Mana Pools with Natureways
Camping with Natureways and the Walking/Canoeing Experience in Zimbabwe's Mana Pools National Park
The journey to Mana Pools from Johannesburg is not cheap nor is it straightforward - you can read about how we got here in this post. However, it was totally worth it. We spent six nights in the park, with all trip logistics expertly managed by longtime canoe/walking safari operators Natureways.
Our first three nights were spent on the Zambezi riverbank which had superb views of the water and the Zambezi Escarpment beyond. The second three were in Chitake Spring, a remote and much drier inland section of the park.
Upon our arrival at Camp Zambezi on the riverbank, we were greeted by a neatly set up row of tents, an al fresco dining area and bar. Everything would always be tidied up each day - while we were out exploring - so it looked perfect all the time.
Inside your tent “bedroom”, you could stand up easily even if you were over 6 feet tall. Beds were of the stretcher variety – very comfortable – and the bedding was cosy and warm. There was also a screened area out the back containing a chemical toilet in case you had to pee in the middle of the night!
The shared long-drop loo and camp shower were a few metres behind our sleeping quarters, with staff filling up the shower bucket with hot water every evening so you could wash away the day’s dust.
Every morning, someone would awaken you with a cheery “good morning” and fill your canvas camp basin with hot water. Once you were up, there was a good chance coffee was ready – brewed on the camp “stove”.
After a light breakfast, depending on wildlife movements, the weather and the mood of the group, our guide(s) would discuss what we would do that day. No two days on our trip were ever the same, and we always came back to camp for a proper sit-down brunch/lunch and dinner.
For a place so remote, our cheerful camp kitchen crew turned out the most delicious meals. If you have any food intolerances or dietary requirements TELL NATUREWAYS early as there are no shops around for miles! Vegetarians in our group were easily fed - with the most delightful fresh baked bread rolls, pastries, salads and curries. Of course, if you're a carnivore, meat is the star of all southern African cuisines!
Canoeing on the Zambezi is a unique experience and only possible if you’re staying on the floodplain (ie. at Camp Zambezi). You travel in Canadian-style flat-bottomed canoes, usually in pairs, both paddling with a plastic paddle. The Zambezi is a very wide river with a strong current, so visitors usually paddle downstream.
In the water and on the banks are heaps of hippo, and plenty of crocs, so you’re constantly jacked on adrenaline trying to avoid them (or at least, I was!). I noticed that our guide often tapped the fibreglass canoe with his paddle. When I asked him why he did this, he said it was to “alert sleeping underwater hippos” of our presence. Presumably because hippos don’t like being awoken by canoes gliding overhead!
The other “exciting” thing that kept happening was that every time we got close to a pod of hippos lying on the bank, they’d rush into the water towards us. “To safety”, our guide said, while paddling along serenely.
At certain points on our canoe trip, we’d get out and walk. Once, we came across a impala - recently killed - beneath a huge tree. From the prints on the sandy ground, our guides surmised that it was a leopard that had made the kill just minutes before, but the stealthy feline was nowhere to be seen. We would return later on foot, and get a fleeting glimpse of it.
From Camp Chitake, there was only walking available but you only had to saunter down to the nearly dry spring line from camp (a distance of about 5 metres) to encounter all sorts of creatures looking for a drink. The Chitake Spring was the only water for miles around, attracting both predator and prey alike.
Spying on wildlife from a "hide"
Drinking from Chitake spring
Buffalo kick up clouds of dust
Chitake also offered enormous, ancient baobabs plus few other things you’ll have to find out when you visit. It’s that remote we were virtually the only humans most of the time. And while I’m all for self-driving and exploring independently, in Mana Pools, I’d recommend seeing this gorgeous park with the best guide you can afford - we highly recommend Natureways - as you’d never find half the things we saw on your own. It’s also one of the only parks in Africa you can canoe plus you’d never know where to go by yourself, on foot!