Several new road tracks have recently been opened up in the hinterland forest areas of Mana Pools (away from the Zambezi River) in an effort to reduce visitor traffic pressure on the ecologically-sensitive "floodplain" alluvial terraces that make this Park so special.
Mana Pools is becoming an increasingly popular destination for self-drive visitors with 4x4 vehicles. However, the road system within the Park is limited and has tended to concentrate traffic on areas near the river. This means that during school holiday periods and the peak dry-season (August-October), the number of game-driving vehicles can become excessive, with undisciplined drivers forging illegal off-road tracks, damage being done to sensitive alluvial soils and vegetation and the famous wilderness quality of Mana being diminished.
At the end of the rainy season this year, ZIM4x4 and the 4x4 Club of Zimbabwe collaborated with Parks & Wildlife Zimbabwe to reopen 25km of the long-disused Middle Jesse Road, that links Mana Pools to the safari areas to the east. Twelve volunteers worked with Parks staff for three days to clear the road and rehabilitate river crossings between the Chiruwe River, near the Mana Pools airstrip, to the Chikwenya access road in the adjacent Sapi Safari Area .
The terrain is wild and remote, and access is currently by permit only, from the Park office at Nyamepi. Some of the river crossings are only accessible to capable and experienced 4x4 drivers and it is unwise to attempt this route 'solo'.
"There's a lot more to Mana than just the 'floodplain' area", says Dick Pitman of Zim4x4. "The so-called 'jesse bush' areas - more correctly known as 'dry forest' - are often ignored by visitors, but are well worth exploring. There are seasonal pans lined with ebonies and other majestic trees scattered throughout, and some exceptional stands of riverine woodland and mopane forest in between.
Much of Mana's wildlife can be found in the jesse during the early dry season. You can often see species such as nyala and crested guineafowl (pictured below), which you won't see elsewhere in Mana; and the 'wilderness quality' is superb, as you'll get away from the often-congested game-viewing tracks on the Mana floodplain.
A word of caution, though: Mana's special dispensation that enables you to walk unaccompanied by a guide doesn't apply in the jesse bush, with good reason. It's very dense, visibility is extremely limited, and there can be a lot of wildlife around, notably elephant, buffalo and lion".
Several other roads inland from the Zambezi River have also recently been opened by the Parks and Wildlife Authority in Mana Pools with assistance from tourism operators. One leads west off the main access road approximately 14 kms before you reach the Park Office at Nyamepi. It passes through thick "jesse" dry forest to some lovely pans and mopane woodland finally joining back into the Circular Drive on the south side of Long Pool.
ZIM4x4 can provide a Garmin GPS track for those interested in exploring these newly-opened roads.