An incredible super sensory safari in mana pools
At first glance I had fallen in love. Fifty shades of green danced all around me as we made our way through Mana Pools National Park and towards Kanga Camp, the little inland gem that we would call home for the next three days. The oft-used allegories of ‘Magical Mana’ are evident as soon as you step foot in the park – it’s an emerald city, a truly enchanting and pristine wilderness.
We were there during late April at the end of an extended rainy season; as a result the park was lush and green, thick and thriving with a myriad of plants, insects and wildlife.
I had the privilege of spending six sense-sational days here with African Bush Camps on their first Super Sensory Safari; it was six days of re-wilding and reconnecting with nature, a truly humbling experience. Joining us on this sensory safari were specialist guides Rob Janisch and Derek Solomon who introduced us to the concepts of biomimicry and soundscapes, for an added sense-stimulating experience. Together we walked with wild dogs, tracked elephants and lions on foot, and honed our senses to the ways of the wild.
What is a super sensory safari?
A super sensory safari invites you to awaken your senses and get up close and personal with nature, to re-appreciate and acknowledge the sheer abundance of the natural world and implores us to take a deeper look at our own footprints on this earth.
As humans we apply our senses on a daily routine basis, mostly without even thinking about it. These senses are constantly bombarded with unnatural sights, sounds, smells and tastes – the endless hum of so-called civilisation.
It’s becoming more apparent that from a natural perspective we’ve become sense-less, detached from and out of tune with nature, increasingly removed from the big and small biomes of life around us.
To bridge this divide we need to get out there, we need to immerse ourselves in a wild place and reconnect with the natural world that still exists in the diminishing spaces around us.
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Biomimicry and soundscapes
One solution to bridge this divide is through the concept of biomimicry, which in layman’s terms is the practice of learning from and emulating nature’s genius, by taking inspiration from nature’s designs and using them to solve complex human problems. It’s nature’s time-tested framework for sustainability. Using the principles of biomimicry to guide and inform our decisions and actions, humans can better reconnect with nature and begin to see ourselves as part of the earth’s system and not independent of it.
A walking safari is the best way to witness how efficient nature truly is and we spent many blissful hours on lengthy bush walks through Mana Pools National Park, exploring areas that aren’t accessible by vehicle and where even our presence felt foreign.
As we walked, we studied the various structures and processes around us, noticing foremost that life creates conditions conducive to life and adapts and evolves subject to the earth’s operating conditions.
Examples of biomimicry are replete throughout Mana Pools and can be found everywhere, even in the most unlikely of places. For example, the invention of velcro was inspired by the way plant burrs stick to materials like clothing and animal fur. My favourite example is the weavers nest, spun together with twigs and blades of grass. This home not only acts as a refuge, but is fully degradable, so that one day when the little birds no longer use it, it will fall away as if it were never there, returning back to nature. If only humans could construct their homes in this way.
Accompanying this discourse was the soundscape safari, where we had the opportunity to listen to and interpret the many distinct sounds of the wild; an endless chorus of bird calls and buzzing of insects, noises that pierced through the pristine wilderness and stilled and stirred as the wind whispered through the leaves of the giant mahogany trees. There was a near constant symphony of sound in Mana Pools and from dawn until dusk the air rang sweetly with many dulcet (and not so dulcet) whispers of the wild.
Listen to the symphony of wild sounds in Mana Pools by clicking the play button below:
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The journey inland to Kanga Camp
The sensory highlight – or one of them – of my time in Mana Pools, took place not 10 minutes into our journey to Kanga Camp when we found ourselves hot on the tail of a pack of wild dogs!
I had spotted them, blurry shapes moving in the distance, and my eyes quickly adjusted like the zoom of a camera lens. Unconsciously I had stood up in my seat to get a better look, and before I could stop myself I opened my mouth and stuttered in childlike glee, “D…D…D…DOGS!”
A pack of around 19 wild dogs lay in the road 100 or so metres ahead of us, and as we drew nearer, Rob, our specialist safari guide, asked the driver to stop the vehicle. It was time to get out and walk, and so for the better part of an hour we walked with wild dogs!
At one point we were mere metres from them, watching them playing and chattering amongst themselves as if we weren’t even there.
What an honour it was to walk alongside and feel so intimate with such an endangered species.
The dogs eventually disappeared into the bush, leaving us all with a sense of awe and gratitude. Mana Pools had lived up to her reputation of being full of magical and amazing surprises; and the super sensory safari was off to a super start.
Tucked away in the most remote part of Mana Pools lies Kanga Camp, an intimate safari camp set on the edge of Kanga Pan, the only known water source in the area that is available throughout the year. For this reason, Kanga Camp has earned itself a reputation for being home to the famous ‘armchair safari’ – especially during the drier months, when you’re invited to sit back, relax and watch as all sorts of wildlife come before you to quench their thirst at the pan.
Our first armchair experience occurred moments after we arrived. As we were sitting down to lunch, a lone elephant bull slacked his thirst at the other end of the pan, not 15 metres away from where we sat.
Zambezi Expeditions Camp
After three days in the heart of Mana Pools at Kanga Camp, we had been spoilt with many a sensory experience.
It is true what they say: “From a vehicle you can see Africa. On foot you will feel, hear and smell Africa.” Adventuring on foot through the untamed wilderness gives you a totally a different perspective of the wild – far removed from your usual game drive experience. Everything feels more familiar as you get up close and personal with nature – smelling, touching, seeing and tasting the various elements in the bush.
We witnessed the interconnectedness of the ecosystems around us and experienced the thrill of wildlife sightings and the luxury of surprise meals set up in remote locations away from camp.
But like all good things our time at Kanga Camp came to an end, and it was time for the next chapter of our Mana experience: Zambezi Expeditions Camp, perched on the banks of the Zambezi River with breathtaking views out over the Zambian escarpment.
Zambezi Expeditions was everything that Kanga was not, yet equally as incredible. Where Kanga was more intimate and tranquil, Zambezi Expeditions delivered a more visceral side to the sensory safari!
This was not only due to a handful of rather nerve-wracking encounters with various wildlife species, but also down to the very set up of the camp, being much more rustic and exposed, with bucket showers and tents set right on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River.
By the time we arrived at Zambezi Expeditions Camp, the steel grey clouds had melted way and the sun shone brilliantly in the sky. Here we spent our time on lengthy bush walks to discover the pools that give Mana her name. We canoed down the hippo and crocodile-infested waters of the Zambezi and enjoyed wonderful siestas on the banks of the river. Not a moment went by that our senses weren’t alive and piqued.
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Elephants were amongst the most intense encounters we experienced during our time in Mana Pools, and our guides were incredibly respectful in each instance, careful to keep a safe distance at all times. If ever you want to be overwhelmed by your senses, spend some time with these gentle giants in the wild, be it on foot or in a safari vehicle.
By the time we embarked on our journey home, we thought we had seen it all, but Mana Pools was not finished with us yet. The grand finale of our stay occurred en route to the airstrip on our final game drive: We came across a matriarchal herd of elephants that chased us for a good 50 metres, sending us scurrying on our way back to Kanga Camp for our final goodbyes before we flew out of this magnificent park.
I wholeheartedly implore you to take the opportunity to introduce your senses to a pure wilderness experience on a super sensory safari – to see, hear, taste, touch and feel nature in her rawest form. The experience is unparalleled and will leave you with a lifetime of memories and a deep appreciation for the wild. Mana Pools is the epitome of a sensory bush experience, a uniquely wild place that will leave your heart in your throat and your body weak at the knees.
View a gallery of the wildlife of Mana Pools here
The best way to access Mana Pools is via a charter flight from Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe, or from Victoria Falls.
Clare’s flights from Johannesburg to Harare were arranged by Airlink, who offer multi-destination flight options across southern Africa and a convenient Lodge Link program, direct to popular lodges in the Kruger National Park.
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Mana Pools National Park Info
Mana Pools is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was inscribed as a WHS in 1984 for its important concentration of wildlife and biodiveristy.
The word ‘mana’ means ‘four’ in the indigenous Shona language of Zimbabwe. Mana Pools was named as such for the four large, permanent pools formed in the park by the course of the meandering Zambezi River.
The entire Zambezi River basin is larger than the Sahara Desert. Mana Pools plays host to the largest continuous stretch of protected wildlife and biodiversity habitat along the course of the river.
Mana Pools is comprised of 219,600ha of pristine southern Miombo woodland.
The largest pool in Mana, known as Long Pool, spans 6km in length and is host to the largest concentration of crocodiles and hippos in the park.
Mana is well known for its large bull elephants and is home to the second largest concentration of elephants (12,000) in Zimbabwe, after Hwange National Park.
Mana is home to one of the largest concentrations of wild dogs, or ‘painted wolves of Africa’, left in Africa – numbering approximately 150 individuals.
The park was designated a RAMSAR site of international importance in 2013, and this magnificent wetland region is home to more than 450 thriving bird species – making it a true birder’s paradise.
PLANNING AND ACTIVITIES
The best time time visit Mana Pools is in the dry season from June through to October – when the park is openly accessible by vehicle.
Mana is best known for its unrivalled opportunities for intimate walking and canoeing safaris – two of the most unforgettable African safari experiences.
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Places to Stay in Mana Pools
Kanga Camp is set in the most remote part of Mana Pools, right beside the Kanga Pan – the only non-perennial water source in the park. Here, it’s all about relaxation. Relax in the upper deck lounge under the shade of a mahogany and enjoy uninterrupted views of a very active waterhole. The area has multiple river systems, and guests here can enjoy canoeing safaris run in collaboration with Zambezi Expeditions Camp. Pristine and undeveloped, this area gives you a pure, unspoilt, private African safari experience.
Zambezi Expeditions Camp offers one of the best ways to experience Mana Pools on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River. The 12-bedded luxury mobile camp is set up prior to your arrival, providing you with the opportunity to canoe and fish either from the banks or off an island in the middle of the river. The river boasts of some of Africa’s most amazing tiger fishing and adventure canoeing safaris, creating the perfect combination of wild beauty and fun.
Travel to Zimbabwe with Africa Geographic
Travel in Africa is about knowing when and where to go, and with whom. A few weeks too early / late and a few kilometres off course and you could miss the greatest show on Earth. And wouldn’t that be a pity? Read more about Zimbabwe here or contact an Africa Geographic safari consultant to plan your dream vacation.
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About the Author
Clare Townsend is an African conservation fundi, a fitness fanatic and an amateur yogi. Give her a pretty place – mountains, forests, the bush, a wine farm, the beach – you name it, she’ll probably be in yoga-pose mode.