Treading lightly in Mana Pools with Camp Mana

Sally Pitman • 23 October 2022

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We have been visiting Mana Pools National Park as a family for more years than I’d like to admit, but mostly at the budget level, with our own vehicles and camping kit, pitching our tents in a shady spot in one of the delightfully scenic Exclusive Camps with an exquisite view of the Zambezi, but with very basic (sometimes non-existent) facilities, and doing everything ourselves.

So it was a delightful and very spoiling experience to treat ourselves and our adult offspring to three nights at Camp Mana in early September 2022, with Steve and Debbie Bolnick and their team.

There are a number of wonderful tented safari camps along the Zambezi River frontage in Mana Pools (and a few inland as well). All have their own charm, comfort and character, and some come with a high price tag attached, depending on the level of professional guiding expertise.  Camp Mana is one of those unique little gems that offers simple comfort, homely meals, respect for the wild, a low eco-footprint and exceptional, passionate, guiding at a reasonable cost that won’t make your eyes water.

The camp accommodates only 12 guests at a time, with a highly personalised and flexible way of operating which, if you’re lucky to hit a quiet period, you can have all to yourselves!  

It’s always a good thing when you are in a wild place to get up early and enjoy the cool of the morning with the chance of catching sight of a predator or two still on the prowl after the night’s hunting.  But… there’s no rigid routine at Camp Mana, so if you’re not in the mood for an early walk or gamedrive, you’re just as welcome to have a leisurely coffee in camp, enjoy the view and wait for the wildlife world to stroll through.  And it does….

The thing about Camp Mana is that it has, quite honestly, one of the very best locations in Mana Pools.  It is set several kilometres upstream from the main “safari circuit”, used by most visitor and operator vehicles exploring Mana Pool’s narrow “floodplain” section of river frontage, and is out of the way down a small track at some distance from the nearest road.  So passing human traffic is minimal.

The camp is completely unfenced and laid out spaciously under shady Winterthorn and Sausage trees along the bank of an old river terrace overlooking grassy expanses towards the Zambezi River and the mountains of the Zambia’s Zambezi escarpment beyond.  Waterbuck, impala, hippo, zebra and elephant are always around.  Herds of buffalo or eland pass through. There are leopards in the area and sometimes there is the excitement of lions or wild dog hunting at the woodland’s edge.

Camp Mana is a seasonal camp which prides itself on minimizing its impact on the environment.  It is designed to be taken down at the end of every safari season, so there are no permanent structures, no raised walkways, and all power is provided using solar energy.  There’s no “greenwashing” here.  The camp is genuinely eco-sensitive and its staff are hugely respectful of Mana’s wildlife and its wilderness values. 

The main living and dining area is housed under an attractive central Bedouin-style canopy which allows cool airflow in high summer temperatures.  

There are six delightful khaki-coloured guest tents generously spaced under shady trees along the riverbank, with double or twin beds and en-suite bathrooms (hot shower, flush loo and basin/vanity) at the back.

Water is provided via a small feeder tank system for each tent, topped up by the staff when required. Management and staff tents and the kitchen area are discretely hidden in the woodland behind.

We found the tent cleverly designed with simple furniture, very comfortable bedding and a plentiful airflow through the gauze windows.  

The small covered verandah in front was a great place to relax, as was the central sitting-room area under the large Bedouin tent.

From these safe vantage points, we enjoyed, by day, the close up sounds, smells and looming shapes of Mana’s elephants as they browsed unconcerned within a few metres of us, and by night, the munching of hippos just outside the tent!

The thing that distinguishes Mana Pools from most other safari destinations in Africa, is walking in the wild.  Steve Bolnick has many years of professional guiding experience under his belt and walking is what he loves best. 

If you choose to step out into the wild with Steve, you will find his pace is leisurely and his passion for everything along the way (from the smallest insect or bird to the largest bull elephant who stands on his hind legs to reach the highest tree branches) is astonishing.  There is SO much to learn. Don't expect to trek for long hours focused solely on adrenalin experiences and close up encounters with lions, wild dogs or famous elephants. Respecting the wild is his priority and he will only approach animals at a distance which is safe and comfortable for them and for his guests.

Steve’s passion for the wild also extends to supporting the National Park rangers who devote their lives to protecting wildlife in the Zambezi areas, and helping local conservation organisations which work alongside the Parks Authority in the area.  He is as passionate about responsible safari ethics and conduct in wilderness areas as he is for the wildlife that inhabits them, and is not shy of standing up against human behaviour that undermines the precious wilderness experience that Mana Pools is famous for.

Steve is ably backed up by Frank, his right-hand-man, who conducts Camp Mana’s game-drives with endless patience, a calm sense of humour, and an eagle eye that can spot a sleeping lion under a tree where no-one else would think of looking!

We enjoyed seamless service from Camp Mana’s hardworking staff, simple, but delicious meals from the kitchen and always that warm and friendly smile which has become the trademark of Zimbabwe’s people.  

Camp Mana, you did us proud.  We loved our experience in Mana Pools with you!  

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