Fed up with being stuck in the office, we decided to visit a few of Zimbabwe’s National Parks last month. We opted for Mana Pools as our first stop, a place we had not found time to visit for the last 3 years. Unforgiveable ! The lodges in Mana are booked through the National Parks office in Harare:

Physical address : Cnr Sandringham & Borrowdale Rd Botanical Gardens
Telephone: +263-4-706077/8-9
Gen. Enquiries: +263-4-707624-9 +263-4-792786-9
Email: bookings@zimparks.co.zw
Fax: +263-4-793867
They are in the process of updating their website Zimparks to enable people to book and pay online.

The first few hours of the drive is easy, heading north west out of Harare. First stop Lions Den for a delicious snack and coffee, and an essential stock up of biltong and dry wors. Lions Den Butchery has been around for as long as I can remember, and is still as good as ever, despite being burnt down last year. We continued through Karoi to Makuti, where the famous Clouds End still exists, with the coldest drinks and the friendliest staff. The views are remarkable, particularly this time of year when the bush is so luxurious. We topped up with fuel, and continued down to Marongora, where you collect your permit. The road gets interesting. Sharp turns, steep hills, potholes and heavy trucks travelling far too fast, keep you wide awake and on high alert, but the scenery is just spectacular as the valley begins to unfold before you. Shortly after Marongora, the first official sign post to Mana Pools, turning right off the main road. You need to keep your receipts handy as the scout at the Chimutsi gate needs to check them before you proceed.

Mana here we come ! Photo credit I Goodwin

Mana here we come ! Photo credit I Goodwin

After the gate the road is horrid. Corrugations and dips for an hour of bone rattling progress, improved vastly by our first sightings of elephant and shy kudu. At the Nyakasakana gate, another check of receipts and you are finally officially in Mana Pools National Park. 10 km before the airstrip we were rewarded with 4 Nyala, slowly crossing the road and then hiding in the thick Jesse bush, enough for us to get a good look at them but not long enough to get the camera ready. We also saw Crested Guinea Fowl, Mana’s Moulin Rouge stars, so glamorous.   The road condition improves, and we made our way towards Reception. All in all it took us about 6 hours from leaving Harare, to Reception. We paid our entry fees, all made very easy as they now have a Visa machine at the Parks office (and internet !)

We were soon unpacking at our wonderful lodge – Muchichiri. It’s a big double story lodge that can comfortably sleep 8, overlooking the river . Upstairs is open, with only mesh and wire, allowing the air to circulate. There are four beds, plus two separate bedrooms with a further 2 beds in each. Bathrooms upstairs and downstairs mean you can all spread out a little at showertime. Even if there were just a few of you, I would still go for these double story lodges, for the sheer luxury of being up a level, sleeping overlooking the river. The lodges are very simple but clean. There was no electricity at all while we were there, but we had gone prepared with lights, and the stove and fridge / freezer in the lodge are gas. We also saw, as we were leaving of course, there is a set of wires on the side of the building where you could connect a car battery – this is connected up to all the lights in the lodge. Good to know for next time.

Muchichiri Lodge Photo credit I Goodwin

Muchichiri Lodge Photo credit I Goodwin

No sooner had we arrived than an old elephant bull wandered over to browse on the tree directly outside the lodge, and I think just to check out the new visitors. Vervets and baboons also don’t miss a trick and were already placing sentries at strategic points, in readiness for the first raid. That night munching hippos surrounded our lodge, trimming all surrounding grass to a neat lawn.

Mana Sunset from Muchichiri Photo credit J Brown

Mana Sunset from Muchichiri Photo credit J Brown

It’s hard to put Mana into words, as its just sensory overload, yet the most peaceful place imaginable. Life continues as it always has for millennia, you just get gently swept along with nature’s course. The park was looking very dry, the river very low, but we did see on the satellite images that the rain most definitely arrived after we left – thank goodness. Zacharia Nyakomba is based in Mana and regularly updates the Friends of Mana Pools Facebook page – well worth following. On a very selfish note though, the dry bush makes for incredible game viewing, which we relished every minute of. Leopard cruising down the road near reception as we arrived, was just our warm up.  Zebra Vlei hardly had any grass at all, even the warthogs were beginning to lose their comfortable rotundness, a glimmer of 6 pack evident. Where the Murowa river joins the riverine woodland, we spotted a big herd of Eland, quietly clicking their way to a safe spot for the evening.

Photo credit J Brown

Photo credit J Brown

Next day provided the most rewarding wild dog sighting, near Trichelia. The pack had just eaten and were drowsy and bloated, reclining in the shade and completely disinterested in us, as they slept, groomed and lolled in the grass.

Photo credit J Brown

Photo credit J Brown

Photo credit J Brown

Photo credit J Brown

We saw all the “usuals” frequently and in good numbers – elephant, zebra, kudu, impala, bushbuck, waterbuck, jackal, and wonderful birds.

Our time at Mana was too short, such an anticlimax to pack the car and leave. It is truly a special place, a reminder that we are such a small part of this universe, blessed with natural beauty and balance, if we let it be. Somewhere to be rested, restored and inspired.

Photo credit J Brown

Photo credit J Brown

Editor VF24 15 February 2016