Vundu Camp is located on the banks of the Zambezi River in the Mana Pools National Park.
Vundu Camp: Our full report
Vundu Camp is a small camp with a long-standing reputation. It lies amongst a grove of ebony and tamarind trees on the banks of the Zambezi River, in the heart of Mana Pools National Park. The surrounding landscape is made up of game-rich flood plains interspersed with oxbow lakes, the remnants of old meanders of the Zambezi River. The camp’s riverside location means that in the dry season game is pretty much guaranteed, as the animals come from the parched interior of the park to the river to drink.
Vundu Camp is owned and run by an extremely knowledgeable Zimbabwean, Nick Murray, who is well respected within the industry. He is a qualified ‘Zim-Pro’ guide (meaning he has earned perhaps the most prestigious game-guiding qualification in Africa). Nicks wife, Desiree, is also a ‘Zim-Pro’ guide and used to guide with Nick, however she is now based in Harare looking after their children.
On one recent visit to Vundu Camp, Nick was able to guide one of the Expert Africa team to crawl to within a few metres of a pack of wild dogs, something only achievable thanks to his exceptional experience and guiding skill.
Nick has a degree in zoology and wildlife management, and started guiding in Matusadona National Park in 1988, earning his Pro guide’s licence in 1991. He has been working with wildlife ever since, including substantial time spent capturing and translocating game; Nick even spent a while cattle ranching and ostrich farming! Since 1997 he has spent most of his time canoeing the Zambezi River, and guiding in Mana Pools.
Vundu Camp has eight large tented chalets. Outside the front of each is a private seating area with canvas chairs to relax and enjoy the views of the Zambezi or do a spot of birdwatching. Inside, large wooden beams support a high thatched roof with canvas walls and shade mesh windows. The chalets are simple in design and basic in layout, but comfortable enough for Africa-enthusiasts; they’re clean and have very secure mosquito nets covering each twin or double bed. Comfortable wicker chairs, with cushions, and a low table provides a small lounge area in each chalet and a shelving unit supplies storage space. Polished concrete floors are covered with scattered rugs and in the corner is a writing table with a canvas camp chair.
Each chalet has a large open-air en-suite bathroom with a flushing toilet, hot and cold shower, and decorative pottery washbasins made by Desiree herself. There is no running water in the basins; cold water is provided in a jug and warm water is brought to the chalet in the morning via a door at the back of the bathroom. The bathrooms are spacious and canvas walls provide a great deal of privacy. Overhanging vines and branches from the surrounding bush also make for a nice touch.
Two of the larger chalets each have two double beds; one of these is suitable for families; the other for honeymooners. In addition, a large family chalet, with two separate en-suite bedrooms and shared lounge, was built in 2011. This is ideal for a family or two couples travelling together.
Vundu Camp has a large communal area at its centre. This two-storey wooden structure houses the bar, the dining and lounge area on the upper level, complete with comfortable cushioned chairs and excellent views towards the adjacent Zambezi. This is a great place in which to relax; there is a small library, and a tea and coffee station is kept well supplied throughout the day. Situated on the ground floor at the front of this communal area is a sandy area overlooking the river with an old ebony tree protruding off to one side and a fireplace, which is lit every night, providing a centre piece where drinks are taken before and after dinner.
Behind the camp is a small pan which attracts game during the day. A thatch-covered platform has been built beside it creating a great spot to sit and view visiting game and birds coming to the pan for a drink.
The guiding at Vundu Camp operates slightly differently from most camps – perhaps as the result of lean years during the last decade, combined with Nick’s very real commitment to offering top-notch guiding.
Firstly, although Nick guides here and he has a few top-notch canoe guides at the camp, much of Vundu’s guiding on land is done by Zim-pro guides, working on a freelance basis. This might sound inferior to having a permanent team of guides – but in practice Nick is acutely aware of the standards of his fellow guides. Thus, in our experience, the guiding at Vundu has consistently been amongst the best of any camp that we work with in Africa. What’s more, we frequently use the same ‘named’ Zim pro guides for private trips and mobiles, both in Mana Pools and elsewhere in Zimbabwe – so we’re also well aware of their standards.
Secondly, it’s usual for guests at Vundu to have one guide throughout their stay, and it’s common for a larger party to have their own private guide. Thus there’s sometimes less ‘mixing’ of guests on activities than at other camps. As the result, we have had comments from travellers who observe that the atmosphere is a little less ‘social’ than they’re used to at other camps – when guests spend the evening largely with their own guide and party, rather than mixing with other guests and their guide. If you’re not expecting it, this might appear a bit ‘less friendly’ than other small camps.
Given Vundu Camp’s exquisite location beside the Zambezi, it’s not surprising that activities here include first-class canoe trips on the Zambezi. All of Vundu’s permanent guides hold canoe-guiding qualifications and, equally importantly, have a great deal of experience on local waters. Nick holds a canoe license as well as a full pro guide’s license – and is passionate about the need for top-notch guiding, on and off the river. Canoe trips can be organised starting from Ruckomechi and finishing back at Vundu or can be launched from camp towards Mucheni, further downstream. Longer two- or three-night canoe trails are also available.
On land, Vundu’s 4WD game drives and walks can range throughout the national park, although most take place in the camp’s own ‘concession’ within the park; this covers an area of radius about 3–4km around Vundu Camp. This is classic ‘Mana’ scenery – with plenty of forested areas, and some of the ‘pools’ for which the park is noted. It’s very common for a drive and walk to be combined for an activity, with everyone hopping out to walk in the middle of a drive – after some interesting animal, or track, has been sighted.
It’s perhaps worth noting here that Nick has been involved in a lot of the research and monitoring of the wild dog packs in the park – and so is particularly familiar with them. Thus Vundu is a particularly good place for seeing wild dogs, and travellers who are very keen on this might also consider taking Nick as a private guide for their trip.
Vundu Camp comes with few pretences and without the luxury, or safari chic, that most new safari camps and lodges seem to aspire to. Also, being blunt and erring on the side of pessimism, it’s not always a highly social camp, and so may not the place for you if this is a vital ingredient of a successful trip. However, in terms of purely the safari experience – which boils down to the activities, area, the game and the guiding – we rate Vundu as one of the finest on the subcontinent. Mana Pools is a really stunning park; the game in this area is great; and the guiding is absolutely top-notch.
Ideal length of stay: We recommend a 3-4 night stay as ideal at Vundu Camp. There is a wide range of activities here, and most travellers could happily spend 2-3 days just walking here.
Directions: Accessing Mana Pools isn’t always easy, and it’s always worth checking with us for the latest on this. However, there are two obvious ways to get to this remote camp:
- A scheduled flight into Mana Pools from Victoria Falls or Matusadona.
- A charter flight into Mana Pools from Harare.
- A road transfer from Lusaka via Chirundu – up to about 6 hours.
Owner: Nick and Desiree Murray
Staff: Nick uses top-notch ‘Zim Pro’ freelance guides on an ad hoc basis. A group will normally have one guide for the duration of their time at Vundu Camp.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: During a recent trip to Vundu Camp, in June 2011, we found the food to be very good.
Lunch was a buffet of cheese and ham quiche served with a lentil salad, beetroot salad and a green salad.
In the evening, drinks are taken around the campfire, followed by dinner, which is served upstairs around the large communal dining table. During our stay we had crumbed mushrooms as a starter followed by roast pork with roast potatoes, cauliflower, carrots and beans. This was finished off with a very tasty carrot sponge cake. After dinner, coffee and a nightcap are served once again around the campfire.
Breakfast the following morning was a selection of cereals and warm porridge, followed by a hot breakfast cooked to order.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: All drinks are included except for premium wines and spirits.
Birdwatching: Vundu’s location in the deep, shady riparian forest beside the Zambezi River means that there are birds around camp constantly. Look out for bee-eater colonies and a variety of kingfishers on river trips, and plenty of raptors inland. Expect your birding questions to be answered with ease by the knowledgeable guides.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Zimbabwe
Walking safaris: Mana Pools is a top destination for walking safaris. Its environment is very open, giving good visibility under a canopy of tall, old trees – and walkers can often get surprisingly close to some of the most relaxed old bull elephants in Africa as well as to packs of wild dogs. The focus at Vundu Camp is squarely on the guiding, with owners who are both first-rate professional guides.See more ideas for Walking safaris in Zimbabwe
Attitude towards children: The camp is flexible with regards to children.
Generally recommended for children: With some caution, we can recommend Vundu Camp for older and more mature children over ten – largely because Nick and Desiree have their own children, who also spend some time in camp, and so are very understanding of the needs and interests of children on safari.
Notes: This is a very open safari camp and dangerous animals pass through. Children must be under parental supervision at all times.
Power supply: Generator
Communications: The camp has two satellite phones, one of which is taken on canoe safaris. All game-viewing vehicles have two-way radios. There is no cellphone reception
TV & radio: None
Health & safety
Malarial area: Yes
Medical care: There is an English doctor on stand-by in Harare. All guides have first aid qualifications.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: All guests are escorted to their rooms after dark.
Fire safety: There is a fire extinguisher by the bar.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: Included
Money: There are no safes in the chalets. All valuables should be handed to the manager or guide who will store them safely in the office.