Mhara River Bush Camp - a gem for bush lovers and birders

Sally Wynn, Wild Zambezi • 17 December 2023

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November-December in Mana Pools is out of the mainstream Safari Season for a good reason.  It’s an unpredictable time of the year.  It’s the start of the rains and large parts of the Park can either be flooded out - with any vehicle access along the dirt roads extremely difficult - or dry and dusty as all forms of life wait desperately for the relieving moisture that will transform leafless vegetation into life-giving, lush green-season bounty.

If you catch it just right, it’s somewhere between these two extremes.  Experienced bush lovers who don’t mind high temperatures and humidity, lots of insects, variable amounts of mud, unpredictable wildlife sightings (dependent on how much rain has fallen) and a high chance of thunderstorms, will find this a beautiful time to adventure into the wilds of Mana Pools.  It’s also the best time of year for birding!  

It was with this in mind, that Wild Zambezi set out to spend a few days exploring Mhara River Bush Camp – an intimate, 12-bed, low footprint tented camp newly established in the southern section of the Mana Pools National Park, with its own concession encompassing the upper reaches of the Chitake and Mhara Rivers against a backdrop of the Zambezi escarpment mountains.   

The landscape and vegetation here are much more varied than on the relatively flat alluvial floodplain along the Zambezi River, some 50 kms away, where tourism is more prevalent and animal concentrations have made significant modifications to the riverine habitat.

We had come primarily, along with a group of other more serious birders, to see if we could catch a glimpse or a photograph of the elusive African Pitta.  This bird is a truly beautiful summer visitor which migrates from central Africa (Uganda, Kenya and the Congo) to Southern Africa at the start of the rains to breed in the dense woodland thickets along lowland river systems.  

The southern Mana Pools concessions of both Mhara River Bush Camp and its neighbouring Kavinga Safari Camp contain the perfect habitat for these birds, and so both these camps remain open longer than most other safari camps in Mana Pools, in order to accommodate birding guests late in the year.

Well, thanks to the local knowledge, skill and patience of the professional guides at Mhara, we were lucky!  It turned out that there were lots of African Pittas.  It was just a question of finding them.  The dense thickets right in front of the camp and at the edge of the riverbeds throughout the concession resounded with the liquid “phwit” of their breeding calls.  But spotting them took hours of patience , and waiting for them to appear close enough and still enough for a good photograph was even more challenging.  It took us three days before we finally managed to get a reasonable shot!  But we did it!  And so did our companion guests.  And, thanks to good wi-fi reception at the camp, we were all able to brag about it on Social Media!

Oh… and by the way… because this year the rains were delayed, we were also lucky enough to see several elephants, a large herd of 100+ buffalo a couple of times (attracted by the water at the three separate pans on the concession) as well as the resident pride of healthy lions including their three newest-born cubs.  

This was fortuitous, as once the rainy season fully sets in and all the natural pans and waterholes in the interior of Mana Pools National Park fill with life-giving water, then large mammals tend to disperse throughout the vast expanses of the Zambezi Valley and they are seen much less often.

But there were lots of other extraordinarily beautiful wild treasures to be discovered on the Mhara concession:  literally hundreds of magnificent baobabs – some of them enormous and obviously hundreds of years old  - many in flower with their extravagantly opulent giant white blooms; 

giant red sandstone cliffs along the rivers with several different colonies of striking carmine bee-eaters feeding their nestlings in thousands of holes excavated into the banks;

healthy populations of bushbuck and lots of the much smaller pretty little Sharpe’s grysbok.  There were extra special small gems like the pink and orange blossoms of the tamarind tree and the delicate yellow Zambezi tail-flowers,

a female white-tailed mongoose with her two fluffy babies, a striking black and white butterfly called the Common Diadem; a little ground agama who studied our vehicle intensely for a long time and a chameleon caught in the spotlight on the end of a branch.

We explored up and down the high-cliffed gorges and sandy beds of the Chitake and Mhara rivers by vehicle, enjoying some spectacular sundowner spots with magnificent views, and a delicious al fresco breakfast in the shade of an enormous sausage tree covered in its huge pendulous fruit.  

At this time of year, the daytime temperatures are very high, so walking in the bush accompanied by a professional guide is really only possible in the early hours of the morning.  But in the cooler months, this must be an awesome activity.  

Given the summer heat at the time of our visit, the tented accommodation at Mhara River Bush Camp was spacious and airy, allowing for good ventilation. Cooling fans powered by solar energy were a welcome (and vital) addition, and the room design has been very well thought out, with very comfortable beds, generous mosquito netting, a tea/coffee station (hot and cold water thermoses provided), plenty of power connections for charging and an extremely spacious en-suite bathroom at the back.

The main living/dining/bar area is an expansive covered deck on several levels overlooking the broad sandy bed of the Chitake River, with a couple of cosy little seating areas tucked away for quietness and privacy if required.  

Meals were delicious and freshly prepared, and evening dinners under a canopy of trees and stars in the “boma” area were especially magical.  

We were delighted with the extremely professional attitude of the staff, management and guides at this little camp.  Their welcoming care and attention to detail, combined with a relaxed, flexible and friendly manner was a very winning combination.  They deserve to do well with their safari and birding seasons in the years to come. 

Get in touch with them direct via Mhara River Bush Camp

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