Many will be aware of the tumultuous political history of Zimbabwe, from colonial times to Independence in 1980, followed by President Mugabe’s 40-year reign. Despite these challenges, the country now offers an incredibly rich wildlife experience.
I must admit though, from my first visit to Zimbabwe in the 1990’s to my most recent visit, Harare’s airport had barely changed! Fascinating time warp though it was, I wasn’t there for the airport. Instead I headed out on a light aircraft flight to Mana Pools National Park. Flying over the terrain was magical, all the rivulets and channels sprawling out like arteries and veins to the horizon. These African safari flights are excellent – don’t be surprised if your pilot is a Kiwi, having the time of his or her life!
I took a breathtaking video of the scatter of antelope as we landed at the Mana Pools airstrip. Even after so many travels in Africa, arriving in such a place always brings that sense of being humbled and small, but supremely grateful to be there.
Mana Pools National Park has in recent times been thriving, thanks to some fantastic conservation companies like Wilderness Safaris who strive to restore wilderness areas. The brand-new camp at Chikwenya is absolutely stunning. The luxury tents are light, bright, spacious and airy with all the ‘mod cons’ but still retaining the feeling of being out in the bush. Rather than dealing with tent flaps you have sliding doors; there are both indoor and outdoor showers and my tent’s deck overlooking the Zambezi River was the perfect place to unwind.
My sunset cruise on the river at Chikwenya was a standout, with elephant crossing the river, their trunks used as submarine turrets. Being immersed in nature and watching in wonder, you can sense how the various species co-exist, some predator, some prey. It is a natural timeless balance that just ‘is’.
Our next camp in the Mana Pools area was Ruckomechi. Although not quite as flash as Chikwenya, it became my favourite. Perhaps it was the elephant who wandered past our table at lunch, or the one that passed by my tent – stopping for a peek at my habitat – or the family of elephant that wandered through camp later that day? It was truly other-worldly! Zimbabwe is famed for its elephant population and we saw plenty, but we also delighted in spotting hippo, crocodiles, a male lion and four lionesses, banded mongoose, eland and much more. Prolific birdlife ranged from white-fronted bee-eaters to lilac-breasted rollers, hornbills, lovebirds and fish eagles.
Rukomechi’s tents were also beautifully decorated, but with a more traditional canvas exterior and ‘pitched tent’ feel which is really in keeping with the safari experience. The best of both worlds, you get all the bells and whistles on the inside including the flush loo and hot shower, while from the outside it’s a big safari tent. I particularly loved the local art-work, and the hand-written notes were a lovely personal touch.
I can highly recommend Mana Pools National Park for any safari-goer who wants to experience a new environment and support the newly reborn safari industry in Zimbabwe. Combine it with a visit Hwange National Park and spend some time at Victoria Falls for a well-rounded experience.
There is nothing better than disconnecting from a busy urban life and plugging into a deeper connection with wildlife and our world of wonders, and Zimbabwe offers just that.