With established Self-Drive destinations in Botswana and Namibia rapidly approaching capacity and frankly overcrowded, many see Zimbabwe as the final frontier for Self-Drive safaris. Zim’s diverse geography and open wilderness present a tantalising gap on the self-drive map just crying out to be explored. Wild destinations such as Mana Pools and Chitake Springs, experiences like the Kariba Ferry voyage as well as sights such as the Victoria Falls are uniquely Zimbabwean and unspoiled by the cookie-cutter of mass tourism. In addition, people who do visit Zim always come back amazed at the friendly people they met along the way.
The problem is, Zim remains tantalisingly under-explored mainly
because it is not an easy destination to navigate without sound knowledge of
the ever-evolving conditions on the ground. Zim seems to lurch from one
financial crisis to another yet somehow, life goes on there. Every day, each resident
wakes up and does their best to overcome the latest problem facing them. Then the situation evolves further and the
Zimbos wake up the next day and make another plan. According to my ancestors, it
has been this way since 1965 (on & off), so solving these evolving problems
is nothing new for a Zimbo, really.
If you want to travel Zim on your own you have to be willing
to put some serious time and effort into uncovering, understanding and
overcoming the unique challenges involved. Currently, these issues chiefly involve
Currency, Fuel and Catering.
The challenge in trying to outline these problems and their solutions
at any point in time is that, by, the time you read this, both will most likely
be out of date. Chat rooms and Facebook pages are filled with the opinions of
people who visited last Zim year or 3 months ago, these are usually hopelessly
outdated. For this reason, it is probably best to establish contact with a competent
local on the ground for the latest updates and solutions.
Herewith some of the more common questions we are asked
about self-drive in Zim at the moment:
Is it safe
to travel to Zimbabwe?
The elephant in the room (for first-timers anyway). The
short answer is: Zim simply does not have the same violent crime problem that
some of her more-visited neighbours do. Sure, there is petty theft (don’t leave
cash or mobile phones lying around) but hijackings and gun violence are very rare.
Zimbabwe’s intentional homicide rate is roughly in line with the global
average, at about one sixth of South Africa’s and one third of Botswana &
Namibia’s according to current United
What about the police roadblocks in Zim?
The police were a nuisance a few years back, when
they were trying to raise fine revenue at roadblocks by enforcing ridiculous
regulations. Under the new dispensation, they are back to directing traffic and
giving public transport drivers a hard time about their un-roadworthy vehicles
and reckless driving. Truth is, the average cop’s heart was never really in it
when they were ordered to extort motorists in the past, the average Zimbo is
much more happy solving problems than causing them.
Are Zimbabweans friendly?
Zim’s people are always an unexpected highlight of
our client’s trips for first-timers. Zimbabwean culture is very
relationship-orientated and places a lot of emphasis on greetings and
exchanging pleasantries before getting down to any business. Relax, you’re on
holiday, you will soon find yourself laughing along with strangers in the most
unlikely of scenarios. Despite (or maybe, because of) the economic challenges,
the fabric of Zim society remains intact and most people have respect for each
other and common human decency.
What about inflation?
Zim’s economic challenges are complex and
ever-evolving and will keep economists busy for decades to come. Whilst inflation
is very high in Zimbabwe, what is often overlooked in news headlines is that
these price movements are in local currency terms. Expressed in hard
currency terms, inflation is much less of an issue because prices expressed
in USD are much more stable.
What Currency should I bring to Zimbabwe?
The Zimbabwe dollar is now the only legal tender for
transactions within Zimbabwe from 24
June’19, however, you may pre-pay many of
your expenses from your home country prior to your arrival.
If you plan ahead correctly, your Zim Dollar
expenses will thus be limited to Food and Fuel. If you pay these with a foreign
VISA/Mastercard, you will effectively only be changing your home currency into
local currency as, and when required. Inflation will be less of a problem for
you due to the exchange rate and the fact that you will not be holding Zim Dollars
but rather changing them as you need them.
Cash Zim Dollars are not yet freely available from
ATM’s, however it remains legal to hold USD Dollars cash and until this
changes, you may want to bring some USD cash to change as and when required for
What is the Fuel Situation in Zimbabwe
You may have seen news headlines screaming some
ridiculous-looking Zimbabwe fuel prices in recent times, along with pics of long
fuel queues. Just ask yourself one question: “if these fuel price reports were
totally accurate, surely few Zimbabweans could afford to buy fuel……. so why the
fuel queues?” As usual, things are more nuanced than initially meets the eye or
there wouldn’t be such traffic jams in Harare at rush-hour.
There are 3 prices for fuel in Zim currently which
I summarise in the table below:
All of our clients have got around so far with “Type 2” Forex fuel. If you wish to bypass all these problems altogether we can help with pre-paid fuel coupons from Harare .
Manapools.com and Selfdrivezim.com offer supported bespoke Arrive & Drive Itineraries from Harare & Vic Falls incorporating Mana Pools, Chitake Spings, Kariba Ferries, Hwange & Vic Falls. These include pre-paid 4×4 Rental, Campsite & Guesthouse Accommodation & Transfers. In addition they offer Fuel & Catering solutions along the way so that all you need to do is arrive and drive. You get three lifetimes worth of Zim experience as your “feet on the ground” in Zim to overcome these evolving challenges and make your Zim trip unforgettable for all the right reasons.
They also provide assistance with planning your self-drive itinerary, Campsite & Kariba Ferry Bookings, Fuel & Catering planning as well as 4×4 Rentals. Contact them at Ant@manapools.com.
We are pleased to see that Manapools.com has been recommended in a recent article in The Guardian UK newspaper article on the most cost-effective ways to visit the locations where David Attenborough’s “Dynasties” BBC Wildlife documentaries were filmed. Our Arrive & Drive itineraries incorporating Mana & Chitake start at USD90pppd less than one third of the price of private, Mana lodges which are accommodation-only. After accounting for transfers, Arrive & Drive is closer to 25% of the price. Savings you can use to hire Zimparks Rangers for guided individual walking safaris, to extend your stay or to bring more family members with you. This is accessible Mana Pools, the way it should be.Where to see the wildlife from David Attenborough’s Dynasties.
Get local knowledge on your side, we arrange everything from Arrivals to Departure lounge and you have the freedom to explore on your own schedule. Don’t worry, we understand Zimbabwe, we have fuel and catering solutions from Harare!
We are often asked some legitimately straight-forward questions from prospective Self-Drivers about current situation in Zim. I suppose about the most common are:
” Is it Safe to Visit Zimbabwe?”
” How do I Get Fuel in Zimbabwe?”
“Will there be Food in The Shops?”
“How Long are the Fuel Queues in Zim Right Now?”
To attempt to directly answer any of these questions would be to wade into the swamp of misunderstanding, personal opinion and plain bad maths that is Social Media. My previous post on these topics lead to a debate with a Californian about the price of fuel I had bought myself that morning in Harare). So, no, I am not going to even try and answer these questions directly.
What I am going to do is to make 4 Statements about Zim which I Challenge anyone in Harare (or California) to disprove:
“My aged relative regularly drives around Harare after 10:00 pm without fear” -given her eyesight and need for speed, it is other road-users who should be wary!
“There are Daily Traffic Jams in Harare at Rush Hour” – there must be fuel somewhere!
“You can buy something called “Flaxseed oil at Spar “ -what do you even cook with that?
“You can fill up at certain fuel stations in Harare with no queue at all. “ Yes, you heard it, no queue!
Yes, for every problem, there is a Zimbabwean with a solution. It might take some on-the-ground expertise but it can, and is being done and trust me, no Zimbo is going to over-pay! If there were no solutions, the aged relative would be barricaded in her home eating canned tuna whilst tumbleweed rolled through the deserted Harare streets…..(Fellow road-users tell me this is not the case).
Running assisted Self-Drive trips as we do, we have to be constantly on our toes for the best solutions to Zim’s ongoing challenges, but the one thing we don’t have to worry about is releasing our guests into the Zim community. Without fail our guests come back amazed with the ZIM WILDERNESS but they are also always blown away by how nice and helpful the ZIM PEOPLE were along the way.
It’s got me thinking, perhaps these things are related? Perhaps it is precisely the challenges that help keep Zim the unspoiled destination that it is?
Maybe low visitor numbers help keep Mana, Chitake and Kariba uncrowded wilderness?
Perhaps when people constantly face adversity, they learn resilience, resourcefulness and kindness?
Perhaps poverty need not necessarily lead to violent crime?
Perhaps there is a fuel and catering solution for your trip?
Perhaps you should’t worry too much about the challenges of visiting Zim and just do it?
Arranging Self-Drive trips around Zim as we do, I get to follow people’s whole journey to making their bucket-list trips happen. It often starts with an idea in the client’s mind of what Zimbabwe is like. They have often heard stories from friends, or seen pictures on social media. Often, they can’t quite put a finger on what it is that makes them want to visit a place that presents so many challenges to visitors and locals alike!
Zim has some great wildlife and wilderness and diverse geographic splendor that sets it apart from neighboring countries but to me, that’s not what inspires the yearning.
No, it is FREEDOM that is the Magic Dust that makes Zim special. Zimbabwe allows self-drivers freedoms you can’t find in places that cookie-cutter tourism has over-run.
To me the beauty of Mana Pools is made unique by the fact that you are allowed to walk in the wilderness at your own risk. Where else in the world would you be allowed to wild-camp as deep into lion country as Chitake Springs? (There are surprisingly few incidents, so long as you behave sensibly)
Where else can you drive 200km through Hwange like I did in March and see 2 other vehicles in 2 days? The lion and wild-dog sightings we had were ours along, deep in the bush without a stream of parked cars lined up behind (or in fount) of us. The African wild cat sighting was in the campsite as it stalked pigeons 10m from our lunch table.
Only in Zim can you walk across the sandy riverbed of the Runde river under the towering Chilojo cliffs with ellies in the distance and see no footprints in the sand but your own?
How long Zim will remain under-visited and unspoiled? I don’t know. All I do know is that right now, deep in the Zambezi valley, lions are hunting, unmolested by the game-viewing vehicles full and chattering tourists of bulk tourism. I for one am making the most of it….
Our 2020 ARRIVE & DRIVE Itineraries include 4×4 Rental, Accommodation Fees & Bookings. All that is left to pay is fuel, food and activities. For the season ahead, we are offering 2 packages, a pure Harare-Mana-Harare 7 day round trip as well as a 14-day Harare-Mana-Kariba Ferry-Hwange-Vic Falls one way self drive (in either direction):
Our itineraries help us achieve an affordable price point that is up to 80% cheaper than the best value private Mana accommodation. This puts families in the picture. Our extended itinerary also takes in the iconic Kariba Ferries trip as well as 250km drive through Hwange and the epic sight of Victoria Falls.
Day 1 Saturday Fly into Harare, transfer to Sunbird Guest House, Harare Day 2 Sunday 4×4 Handover, Self-Drive to Mana Pools NP Nyamepi Campsite Day 3 Monday -Explore Mana Pools Day 4 Tuesday -Explore Mana Pools Day 5 Wednesday -Self-Drive to Chitake Springs Day 6 Thursday -Explore Chitake Springs Day 7 Friday -Self-Drive to Sunbird Guest House, Return 4×4 Day 8 Saturday -Transfer to Harare Airport, Fly Home N.B. This itinerary pivots on availability of 2 key bookings: 1) 4×4 availability – above rates are indicative and vary in and out of season as well as with rental term 2) Mana Pools & Chitake Springs campsites – Chitake might not be available or we may have to juggle the Mana/Chitake bookings.
2. ARRIVE & DRIVE – Mana Pools-Kariba Ferry-Hwange-Vic Falls
DIRECTION : HARARE TO VIC FALLS Day 1 Sunday -Fly into Harare, transfer to Sunbird Guest House, 4×4 Handover Day 2 Monday -Self-Drive to Mana Pools NP Nyamepi Campsite Day 3 Tuesday -Explore Mana Pools Day 4 Wednesday -Explore Mana Pools Day 5 Thursday -Explore Mana Pools Day 6 Friday -Self-Drive to Chitake Springs Day 7 Saturday -Explore Chitake Springs Day 8 Sunday -Self-Drive to Kariba, Lomagundi Lakeside Day 9 Monday -Embark Kariba Ferry (10.30 depart)-Sleep on Deck/Salon (Fully Catered 3 meals) Day 10 Tuesday -Disembark Ferry Kariba, Resupply & Self-drive to Tuskers Campsite, Hwange Day 11 Wednesday -Self-Drive through Hwange NP to Wild Campsite (eg Shumba, Masuma Dam) Day 12 Thursday -Self-Drive to Explorers Village, Vic Falls Day 13 Friday -Explore Vic Falls Day 14 Saturday -Transfer to Vic Falls Airport, & Fly Home
DIRECTION : VIC FALLS TO HARARE Day 1 Monday -Fly into Vic Falls Airport, transfer 4×4 Handover, self-drive to Explorers Village Day 2 Tuesday -Explore Vic Falls Day 3 Wednesday -Self-Drive to Hwange NP Robins Camp, Hwange Day 4 Thursday -Self-Drive through Hwange NP to Wild Campsite Hwange NP (eg Masuma Dam) Day 5 Friday -Self-Drive through Hwange NP to Wild Campsite Hwange NP (eg Kennedy 1) Day 6 Saturday -Self-Drive through Hwange NP to Tuskers Private Campsite, Sikumi Forest Reserve Day 7 Sunday -Self-Drive to Binga Campsite, Lake Kariba Day 8 Monday -Self-Drive to Mlibizi Zambezi Resot, Lake Kariba Day 9 Tuesday -Embark Kariba Ferry (10.30 Depart)(Sleep on Deck/Salon,Fully Catered 3 meals) Day 10 Wednesday -Disembark Ferry Kariba, Resupply & Self-drive to Mana Pools Nyamepi Campsite Day 11 Thursday -Explore Mana Pools Day 12 Friday -Explore Mana Pools Day 13 Saturday -Self-Drive to Sunbird Guest House, Harare, Return 4×4 Day 14 Sunday -Transfer to HRE Airport, & Fly Home N.B. This itinerary pivots on availability of 3 key bookings: 1) 4×4 availability – above rates are indicative and vary in and out of season as well as with rental term 2) Kariba Ferry confirmed sailing dates (Ferry sailings are provisional and will only be confirmed once sufficient interest is shown in it, plan B diverts via Bulawayo) 3) Mana Pools & Chitake Springs bookings – Chitake might not be available or we may have to juggle the Mana/Chitake bookings. E&OE
Manapools.com are registered Zimparks booking agents. We can help you formulate an itinerary, check availability on your behalf and make provisional bookings for you. Once you are happy with your itinerary Zimparks bookings are finalised upon payment of their invoice. We charge a flat facilitation fee for this service upon finalisation of your booking. Please contact us if you need help.
For many, Zim remains the final frontier for Self-Drive. With Botswana and Namibia approaching capacity, Zimbabwe presents a diverse and wild alternative for the more adventurous. There are some specific challenges that remain. My view is that most self-drivers over-estimate the severity of these challenges and are put off far too easily.
FALLACY 1: Lets start with safety & security, a question I am often asked regards self-driving in Zim. In short, Zim does not have a problem with violent crime like some of our more-visited neighbours. Sure, there is petty theft (don’t leave cash or cellphones lying around) but hijackings and gun violence are rare. Despite (or maybe, because of) the economic challenges, the fabric of Zim society remains intact and most people have respect for each other and common human decency.
The cops were a problem 18 months ago when they were trying to raise fine revenue by enforcing ridiculous regulations. Under the new dispensation, they are back to directing traffic and giving public transport drivers a hard time about their un-roadworthy vehicles and reckless driving. Fact is, the average cop’s heart was never really in it when they were ordered to extort motorists in the past, the average Zimbo is much more happy solving problems than causing them.
FALLACY 2: Let’s get this straight, FUEL DOES NOT COST US$6 PER LITRE! This is just inaccurate journalism. Either the writers do not understand mathematics, or they are just looking for sensationalist headlines. This fallacy was created by the original official insistence that government-issued local currency was 1:1 with the USD when in fact it trades around 9/USD on the market.
The resultant official Z$6.10 fuel price cannot be said to be equal to USD 6/l and is actually around USD 0.63/l, making it the cheapest in the region by some way. This naturally results in excess demand and some rather impressive fuel queues! Unless you are an under-employed amateur fuel arbitrage trader, don’t waste your time in a 2km fuel queue trying to buy a tank of the cheapest fuel in Africa. For people who have hard forex, fuel hovers between $1.20 and $1.40 per litre and you can buy coupons meaning you don’t have to stand in a long queue. If you are still not convinced, don’t worry, we can help you get coupons and fuel from Harare and Kariba and for goodness sake, don’t cancel your trip because of some financially illiterate journalist’s opinions.
FALLACY 3: Food is horrendously priced and the supermarket shelves are bare. Same cause as fallacy 2….imported food is approx 30% more expensive than neighboring South Africa but Supermarkets are still full of stuff you don’t need (my local Spar has about 10 types of cooking oil) and local brands remain affordable and more than good enough.
These 3 common misconceptions go a long way in explaining why Zim remains an undiscovered Self-Drive gem where you can have wild Africa to yourself in safety. There is however, one under-rated risk to visiting Zim in my opinion:
THE ONE HOME TRUTH ? : The standard of driving in Zim really is poor! The proliferation of cheap imported second hand vehicles and aforementioned cheap fuel means many people are first-time motorists who have never sat in the back of their parents car as children hearing critical analysis other motorists’ driving technique. These new drivers do not yet understand their own mortality. Speed, poor maintenance and no insurance are a potent combination. You need to be aware of this, maintain following distance and assume all other road users are Kamikaze pilots. Try think ahead for everyone else and take it easy on the speed.
Hopefully, this explanation of these 3 Fallacies and one home truth will help you better understand the true risks in Self-Driving unexplored beautiful Zimbabwe and make a quality decision.
Please do contact us if you need assistance planning your trip or with 4×4 Rentals and Campsite & Kariba Ferry Bookings.
In the 12 months since Mugabe left power, Zim has seen a definite uptick in tourist numbers. Bribe-seeking Police roadblocks are gone (their hearts were never truly in it anyway!) and many forgotten corners of the country are dusting off the cobwebs and getting ready to welcome tourists back to Africa’s self-drive gem.
Mana Pools bookings have increased dramatically and we can foresee a time in the not-too-distant future when these will be hard to come by. The airing of the new David Attenborough BBC documentary “Dynasties” will no doubt bring further international interest in Mana especially. At Manapools.com, we are steadily growing our 4×4 rental fleet and opening up new and exciting self-drive routes further off the beaten track via our new site www.selfdrivezim.com.
Life at our Sunbird Guest House base has been busy with our long-standing team of hospitality professionals welcoming Godfrey Phiri to the hospitality side of the business from his previous support role. We are proud to say that we retain every single team member we have ever employed and are proud of our team’s entrepreneurial service ethic.
Zim remains a challenging country to operate in, with Fuel and Foreign Exchange crises meaning we have to use our wits and wiles to ensure that our clients experience seamless service. We believe it is this “feet on the ground” resourcefulness that set us apart from other regional 4×4 rental companies who will rent you a vehicle from a neighboring country, then essentially wash their hands of you once you cross our borders. Zim-based Zim-Specialists continues to be our mantra, there’s plenty to see here without driving around the rest of Africa like a mad-man. Believe us, we can keep you busy exploring the beautiful, dusty back-corners of this forgotten land for many months!
We wish all our clients and associates a very Happy Christmas and look forward to building our country up in the year ahead with service, commitment, class and a dash of humor!
Having cleared immigration & customs in Harare International Airport (straightforward with no hassle at all) we took a prearranged taxi to the Sunbird Guesthouse (http://sunbirdguesthouse.net/) which we had pre-booked a few months earlier. Sunbird is owned by Sally Brown and is in a part of Harare with wide avenues lined with Jacaranda trees. We went with Sunbird because Sally also offers to help out with other aspects of your trip, such as arranging car hire, buying in provisions for your trip, purchasing bus and train tickets, etc. This is particularly useful as, for example, train tickets can only be purchased on the day of travel and sleeper cabins can sell out early.
Sunbird is a quiet and comfortable guesthouse in a secluded area with a large garden. Within minutes of arriving Shereen very painfully turned her ankle over. Holiday over, we immediately thought, but she’s made of tough stuff (Black Country girl and all) and she soldiered through. It was several days before she was comfortable walking on it, however, and even now, four weeks later, she still insists “it isn’t right”. We drank a few cold beers on the veranda while chatting to Sally, then went to bed. Daylight hours take a bit of getting used to in the tropics. Dawn begins around 05:00 and sunset is more or less on the dot of 18:30. So we westerners are always a bit shocked to see so many people out and about in Africa from first light. Harare, incidentally, despite the impression you get from our media, is actually a busy working city. It has problems. The country currently has economic issues that it is trying to work through, but overall, people manage. There was an outbreak of cholera in one of the southern high-density (ie poorer) suburbs shortly before we arrived (caused by a burst sewer pipe that wasn’t repaired quickly enough by the council and which led to a borehole becomming polluted), and we had come armed with hand sanitizers, rehydration salts, etc; but, in fact, the outbreak was contained around its original source and, while still taking sensible precautions, we were never directly aware of the problem on the ground.
At no point in our stay in Zimbabwe (in the cities of Harare and Bulawayo, in smaller towns on the way, on the train, at bus or roadside stops, etc, did we ever feel uncomfortable or in the least bit worried or ill-at-ease. The people of Zimbabwe are friendly, welcoming and helpful.
Day 3: Driving From Makuti to Mana Pools Camp (100km including 74km on corrugated road)
Our alarms went off at 5am. This quickly becomes more or less normal in Zimbabwe. It was still dark, but there were the very first hints of pale blue light in the eastern sky, and the first birds were just beginning to stir. Our aim was to get to Marangora, where the Zim Parks and Wildlife Office was situated, about 20 minutes further down the road. This is where you get your permit to enter the Mana Pools National Park. We wanted to get there and have the formalities done and dusted as soon as they opened at 6am. Wrong. They actually open at 7am, so we strolled round the area for and hour and a bit while the sun rose and the countryside slowly turned golden.
The office opened on the dot of seven, and we were cleared to go about 10 minutes later. Marangora is on the southern Zambezi escarpment, and the road, though still well tarmaced, was full of tight bends as it worked its way down to the the level of the Zambezi River. The heavy trucks here travel very slowly, sometimes at no more than 5km/h, as they inch their way carefully down, but the drivers do their best to let you know when it is safe to overtake by indicating with their right indicator (Zimbabwe drives on the left).
Just as you get to the bottom of the escarpment you come to the Mana Pools turn off. From now on the road is untarred and is what they call corrugated (see attached image). But before you get a chance to get a feel for the new surface you come to the first of two checkpoints. We showed our permits and were about to get going again when the inspector told us our front number plate was coming off. Sure enough, one of the two screws holding it in place had dropped off and it was hanging down at a 45 degree angle. We tried to fix it up, and to tighted the remaining screw, but there was little we could actually do and we resigned ourselves to having no front number plate in the near future. With hindsight I think we should probably have undone the ramining screw and stored the number plate for fixing later. The problem was that the Zimbabwe police set up regular checkpoints on the main roads (we had passed through four on our way from Harare, though we were always casually waved through). In the last years of Uncle Bob’s (Mugabe’s) rule the Zimbabwe police had a reputation for finding faults when it suited them and issuing dodgy on-the-spot fines. However, since Emmerson Mnangagwa came to power the police now only look for genuine faults and tax and insurance issues. We couldn’t help but think that no front number plate would be a notifiable fault, however.
We set off again, with Shereen Worth at the wheel. The road surface was dry, hard, and, as already stated, corrugated. Even at crawling pace the car vibrated, rattled and juddered like it was about to fall to pieces at any instance. We slowly increased out speed to 10km/h, by which time we were convinced that, regardless of what happened to the car, we ourselves would have no teeth left by the time we made it the the Mana Pools camp. We had heard that the 74km drive took about one and a half to two hours. At our current pace it was going to take us more than seven hours. We speeded up slightly and things just got worse. Even holding onto the steering wheel was difficult. After about twenty minutes of this we were overtaken by a car that seemed to be more dust cloud than metal, glass and rubber. And that, it turns out, is the secret to driving on corrugated roads. Speed. The first and second gates into Mana Pools are some 40km apart. We upped our speed to 40km/h and driving became easier (though not actually easy) and we started counting down the kilometers one by one.
Why would anyone corrugate a road, you ask. Apparently they don’t. According to an engineer we met during our stay the corrugations are a function of cars’ suspensions. The first car hits a small bump, the wheels rise up, the suspension smacks them back down again, and so on, and over time the corrugations just evolve. Then we found out that you should reduce tire pressure o 1,6 bar to reduce vibration.
We made it to the second gate, where we signed the book, showed our passes and then strolled around for a while while we tried to shake the shakes out of our jellified bones. One of the gate staff asked us if we would mind giving a lift to her boss, a lady called Mavis, who was heading for the Mana Pools main reception office. We were happy to oblige and set off again. Miraculously, we still had our front number plate as we set off.
Things were getting easier as our confidence grew. We were bombing along at a steady 40km/h, only slowing down for the narrow bridge crossing. Occasionally the road surface would change form corrugated hardpan to soft sand for a short stretch of a couple of hundred metres of so. When this happened the car would stop juddering, but now the rear wheels, instead of going roughly in the same direction as the front ones, would start swerving randomly from side to side. The first time this happened we were convinced we had a puncture. We pulled up and I got out and gave each of the tyres a good old-fashioned manly kick. No puncture. Another bullet dodged, so to speak. A little further along we had to pull up again, but this time because we encountered our first serious wildlife. A large bull elephant was slowly crossing the road ahead of us.
Not long after we were in Mana Pools proper. We dropped Mavis off, then headed the last 2km to Goliath Camp. We had navigated all the way from Harare using Google Maps in offline mode. It actually managed to take us to the entrance of the camp even though it didn’t know the names of half the places we passed through and designated all the tracks in the park as “Unknown Road”.
We drove into the camp and parked up. Nobody noticed our arrival, so we strolled over to the river bank, took a few deep breaths, and let our eyes remind us of what the world used to look like when it was still at its best. And we still had our front number plate.
Zimbabwe 2018 – Days 4,5,6,7,8,9 all at Goliath Camp in Mana Pools
Mana Pools is a World Heritage Site and National Park in the north of Zimbabwe. It is about one third the size of Wales (standard unit of measure). It sits between the Zambezi Escarpment in the south and the Zambezi River in the north, with the latter also acting as the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. It is completely unfenced, inside and out, and a vast area around it is also largely protected and animals freely move across the entire area.
It is hard to describe why Mana Pools is so special. On our first visit to East Africa we went to Selous National Park in Tanzania and had a wonderful time. We loved it. But on our first visit to Mana Pools last year we saw things differently – you could say our eyes were opened. You feel like you’ve escaped into something more fundamentally real than anything you’ve experienced before. And fundamental is the right word. In Mana you feel like you’ve stepped into a demi-Eden – the kind of place where it all began. It is both thrilling and, at the same time, profoundly calming. It is also, of course, very beautiful albeit not without genuine danger. And it changes you.
There are no mass migrations at Mana, nor are there great open plains or vast herds of animals. However, the wildlife is both rich and prolific and includes many species that are rare and getting rarer, such as the painted wolves (aka African Wild Dogs) and Lilians Lovebirds. But Mana is primarily about walking unfettered among the wildlife. It is one of the very few places left in the world where anyone can walk unguided and without restriction in a wilderness with lions, rhino, leopards, elephants, buffalo, etc. The rules are simple: leave only your footprints behind and don’t get killed. Of course, most people find a guide who knows and understands the place. But not everyone – while we were there a 78-year-old English woman hitch-hiked her way from Harare with a rucksack and a tent which she then pitched in one of the basic campsites ($45 a day).
For the second year running we stayed in Goliath Camp on the banks of the Zambezi. This is run by the legendary (he truly is) Stretch Ferreira. I can’t really say any more about Stretch. Shereen came across him when we were thinking of going back to Africa after our first visit in Tanzania. With Stretch it is all about the animals. The camp itself is comfortable, consisting of seven large tents, each with an outside loo and shower. There is a communal area on the river bank where you have breakfast, lunch, and where you chill out for a couple of hours in the high afternoon. There is no telephone, tv or internet access.
A Day in the Life: They rouse you around 04:45 in the morning. It is still pitch dark and the generator doesn’t get turned on until midday so you fumble yourself dressed by torchlight. Drums (i.e. food ready) at 05:00 – coffee, tea and energy biscuits are available, as is a pot of hot porridge over a small smokey wood fire. You have about half an hour to get yourself sorted. As the first pale hint of dawn begins to lighten the sky you get ready for the first trek of the day. You head out in a 4×4 vehicle with Stretch at the wheel as he slowly scans the ground for tracks that animals have left overnight. When he finds something that interests him, you get out and start following him on foot. These walks can last several hours. At about 09:30 someone from the camp will meet us at a prearranged location with a bush breakfast (tea, coffee, scrambled egg toasties and some cake or biscuits). What happens next depends on what Stretch has found so far. Generally we spend the next 2 or so hours in a mix of driving and walking. We return to the camp between 11:30 and midday as the sun and heat peak. A chance for a bit of a freshen up. Drums around one o’clock – i.e. lunch. Then we amuse ourselves (rest and snooze, and maybe read or chat to others) until drums for tea. Back out for a couple of hours more trekking. Then find somewhere on the banks of the Zambezi with hippos or elephants or buffalo, etc for sundowners and to watch the sun set as it turns the sky and flowing river deep shades of red. Then a dark drive (no car headlights) back to camp. The generator is running so we can now recharge our camera batteries and any of the few modern gadgets that make sense out here. Into the tent for a shower and to change into long sleeves and long trousers before drums and supper (maybe fresh bream from the river, or a traditional South African braai/barbeque). A glass or two of wine and then straight to bed by nine o’clock, wgich is when the generator goes off. But make sure you have enough water to last through the night as it is genuinely dangerous to wander through the camp after dark.
IMPORTANT: watch out for The Painted Wolves program in the new six part David Attenborough series “Dynasties” which was filmed over the course of two years in Mana Pools and which will air over the next six weeks. Painted Wolves are now seriously endangered – there are at least twice as many Blue Whales as there are Painted Wolves. https://paintedwolf.org/.
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