Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

The magic of the moment – Mana Pools

A trip to the well-known Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe is a bucket-list adventure for many. TONY YEO and a group of overlanding enthusiasts were fortunate enough to live this dream recently

Our journey, which can only be described as a complete and utter success, began at Woodlands StopOver and Lodge near Francistown in Botswana. Here we did the usual meet and greet, along with a briefing on timing and what to expect the next day.

The roads and conditions en route to the well-known Mana Pools in Zimbabwe are less than ideal and require hair on your teeth – patience and alertness are the key. You can’t take your eyes off the narrow, potholed, goat, and truck invested road for a second. Trucks try to dodge the edge of the disintegrating tar road and the massive potholes, which leaves you with very little and sometimes no road when overtaking – falling off the edge is common. Not so great when towing a trailer.

Into Zim we go!

Crossing the Plumtree border post was fairly painless… it usually is if all documentation is in order, and you are ready to part with your first $60 (R1 122). The road to Figtree is good and this is where we turned away on a rutted track which took us to our first overnight in Zimbabwe – at the incredibly neat, affordable, and clean Farmhouse Campsite. It offers brilliant views overlooking Matobo National Park and you can even see the Cecil John Rhodes grave in the distance. The amazing rock formations are a sight to behold and an imaginative photographer’s dream. This time around, we only spent one night here, but I would definitely recommend a longer stay and a visit to the park to see the rhinos in all their glory.

The next day we made a quick stop in Bulawayo to stock up on meat, fruit and vegetables. And then the nightmare began… It’s only 420km to the Chinhoyi Caves and campsite, but the road is very narrow, and it took a whole day to get there. We chose a campsite close to the ablutions, which were newly tiled and in great condition, but had no water. The road is relatively close to the campsite, and we could hear trucks going by until late into the evening. Our visit to the caves was memorable, though. You need about three hours for a comfortable walk around and to get those all-important photos.

There is a great story and history related to caves, which are composed of limestone and dolomite. The main cave contains a pool of cobalt blue water. Diving in the caves is possible all year round and visibility is high, which makes it a popular destination for technical divers that perform ultra deep diving. The local name for the cave’s pool, Chirorodziva (Pool of the Fallen) comes from an incident that occurred in 1830, when members of the Angonni tribe attacked the local people and threw their victims into the cave.

From the hauntingly beautiful caves, we hit the road to Lomagundi Lakeside Lodge at Kariba, where we spent two nights – enough time to set up camp, visit the local attractions, take in the beautiful scenery and stop at the viewpoints that overlook Lake Kariba and the dam wall. The campsite is grassed and has fresh drinking water and electricity points, which meant a bunch of very happy campers. Even the nightly visit from the local hippos was welcomed. Unfortunately, a visit to the bar requires an entrance fee of $2 – yes that’s nearly R40 (which means one less beer!).

Finally… Mana Pools

After a bone-rattling and slow 75km of corrugations, the usual three stops at various checkpoints, and a final stop at reception to do vehicle payments, we finally arrived at Mana Pools. It was now OBT (obligatory beer time) as we celebrated setting up camp and looked forward to an early morning game drive.

The game drive never materialised as the morning greeted us with plenty of elephant activity, and even the elusive and well-known Boswell (we are convinced it was, in fact, him!) made his appearance. Sadly, he didn’t perform his ‘party trick’ which sees him standing on his hind legs, reaching for some foliage higher up… a delightful visit and show, nonetheless.

The baboons of the area casually wandered by looking for food in every crevice and under every rock and as we sat overlooking the mighty Zambezi River, hippos and crocs went about their business. Marie, an avid birder, kept us well entertained whilst searching for species unknown to us, and a total count of 115 birds made the tour exceptionally interesting. Before we knew it, the stunning sunset over the Zambian hills was upon us.

We were rewarded with excellent sightings over the next few days of game drives around the camp sites, and all too soon it was time to pack up again. We were treated to a phenomenon which will be in our memories forever though – the blue haze. In the early mornings and late afternoons, the light streams through the trees, presenting a blue haze known as the ‘Mana Blues’. It’s a photographer’s dream scenario, with the backlight and the light soft enough to contrast the trees, bushes, and animals.

Where even Google doesn’t reach

Early the next morning we were rearing to go, our intention being to stop at Chizarira. We made good time, however, and decided to push on to our next destination – Maabwe Bay (too remote for Google Maps to pick up!). This was a long, hard and full day. The gravel road varies from bad corrugation, to rocky and driving through spots of very deep soft powder.

Maabwe Bay was a two-night stop over and our amazing hosts, Richard and Margot, took us on a game cruise around the islands in Lake Kariba by boat. The only thing on my mind was tiger fishing but sadly, time did not allow for this. The campsite is well set up with power, water and lights, as well as clean and refreshing ablutions.

The Hwange National Park in west Zimbabwe was our next stop for another two-night stay. The intention was to stay at Hwange Main Camp, but I was informed that staying at Gwango Heritage Resort is a better option. It turned out to be a bit more affordable and it is perfectly located for a day visit to Hwange.

We were once again rewarded with excellent lion and fantastic raptor sightings during our game drive to Kennedy Pan Loop. The pool at Gwango is elevated over a small waterhole, which is frequently visited by elephants. So, if you’re lucky enough to be cooling off in it, don’t be surprised to see a trunk come over

the wall in search of fresh water.

Next, we encountered the most challenging road section on this trip. The road from Main Camp to Robins is so badly corrugated, that everything will rattle and shake, crack, break or fall off – even cough syrup will escape the bottle and be strewn all over the interior of your caravan! I am sure a detour via Sinamatella would be a better option on our next visit. We came across a family of five from England whose Pajero had broken down. They’d been stranded for 24 hours as no other vehicles came by and they had no choice but to sleep in the

Pajero! Nobody said Africa was for sissies!

Finally arriving at Robins Camp in Hwange, we made quick work of setting up camp before heading to the restaurant for some dinner (yes – one can get tired to braai-ing every night on tour!). The campsite is comfortable with hot and clean ablutions, and each campsite has its own braai stand.

Back in Bots

The 53km to the Pandamatenga border post was easy compared to the previous day’s drive. A simple process at border control saw us back in Botswana to spend another great night at Elephant Sands. We enjoyed the pool, a final dinner and recalling what can only be described again as ‘bucket list ticked’.

Driving back to South Africa, treasuring the memories from this amazing trip, we have already started planning our next visit to Mana Pools as it’s one of those places that will capture your heart forever.

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