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. It’s a landscape of tall evergreen trees and floodplains interspersed with oxbow lakes, remnants of the Zambezi’s former meanders where, in the dry season, game densities are high, as animals come from the park’s parched interior 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). Nick’s wife, Desiree, who is also a ‘Zim-Pro’ guide of note, is now based largely in Harare, looking after their children. 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, and from 1997 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; 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 they’re clean and comfortable enough for Africa-enthusiasts. All have very secure mosquito nets covering each twin or double bed, polished concrete floors scattered with rugs, and free-standing fans. Comfortable wicker chairs, with cushions, and a low table provide a small lounge area, and a shelving unit supplies storage space.
Two of the larger chalets each have two double beds; one of these is suitable for families, the other for honeymooners. In addition, there’s a large family chalet, with two separate en-suite bedrooms and shared lounge: ideal for a family or two couples travelling together.
Each chalet has an open-air en-suite bathroom with a flush toilet, hot and cold shower and decorative pottery washbasins made by Desiree, also with hot and cold running water. The bathrooms are spacious and canvas walls provide a great deal of privacy.
At the centre of Vundu Camp is a big communal area. This two-storey wooden structure houses the bar, dining and lounge areas on the upper level, complete with comfortable cushioned chairs and a small library, and excellent views towards the Zambezi; a tea and coffee station is kept well supplied throughout the day. To the front of this building is a sandy area overlooking the river with an old ebony tree and a fireplace, which is lit every night, providing a focus for drinks before and after dinner.
Behind the camp is a small ‘pan’ (a shallow grassy depression with a waterhole in the centre) which attracts game during the day. A thatch-covered platform beside it creates a great spot to sit and view 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 top-notch guiding.
First, although Nick does much of the guiding at Vundu, he also has a few excellent canoe and Zim-pro guides who he uses on a freelance basis, rather than as part of a permanent team. Nick is acutely aware of the standards of his fellow guides, and in our experience, the guiding at Vundu has consistently been amongst the best of any camp that we work with in Africa. Indeed, we at Expert Africa frequently chose the same Zim-pro guides for private trips and mobiles, both in Mana Pools and elsewhere in Zimbabwe.
In addition, it’s usual for guests at Vundu to have one guide throughout their stay, and for a larger party to have their own private guide. As this grouping continues through to the evening meal, smaller parties may find that there’s sometimes less mixing of guests than at other camps, which can make the atmosphere feel a little less social.
Given Vundu Camp’s exquisite location beside the Zambezi, it’s not surprising that activities here include first-class canoe trips. On our most recent visit to Vundu, in April 2013, we spent a day canoeing down the Lower Zambezi with Nick. The high concentration of hippo and crocodile along this stretch of river make this an activity which can only be conducted by a qualified canoe guide (and even then only safely by one with Nick’s level of knowledge and experience). Like Nick, all the guides used at Vundu hold canoe-guiding qualifications and have a great deal of experience on local waters. 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 private ‘concession’. This is a prime area in the heart of the park, which covers the area within about 3–4km of 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, with everyone hopping out of the vehicle when an 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, 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. 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.
On our most recent visit to Vundu Camp we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the camp now employs a full-time masseuse and beautician, offering a variety of treatments from manicures and pedicures to hot-stone therapies and massages. There’s no spa as such but treatments are offered in front of guest’s rooms using a portable massage table, all conducted under the shady coverage of the riverine forest.
Vundu Camp comes with few pretences and without the luxury, or safari chic, that most new safari camps and lodges seem to aspire to. However, in terms of the pure safari experience – the activities, the 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 at Vundu is absolutely top-notch.
Ideal length of stay: We recommend a 3–4 night stay at Vundu Camp. The camp offers a wide range of activities, 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 three 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, taking up to about 6 hours.
Owner: Nick and Desiree Murray
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: During a recent trip to Vundu Camp, in April 2013, we found the food to be very good.
Breakfast was a selection of cereals and warm porridge, followed by a hot breakfast cooked to order.
Lunch was a buffet of meatballs served with a lentil salad, coleslaw and fresh bread.
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 T-bone steak with a peppercorn sauce accompanied by potato wedges and coleslaw. This was finished off with a very tasty crème caramel. After dinner, coffee and a nightcap are served once again around the campfire.
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 one of Africa’s best parks for walking, and Vundu focuses squarely on the very best professional guiding. Mana’s environment is very open, giving good visibility under a canopy of tall, old trees; walkers can often get surprisingly close to relaxed old bull elephants, as well as packs of wild dogs.See more ideas for Walking safaris in Zimbabwe
Wildlife safaris: In the dry season, Mana is one of Africa’s top wildlife destinations; a lush environment with high game densities. Mana’s most experienced guides can get very close to the wildlife. If you want to crawl up to a pack a wild dogs, or sit motionless close to an elephant, come here!See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Zimbabwe
Attitude towards children: Vundu Camp welcomes children aged ten years and older, but this is flexible.
Property’s age restrictions: 10 Years +
Special activities & services: None
Generally recommended for children: With considerable 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
Power supply notes: A small diesel generator is on during the day and charges an inverter in the rooms giving guests light throughout the night.
Communications: All game-viewing vehicles have two-way radios. There is no cellphone reception.
TV & radio: None
Water supply: Borehole
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: 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.
Accepted payment on location: No credit cards or travellers’ cheques are accepted at Vundu Camp, but cash payments may be made in US dollars, South African rand or GB pounds.