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Mana Pools with Doug MacDonald


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Just returned from a fabulous safari from Mana Pools.

First and foremost, I would like to thank Safaritalk, @Game Warden and all the members of this forum, without whose help, this safari would have never happened. It was through this forum I was able to get in touch with Doug MacDonald who arranged this privately guided trip to Mana for me. As you have all reiterated on this forum how god Doug is, he proved to be the same and more!

Considering my past history of incomplete trip reports, I am not doing this a day by day thing, instead would let photographs do the talking.


Land in Harare on Ethiopian flight from Mumbai via Addis Ababa.

1N Jacana Gardens

Flight to Mana Pools Rukomechi airstrip (This is for Kavinga and Chitake Springs in the north, Rukomechi camp uses Mana West airstrip)

3N at Kavinga on my own

Met Doug at the gate

4N Natureways Camp at Mucheni 4 campsite on floodplains, Privately guided by Doug

3N Natureways Camp at Chitake Springs, Privately guided by Doug

Fly out to Harare in time for Ethiopian flight to Addis and then onto Mumbai

Just few observations:

1. Ethiopian: A pleasant surprise! This is the first time I have used Ethiopian and it was a really a pleasant surprise. Flights were bang on time. Flight attendants were actually smiling. Checked in bag arrived at the destination without any drama. Transit through Addis was a bit of a hassle but nothing major. Hopefully it will be better when the new airport is fully functional. On my way back, the aircraft for flight from Harare to Addis was brand new with nice seats, decent leg room (Economy class) and good collection of movies.


2. Jacana Gardens: Pros: Fabulous little guest house. Very courteous owners. Helped me in ordering my dinner from a restaurant nearby. Can't comment about breakfast as I left at 0515 to be at the airport for my flight to Mana. Cons: Good 30-40 minutes drive from the airport.


3. Kavinga: Pros: Lovely location in a private concession in southern part of Mana well away from the river. About 8-10 km west of Chitake Springs as the crow flies. Excellent underground hide overlooking a pumped waterhole which was visited by a huge number of animals. Good for those low angle photographs. Resident pride of 13 lions (didn't see them) controlled by 4 males (saw them all). Lions roaring every night with one of the males passing through the camp one night. There's spring about 700-800 metres from the Camp which started flowing this year. Good game numbers around the spring.

Rooms are raised on stilts to catch breeze. They are big and extremely comfortable with big sliding glass doors in front. Rooms overlook the pumped waterhole and it was fun watching elephants drinking from my deck. All rooms face east and sunrise view is spectacular.

Wifi was available. It came in 1 hour coupons. Econet has signal in a few places.

Cons:  A: Tsetse flies. I have never seen so many of them anywhere. Every game drive was like a blood donation drive! Burning elephant dung was the only thing that worked. Not so many of them in the camp as it is raised on a hill with a lot of breeze, but they were really really bad when we were out walking/ driving.

B: Guiding. Not very enthusiastic. Felt more like a resort kind of vibe than an intense game viewing destination. I guess it also depends on the guests too, as most of them were from Harare for a weekend to relax in the bush. Siraj the head guide and Luke the learner guide were good (Siraj was learner guide with Stretch for a number of years), but the intensity somehow was lacking. Siraj did take us out on an after dinner night drive and one morning we went for a hike on one of the peaks of the escarpment. Luke was very enthusiastic and took me out to look at a huge Carmine colony. But with just one fully qualified guide in the camp with capacity for 14 guests, it's always going to be difficult. I chose to spend most of time in the hide and it was very fruitful. 

C: Food was good. Nothing special but plentiful. 

All in all, excellent alternative to Kanga Camp, just stick to the hide with visits to the spring, you should see some good game during dry season.


4. Natureways Camps: Decent mobile tented operation. All the basics are in place. Tents are of good size for 2 people. Communal toilet and shower. A small portable loo for use at night attached to each tent.  Food was plentiful. Drinks: Choice a bit limited but beers, G&Ts, wines available. All in all a smooth operation. I was perfectly ok with it. My wife would have had a different opinion. Popped into Goliath safari's camp to have a look. Very nice. Would certainly stay there if I were with my wife and book Doug as a private guide.


5. Doug MacDonald: Certainly one of the finest guides in Africa. We started the day with Coffee/ light breakfast at 0515 and went out at 0545 or earlier. Returned to camp at 1130. Out again at 1600 and back just after sunset. Walked at least 7-8 km every day if not more. Walked onto wild dogs everyday when we were on floodplains, following them on foot, running ( huffing and puffing for me with all my camera gear) when they caught a Kudu. Tracked and sat down with lions, sat by long pool and sapi pan watching animals coming in for drink. At Chitake, tracked lions (unsuccessfully), caught buffalo coming down to drink (everyday), crept up to 100s of impalas drinking, crept almost on top of 100s of buffalos (within 10 metres but at a high vantage point)  and spent time looking for fossils, pottery shards from people who lived at Chitake 100s if not 1000s of years ago. 


With that pre-amble, let the photographs do the talking. 

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Hi vikramghanekar, great to hear about your time so far. I was interested to read the part about Ethiopian Airways as I'm flying with them in a few months' time. I have flown with them four years ago. Can you point me to any info about the Addis airport other than what's on the official website? You say your time in Addis was a bit of a hassle - any learnings that you can pass on? Thanks very much.

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Hi @Beth_Blogger, we flew Ethiopian to Malawi last year and as @vikramghanekar has already said they are fine - the A350 on the LHR / Addis LHR legs was brand new, very quiet & comfortable and the flight attendants attentive & obliging.  The 737 from Addis to Lilongwe and back from Blantyre was older but still perfectly acceptable.  That's the good part, unfortunately they are letdown badly by Bole airport which is pretty dire with poor to non-existent facilities inside the security screens and not much better outside unless you're flying business - I don't think there are any "pay-for" lounges.  The queues at the gates were chaotic (once you've figured out which one you are meant to be in) and in the main the airport staff aren't particularly helpful. 


The one hassle we had was on the way back - when we tried to check-in at Blantyre they couldn't tally our e-tickets with the flight number.  I don't know if this was because Ethiopian had changed the flight number at least twice between when we booked and the day we were flying or someone being overzealous at Blantyre but we were passed round various folk at the airport for ages before they grudgingly accepted we had got valid tickets for that flight.  

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5 hours ago, Beth_Blogger said:

Hi vikramghanekar, great to hear about your time so far. I was interested to read the part about Ethiopian Airways as I'm flying with them in a few months' time. I have flown with them four years ago. Can you point me to any info about the Addis airport other than what's on the official website? You say your time in Addis was a bit of a hassle - any learnings that you can pass on? Thanks very much.

Addis Ababa's Bole international airport is in the process of renovation/ addition of a new terminus. 

On my way to Harare while transiting at Addis, the security check for transit passengers was completely bypassed so there was no hassle.  But there were no LCD screens displaying any flight information barring one small screen in one corner! Nobody had a clue which gate they were supposed to board! They also changed the gate for Harare flight just 15 minutes before boarding but it was not a long walk.

However, on my way back, the new terminal was partly functioning (I could smell the paint!), so I had to go through security check. There were just 3 scanners. 1 for emergency passengers (those barely making time for next flight), 1 for those with flight within next 1 hour (my guess) and 3rd for rest of passengers. As a result the queue was long. I waited for 1 hour in the queue. But there was a airport authorities personnel posted at all cross points, directing passengers. Even the new terminal does not have aero bridges. It's a bus transfer. LCD screens were not operational, so chaos ruled. There are no shops/ restaurants inside barring a couple of vending machines.

Hopefully, things will improve once the new terminal becomes fully operational. With number of Ethiopian flights increasing fast, the airport has to pull up its socks. Having said that, I would still prefer Ethiopian over Kenya Airways (always late, unhelpful and rude staff, Business class worse than Economy class of a few airlines), over Emirates (much more expensive).

I ended up chatting with a guy from Mombasa who travels frequently to Mumbai. He prefers Ethiopian over Kenya Airways for the same reasons. 

Do not worry about Ethiopian. In a few months, the airport too will sort itself out. It wouldn't be too unpleasant. :-) 

My tips for airport security:

1. No shoes, just sandals.

2. No belts (I keep it in my bag, just in case)

3. One jacket with multiple pockets for wallet, passport, keys, coins and other myriad things we carry in our pant pockets. Just take it out and put it in the scanner!

Learned the hard way after losing a belt and a set of keys at one of the transit airports!

Hope this helps.

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Looking forward to your photographs especially the ones from the hide, not impressed on the standard of guiding at Kavinga, especially on the rates that people pay.

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Hi @Beth_Blogger and @vikramghanekar, thanks so much for your info. I'll prepare for some level of chaos at the airport then :) The layover with kids will be fun. Let's hope things improve a little in terms of renovations by the time I travel. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Photographs with brief descriptions.

Jacana Gardens, Harare

Purple crested turaco



Kavinga Camp, Mana Pools

Lion called "Big Boy". One of the coalition of 4 males, that rules the Kavinga pride



Roaring away



A spring about 500 metres from Kavinga that started flowing this year attracts huge number of animals in dry season.

I was watching these elephants when Big boy decided to go down for a drink.

Photographed well after sunset, in almost complete darkness



Elephants play fighting on the banks of the stream



Photographs taken from underground hide at Kavinga






Huge number of elephants visited the waterhole day and night.




Dust bathing. One of the elevated rooms in the background









Birdlife was abundant

Emerald Spotted Wood Doves. Came in by thousands!



Carmine and White Fronted Bee Eaters came in for a drink on the fly. Made for interesting pictures.





White fronted bee eaters were even faster. Required infinite patience, some quick hand eye co-ordination and some luck!




A dead tree in the background provided perfect perch!



Other birds put in appearance

Cattle egrets in breeding plummage



Southern Pochards. Suddenly one morning we found a flock of these ducks in the waterhole. They were gone in the evening and were not seen again.


Guinea Fowl



Night drive produced Three Banded Courser





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Good photographs of the Carmine and White Fronted Bee Eaters.

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Love all of your images, so well composed and the bee-eaters are special. I wish I had taken the time to contact Doug for my own trip to Mana.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Thank you @CDL111 and @Ratdcoops.

Sorry for the significant delay in posting rest of the images.

I was transferred from Kavinga by Luke, the learner guide. We met Doug at a pre decided point and shifted my stuff into Doug's vehicle.

We had about an hour's drive before we got to the camp.

We stayed at Natureway's camp located at Mucheni 4. There were other guests in the camp who were guided by Mark, the guide for Natureways. Doug, of course, was guiding me as a private guide.

Here are photographs from my time on the flood plains.


Eland at Sunset.

I saw more elands in Mana this time than I have seen them anywhere else anytime.



My primary target for this trip was seen on first morning on the floodplain.

Some excellent tracking and educated guess by Doug resulted in a spectacular morning spent with African WIld Dogs.




The pack had 4 adults and 4 puppies




We followed them on foot as they started hunting. Keeping up with them was another matter. By the time we reached them, they had already taken down a young Kudu.



A puppy enjoys a particularly juicy bone. 



Adults were very alert, keeping an eye out for potential threats like hyenas and lions.




Vultures, of course, were dropping from the sky. Both hooded and white backed.



Puppies were having a go at chasing the vultures from time to time.

Yellow billed kite didn't have to land, she just picked up morsels on the wing.

06WildDogs.jpg.cfaa93eb76982a81cdb0fa2e5f15fb89.jpgIt was getting hot now and the dogs were full. As predicted by Doug, they headed for water. We were already into position.



Dogs retreated to shade. We left to find some shade for ourselves.


Long pools is the perfect place to have some tea and wait in the shade to see who is coming down to drink.

An unexpected sighting.



Some more reptiles.

Yellow Bellied Sand snake. I was amazed how on earth Doug spotted it.




Evening was spent walking along the river.


Some hippos having a bit of argument on the river bank.



Flying Impalas





Some nice silhouettes.



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What an incredible first day you had with Doug, especially the wild dog sighting.  I have been eagerly waiting for you to continue your trip report, as we will be with him in Mana next September/October.

I do hope the remaining days with Doug were as good.

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Patience is a virtue, but you stretched mine to the limit in waiting, but it has been well worth it. Years ago in Botswana we tried to keep up with dogs and couldn’t, and we were in a vehicle.

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Sorry guys, I just got lazy in posting.

Here are a few more from the next day.

Next morning we went looking for dogs once again and found them under the shade of a sausage tree near Trichilia.

The pups were resting too. They would perk up everytime Doug whistled to them. One of them actually started replying back. It was very interesting to watch.





We waited for good 45 minutes but the dogs showed no intention to move. It was starting to get warm and it looked like they would rest for the rest of the day. We moved on in search of lions which had been seen around old Ndungu.

Some baboons on the way.



The weird haziness that appears in the background puzzled me for most of the trip. I was carrying the new 500 f5.6 Nikon PF lens rented from a company based in India. Very light and portable, good for walking but for this strange haze. Only on the last day I realised they had put a clear filter on the front. I unscrewed it and viola! the haze was gone. I kicked myself for not realising it earlier and ruining most of my shots with 500. My 70-200 f2.8 worked admirably well though.


Some more baboon experiment



We finally reached the area where lions were see last. Soon enough a walking party emerged from the bush who had gone to see the lions. Apparently lions had moved away from the road and were sleeping under a thick bush.

We followed the human tracks and soon reached the spot. Doug motioned me to sit down close to a termite mound about 50 metres from the lions. I had always thought I would be a little scared to walk onto lions but strangely, I felt very calm. Almost at peace. Initially the lions perked up. There were 2 females and 1 subadult male, remnants of a big pride that used to dominate the floodplains. Soon enough they were relaxed and went back to sleep.

Not a nice picture, but something that I will remember all my life.



After spending half an hour with them, we retreated to the vehicle. I was really happy, having done something that I have dreamt of doing for a long time.

We retired to one of the pools and spent rest of the morning watching animals coming down to drink.

Birds were in full attendance. There were a few Black winged stilts. One of them was very territorial and would drive off all the other stilts if they came anywhere close to it. It had the same ferocity one would expect from a male lion. May be he was a lion in his previous life :-) 



It's amazing how much we get to see  when we see patiently at a water hole like this monitor lizard.



It never realised we were there and came quite close.

After an hour or so we decided to call it a day (morning) and went back to camp for some brunch.


I of course grabbed the opportunity to have some shut eye or "check my eyelids for cracks" as Doug would say it. 


I was woken up by excited Doug. I was probably dreaming of walking among lions and took some time to digest what he was saying. "Do you want to see a leopard?" "Leopard? Hell yeah!" I was wide awake once the magic word "leopard" registered in my sleep addled brain.

We (Doug, Mark, 2 other guests in the camp including a sprightly 72 years young German gentleman and of course me) jumped into the cruiser and took off. Doug took us on the main road for a km or so and stopped by the side of the road.

"Can you see it" he said, pointing towards a thick ?Mahogany tree. I couldn't see anything except leaves. "Get out of the vehicle and sit besides the front wheel". I got down and told as I did so. Still, it took me a while to make out the spotted cat brilliantly camouflaged, resting on the branch of the tree. 



We watched the young male for a while as he watched us equally intently. He looked almost surprised that he had been spotted.

"how on earth did you spot him?" I asked, expecting an act of brilliant tracking. "I am a bit ashamed to say how I did" said Doug. "I was visiting a friend in another camp and on my way back stopped to take a loo break by the side of the road. When I finished my business, I looked up to see a nice tail hanging down!" 

That was to be my only leopard sighting in Mana but a memorable nonetheless.

In the evening we decided to walk to the dogs at Trichilia from our camp and call in the vehicle to pick us up at sundown.

On the way I enjoyed little things in the bush, made much more enjoyable by Doug.

Dragonflies (Named by Doug, promptly forgotten by me)


I don't think I have photographed dragonflies in Africa before!

1774041077_21Dragonfly2.jpg.cf04385c87e1dd75f198d25657de74ec.jpgButterflies. This one was so well camouflaged in leaf litter that I simply could not see it till it took off and landed on a clean patch of earth.



On the way we made a small detour to watch this elephant feeding on figs dropped by baboons in the tree.




We found the dogs in exactly the same spot. We waited for them to get active and start their greeting ceremony but they were happy just to rest in the shade.

Finally with the sun about to go down, they woke up and went through their pre hunt rituals .



Active at last but sun is about to set!




Suddenly they noticed some impalas in the distance and they went into hunting mode instantly!



Within seconds, they were off. We of course couldn't follow as it was almost dark.

We went back to our vehicle (which had arrived from the camp by this time) and had our G&Ts.

On our way back, we came across a lone dog chasing an impala at full speed.



What an end to the day!


Back at the camp, I called up my wife on Doug's sat phone to update her on my being alive.

Cell phone coverage at floodplains is almost non existent (Net one has some coverage, Econet has none). So Doug's satphone was a big relief (though I restricted myself to using it only once).



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46 minutes ago, vikramghanekar said:

Sorry guys, I just got lazy in posting.


I don't know if this can be forgiven. 


Unless of course you post a lot more photos in rapid succession...





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Thanks for the report, @vikramghanekar - Lovely images!!! Glad you had a great trip!

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@vikramghanekar, I think that over time a lot of us have looked into a tree or thick bush looking for the animal that the guide has spotted and initially cannot see it. 

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  • 2 months later...

Wow. You sure got superb sightings of Wild Dogs.

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