In the far north of Zimbabwe lies a wilderness like no other – the longest continuous wildlife corridor along the Zambezi River. Now you can go on a six-night safari to explore the area on foot, by vehicle and canoe. If you love adventure, here are 12 things you’ll love about the Greater Mana Expedition at Sapi and Mana Pools Zimbabwe.
Here you can channel explorers like David Livingstone or Frederick Courtney Selous by joining the Greater Mana Expedition for six nights and seven days. You’ll delve into this wilderness on foot, by open 4x4 vehicle and by canoe along the Zambezi River. You’ll revel in a world that’s fuelled by your guide’s knowledge and passion for all wildlife, birds, plants and tracks. Cut off from city life and modern-day conveniences, you might watch elephants stand up on their hind legs to reach delicious pods of the ana tree, African wild dogs lope through the bush as they run down their dinner, or lions snooze in the shade on the open floodplain.
1. Landscapes and riverscapes
Long after you get home, you’ll be seeing these captivating scenes in your daydreams.
2. Remote wilderness
The Greater Mana area is a two-hour flight from Victoria Falls by small plane (about 90min from Harare), followed by a two-hour journey by land. It’s about as remote as you can get in Zimbabwe, an almost unbroken strip of protected, pristine wilderness along the Zambezi River.
3. The professional guides
During our six days with guide Lovemore Chiwara, we saw three of the Big Five (lions, elephants, buffaloes), wild dogs, bush pigs, hippos, crocs and countless antelope and smaller animals.
- A buffalo produces 200 litres of saliva a day to help with digestion.
- Male elephants produce 1 litre of sperm when in musth.
- You can estimate the shoulder height of an elephant by measuring the length of the back foot and multiplying by 5.5.
- The leadwood trees of Mana Pools absorb too many mineral salts so to survive, they divert them to one branch. That branch dies while the rest of the tree lives.
- Lions can eat as much as 25% of their body weight in one sitting.
- In short bursts, lions can cover 22.5m in just one second. (Remember that the next time you get out of your vehicle where you’re not allowed to!)
- The face of the African harrier hawk (which used to be called the gymnogene) changes from yellow to pink when they’re agitated.
- You can count the growth rings on a tortoise shell to estimate its age just like those of a tree.
- Hyena tracks are easy to differentiate from those of wild dogs because there’s no space between the pad and toes, whereas wild dog tracks have more gap. The hyena pad is also slightly offset at an angle.
- The bark and branches of the rain tree (appleleaf) are used by the local people for gathering fish – they act as a paralytic, after which the fish can be scooped up for eating.
This is what sets the Greater Mana Expedition apart from most ordinary safaris – the chance be active.
Despite the lure of adventure, the main magnet here is probably the wildlife, especially in the dry season when animals are drawn to the river and pools to drink.
Bird lovers will get excited here, with nearly 400 species recorded in the area.
Other specials of the Greater Mana area include Pel’s fishing owl, African skimmer, rock pratincole, Arnott’s chat and broad-tailed paradise-wydah.
7. Pools and pans
Unlike pools at Hwange National Park where the water is pumped, here in the Greater Mana region the pools and pans are all natural. Those that hold water all year round are a draw card for wildlife, making them good places for people who want to see animals. The pools from which the national park takes its name are the remains of ancient channels of the Zambezi River. Mana means ‘four’ in Shona – Mana, Chine, Chisasiko and Long pool.
8. Sunrises and sunsets
One of the best places to see open skies is along the river; just check with your guide where you may walk to stay safe from hippos and crocs that come on land at night.
10. Food and unique set-ups
11. Camps and camp staff
All three camps (read more about them here) make an enjoyable place to retreat at the end of a long and exciting day. Acacia Camp (nights 1 & 2) and River Camp (nights 5 & 6) are both on the river, while Skybeds (nights 3 & 4) is inland along a dry riverbed but offers the joy of a mozzie-netted bed on top of your unit where you can sleep under the tree canopy and the stars.
Until 2016 the Sapi area used to be a hunting concession, but now it has been given to Great Plains Conservation to manage as a conservation and photo safari area instead. With its track record of conservation in Botswana and Kenya, the company’s involvement here in Zimbabwe is a welcome change that will help preserve this wilderness for conservation.
Overall, this was a great safari experience, providing the excitement of exploring a remote wilderness area, tracking animals on foot, and a hint of old-fashioned romance in the way of bucket showers and paraffin lamps.
Note that it operates on set departure dates between May and November (it’s closed in the hot, wet season) and is only open to adults and kids over 12 years old.
Note: I was a guest of Great Plains Conservation Zimbabwe’s Greater Mana Expedition for six nights, but I was given free rein to write what I chose. I paid for all travel costs.
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Greater Mana Expedition camps: Sapi and Mana Pools Zimbabwe
Mpala Jena: superb addition to Zimbabwe safari lodges for a Victoria Falls safari
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