by Melody Mundawarara,
One of the Last Great Wilderness Areas in Africa
Mana Pools is the ideal place to get close to nature. It is a truly remote park, far from any major town or human settlement. Situated in the extreme north of Zimbabwe, Mana Pools is part of the 10,500 square kilometre Parks and Wildlife Estate that runs along the Zambezi River from the Kariba Dam in the west to the Mozambique border in the east.
This unique park has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, based on its wildness and beauty as well as the wide range of large mammals, over 350 bird species and aquatic wildlife. It is a large area is without physical boundaries and the wildlife is free to move throughout the region – even northwards across the Zambezi River into Zambia, where there are also large wilderness areas set aside for wildlife conservation.
One of Africa’s Most Renowned Game-viewing Areas
The park is in a region of the lower Zambezi River in Zimbabwe where the flood plain turns into a broad expanse of lakes after each rainy season. Mana means ‘four’ in Shona, in reference to the four large permanent pools formed by the meanderings of the middle Zambezi.
Four main pools and several smaller pools are scattered along the river course and the cliffs hanging over the river and floodplains provide shelter to a large and varied wildlife population. The landscape includes islands and sandbanks fringed by dense forests of baobabs and indigenous trees, as well as the rugged Zambezi escarpment.
As the lakes gradually dry up and recede, the region attracts many large animals in search of water, making it one of Africa’s most renowned game-viewing areas. It has the country’s biggest concentration of hippopotamuses and crocodiles and large dry season mammal populations of elephant and buffalo.
The national park is home to magnificent and enormous elephants that return year after year to the same places and are well known to the locals in the area. During the winter months, Mana Pools has the highest concentration of game in the entire continent of Africa. Both walking and canoe safaris are available.
On the old river terraces, tourists can walk unaccompanied by guides in the open woodland because visibility is good and there is little danger of unexpectedly coming across dangerous animals. Elephant, eland, buffalo, impala, waterbuck, baboons, monkeys, zebra, warthog and hippo are some of the larger herbivores to be seen regularly on the river terraces as they come out to eat the fallen fruit of the tree Faidherbia albida.
Lions, leopards, spotted hyaena and cheetah are present in the area, but their secretive nature makes them more difficult to see. Despite this, it is not often that the visitor leaves Mana Pools without seeing at least one of these large predators.
The Best Time to Visit Mana Pools
For comfort, March to August is perhaps the best time to visit Mana Pools. The temperatures are moderate and the climate is warm and dry. September and October are the best months of the valley for game viewing as the animals come to the river to drink. September is warm and October is hot with clear blue skies. The rainy season from November to February is hot but cooled by frequent thunder storms.