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Chitake & Mana Pools - Sept 2012


Zim Girl
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As a general rule we would not go back on holiday to the same place twice. However, Mana Pools has well and truly broken that rule. We went there for 3 nights as part of a safari to Zimbabwe in Sept 2011. We were so impressed by our guide and the park that we booked another 11 nights to Mana with him for Sept 2012 as soon as we got back home. We had been very lucky to have been his only guests for the 3 nights and had Little Vundu all to ourselves. Trouble is, once you have had this kind of flexibility you just can’t go back – so we ended up booking everything on a private camp/vehicle/guide basis.

 

The trip was booked with Bushlife Safaris in Mana via Expert Africa in the UK.

 

So, here goes with my first trip report…

 

9th Sept 2012 - Overnight BA flight Heathrow to Lusaka. Met by Tours Africa driver for road transfer to the border point at Chirundu. It took an hour to get through the early morning traffic in Lusaka then another hour and a half to Chirundu. We had heard a few horror stories about how long it can take to get through the border with some people being there for hours, but we entered an empty immigration hall and we only spent around 15 minutes going through formalities. The Tours Africa guy was with us the whole time and we definitely needed him. We had to go to four different desks, one took the visa money, one stamped the entry form, one read the entry form, one stamped the passport…..,I know this is too much detail but it made us laugh at the time. Good job there wasn’t a queue!

 

We were then met by another driver who took us to meet Mark, our guide, a five minute drive away.

 

We drove down to Chitake Springs and arrived before lunch much to the dismay of the camp staff who were still putting up the tents. So we went for a quick walk along the riverbed and straight off had quite a close encounter with a young bull elephant. He had been some distance away but quickly came over as soon as he saw us, luckily he just blustered and snorted and turned right around again. Still, it was an exciting start to the holiday.

 

During lunch we had a lovely sighting of a male bushbuck who came quite close to camp. (Just to remind you at this point I am not a photographer and all pictures have been taken with a bridge camera set to auto) Having seen some of the excellent photos on this forum I will have to make an effort to learn more this year and do better next time.

 

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During the afternoon walk we saw a group of ele’s licking the side of the riverbed for the minerals then came across another small group a bit further along. (Hadn’t got my camera head on properly yet so no pics I am afraid).

 

At dinner, we could hear elephants making their way to the spring source, walking right by camp. Mark shone a torch every so often to see. It was amazing, every ele in the area must have come down to drink, there were so many going past. A bit later on we saw a hyena and then heard and found a porcupine shuffling around at the edge of camp.

 

Just to top off our first day we spent the night listening to an elephant eating the seed pods in the tree directly outside our tent.

 

11th Sept 2012 - Morning walk. Saw large herd of Impala, a lone male buffalo and spent a lot of time walking up and down the dry riverbeds, which I actually really enjoyed - the hotter the better for me.

 

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Back at camp a large troup of baboons had gathered which were a joy to watch after lunch.

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The afternoon walk did not produce any animals but we had a lovely walk to the baobabs which are in a beautiful elevated spot with wonderful views, apparently also the site of an ancient burial ground.

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12th Sept 2012 - During the morning walk we spotted a lioness and looking around saw another three. So we stayed still and waited to see what they were going to do. After about five minutes they moved off, but at a pace, so although we tried, we couldn’t keep up. Just then we heard shouting and saw Stanley, one of the camp lads waving to us from a way off. He had seen Wild Dogs running past camp and had jumped in the jeep to come and let us know. So we set off on foot at a fast pace in the direction Stanley had indicated and soon came across their tracks. The next couple of hours were spent tracking them but they were obviously way too fast for us and eventually we had to admit defeat. Good fun, though, always nice to have actual tracks to follow and the possibility of meeting something.

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However, not all was lost, as we came across the four female lions again in the vicinity of some female kudu. The kudu were making a quick getaway and the lions didn’t bother to give chase, instead just walking off and away from us.

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Lunchtime visit by the ele's

Again no major animal sightings in the afternoon and at our request, spent the time watching the sun go down at the baobabs.

Things were looking up at dinner. After the elephant parade we saw the hyena again and then minutes later a lioness walking slowly down the riverbed and nearly to camp before disappearing up the bank on the other side and into the bush. Just after dinner, we heard a male lion roaring very close, it sounded like he was at the back of camp, so all three of us quickly ran up the bank to where the camp crew were to see if we could see him. We walked a few yards beyond, but no luck. Although another sleepless night was spent listening to him roaring, have to say he still sounded pretty close to me.

 

This was our last night at Chitake and I thoroughly enjoyed the time here. It felt like such a remote wilderness, you could imagine you were the only people on earth, so quiet and peaceful and yet at night the place came alive, elephants on the move, lions roaring, antelope barking…. I did check, it was antelope and not wild dog!! Apologies for the lack of photos here, but it gets better when we hit the flood plain.

 

Just to also point out, that by the end of day two I resembled the understudy for the Elephant Man, I was so covered in tsetse fly bites. I am a huge tsetse and mosquito magnet and every bite reacts badly, so I was looking a bit of a state!

 

13th Sept 2012 - We took a slow drive out this morning and came across two young female lions sitting under a tree.

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We were on our way through to Chessa camp but Mark spotted a group of ele’s he knew at Mucheni, so we drove down to have a look. We spent an amazing time with this group, who were very relaxed with the big bull coming right over to us. We were sitting at the edge of the bank and he was a bit below us. He came to within a couple of inches of touching my arm - magic! So finally cue some pictures.

 

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relaxed elephant

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this one had an itch....

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so did this one....

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trying to get up the bank....

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finally made it

The next instalment will be up shortly…….

 

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Great start. The climbing ele is pretty enchanting...I wonder what else you have in store.

Safaritalk has been quite a Mana-talk since late last year, and it keeps getting better! Look forward to more!

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Nice. Thanks. Great photos. Nothing to apologize for IMO. What's a bridge camera?

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Lovely start, Zim Girl. Your photos are lovely and I did the same thing - bridge camera on auto focus but my results not quite as sharp as yours :)

 

At this point, I think Zim Tourism should simply fly interested STers in and let them spend a couple of weeks in all the other parks because Mana will def see an uptick in visitor numbers after all the many outstanding trip reports that have been posted here! These reports surely provide better advertisement than any number of traditional ad campaigns :D

 

Looking forward to more. I had hoped to go back with my husband this Nov but a canine illness in the family has eaten up those funds, so will continue to dream vicariously through all of your reports until finances allow a return.

Edited by Sangeeta
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Thank you everybody for your comments. Next bit up in a couple of days hopefully. For the wild dog fans among you I have a set of pictures that will appear right at the end of the trip report that you may find interesting.

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Whoops, forgot the pictures, will re post tomorrow!

Edited by Zim Girl
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will re post tomorrow!

 

You better, or else...

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Part Two…..

 

We carried on through to Mana mouth to have lunch. We were sitting under a kigelia tree eating another one of Stanley’s excellent pies when next to me Mark suddenly jumped to one side and looked up. Wondering what on earth had happened I moved away quickly, which is just as well because it turned out a baboon had just poo’d all over him from up in the tree. Well, you probably had to be there, but we were in hysterics as poor Mark went down to the river to wash his shirt, however the funnier thing was that the baboon came scuttling down the tree, ran over to another one not too far away which must have contained the rest of his gang, and which then erupted with baboon calls -it really did sound like they were having a laugh at us!!!

Lunch over, we found out there had been a slight mix up with the camps, so we were to spend the next two nights at Little Vundu, we had planned four nights there at the end of the trip so this just meant we split the nights up, no problem as Little Vundu was empty anyway.

On the drive back to the Vundu concession we spotted vultures circling so parked up and went to investigate. What we found was apparently quite unusual. A male baboon was eating an impala. It had been very freshly killed and after studying it Mark decided that it was the baboon that had made the kill, reasoning that the impala must have been sick and not able to escape, it was also pregnant which may possibly have been the cause of it’s sickness. We moved away some distance and before long the baboon was back eating from the carcass. It wasn’t the only one as other males chased each other off to have their turn.

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14th Sept - During breakfast at Little Vundu we heard impala alarm calls. So the toast was dropped and we chased off to see what was going on. At the other side of the clearing to the entrance of the camp there was a lioness walking towards the bush. We quickly and carefully moved across the clearing to get closer, however, she disappeared into the bush and despite circling around a couple of times we were not able to find her. So we went back, picked up the toast and finished breakfast.

 

In the jeep and on our way to the floodplain we came across wild dogs, the Vundu Pack, the puppies were chasing a warthog, so funny to watch. The warthog was going flat out and luckily escaped. We stopped and got out to sit and watch the pack. Mark was able to attract the attention of the puppies by mimicking the adult call. We spent a short while enjoying them before the pack moved off into the bush.

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Once at the floodplain we spent the morning walking and watching the groups of eland, zebra, and impala.

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Then we came across the same group of male elephants we had seen at Mucheni the previous day. They appeared to be quite relaxed and we approached carefully from cover to cover. Then one of the younger males turned to look at us and Mark said “I don’t like the look in his eye.” Just then he charged! He hurtled towards us - cue rapid increase in heart rate! Then all of a sudden he screeched to a halt, kicking up a huge cloud of dust around us. He shook his head, waved his truck and then ambled off after his group. He had stopped only six metres away – Mark paced it out when he had gone.

 

So, there you go, one day they are quite happy for you to be with them, the next, they don’t want to know.

 

There was more ele action at lunch time. A female and her calf came and walked through the camp, very close to the table and while we were watching her, a bull had walked in behind us and decided he also wanted to see what was on the menu.

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Trouble was he actually wanted to get under the awning and sit down with us.

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The afternoon walk in the park was a little bit more sedate after all that excitement, but we did see a very large group of eland.

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Had to include at least one sunset.

 

15th Sept - Another interrupted breakfast as one of the camp lads spotted wild dog at the back of camp. So up we jumped again and made chase on foot in the hope that they may settle down somewhere close. We didn’t find the dogs but we did nearly run into a hippo enjoying his breakfast hidden behind a large bush. Quick about turn to find our own bush!

 

We saw the Vundu Pack lazing around on the way into the park, so not sure if it was them or not at camp earlier.

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Parked up and walked for a good while, then Mark found lion tracks which we followed and eventually found the pride. We settled down to watch them from behind a log.

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After about twenty minutes, one by one the females got up to walk off. We waited until the last male started walking away and then slowly followed them. The male stopped to look at us briefly then followed the rest of the pride.

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The hope was that they may start hunting as this pride hadn’t made a kill for a while, but they walked across the road and settled under another tree. Quite a few vehicles had turned up by this point so we left them to look for something else.

 

The something else turned out to be Boswell, one of the big old bulls, and a friend. He didn’t show off his handstand trick but he was a pleasure to sit and watch.

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Back to camp. We are now at Mucheni 4.

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For the afternoon walk we decided to go back and see if this morning’s lion pride were where we had left them. They were, so we sat on a log with a really good view and spent the rest of the good light just watching them.

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Later on that night after dinner, we had a lovely sighting of a female leopard and her two juvenile cubs drinking at the river inlet where we were camped. Another magical moment.

 

16th Sept - Walked out this morning with the intention of trying to find the lion pride again, but no luck this time. Instead we walked right down to the river and found Boswell and a couple of other bulls feeding. We spent a little while with them and then carried on walking alongside the river.

 

In the afternoon we parked up in an area we hadn’t walked before, not sure where exactly, will have to make better notes next time, but it was quite inland in the Vundu direction.

 

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We heard a lion calling and followed the sound until Mark picked up it’s tracks. We followed these for approx two kilometres and then found him sitting in a clearing. So result.

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This felt like a worthwhile end to a fairly quiet day.

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Final Instalment …..

 

17th Sept - We spent this morning having a leisurely canoe from Mucheni to Chessa and then went for a drive while the lads were setting up camp. We stopped by one of the Mana pools to watch the elephant and buffalo.

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Back at Chessa for lunch.

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Our tent at Chessa.

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The kitchen!

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Our walk in the afternoon took us to another smaller pool which was full of Marabou storks.

No pictures here I am afraid as not good enough even by my standards.

 

Tonight turned out to be a late one as a female elephant took a liking to the tree right by the entrance to our tent and spent quite some time eating before wandering off.

 

18th Sept - Drove out from camp this morning and came across Boswell and three other male elephants. They were having a tussle over a branch that one of them was holding.

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Boswell eventually got fed up with this and reached up to get one of his own.

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Finally we got to see him on his hind legs.

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This afternoon we went nearer to the Nyamatusi Wilderness area to walk. It had a quite different feel to the floodplain. There was a very large herd of buffalo here that we spent some time watching from a good advantage point on top of an ant hill.

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19th Sept - We decided to go for a really long walk this morning so we were dropped off at the outskirts of Chessa and we walked around 20k ending up beyond Mucheni towards Vundu. We saw plenty of zebra and various antelope as well as three rather grumpy hippo in one of the pools, but no predators.

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One of the camp staff had dropped off the land rover ready for us and we drove the rest of the way into Little Vundu, where we were staying for our last two nights.

On our way in we saw three female Nyala and then minutes later a male, but he was too far off to photograph.

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A group of hippo had lined up in the river right beside camp.

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In the afternoon we went for another long walk alongside the river in the Ruckomechi direction. There were plenty of antelope around and carmine bee eaters at the river bank. We watched elephant crossing from one little strip of land to the next.

One of the Zambian lodges can clearly be seen on the other side.

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20th Sept - Our final full day in Mana. So we set off early on the hunt for lions or dogs. After a few false starts we found dog tracks and walked inland away from the floodplain area. In the distance the Vundu pack were all sitting under a tree. We moved in closer and then could also see several vehicles and people on the other side of a stretch of water quite a way off. One of the guides was trying to get our attention and Mark left us under a tree while he went to find out what was going on.

We were happy just watching the dogs, but our morning was about to get far more interesting. It turned out that the other people were Dr Greg Rasmussen and his team. Greg is the founder and director of Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe and they were here to collar one of the dogs. They had also been tracking the pack but had come in from the other direction and were much further away. We had met Greg at Somalisa in Hwange last year and he was more than happy for us to join him at the collaring. He asked us to stay where we were until he could drive around and approach from our side to dart the dog.

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Once the dog was darted and Greg was happy, we walked over to watch. In the meantime the rest of his team and several guests and their guide who had also arranged to be here had made their way across the water to us.

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Keeping the dog cool with water

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Putting on the collar

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Greg asked me to rub the dog’s rump after he had taken a sample.

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Getting ready to wake up

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This was just such an amazing opportunity to see a collaring and to be so close to, and actually touch, a Wild Dog.

 

We left the group at this point as Mark had spotted a pride of lions sitting under a tree near to the water. We walked over but when we were still a way off Mark stopped and after watching them through binos for a bit said he didn’t want to approach them. Apparently they were getting a bit edgy even at this distance and he didn’t want to disturb them by getting any closer and making them move away unnecessarily. It was around 11.30am by now and very hot. Shame, but we were still buzzing from the dog collaring so didn’t mind too much.

As a consolation I found a flap necked chameleon. I absolutely love these and Mark let me pick it up.

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We went back to camp for lunch.

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Little Vundu camp

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Think the early starts have finally got to him

 

We then went for our last drive around the park. We parked up near Mucheni and walked along the flood plain. We spotted one of the big bull elephants and started our walk over, then we saw Stretch Ferreira with some guests coming from the opposite direction. As he was a bit nearer than us, guide etiquette meant that we waited for him to move in first, after which he then signalled for us to come over.

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So sadly this wonderful safari was almost over. We left at 6.30 in the morning and drove to Chirundu which took around three hours. We had no problems at the border and were met by the same Tours Africa driver who took us to a hotel in Lusaka where we stayed overnight before our BA flight home the next day.

 

While we were on this holiday we had decided to go somewhere else in 2013 and come back to Mana in 2014.

When we got home we did try to look at other options but I soon realised all I really wanted to do was go back. So I emailed Mark and we arranged our itinerary for Sept 2013. It is all booked now and we are doing 10 nights in Mana including 3 nights at Chitake and then 3 nights in Matusadona which we had visited in 2011 and also loved.

 

So maybe somewhere different in 2014!!!

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I hope you said you were from Safaritalk as we have interviewed him in the past, here, and helped finance his work here.

 

Matt

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Very entertaining report.

 

That's what I love about safaris. ...you just never know what is going to occur.

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Wonderful trip and the report really took us there. That Boswell is a true showman. Although I know that the collars help the researchers, I always feel just a bit sad to see a wild animal wake up with a great bulky thing around its neck, I just think "hot and sweaty", but that's just me! :)

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Great report. Wel'll be in Mana Pools September 2013 also staying at Vundi and Goliath.

 

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GW - Glad you have already interviewed Greg, as I was thinking he would make a good candidate.

 

Thanks everyone for your comments.

 

Pennyanne - We may well cross paths this September, you will so enjoy your time in Mana.

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Great report.

 

Its interesting to see a baboon kill on an impala.

 

And we also saw Nyala - initially we had no idea that they existed in Mana and thought we were mistaken. They also seemed very nervous.

 

What a privilege to be part of a wild dog capture.

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Thank you for the great report. We will be in Mana Pools in September of this year (2013) as part of a month-long camping safari that will cover northern South Africa and much of Zimbabwe.Since it will be our first visit to Mana Pools we were really excite to hear about your experiences. Except for the tsetse flies! The pictures were wonderful because they showed the things you saw and that were important to you. I would like to ask about the temperatures while you were there and what part of September it was. Thanks again!

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I remember that bridge at Little Vundu :D The backdrop of many exciting encounters.

 

Loved reading the report, Zim Girl. Very well done and thank you for sharing.

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Hi mphelps

 

We were in Mana from 9th - 20th Sept. I am not sure of the exact temps but I would guess it was hitting the high twenties by midday, although it starts to get noticeably warm by 9am. This time we were there, there was a good breeze every day which made the walking much more bearable. The year before we didn't have the breeze and it felt much hotter.

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Hi Zim Girl

Thank you for sharing, what a wonderful adventure.I am planning a trip to Zimbabwe in the future, would you mind to inform me of the pricelevel of this trip.

 

Thanks again

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Africalover - the safari element of the trip cost approx £400pppn exc international flights and visas. The cost is high because we booked a private guide and booked all camps on a private basis, but we also were given discounts for repeat custom.

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Hi Zim Girl

 

Thanks for your reply, for me that is very expensive, i hope i can find a cheaper way of going to Manapools.All i need is a 4x4, guide, dometent, bush ablution and simple food.I like to rough it.

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You may want to ask Whyone & dikdik for some tips. They have both posted excellent self-driving reports on Mana.

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  • 1 month later...

I'll be going to Mana Pools for 6 nights. I'll spend 3 nights in Vundu Camp and 3 in Goliath. I'll also be doing a three day canoe safari.

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