Our last stop on our African safari was at Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, where we stayed at Nyamatusi Camp, operated by African Bush Camps. This national park is part of a larger tract of land in northern Zimbabwe that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984 because of the diversity of wildlife and geography, bordered at the northern end by the mighty Zambezi River, and in the south by a steep escarpment which is defined as a long, steep precipitous ridge of land commonly formed by fracturing or faulting of the earth’s crust. It creates a beautiful setting of forests, floodplains, rolling hills, sand banks and river channels.
Nyamatusi Camp is open about six months of every year and had only opened the day before we arrived, so we were one of the first visitors of this season. It is a luxury tented camp with 8 semi-permanent structures that primarily consist of a spacious, mesh-walled tent encircled by a generous wood deck and private plunge pool. African Bush Camps does a wonderful job of placing their camps unobtrusively in areas where wildlife is plentiful. A guiding principle of their philosophy is to create a place that is truly your home away from home, and there are no amenities that are missing, despite being in such an isolated area. There is literally NO internet and NO cellular telephone network there, and I have to admit that it was a treat to be completely off the grid from social media for a few days!
The trip to Mana Pools was an adventure in itself. We flew in a small charter plane from Harare and landed on a dirt airstrip known as Mana Main. I think it was the smallest airplane I have ever flown in, but it was surprisingly comfortable and not bumpy! Upon landing we were immediately greeted by our guide, Lovemore, a 15-year veteran to guiding in that area who was a fount of knowledge! We bonded instantly and I knew it was going to be a great visit.
Because we arrived at the tail end of the wet season, we did not see massive herds of large animals gathered in the floodplains, but there were still plenty of encounters with elephants, hippos, lions, baboons, impala, zebra, and other ungulates. The bird life, though, was spectacular! I love birdwatching and have enjoyed doing it on a casual basis for decades, but when I was introduced to the bird life in Africa, I was simply amazed at the number and variety of species, and how beautiful some of them were. In Mana Pools, anywhere from 300-400 bird species breed or migrate through the area! The Lillian’s Lovebirds and the Southern Red Bishop were strikingly colorful, as was the Saddle-Billed Stork. Watching the Black Heron spread its wings to cover the water as it hunted for fish was so much fun – I felt like I was in the middle of a BBC Planet Earth show!
Lovemore, our guide, gave us a great tour of the area, showing us three of the four permanent pools that represent the four pools of Mana Pools (the word Mana actually means “four” in the Shona language). Chisasiko, Chine, and Long Pool were the ones that we visited. Great Pool was a little too far away. He pointed out several plants on our short walking safari and described the different traditional uses for them. He also shared historical aspects of the area, cultural traditions of his people, and his vast knowledge of the plants, animals and birds of the area.
Zimbabwean guides are some of the best in Africa, and Lovemore lived up to that reputation!
We witnessed an unsuccessful hunt by a pride of lions, spent time visiting with Boswell, the resident celebrity elephant, caught a glimpse of leopards mating, and even had a surprise ice cream treat that our host Taffy brought to us in the bush! That was such a special moment for us all!
The food at Nyamatusi Camp was delicious and well-prepared. Every night at dinner, the chef would present the menu to us in person, along with his assistants who highlighted the evening’s suggested wine pairings. It was a wonderful way to start our meal, and added a touch of elegance out in the African bush! One of my favorite lunches was make-your-own pizza day. The variety of toppings and sauces was creative, colorful and so tasty! I wish I had room for two of them! The staff went out of their way to ensure your meals were to your liking, and even graciously prepared and delivered a meal for in-room dining on a day when one of my daughters was not feeling well.
Our stay at Nyamatusi Camp was only three nights. I honestly wish we would have had at least one more night to enjoy there, but we had already been out for nearly two weeks, and the trials and tribulations of work and home life were beckoning. One of our last adventures was a canoe safari on the Zambezi River. What a way to close out a phenomenal trip! Lovemore had my daughters in one canoe, and a guide named Rufaro and I were in a second one. We all knew there were plenty of hippos and crocodiles in the water, which can be daunting since they both are quite dangerous and unpredictable, but I trusted in Lovemore’s years of experience paddling and navigating the river. We kiddingly asked him how many times he had lost anyone on a canoe trip, and he reassured us he had never lost anyone yet, maybe only parts of one (JUST KIDDING!). I have a healthy respect for the dangers of the water, but I honestly felt safe. The views of the Zambian escarpment were framed by the most beautiful clouds, and the scenery was stunning. We even pulled out onto a sandbar in the middle of the paddle, and took some fun photos along the way!
I would love to visit Mana Pools again someday, and spend a few more nights, perhaps at a different time of year as a comparison. Tayla and the crew at Wandering Thru really came through for us by creating a diversified itinerary that highlighted some of the best that African safaris have to offer. We were very fortunate to have had such a positive, life-changing experience, and I am looking forward to the time when I can contact WanderingThru to schedule a second visit to see even more of the spectacular continent of Africa.
Would you like to visit Mana Pools? Have a look at our Mana Pools Adventure Package