We arrive in Lusaka early on Monday morning after the overnight flight from London. We are picked up at the airport by Peter in his trusty Landcruiser and travel by road to the Chirunda border post, on the Zambezi River. Having crossed into Zimbabwe we drive on to Mana Pools and Goliath Safari Camp. We receive a warm welcome from the camp staff and go straight out on a late afternoon game drive.
The landscape around the camp is dominated by open woodland running down to the river. There are two large pools still full of water not far from the camp teeming with hippos, crocodiles and water birds. Farther afield the landscape in the park varies with areas of dense Mopani woodland, open plains and flood plains, still green and lush.
On our first evening in camp, we meet Stretch and his team and share dinner with the other camp guests – excellent food, drinks and very good company round off the day perfectly and we return to our comfortable tent for a good night’s sleep.
Waking early each morning we are treated to porridge and toast by the camp fire before leaving for a morning game drive. We have excellent photographic opportunities during our morning game drives – water birds riding on the backs of hippos, large flocks of quelea in the golden light, zebra and impala running through the dust. Peter provides excellent photographic hints and tips, always ensuring we get the best light for each situation we come across and encourages us to experiment with different camera techniques.
Stretch walks out into the park each day to track the lions, wild dogs and bull elephants to try to ensure his guests get the best experience possible. We are lucky enough to walk to lions when Stretch has tracked them three times during our six days. We walked with Stretch for around forty-five minutes over parched ground tracking a pride of lions with some young cubs. They sat in the shade for a while but, as the heat of the sun diminished, they started to stretch, yawn and become more active. One lioness moved to the edge of a ravine and Stretch took some of us into the ravine to take shots of the lioness from a lower angle as the sun set behind her.
On another occasion, Stretch takes us to a river bank where there is a group of three elephants playing in the water. We sit right on the edge of the river bank with the elephants below us – the large bull elephant comes towards us and almost touches Peter with his trunk as he forages for food among the bushes. The elephants come up from the river and we follow the group from a distance through the trees whilst they pull leaves from the higher branches and scratch themselves against the bark. As the sun sets, Stretch takes each of us in turn to meet the biggest of the elephants in the group, known to him as Big Vic – his sheer size becomes apparent as we are each dwarfed by this gentle giant who seems to know Stretch so well.
On our last evening drive, Stretch finds a group of seven lions not too far from camp and we crawl along the ground to within twenty metres of them. Although not perfect for photographs, the thrill of being so close to these regal animals is wonderful. To top the experience off, when we turn away from the lions, the sun is setting behind us – a wonderful orange ball with millions of quelea flying together like specks of dust in the orange and golden shards of light through the branches of the winter thorns providing us with a unique photographic opportunity.
After lunch each day, it gave us great pleasure to canoe across the river from the camp to a nearby sand bar. Here we were able to safely take a cooling dip in a shallow area of the Zambezi – a wonderful way to spend time during the heat of the day.
We spend very few hours in camp each day but even here there is plenty to see. Elephants visited the camp every afternoon, there are colonies of carmine bee-eaters in the river bank, hippos in the river, fish eagles nesting in trees nearby and a giant kingfisher using the trees and bushes around the camp as a fishing platform. One day the pride of lions visited the camp (we were out looking for them, and there they were right in camp!) and on one very special evening, a female leopard visited as we sat chatting at the bar. She walked towards us, past the fire pit and climbed the tree in front of the lounge area. She sat in the tree watching the water as we sat on the sofa watching her, spellbound.
Our trip was special in many ways – not least the unique experience provided by Stretch allowing us to get up close and personal with the lions and elephants. We left Mana Pools after six nights with fantastic memories, some very good photographs and a better knowledge of how to get the best out of our cameras thanks to Peter’s tuition.
Article by: Kevin and Nicky Noyce