Every year at the end of the dry season, around September and October, Mana Pools hosts one of Africa’s greatest wildlife spectacles. Thousands of animals descend from the escarpment to slake their thirst at the Zambezi River on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. There are few people who know the area as well as Dick Pitman. He arrived in the country as a journalist more than 30 years ago and soon got hooked on the African bush, travelling to all of the then Rhodesia’s wildernesses in an old
Land Rover Series II. Along with Matusadona on Lake Kariba, Mana made the biggest impact on Dick. For several months during the late ’70s he was one of only two people in the vast wilderness – the other being the resident ranger. His experiences there turned him into an ardent conservationist. He promptly started the Zambezi Society, the only non-profit organisation devoted to preserving the Zambezi Valley. In 1983, the society was instrumental in gaining World Heritage Status for Mana and the bordering areas of Sapi and Chewore, ensuring official protection from damming, mining and unchecked tourism development. (For an entertaining account of Dick’s experiences, read his book, A Wild Life.) After decades of exploring, Dick has started Zim4x4, a company that guides small groups of self-catering 4x4ers through the remote areas of the Zambezi Valley. Unsurprisingly, Dick has a near-pathological aversion to anything resembling a decent road, so whereas most visitors will drive to Mana straight from Harare along the tarred A1, he likes doing things with a healthy dollop of adventure. His suggestion was to try to find a way through one of the least-visited parts of the country – the so-called Eastern Valley. “We may get through or we may not,” Dick said with the nonchalance of someone who has spent plenty of time getting stuck – and unstuck – in his Toyota Land Cruiser. Dick’s route was to take us north-east from Harare into the Doma Safari Area, through to Chewore Safari Area, then into Sapi Safari Area, and finally we’d make it to Mana – “if we’re lucky”, as Dick liked to repeat (tongue-in-cheek) now and again.
These “safari areas” are proclaimed wildlife reserves, but with special provision for hunting. They are vast and mostly unpopulated, and the roads are almost never maintained. For Dick, it was the perfect route.
The further we drove north off the main road, the higher the grass became (until it stood higher than our vehicles). The screens covering our radiators were soon jammed with grass seeds. A few kilometres of rocky road took several hours to traverse. The diminishing number of locals stared at us as if we were crazy – which perhaps we were, given that no-one had driven these roads for several years. We entered the Doma, and we didn’t see any locals at all. As the earth turned and darkness loomed, we struck a make-shift campsite on a hill on the Zambezi escarpment, gazing down onto the valley and across to the distant hills of Zambia. White-backed vultures circled above us, and lions roared as we sizzled our chops. It was hard to believe we were only a few hundred kilometres from Harare. The next day our progress was halted by a small gorge which had flooded during summer, washing away a chunk of the road. After several hours of reconstruction, we eventually made it through.
* Get Scott’s full story in the August issue of Leisure Wheels. On sale now!