It’s not far to Kanga Camp where I’m greeted by smiling camp staff with a cold damp flannel to wipe the dust away and a large elephant. Kanga Camp is built around the Kanga Pan, the only permanent inland waterhole in Mana Pools and a magnet for wildlife during the dry season. The rains will come soon but until then this muddy waterhole is a lifeline for creatures of all shapes and sizes.
Kanga Camp’s main living and dining area is built around two shady Jackalberry trees and a Nyala tree with six guest tents spread out around the waterhole. I settle into an armchair while the general manager Wilfred explains the camp rhythms and rules to me but it’s hard to concentrate with the elephant plucking leaves over our heads. I’m distracted and keep taking photos but Wilfred isn’t fazed and I note that a guide must always escort me to my tent after darkness falls. There are predators everywhere and I want to stay out of the food chain.
Next I’m shown to my safari tent. It’s built on a raised wooden platform with a small deck overlooking the waterhole. Inside there are two wooden beds, a dressing table, a bedside table and solar powered lights. There’s a separate wardrobe and dressing room and an outdoor bathroom with a flushing toilet, a shower and basin. Every tent has a whistle, a drum and a foghorn inside so guests can call for help if there are any unexpected intruders in the night. I don’t like to think what wildlife might intrude but it’s good to know that there’s a plan of action just in case and better to know that no one has ever needed to use them.
I take a cold shower to cool down and head back to the main camp to the dining area for iced tea and cake. A cheeky Yellow-bellied Greenbul swoops down to see if she can pick up any crumbs. At 5pm Clint and I go for a game drive to see what we can see. The big African sun is setting and we’re just in time to watch it disappear behind the tree tops. We haven’t gone far when Clint slows down and points straight ahead:
“There’s a lion,” he says. “Two of them. No, three.”
Sure enough there’s a young lion on the left of a bush and a big lioness on the right. We motor slowly forward, going as close as we dare without scaring them and turn off the engine. Bush silence blankets us at first then a fly buzzes by, baboons call out from unseen treetops and there’s a strange crashing noise behind the bushes on our left.
“Probably an elephant,” Clint says.
We turn our eyes back to the lions and just then another one saunters out from behind the bush, then another, another and another. Six lions lie in front of the jeep watching us watching them. Darkness is falling fast but I keep taking photos. In the dim light the dried grass and lion fur is almost monochrome, the scene sepia and silent now like an old movie.
It’s dark now, the feline shapes barely visible.
“The lions rule at night,” says Clint, “they have excellent night vision and make a kill every two days.”
The lions are motionless and a strange, throaty, repetitive noise comes from behind us. It’s probably just a bevy of quails but I glance over my shoulder to check. When I look back at the lions there’s nothing to see except blackness and six pairs of red eyes shining out.
“It’s getting creepy now,” I say.
“Mmm.” says Clint nodding. “Shall we go?”
We drive back to camp slowly, shining a spotlight around looking for more eye shine and stopping when we see it. Impala run away. A Civet Cat watches them disappear. Through the binoculars he looks like a cross between a cheetah and a racoon. A hare scampers by and we hear a dry cough in the bush.
“There’s a leopard out here somewhere,” Clint says. But we can’t find it so we head back to camp.
We join Wilfred, four European guests and two more guides around the dining table. As we eat our three course meal the guides take turns shining the spotlight around the waterhole. There are buffalo now and more elephants up to their ankles in mud. Hyena come and warthog too then, after we finish our main course someone whispers “leopard.” We shine the infrared spotlight across the water and there she is, her watchful green eyes clearly visible through the binoculars. I sigh and air rushes out, leaving an empty space that’s soon filled up with nature, with unity, with Zimbabwe.
By 10pm we’re all zipped safely in our tents. I’ve only been in Kanga Camp and Mana Pools seven hours but I’ve already seen elephants, lions, buffaloes, leopards and more. It’s a privilege to be here in one of Africa’s last true wilderness areas, surrounded by wildlife and staying in total comfort. The sheets are fresh against my skin. I hear a scuffle outside by the waterhole, a splash and a groan. I’m surprised by how much it’s cooled off now, it’s the perfect temperature for sleeping.
I took hundreds of photos at Kanga Camp in Mana Pools. It’s heaven for budding photographers so I have heaps of photos to share over the coming weeks. Here are a few to get things started:
I was a guest of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority and African Bush Camps during my stay in Zimbabwe and Mana Pools and this story was just the beginning of an amazing trip – my first seven hours at Kanga Camp. I stayed four blissful nights so I’ve got many more stories and wildlife photos to share with you.
Stay tuned here for more stories from the wilds of Zimbabwe. Click here now for free weekly updates and more inspiration for your own African adventures.