Ever felt brave enough to do a walking safari without a guide? Want a more dangerous and adrenaline fuelled experience in the bush? The world heritage site, Mana Pools National Park in Northern Zimbabwe, is the only place in Southern Africa where it actually encourages the public to get out of their vehicles and walk around with no guide. All the top predators are present in this park.
Seeing a large group of elephants was enough to make most of the group jump out of the car, ready for a walking adventure. Adrenaline started to pump through our veins the further away we got from the safety of our vehicle and the closer we got to the herd. My mind started to drift, remembering a pride of lions were seen in this very location the evening before. Did we have enough walking safari experience in case we encountered them? Would one of our group run in fear and instigate an attack if we came face to face with a pride of lions?
It turned out the elephants were much more of an instant danger than the lions were. The elephants had moved so they were now between us and the safety of the car. The large bull became quite agitated flapping his ears, stomping his foot and trumpeting loudly. By now most of us had moved far away and were seeking unfounded comfort behind a very large termite mound, but one stupid person had stayed close watching the elephants. Suddenly the bull charged and just as I had guessed, rather than slowly walking backwards, our silly friend was running full pelt towards….. You guessed it, our hiding place. Luckily this time we were spared any injuries.
Every year a few people are mauled to death in Mana Pools, the park is quite open in some areas, so people are less likely to surprise a hidden animal behind a bush. However every year people disregard their common sense and wander off into thick bush, unsurprisingly never to return.
There are several private lodges along the Zambezi River and several campsites to stay in, although the best places will be booked up months in advance. Nyamepi is the main campsite, right along the edge of the river, it is a beautiful place to watch the hippos as the sun is setting. During the night it is more than likely that you will hear the hippos munching on grass, right next to your tent. The thought of a hippo tripping over your tent is something you try to push to the back of your mind.
The freedom and danger that this park offers for its clients is undoubtedly its main attraction for many. However this is also one of the most beautiful locations of any park; the Zambezi River and four permanent lakes are a magnet for an insane population of animals, the lakes and river create blue and green splashes of colour amongst the arid landscape. We managed to see elephants, baboons, monkeys, impala, hippos and a monitor lizard with just one glance toward the Zambezi River. Whilst driving in the midday sun we came across a pack of 20 or more painted wild dogs relaxing under the shade of a huge tree. A sighting of one of the large cat species is almost a given in this park, unfortunately (or fortunately) we never found the pride of 5 lionesses on our walking adventures. What makes this place unbelievably special is being able get out of your vehicle to stretch your legs or the ability to have a picnic anywhere you like whilst watching the wild animals.
For those that are slightly more cautious, this park also offers guides at reasonable prices that will walk you around the park with animal tracking experience and the safety of a gun. In fact sometimes getting a guide can help you pin point current animal locations, so when you feel brave enough to dare wonder alone you can either avoid or head to specific areas in the park. It’s a safari with a completely different feel, Mana Pools is a “must see”, if travelling through Zimbabwe, there is just nowhere else like it.
Tips for Mana Pools:
- Only open during dry seasons, closed January to March (most of the animals are not around and too much water to even access)
- You must have a vehicle to access this national park; the road into the park is 70 km of uncomfortable corrugated hard sand. The road is bad enough to shake the newest car apart.
- Always get a fire lit as soon as the sun sets, animals will stay away from fire. When cooking in the bush, make sure all waste food is burnt in the fire, even tin cans, so not to attract animals to your camp.
- Go to the toilet before you sleep, the last thing you want to do is get up in the middle of the night and start wandering around looking for a toilet. (In 2010 a family was attacked by five lions whilst visiting the toilet in the night.)
- When on a walking safari;
- Do not wander off alone, stay as a group. This group should be walking in single file to make you look like a larger animal.
- Do not walk into thick bush, stay in open areas. If you do have an encounter with wildlife, DO NOT RUN, walk slowly backwards away from the animal. Stay vigilant at all times, know what animals are around you and realise there are many more you are not aware of.
- Look at the tracks on the ground, once aware you can easily see what animals have been present and which way they have travelled.
- Be aware that if your tracking skills are good, there may be an animal at the end of these tracks!
Mana Pools National Park
P. Bag 2061, Karoi, Zimbabwe
Telephone: 263 63 533 or 538
I suggest looking on the website at THIS LINK, I believe it advertises some of the best rental deals for 4×4 vehicles in the country. Hiring from Harare makes a significant difference in price. Average price per day $120 upwards. Remember to ask whether it has unlimited mileage, some companies make their money on very pricey additional mileage.
All Photographs Are © Hazel Vint
Hazel Vint Photographer Bio
Photography as a profession is a new area for Hazel within the Arts. Since having studied Three Dimensional Design at University in Manchester, she has worked as a self-employed artist in many areas. Furniture and upholstery design, craft objects in both man-made and natural materials, jewellery metal work, painting, drawing and artwork designs for music albums and the most fun making abstract sculptures using a chainsaw and large, yet controlled fires.
Within all these areas of art, photography has been constant throughout for step by step progress of works made and general interest of playing with a camera. It seemed like a natural progression to enter the photography field in a more professional manner.
She moved to Africa in October 2011 as a volunteer working on art projects with a number of different Non-Governmental Organisations; distributing and redesigning bicycles (for carrying water containers or ambulance stretchers), “Taka Taka To Pesa” (using rubbish to create beautiful crafts to sell for money) and an extension of this, Nile Perch fish leather, creating bags, flip flop designs, wallets, tablet covers etc….
Travel is a major inspiration for all of her art, whether creating a beautiful drawing of pygmy children, coming up with new designs to make day to day living in Africa easier or increasing viewer’s knowledge of beautiful cultures and landscapes across the world, currently mostly in Africa.
Doing a photography internship with Africa Media in Mossel Bay, South Africa, opened her eyes to the opportunities and close up experiences that normal travel does not provide, such as photographing two young cheetahs without the hindrance of a fence.
The words, “I am a photographer,” seem to open up a new area of openness and trust of many people Hazel meets, allowing a deeper insight into the lives, traditions, history, wildlife and geographic areas. She believes the quote, “a picture can speak a thousand words”, is very true but that sometimes the addition of words can also create a greater understanding, which links to her travel writing passion.
Travel Blog: Hazel Vint Photographer/Writer
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