Set amongst fairy-tale forests along the shores of the Zambezi River, Mana Pools is an emerald city of sparkling greens & blues in the rainy season, & a golden cathedral of warm dappled light during the dry months. It's an enchanting environment of pristine African wilderness so achingly photogenic that you will want to return time & time again.
Mana Pools is a photographer's paradise; a place where the light varies dramatically throughout the day. Early morning is accompanied by the golden glow of sunrise; a warm, iridescent light that spreads through the park & signals for the diurnal creatures that they are back in the relative safety of daylight. Rich yellows, reds, & oranges catch the mists above the Zambezi River & bathe the park in an otherworldly radiance.
Then there's the afternoon light; spectral, filtered through the canopies of the large Faidherbia Albida trees, giving off a surreal quality. It's the kind of light you'd expect to float through a stained glass window in a towering cathedral, bathing the wildlife below in prismatic splendour.
The blue light of late afternoon gives way to the softer tones of dusk; resplendent rays catch dust kicked up by herds of buffalo & other hoof stock. The tangerine-tinted air starts to cool, & the animals of the day start to settle down for an uneasy night. The call of a fiery-necked nightjar signals the dipping of the sun into a black night — perfect for predators.
Mana Pools National Park is home to most of the common safari animals, including four of the Big Five. Buffalo are abundant & there is a large concentration of lion & leopard in the south of the park. The park is most known for its elephants; big bull elephants steal the show when they raise themselves up on their hind legs to reach the top of the trees.
Mana Pools has a very high density of wild dog. There are currently six packs with 100 adult dogs in the park. Seeing these social animals interact while on a hunt or while denning is a real treat.
Birders travel to here from all over the world to see much sought-after bird species such as the African skimmer, long-toed lapwing, Pel's fishing-owl, Rufous-bellied heron, carmine bee-eater & black-winged stilt among many others. With nearly 400 recorded species of bird in the park, Mana Pools is full of birdsong.
What animals can you expect to see in the Mana Pools National Park?
Amongst all the wildlife of Mana Pools, the park is best known for its elephants. The high population of this colossal pachyderm are famous not just for their abundance & lack of aggression, but also for their apparent ability to defy the laws of gravity!
In the dry season, many of the lower, easy-to-reach vegetation has been stripped from bushes & trees all over the valley floor. What's left of the succulent branches of the Faidherbia Albida are far out of reach for even the largest of the park's mammals. However, the elephants have learned how to gather their weight below, & heave themselves up onto their back legs. This allows them to extend their reach & gives them access to the lush foliage at the top of the trees.
This is a behaviour unique to Mana Pools, & to witness it will leave you breathless, & in awe that these animals can so seamlessly lift their huge expanse. Like much else in Mana Pools, it's a truly magical experience.
Our base for this ten-night photography holiday is an iconic & intimate private tented camp located on a bend in the Zambezi River that offers simple elegance, old-world style & unpretentious luxury in the wilderness. Situated in a particularly game-rich area of the park, it is not uncommon to see as much wildlife in the camp as on the game drives.
When is the best time to visit Mana Pools?
The most desirable time for wildlife viewing in Mana Pools is during the dry season, from June to October. Animals are more apparent because the dry weather thins the bush & wildlife concentrates around the Zambezi River & the pools on its floodplains. Parts of the park might become shut off for vehicles during the Wet season (from December to March).