…and on to Mana at last!
We had an early start from Harare and arrived at the Zimbabwe National Parks office at Marongora later that morning to meet up with my brother John, his wife Judith and their 2 sons, Warren and Brett. Their friends, Pierre, Sarah and 2 daughters Samantha and Tess, had spent a couple of days on a houseboat on Kariba and were getting provisions there before meeting up with us in Mana.
After the tortuous and bone rattling corrugations getting to the reception office in Mana Pools it was a relief to finally get to our campsite (Mucheni #3) at about 3:00 that afternoon. The trailer jinx continued though. This time we’d lost our jockey wheel. Fortunately a strong plastic packing crate under the A-frame gave enough support while we were there so it wasn’t a major issue.
With tents finally up and a fire going it was time to settle down to a whiskey or 2 and to enjoy the view. And what a view it is! Photo’s can capture moments in time and show the beauty of those moments but they can’t capture the atmosphere and the tranquillity of the setting at Mucheni. Watching the flowing Zambezi with pods of hippo starting to move upstream to the grassy banks while the sun set was an unbelievable experience.
‘Harold’ the hyena introduced himself after our braai on the first night we were there. We were getting ready to go to bed when we noticed him calmly walk into the camp just beyond the fire. Quite an introduction to Mucheni! Fortunately our 10 shinning torches were enough to convince him to move on. He and his friends were regular night time visitors on the fringes of the camp and everything had to be packed away before going to bed.
My first night was quite an experience. I woke in the early hours of the morning to what I thought was a desperately hungry ‘Harold’ outside our tent and right next to me. What sounded like a loud retching, growling noise had me convinced that I was about to enter the food chain and that the thin canvas tent wasn’t going to be much of a deterrent! I resorted to my childhood tactics to avoid the bogeyman and buried myself deeper in the sleeping bag and lay there with very wide eyes, hoping for the sun to come up! When it eventually did and the others started emerging from their tents I was amazed that nobody else had heard anything. Pippa added that she had gone through the gamut of – is it a lion or a leopard, could it be the bark of a baboon, is there a buffalo in our camp…?? The general consensus was that it must have been the hippo feeding around our camp. Sound does carry a long way at night but that sounded very close!
We were amazed at how comfortable the elephant were wandering around the camp site area. Our first encounter with them was on day one. Pippa and I had stayed at the camp to catch up after a week of being on the road while the others went off on a drive. There was a lot to see and it was really pleasant just sitting around and watching all the different animals browsing on the river bank and around the camp. We noticed an elephant steadily making his way down to the river. At some point he seemed to notice us which sparked some interest in him. He was still a couple of hundred meters away and I wasn’t concerned until he seemed to quicken his pace and came straight towards us. He wasn’t showing any sign of alarm or aggression but I have a very healthy respect for these large animals and suggested to Pippa that we get into the car. She didn’t argue! The young chap seemed almost disappointed. He kept coming but at a more leisurely pace and then made his way past us and around the tents to browse the fallen Acacia Albida Tree apple-rings in the area around of our camp. We got out the car and sat quietly in the camp and watched from there.
We had the pleasure of visits from various elephant every day and after our first introduction we were very comfortable sitting around watching them. I’m sure they were as curious about us as we were of them. John spent a lot of time during our stay there getting up close and personal and not once did they show any sign of irritation. An amazing experience.
Night two was the night of the lion! We’d finished eating and were sitting around the fire chatting when we heard a commotion upstream on the river bank. Sounded like a hippo splashing into the river. Brett shone his spotlight in that direction and picked up a whole bunch of tell tale yellow eyes moving towards our camp. John shouted an instruction “Davey get in your car!” There were a lot of Davey’s there because all 3 cars were filled very quickly. Pippa was the only one still outside. She was folding my chair to pack away in the back. I “politely” told her to leave the chair and get in! It’s not often that she responds positively to an instruction from me but she did that night thank goodness! We switched our headlights on and there they were, probably not much more than 30 meters away…7 lion calmly strolling past us. What a sight! We tidied up quickly after they’d passed by before going to bed. Very exciting!
Pierre and family were up early for a drive the next morning and the rest of us followed an hour or so later. We met them on their way back to camp and they told us that there was a lion kill near the turn-off to BBC camp.
It didn’t take us long to get there. They weren’t that far off the road and we had a reasonably good view of them feeding on the kill…an eland. There were 8 adults and 4 cubs. We wondered whether it was the same pride that had passed our camp the night before? Mother and cubs might have been trailing and only called in once the others had made the kill?
They fed off the eland for 2 full days. We stopped off to watch them regularly during our morning and afternoon drives but getting decent photos was difficult because of the tall grass.
As always, there were plenty of elephant browsing around our camp over the next couple of days, including one that was feeding at the bottom of the river embankment next to our camp. Great excitement to be able to get so close! We got a bit of a fright though when he suddenly started climbing up the embankment. We didn’t think he’d be able to manage that and we weren’t slow getting out of his way to give him space!
The action hotted up a couple of mornings later. There were quite a few hyena and vultures that had gathered in the area of the lion kill to pick up the scraps and we were lucky enough to get there early and witness it.
The hyena were very eager to get their bit and were making repeated advances toward the kill only to be chased off again by the lion. Vultures too started taking up closer positions. Backwards and forwards with lots of yipping and yelping, the hyena kept trying to get to the carcass.
Eventually, after about an hour of this, we noticed the pride starting to move off into the bushes with their cubs. Two lionesses stayed behind to chase off any advancing hyena. It wasn’t long though before they both turned and followed the rest of the pride. Was their last stand just a diversionary tactic to give the rest of the pride time to get the cubs away?
And then the game was on! The scrambling and fighting amongst the hyena was incredible. They dragged the carcass across the veld and then across the track and it didn’t take them too long to devour what was left.
A young bull elephant was by this time obviously fed up with all the noise and commotion and charged a couple of hyena that were close to him. They retreated at first and then turned on him. It was surprising and amusing to see him back off!
Pierre and family were only with us for the first few days before having to head home to Durban. It was great spending time with them and enjoying our evening drinks and braai (barbeque) while we shared stories of the day’s drives and sightings. Nice though that Pippa and I were able to spend some quality time with John and Judith and the boys for the last 3 days. They live in Durban so we don’t often have a chance to get together and catch up on family matters.
For the next couple of days things were relatively quiet from a game viewing point of view. How do you top the spectacle of the lion kill and the aftermath? We spent quite a lot of time relaxing in the camp and to be honest I was quite happy doing that. There was always more than enough happening around there to keep us occupied. Lots of hippo and crocodile in the river and there were always impala and waterbuck browsing close by.
Not to forget the regular elephant visits which are always special.
Warren and Brett did a fair bit of fishing from the river bank. The Zambezi is renown for it’s tiger fish which put up a challenging fight. There was great excitement when they caught their first one!
We tried a few different routes on our drives over the last couple of days. The view from Mana Mouth was fantastic and we had a couple of nice bird sightings there.
We also went to New Ndungu to have a look at the camp site. Not a place that I’d like to camp in. It’s a very small camp site surrounded by dense bush. From what we could see even the view of the river was largely obstructed. Getting a trailer in there and having space to turn could be a challenge.
We’d heard that there’d been a sighting of wild dog on the Zebra loop so decided to get an early start on our final day in Mana and drive that route. We didn’t see the wild dog but Warren and Brett spotted another lion kill not far from the Hippo Pools. There weren’t any other vehicles around so I guess we were the first to see it?
This was a much bigger pride. We counted 14 lion and 3 or 4 cubs. We watched for an hour or so and in all that time the male lying in front hardly moved. He’d obviously had first go at the buffalo and had gorged himself into a stupor. Not the most dignified pose for the cameras!
Not a lot had changed when we went back later in the afternoon. The scavengers hadn’t even arrived yet. A pity we weren’t going to be there over the next few days to see the spectacle when they did.
We’d hoped to see the wild dogs on our way back to camp but no such luck. Next time maybe?
And so back to camp for our final night in that magical setting. Nice to have a visitor waiting to see us!
And so our time after a fantastic week in Mana Pools came to an end. We’d hoped to get away by about 8:00 in the morning but Pippa and I were a bit slow getting ourselves organised and it was probably closer to 9:30 by the time we got going.
Pippa and I got back to Jill and Ant in Harare at about 5:00pm. As sorry as I was to leave Mana I really enjoyed my first proper bath in over a week. The whiskey that Ant poured wasn’t too shabby either!
Pippa’s brother, Roy, took us off the following morning to find a new jockey wheel for the trailer. We were lucky to find one quickly and Roy used his impressive new set of tools to fit it for us. Thank you Roy!
We spent 3 more very pleasant days in Harare with Jill and Ant. Great also to get together with other members of our families but a pity that we weren’t able to see a couple of my old friends from way back when.
Up next: Mapungubwe and then home!