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From ground level

Emma Gregg travels to Mana Pools, Zimbabwe’s northernmost national park, to experience this magnificent Natural World Heritage Site on foot
AN UNINVITED GUEST: The tension is tangible between a pride and Boswell, a well-known elephant in Mana Pools, as he reaches up to feed on the pods of a sausage tree under which the lions are sheltering

My bed for the night is 24 steps up in the crown of an ancient tree. Before I climb, I squeeze my eyes tight for a moment to imagine the view from the top. The prospect of camping out in a tree house is so exciting, it’s as if the decades have fallen away.

Suddenly, I’m seven years old all over again. “I’ll be right here,” says Honest Siyawareva, my safari guide, indicating a small dome tent on the ground nearby. “You’ve nothing to worry about.” Perhaps he sensed my nerves when, on our drive here, a feisty young bull elephant blocked our way, tossing his ears. “He’s just testing us,” said Honest, standing his ground. The elephant, point made, strode on.

I’m in a concession on the edge of Zimbabwe’s northernmost national park, Mana Pools, a place where elephants rule. Big cats thrive here, too; campers routinely report paw prints near their tents and, sometimes, eyes shine in their torchlight after dark. I’m not afraid to be spending a night among these creatures. But at the same time, I’m glad my rain tree looks strong enough to be elephant-proof and there are no claw-marks on its dustgrey, flaking bark.

Mana Pools is one of those legendary African parks that send adventure-seekers misty-eyed. It’s partly because, unusually, the official regulations allow its visitors to go bushwalking without an armed professional guide, and partly because it’s so beautiful — dramatic, diverse and rich in life. Since 1984, Mana Pools, Sapi and Chewore, an area of 6766sq km watered by the Zambezi and bordered by protected landscapes, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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About Travel Africa

Come rain or shine - how the seasons affect your safari experience • On foot in Mana Pools • 5 Amazing islands in Mozambique • Guide to Tanzania's Udzungwa Mountains • South Africa's emotive Battlefields • Why Tsavo West? • Tree-climbing lions in Uganda • Cultural journey through Côte d'Ivoire... and much more!