Comment

Not one single safari experience is ever the same. You can’t place nature & wildlife into a predictable box, label it & present it to your guests.

My first safari to Mana Pools for 2017 was different to any of the other I’ve experienced in the past. Typically by July the dry season has come into full swing, the pods from the Winter Thorns have started dropping & and any signs of the abundant Indigofera shrubs – Fabaceae family – have long gone.

Mana Pools enjoyed some wonderful late rains in the month of April. Now Mana’s floodplain is very dry at the best of times, but this late bout of rain meant abundance for the land & its inhabitants.

What does this mean for us as brief visitors in the land? Well, we get to see just how incredible nature is at taking care of those who survive serious droughts.

Yes, 2016 was one of the driest years on record for Southern African reserves. Many animals could not muster the strength needed to push them through to the rains. The dry conditions during the two years before laid the foundation for a very tough year and many animals died.

Come 2017, nature provided a very wet season for most parts of Southern Africa. Some regions received double their normal rainfall.

To see Mana Pools as wet & green as this was a fresh change to the normal conditions. The animals were in fantastic condition and they relished in the abundance.

It certainly did not make life very easy for us as photographers. With a blanket of Indigofera covering most of the surface I certainly had to double my efforts in order to produce photographic moments for my guests. The moments were out there for us to find – we simply had to work a little harder.

The images above gives you an indication of just how green it was. Often we’d only see the trunks of elephants as they reached up into the tree canopy above, their colossal bodies completely hidden by the ground vegetation. It was interesting & challenging but Mana never disappoints.

I had a fantastic group of guests and together we certainly enjoyed the challenge that every day would bring to our feet.

The ability to move freely on foot regardless of where you find yourself certainly makes the photographic experience in Mana Pools a unique one. If we were bound to a traditional safari vehicle the experience would not even have been remotely the same – stuck in a car on the road with little to do other than photograph from where you find yourselves.

When you leave the confines of the vehicle you open up a whole new world! All of your senses come alive – smell, touch, sight – you’re now immersed the in world of the very animals you’ve come to see, and the feeling is like nothing else on earth.

Photographing from the ground & on foot means that you can create your own image. You can move around left to right to create a different angle, or to rid your frame of a poorly “placed” branch. You can even lie down flat on your belly in order to create a lower impression of your subject, often a great idea to make elephants seem large & powerful.

The captivating “Blue Forest” light is always on display in Mana Pools.

You need not go far to see it, and to find an animal within this blue forest can be very rewarding indeed!

It adds a certain level of mystique to your frame. You’re afforded the opportunity to bring out a different side to an animal. Have a look at the elephant image above. My guests and I photographed this elephant bull from a 100 meters away. Yes, typically you’d want to be a whole lot closer to the action that this. But just look at how we are able to create a frame by stepping back & look at the bigger picture at hand.

The elephant looks shy, as if he wants to avoid the camera, standing behind a tree within a deep, dark blue forest. It’s a special moment in so many ways.

Regardless of what time of year, Mana Pools just stays one of the most scenic & picturesque safari destinations in Africa.

Over the years I have come to know Mana Pools very well. I have a few “secret” spots where I love taking my guests. One such spot is one of my favorite places to photograph hippo’s within during the late afternoon. During the dry season the hippo’s congregate more & more as water becomes less. In this particular spot a large pod of hippo’s congregate & we are able to get close to the water’s edge & can then create magnificent angles with a stunning dark background.

Once the sun gets lower to the horizon, the hippo’s & their spray will be backlit & beautiful! The dark background is perfect for capturing the golden colour of the water as it’s blasted into the air.

Photography is often about MAKING a photograph. Too often photographers lift their camera to their faces & fire away before considering what it is that they are doing. If time allows, look at the scene in front of you. Maybe the lens in your bag is actually better for the job, or maybe you need to move back a little or to the right. Whatever the case, think through what it is that you are doing, it can make a big difference with the final results of your photography.

Animals are never too far from camp either.

During the daytime elephants move into camp in order to enjoy the shade offered by the dense Natal Mahogany’s. Camp is also right on the edge of the Zambezi River, so water is never too far away.

The elephants have come to know the camp well and move freely between the rooms as the please. They understand all too well that they are within a human habitat, and they are very placid & relaxed in our company. It goes without saying that guests still need to be very mindful of what they are doing. It’s easy to leave your room without looking around first, only to find yourself face to face with a massive elephant bull. The result is most-often only a loud trumpet & a wide-eyed guest, but it’s still very important to be extra careful & vigilant in camp.

What an experience though to sit & enjoy breakfast in the company of an elephant family!

On one of the mornings a large elephant bull decided to go for a swim to an island opposite our camp. The island already had a few “occupants” in the form of a hippo family. The family also blocked the only path up from the river, but this was not too much of a concern for the much larger elephant.

The elephant forced the hippo’s out of his way & heaved his heavy body up on to the banks of the island.

The hippo family was not in the least bit amused.

There’s never a dull moment in Mana Pools, not even when you’re “just in the camp”.

Mana Pools is special, there’s no denying that! Every single time I bring guests across they are simply blown away by the beauty, by the intimate encounters with the wildlife. There’s simply no other safari experience that can compare to this.

There’s always something special out there to be found. It’s the kind of place where you’d happily put down your camera just to take in the moment!

To the 6 awesome guests who joined me on this safari, thank you so much for allowing me to showcase it’s beauty to you. Half if the guests had been before, and the other 3 were new to it! Regardless, I am sure that all will return again! It’s just that special!

If you’d love to join Wild Eye on a safari to Mana Pools, you’re in luck!

Wild Eye guide Johan van Zyl will host another safari here in October. There are still a couple of spots open on there and we’d love for you to come and experience Mana Pools during the peak of the dry season. It’s a magnificent encounter with nature, one you’d not easily forget!

Simply follow the link below for more information on the upcoming safari. Send us an email if you’d like more information, or simply book the safari online to confirm your place.

Thanks for taking the time to read through this trip report with me!

Till next time,

About the Author

Marlon duToit

Passion, enthusiasm and an unquenchable thirst to explore and introduce you to our natural world’s wildlife perfectly sums up my ambitions. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Through my African adventures I kept my photographic passion alive. Behind a camera aimed at a lion or a leopard is where I am most at home, my heart skipping a beat at the mere thought of it. My intention has never been solely for recognition but for the plight of what’s left of our natural recourses. Using my love and understanding of wildlife I am able to convey to the viewer more than an image or a fleeting moment. I aim to tell a story, to bring that moment alive to you and to capture your heart through it.

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Join Johan van Zyl in Mana Pools during the peak of the dry season - it's an experience you'll never forget!

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