Through the hypnotic background soundtrack of night insects and the grunting hippos in the Zambezi below, we were drawn to the soft rustling in the trees nearby. Cloud quietened from his story telling and we turned our attention to the small family herd of elephants as they stepped out from the bushes to join us. The Elephant Pathway above was lighting up the way for this herd as they wandered past us, unperturbed, through the camp.
Although you have the option of an ‘armchair safari’ experience here – where bee eaters perch on your guide ropes and you don’t have to venture far from your tent to see wildlife - Mana Pools is famed for the opportunity to immerse yourself in nature through diverse activities; from arriving into a bush breakfast of eggs benedict after a morning's walking safari to view African painted dog, to canoeing down the Zambezi River, past half submerged hippos, basking crocodiles and statuesque herons, into sundowners.
We experienced Mana Pools at the end of the rainy season. The typical dried-out, open landscapes of peak season were instead awash with wildflowers, which were diligently attended to by a myriad of colourful butterflies. I felt a sense of enchantment from my stay in Mana Pools as we drove down the airstrip to check it was clear of wildlife before our Cessna landed to fly us to Lake Kariba. Unexpectedly we came upon a pack of African painted dogs lazing by the airstrip. I willed our plane to be delayed as we savoured every moment with these beautiful individuals that are so iconic to the area.
From our canvased lodges in Mana Pools, we found ourselves in lakeside villas, with uninterrupted, ringside views to the most spectacular sunset imaginable over Lake Kariba. A view also enjoyed from the infinity pool or outdoor shower!
A stay at Bumi Hills gives you the option to relax and recover from the safari schedule with a spa and sunset cruises. However, if you choose - as we did - to make the most of every minute, the area is teeming with wildlife. Our walking safari had us staring into the eyes of four adult lions. Returning quickly to our vehicle, we watched as moments later they began their hunt for impala on the banks of the lake! That evening, on the same stretch of lantern-lit lakeshore, we spent our bush dinner recapping the excitement.
Arriving into Hwange National Park, there was an incredible atmosphere in the area as a coalition of two males, half-brothers, - one black maned, one blonde - were moving through Bhubesi’s territory. Bhubesi was the alpha male in Cecil’s old pride and a takeover was potentially imminent. The build-up for the events that were about to ensue was palpable. We had front row seats to the unravelling dramas of individuals in this wilderness, known intimately by the guides.
Back at the lodge we sat with our drinks on the deck, as elephants, uninterested by the lion’s power struggle, calmly drank from the waterfront immediately opposite. The idyllic Somalisa waterhole enticed three adult cheetah siblings, who we admired lounging in front of camp in the golden morning light.
Zimbabwe exceeded all my expectations. The standard of guiding, the range of activities, the quality of accommodation and most importantly the wealth of wildlife encounters made for the full package, with the thunderous Victoria Falls adding a dramatic end to an epic trip.