Mana Pools, Zimbabwe, has always been on my bucket list and it is a national park where dreams come true. Its famous golden light between the cathedral of Albida trees, its standing elephants, the Zambezi River and its raw, wild nature have all been lifelong desires to witness. For a long time, it seemed an unreachable travel goal and would simply remain a fantasy – however, this dream recently became a reality and one that exceeded my wildest expectations!
Rising with the sun and excited anticipation, we departed from Harare looking forward to the 6 hour road trip ahead – time to catch up, listen to music, delve into some podcasts – and simply stare out the window and daydream. Zimbabwe’s landscape is fascinating and varied, bustling towns with deep history, rural villages fringing the roadside and footpaths scattered with people and livestock. Time on the road allows for a moment to observe, reflect and learn about a country’s culture, people and past. 6 hours allows for a solid representation of a place, coming away with a deeper appreciation of local life.
Greeted by welcoming staff and an equally welcoming gin and tonic, we were set to cruise.
Final stop before our transfer to the lodge was at Chirundu – a border post town between Zimbabwe and Zambia. It is here where we exchanged our four wheels for an aluminium speedboat which would transport us upon the mighty Zambezi River to Camp Mana. Greeted by welcoming staff and an equally welcoming gin and tonic, we were set to cruise. Heading into open waters with fresh air on our skin, riding parallel to the wilderness, we truly felt transported into holiday mode, fully engaged in relaxation.
The boat ride itself is an experience – and hands down the best transfer into a lodge thus far. With Zimbabwe to your right, and Zambia to your left, there is constantly a point of interest to observe. From small holdings and banana plantations, to rural villages and safari lodges, the terrain keeps you captivated. Further from the border, the landscape turns wild and is filled with the prospect of elephants, buffalo, hippos and a myriad of other wildlife which relies on the river as a life source. Villages remain scattered along the river bank, an eye opening glimpse into the world of human and wildlife conflict management, with the intention for the two to co-exist in harmony. As we learnt from our captain, tourism plays a vital role in human wildlife mitigation, educating local inhabitants about the importance and value of wild animals, as well as teaching conservation farming skills, bringing in revenue which helps eliminate poaching. Most safari operators also hire those from villages surrounding the lodges, providing employment and security, promoting empowerment and conservation awareness.
We slowed down to glide past a herd of elephants who were quenching their thirst in the mid-afternoon African heat. We spent the next 15 minutes witnessing the wonder that is an elephants trunk; sipping, spraying and playing with Zambezi water, all while watching us with mild curiosity out of the side of one eye. The captain then took a slight detour in order to show us a nesting spot of white fronted bee-eaters – a colourful kaleidoscope upon the brown banks of the Zambezi. The boat kept respectful distance and we all watched in silent appreciation of the spectacle – we were the visitors on their home ground after-all.
An hour and a half later, already filled with awe and tales to tell, we arrived at the lodge. The head guide, Shepherd, was there to greet us and welcome our first step onto Mana Pools National Park soil. I took a moment to gaze upon the river, grateful for its channel to this magical location, breathing in space and earth – the combination of what I imagine to be the smell of freedom. As we climbed into the safari vehicle to head to the lodge, my stomach filled with butterflies, my dream of being in Mana Pools finally coming true.
By Kim Sparrow