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A Private Safari in Mana Pools


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Biko

So glad you made it, I can imagine the stress. Looking forward to the rest of the TR.

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AfricanQueen

Thank you for all the information! It‘s even more interesting to me as I‘m planning to go to Harare ( a Zim tour) in 3 week‘s time and my concerns are the same as yours have been. I think I will be very nervous until exiting Harare airport!!!

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BRACQUENE

@AfricanQueen

I still have the impression that Zimbabwe is one of the countries that handles the consequences of this pandemic in a correct manner ; of course after so many years of political problems they need all the help they can get but in the end I felt much more stressed in South Africa than I did in Harare and Zimbabwe as a whole where we were treated in a very civilized and friendly manner and for that they will be always in my heart !

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Towlersonsafari

very exciting start to your trip- and congratulations on your 30th wedding anniversary @BRACQUENEwhat a splendid way to celebrate

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BRACQUENE

Just taking a break whilst preparing the next episode @Towlersonsafariwhich should be posted soon ; thanks a lot for the comments and I will do my best to continue in the same way 

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I know what happened and yet reading your report of the journey made my heart rate rise !  

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III . From Highlands House to  Mana heaven :

It was Tony who proposed Highlands House for our first and last night in Harare , 45 minutes from the airport , and it has to be said that this boutique hotel established in May 2013 and close to Harare Botanical Gardens, Borrowdale Race Course and Dominic Benhura Gallery , with impeccable service and 7 Suites, 4 Executive Rooms, and 3 Standard Rooms with an outside pool has a lot of charm especially when the weather was so sunny ( 22° Celsius at least by day ) as on that 5th of July 2021 .

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Free of stress and happy to have made it , we were hungry because breakfast had been very early in the Lufthansa night flight and on the Airlink flight we only had a light snack ; so we ordered a bottle of South African Rosé and grilled calamari rings with lemon and herb buttersauce .  

 

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Before going to our room we spend some time in the lush gardens and I was looking instinctively for birds but apart from these two it was not a success !

 

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When we entered our room and a staff member explained us the working of the air-conditioning ,  we noticed immediately we would not need it but some extra blankets would be more than convenient : as the last few nights had been very cold and the room had visibly no sunshine by day it was , I can assure you , central heating we wanted but in Zimbabwe for their short winter period this was of course out of the question .

I was starting to think about those three Kafue nights and days in Ntemwa Camp in September 2019 where the wind chill factor made it feel unpleasantly cold , dressed like Anne for dinner with an extra fleece , where I was pleasantly surprised to discover the open fireplace.

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Anne was clearly already preparing herself for the days to come !

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And then sitting as close as possible to the fire we had a very nice dinner with a welcome sweet potato, coconut and leeks soup and a perfectly cooked grilled beef fillet with french fries and salad : dessert was an apple crumble with hot custard .

We went very early to bed and fell fast asleep , dreaming about Mana and our first stay at Little Vundu.

 

The next morning , the 6th of July , we had breakfast at 7 and had to leave at 7.30 to be at the domestic airport at 8.30 we heard from the hotel : the private flight to Mana Pools was arranged by Tony but before leaving Brussels we didn’t know the exact timetable but were happy it was  early which would give us almost a complete first day in Mana.

 

Our taxi driver was a bit late but we arrived in time and even had to wait  for our pilot who asked us to pay 45 dollar as some sort of fee ; I gave 50 but he returned after a while saying that they didn’t accept that dollar bill anymore in Zimbabwe ( I will sort that out with my bank ! ) so I payed with smaller ones .

 

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After the usual luggage control , much faster than we were used to , we went to see our plane .

 

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And took off with Willem sitting as always in front :

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In the far distance we discover the Zambezi Escarpment :  the northern one in Zambia close to the shore whilst the southern one 50 km south of the Zambezi we will see later when we move to Chitake and Kavinga ; finally the Mana airstrip and we approach heaven !

 

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Mana Pools , a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site general view from above (1) and of our first camp on the western side of the floodplains (2).

 

The first thing I saw when looking down was not a  Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest running away like in the Kafue two years ago but the familiar figure of Nick Murray , sitting alone in his green Toyata Land Cruiser and already patiently waiting for us .  

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The pilot was not returning immediately but stayed for the night in the main Vundu Camp where he would meet the BBC crew that followed the wild dogs for nearly a month .

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Some of the first sightings on our way to Vundu and Little Vundu Camp :

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Arriving at the Zambezi River close to Little Vundu a magnificent view we would see several times followed by a curious fellow : 

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Who wanted to have a closer look !

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It was after one pm when we arrived and the 90 minutes drive had been enough to understand the magic of Mana Pools , the incredible light so important for pictures and the beauty of the landscape and the animals that seemed to melt into it .

 

We were very friendly greated by the Murray family : Desirée , Nick’s wife and also a professional guide and their two children Jed , 17 and Tait , 14 and two staff members ; Savannah who manages Vundu Camp was also present for the first late lunch and then we suddenly realized because Nick hadn’t told us yet that we would be on our own for at least the next five days at Little Vundu.

Covid - 19  was of course the main reason but perhaps also the fact  that the high season had just begun in Mana because later we heard that for the second part of July Bushlife Safaris and their camps were almost fully booked mostly by Americans .

 

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The main area with our tent in the background 

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View of the escarpment from our tent 

 

After tea at 3.30 we went for an afternoon drive ; Nick had no particular plan to start with he said , so we would see what came up and first I spotted a white-crowned lapwing along the riverside  :

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Followed by the Little Vundu speciality a “lonely” this time long-tailed starling ( sometimes called the mafia of the bird world ) but there were hunderds in camp to find leftovers of the delicious food ! 

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Some Lilian’ s lovebirds

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And a  flock of Red-billed Quelea sometimes called “the feathered locust” , we saw thousands of them  .

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And then the first kudu but no male around     

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Elephants everywhere of course

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And in the last light of the day !  

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Dusk over a little pool

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After a sundowner gin and tonic suddenly, Jed who was holding the spotlight during the evening drive spotted a lioness , our first of the day and the safari.

 

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Nick decided to follow her until she arrived at a ridge and lay down to rest 

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After a while she started to call her partner but there was no response !

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So she moved again as we noticed in the direction of camp , went through camp and passed Willem’s tent

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Before disapearing into the night and then very close  to her would you believe it an hyena , Willem’s first sighting ever in three safaris and only our third in four since we saw a few in Tafika in 2014 !   

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At dinner the lioness and the hyena were the talk of the table but then whilst drinking a last glass of red wine Nick , who isn’t a big talker but he didn’t have to be because every comment he gave and move he made on this safari was a winner ( some would call it luck , I will call it experience ) , suddenly proposed a wake up call at 5 am and in a matter of fact way announced : let’s go and see the dogs tomorrow:)

 

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Thanks @wilddogfor your appreciation and council to go slowly ; even if I made notes and kept a sort of diary in those two weeks some memories will fade of course but like we all know from the seventies : Every Picture tells a Story !!

Thanks also @Tony Busangabecause without your relentless efforts during months until the last minute this Story would not have been told ;)

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@BRACQUENEthanks for doing this trip report - great start and excellent pictures- particularly impressive given you are using a bridge camera with a small sensor. The Sony RX- 10 IV ( now almost 4 years old!) works astonishingly well. Look forward to more. 

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Great start, and already a lion and hyena... and maybe dogs coming up ? ^_^

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Thrilling, @BRACQUENE!  Especially becasue I know almost every place in Mana (been there many times). Oh, I am sooo curious! It must be a Nyamepi pack, they have been denning since 28 of May. Unfortunately, I don't know how many pups they have! I hope, you will tell us :-)

Vundu-guys are very nice and friendly. I've never been in Vundu but talked to them a few times. Good camp choise!! 

Huh.. I am very excited! Hope, we will read a new chapter soon! Thank you, @BRACQUENE!

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Dave Williams

I'm really enjoying this read as I desperately wish I could book a trip to SA without the possibility of having to pay for quarantine which would cost as much as our holiday almost! . I'll be roughing it in comparison to some people's trips, including this one but it's always interesting to see how the other half live and what they get for the money! Bring it on!!

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Agree with others - thanks so much for sharing and great pictures! Will be following very closely.  Seeing these trip reports does make me question whether I should just take the quarantine hotel hit - but it's hard to justify almost £2k additional expense and I'm sure it's not a very pleasant experience in one of those! 

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