Stuck in the Mud

Mana Pools & Kariba (June 2016): Part 1 – Cape Town to Mana Pools

The build-up and start of our trip to Mana Pools was very stressful. Our plan was to leave Cape Town on a Monday morning. On the Friday afternoon before that a suspension fault warning suddenly lit up on our Land Rover. Fortunately our friends at Twin Landy were still at their workshop and were able to diagnose the problem. We needed a new compressor.

Twin Landy managed to source a replacement but it could only be delivered to them on Monday morning. After a weekend stressing about whether we’d have to change our start date and bookings we dropped our car off with them when they opened at 7:30am.They phoned us at 9:30am to say the job was done. Great service! We were back on track.

A map showing our planned route up to Mana Pools and back

Our route up to Mana Pools and back

Cape Town to Harare

We had a few frustrations packing the car and trailer and ended up only leaving Cape Town at about 1:30pm. Our stress levels were high and our nerves were frayed! Fortunately our first over night booking was at Teri-Moja Game Lodge (now called Teri-Lemveli Lodge) outside Beaufort West. We arrived there at 6:30 that evening.

Our next overnight stop was at Lavender Lodge in Vryburg. The accommodation and hospitality there was fantastic. Our room was wheelchair friendly and very comfortable. There’s also a very nice pub on the premises…we of course popped in for a drink or two!

We didn’t enjoy our journey through Botswana the next day. It started off badly when we were pulled over at a police road block 10kms after crossing the border. A group of policemen (and woman) were standing about 5 meters beyond their stop sign. As I was about to stop they gestured for me to move forward to them. Net result…I didn’t come to a complete stop at the stop sign and they wanted to fine me Pula 1000 for not stopping and another Pula 500 for negligent and reckless driving! I was of course very remorseful and apologetic for “misunderstanding” their gestures but the policewoman was not interested in my apology and continued to be abusive and threatening.

Fortunately during her rant I noticed a local car come through the checkpoint. The driver hardly slowed down, never mind stop. He was waved on with big smiles. I politely asked her why I was pulled over and asked to a pay a fine for not stopping and yet the local driver was waved through with a smile? This elicited another stream of abuse and threats. It turned the tide though. She lectured me for another 10 minutes and then told us we could go. Hopefully all her venting released some pent up emotion and the rest of her day was stress free!

The drive from there through Lobatse and Gabarone to Phokoje Lodge outside Selebi Phikwe was uneventful but tiring. It was a relief getting there shortly after 5:00pm.

The final leg of our trip from Phokoje Lodge to Harare was frustrating. Road construction and detours through Francistown, disorganised border systems at the Plumtree border post and then 14 police road blocks between Plumtree and Harare made for a very long day…it took us well over 13 hours to travel 800km.

We eventually reached the outskirts of Harare at about 6:30 that evening. Not a good time to get there. It was dark and street lights were non-existent. I didn’t want to drive into the city centre so trusted our Garmin to guide us to Harare Drive, a ring road that we needed to take to get to Jill and Ant (Pippa’s sister and brother-in-law). Garmin unfortunately didn’t know current road conditions and instructed us to turnoff onto a road that was more potholes than tar. There was no turning back though and we had to carry on for about 2km before we could get off it and find another route to Harare Drive. It was a long 2 km!

It was nearly 8:00pm by the time we eventually arrived at Jill and Ant’s house. Whiskey has never tasted so good!

Harare to Mana Pools

After 3 very pleasant days in Harare we set off for Mana Pools. With the prospect of 7 nights in Mana and then 3 nights on a houseboat at Kariba, we were both eager to get going.

We’d arranged to meet up with my brother, John, and his family and friends at Makuti Lodge. They had driven up from Durban.

There weren’t many road blocks to contend with between Harare and Makuti on that day. At one of them though a policeman tried to fine us for not having honeycomb grade T stickers on our trailer. I disputed the necessity for honeycomb grade and showed him the documentation we’d printed showing the various legal requirements. He insisted that our interpretation was wrong but that he’d only fine us $10 for the one sticker and let us off for the other…all done very pleasantly I might add! I smiled politely and suggested that I phone one of the numbers on the document and contact a supervisor to check whose interpretation was correct. His response: “oh … you’re tourists! You carry on then, we want you to come back!”.

Makuti Lodge was great. It was in need of attention and redecorating but the position and views from up there on the escarpment are fantastic. The staff were very friendly and went out of their way to be helpful. Hopefully visitor numbers have increased since we were there and they’ve been able to generate funds needed for their upgrade.

John and his travelling party arrived soon after Pippa and I. We all booked in and settled into our rooms before going up to the Lodge for sundowners and dinner. Everyone was in high spirits and looking forward to finally getting to Mana Pools the next day. It was nice seeing John and Judith again and catching up with their news. Their 2 sons, Warren and Brett, were also there with their friends Sian and Nick. Tim and Belinda completed the group. They had flown out from Cornwall to enjoy a Mana experience. Quite a large contingent!

A group photograph

Nick, Warren, Judith, John, Belinda, Tim, Brett and Sian, Pippa and me

Everyone was up early the next morning and we were on our way to Mana Pools by 8:30am after a very decent breakfast. It didn’t take long to check in at the Zim Parks office at Marongora and then drive down the escarpment to the Mana Pools turn-off.

We got to the Nyamepi office at about 11:30. The section of the road between the 1st and 2nd gates was rough but didn’t seem to be as bad as we remembered it from our trip 3 years ago.  After checking in at the office and buying wood we finally got to our campsite at Mucheni #3 at lunchtime.

The afternoon was spent getting our tents and camp set up in good time to be able to relax and enjoy the sunset on the banks of the Zambezi. As always it was magnificent! Lots of Hippo starting to move noisily towards the banks for their evening browsing, camp fire burning and Mopani coals being prepared for our braai. With a decent sized scotch in hand…who could ask for more?

A view of the sunset from our campsite at Mucheni #3

Sunset at Mucheni #3

A picture of Brett and Sian sitting viewing photos

Brett and Sian checking photos

I won’t give a day-by-day account of what we did during our week there. It was pretty much the same routine each day…a morning drive, back for a brunch cook-up, lazing around the camp until about 4ish while watching the passing parade of Elephant and Waterbuck and Impala and Kudu. We then went out for an afternoon drive before coming back to enjoy yet another beautiful sunset…with drinks in hand of course!

The younger generation spent a lot of their time trying to deplete the Zambezi of Tiger Fish stocks. They failed dismally. It’s amazing just how many huge fish managed to break free of their lines before they could be landed! 🙂

The evenings around the fire were always fun with lots of chat and banter. Tim’s endless stream of jokes and dry sense of humour kept everyone amused! We were usually in bed by about 9:00 each night, listening to the wonderful sounds of the grunting Hippo browsing next to our camp and the Hyena who were ever present on the fringes. We heard lion virtually every night as well but never close enough to cause any real excitement.

A Grey-headed Kingfisher perched on a branch

Grey-headed Kingfisher?

An Elephant stretching up to get food from the top of a tree

Reaching for a bite to eat next to our camp

An Elephant flapping his ears

A little bit of ear flapping to show who’s the boss!

An Elephant with it's trunk knotted around a branch of leaves

Tied up in knots!

Pippa next to our campsite watching an elephant

Pippa watching one of our campsite visitors

So what’s so special and exciting about Mana? The magical atmosphere, being able to camp in the wild with your nearest neighbour far enough away not to know they were there, showering on the banks of the Zambezi using a shower bucket rigged up in a tree and river water heated over the fire. Having only a long-drop toilet with the seat on a bottomless, rusty drum…okay, so maybe that wasn’t so special? It must have been a culture shock for Tim and Belinda! 🙂

driving through different areas of the park with open spaces and dead Mopani trees in one area and the dense Mopani forests in another. The iconic Baobab trees.

Our shower on the banks of the Zambezi using water drawn from the river and heated in a drum on the fire

An elephant walking next to the long-drop toilet

Not a good time to go to the long-drop!

…The sunsets and sunrises, the beauty of the Zambezi and the view of the hills on the Zambian side of the river. Driving through different areas of the park with open spaces and dead Mopani trees in one area and the dense Mopani forests in another. The Baobab trees.

A view of the sunrise



A view of a Baobab tree

Baobab next to Chine Pool

A view of the road through a Mopani forest

Beautiful Mopani forest

A typical mana scene with some waterbuck in the foreground

Typical Mana scene

…Parking next to the various pools and enjoying coffee and rusks while watching a variety of birds and animals moving about.

Maribou and Yellow-billed storks

Maribou and Yellow-billed storks

2 Hippos having a bit of argy-bargy in Chine Pool

A bit of argy-bargy in Chine Pool

The two Hippos staring at each other after their tussle

The calm after the storm

…Driving down to the Trachelia Island viewpoint through the Albida trees in the late afternoon…hoping desperately to get one of those iconic shots of Boswell up on his hind legs reaching for a juicy titbit.

An Elephant reaching uo into the tree

Trying to emulate Boswell but not quite succeeding

A view of some Elephant in the Albida forest near Trachelia Island

Elephant in the Albida forest near Trachelia Island

…Finding fresh Lion spoor on the road near Chine Pool and combing the area between there, the Wilderness entrance, Mana Mouth and the Nyamepi campsite trying to find them.

A view of Lion spoor in the sandy track near Chine Pool

Lion spoor near Chine Pool

…Driving up toward Vundu Point to look for a pack of Wild Dog that had been seen in that area and coming across a small herd of Buffalo crossing the track.


A small herd of Buffalo

Small herd of Buffalo

A picture of the group having coffee next to the road

Coffee break on the road to Vundu Point

…Being held up on the way back to camp by an unusually skittish herd of Elephant close to the road and seeing how protective the youngsters were of a baby in the group.

An Elephant family protecting the baby

Family huddle

There’s just so much about Mana that is special. It becomes addictive!

We never did find the Lion or the Wild Dog or Boswell on his hind legs…disappointing, but we still enjoyed driving around with the anticipation of seeing them somewhere along the way. There were plenty of other animals and birds to enjoy though. 

A picture of a Waterbuck


An Impala jumping with birds struggling to hang on

Impala making it difficult for the birds to hang on

African Harrier-hawk (or Gymnogene) raiding a nest

African Harrier-hawk (or Gymnogene) raiding a nest

Two Fish Eagles in a tree

Fish Eagle duet!

An African Tree Squirrel

African Tree Squirrel

A Juvenile African harrier-hawk

Juvenile African Harrier-hawk



White-fronted Bee-eater

White-fronted Bee-eater



A crocodile with it's mouth open

Warming up in the shallows

Our time there flew by but all good things must come to an end. We’d thoroughly enjoyed our stay. The excitement wasn’t the same as on our previous visit. No lions strolling past the camp, no Hyena lurking outside the tent and we didn’t come across any Lion kills. In spite of that Pippa and I enjoyed this trip more. We both felt that we’d been able to absorb more of the beauty and diversity of Mana Pools while driving around. Mana Pools isn’t all about predator sightings. There’s so much more to see there.

We got away from Mucheni a bit later than intended and the road out seemed a lot rougher than when we came in. Our scheduled boarding time at Kariba was midday but we only got to the last gate next to the Chirundu/Harare “highway” at that time. We inflated our tyres and contacted the booking agent to tell them that we were only likely to get to Andora Harbour at about 2:00pm. It didn’t quite work out that way. Find out why in our next report!

A bigger selection of photographs has been posted in our Gallery.

Next up: Kariba for 3 nights and then home.


10 thoughts on “Mana Pools & Kariba (June 2016): Part 1 – Cape Town to Mana Pools

  1. Tanya Pitcher

    Great blog.
    Thanks for sharing
    Two of my most favorite places in the world, Mana and Kariba.
    Since moving to CT from Zim in 05, haven’t been back to either 🙁
    great pics too.

    1. Dave Gale Post author

      Thanks Tanya. A special part of the world. Hopefully you’ll be able to go again sometime soon!

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