A remote and truly 'African' safari park, Mana Pools National Park is located in the extreme north of Zimbabwe right on the Zambezi River and far from all major towns and settlements. Known to be one of the least developed National Parks in the whole of Southern Africa, Mana is simply bursting with birdlife and wildlife, especially during the dry season from June to October.
The National Park is situated along the lower Zambezi River in the area where the increased river water floods into the open plain forming a broad expanse of lakes each rainy season. The Zambezi River spreads across the flattened floodplain and fills the pools that have been created over time by the eroding water.
As the rainy season draws to an end and the lakes begin to dry up large herds of game animals enter the region in search of water and to eat the abundant grass trees that have flourished, resulting in excellent game viewing opportunities.
The game reserve takes its name; Mana, from the Shona word meaning 'Four' and refers to the four large watering holes or pools that are formed by the Zambezi River. The pools provide a magnificent backdrop to the reserve with the 2 500km2 (965 square miles) river banks and sandbanks being flanked by large lush forests of Wild Figs, Boababs and Mahogany trees.
Mana is home to the biggest concentration of Hippos and Crocodiles in the whole of Zimbabwe. Visitors entering the reserve during the dry season can also look forward to excellent sightings of large herds of Elephant and Buffalo. Eland, Zebra, Baboons and Waterbuck are also regularly seen in the area.
The largest of the pools is known as Long Pool. Long Pool has large populations of Crocodiles and Hippos in it and is a popular watering hole for Elephant. Extending 6km (3.7 miles) in an easterly to westerly direction Long Pool is flanked by large old Faidherbia trees (also known as Acacia Albidia) which provide an extensive shade canopy and have very sparse undergrowth which makes it ideal for walking safaris.
A walking safari is an incredible experience where visitors are able to walk through the African bush on foot with a guide and view animals only a few metres away.
Due to the abundance of water in the area, a canoe safaris is considered to be one of the best ways in which to view the game reserve. Canoe safaris are offered throughout the year and can also be combined with walking safaris, especially in the rainy season.
To get to Mana Pools visitors should drive up the main tarred road from Harare/Chirundu. Once you reach the bottom of the Zambezi escarpment turn off the tarred road onto a 70 kilometre (43.5 mile) dirt road and travel towards Nyamepi Camp. Entry permits are provided for free from the Nyamauti wilderness area and also from the Kanga Pan. There is a 2 day pass limit per car.
The national park is only open to vehicles during the dry season when the roads are manageable by 4X4. During the wet season visitors can only enter the park on foot on a walking safaris or by boat on a canoe safari. The best time to visit the reserve is between May and September, however the best game viewing is said to be between late September and early October but this period is not recommended due to the intense heat - temperature reach up to 38°C (100°F) or higher.
Between December and March the park is usually closed, or very limited access is granted.
There are 5 different lodges in the park, all situated along the Zambezi River. A further 2 lodges are situated upstream from the main restcamps; Musangu, Nyamepi Camp and Muchichiri. There is also a large campsite along the river where visitors can camp.
Visitors are advised that the nearest shops and fuel supplies are located 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the reserve and they will need to arrive with all of their equipment and provisions.
by Katie Findlay