A 'fam' trip to the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia during October - suicide month!
18 camps in 18 nights I hear you gasp! Yes indeed - one nighters can be quite tough but to hit the ground running after two international flights in the hottest season of the year, complete all game drives and activities AND travel to your next camp was actually quite a challenge!
At Tracks Safaris we are continuously travelling Africa - we operate in over 12 countries on the continent and it is vital to get out to Africa to visit and revisit areas, regions and destinations not only to catch up with lodge staff, guides and camp managers but to actually stay for at least one night in each of the lodges and camps that we offer in our African programme. We do not believe that just 'popping in' for a site inspection is good enough - you simply don't experience the ambience of the camp, get to know the staff or eat the food. You do not sleep in the rooms, use the bathrooms and most importantly - you do not go out on game drives with the camp guides. Staying for one night is essential. Staying for two nights is pure luxury!
I did get a quick break - on arrival into Lusaka in the morning I transferred by road to Latitude 15 for a quick snooze and some lunch before heading back to the airport for my Proflight flight out to Mfuwe. On arrival i was met by Kafunta River Camp and transferred to camp for one night. The fabulous thing about educationals for me is meeting lots of new people and also catching up with my overseas colleagues I work closely with. Dinner at Kafunta Lodge was with Izzy - the first time we have met in many, many years after emailing and it was a wonderful first evening in the bush!
The first game drive was worth all the travel as we caught up with a pack of wild dogs very close to Kafunta River Lodge who had just finished a hunt and we were lucky enough to spend some time with the dogs before they lost us in thick bush and we headed back to the lodge for our dinner.
With the mercury exceeding 40c every day the next 18 days was going to be glorious, tough, educational, fun and very tiring. But seeing the wildlife, the scenery, meeting and talking to the camp staff and the guides and other guests is what makes me love what I do for a job. This is most definitely work but not as we know it!
After spending my first night at Kafunta River Lodge I headed down to visit both Island Camp and Three Rivers camp in the south of the Luangwa Valley. Adjusting to the heat was difficult in the first days - I always try and keep the routine of the normal safari day: up at the crack of dawn for a morning game drive, getting back to camp and heading off by road to the next camp in time for lunch, a very quick camp orientation and nap, off on the afternoon activity and then straight to dinner and sleep.
My next set of camps were with Time & Tide - this is the third time I have visited some of the camps but each time the camps are quite different. Time & Tide have invested heavily in upgrading many of their camps and I wanted to check out the changes - some of which have changed structurally too. I stayed at 4 different camps - Chinzombo, Kakuli, Nsolo and Mchenja and spend a night in each of the camps enjoying and soaking up the ambience of each different option and enjoying the wildlife in the surrounding areas. The camps were fabulous and it was great catching up with staff members I had met on my list visit.
All the camps I visited on my trip offered an absolutely outstanding level of food - in terms of quality and quantity. An average day consists of a very light early breakfast and hot drink by the campfire or this may be taken out in the bush a little later (or both!). After the morning game drive camps typically offer 'brunch' - a lovely light lunch with lots of healthy salads and a choice of main dishes and some camps even offer freshly cooked eggs, sausages and bacon. Afternoon tea is typically at 3.30 or 4pm - usually a lovely big cake and a savoury choice too washed down by fresh lemonade, iced tea or coffee or a hot drink of your choice. Sundowners also come with little culinary delights - from nuts and biltong to some quite intricate appetisers - all washed down with your favourite tipple. Then comes dinner - normally 3 or even 4 courses with a choice of white and red house wines. The only problem whilst on safari is how not to put on weight!
The next group of camps on my list were Robin Pope Safaris and again I have seen all their camps before but wanted to refresh, meet the guides and staff and really get under the skin of what makes Robin Pope Safaris. I stayed for one night at their gate lodge Nkwali and then headed north and visited Nsufu and Tena Tena. The wildlife in and around the area was amazing and as it was very dry most of the wildlife was concentrated along the river and water sources - many of which were partially or almost dry. It was on the way to Nsefu that we encountered a baby elephant lingering by the river down a steep bank - the rest of its family having climbed up the bank and were waiting by the small cliff. What happened next was in a matter of seconds - a huge crocodile seized the baby elephant's trunk and tried to pull the baby in the water! The baby was very quick thinking and after a few attempts he knelt down and used his sharp, tiny tusks to make the crocodile drop his trunk and allow him to escape up the slope. At the top he was met by very anxious and alarmed family members who gathered around him to protect him. His trunk was not severed but it was bleeding and he curled his trunk in pain continuously.
My next camp was Mwamba Camp - Shenton Safaris little bush camp set further north and on the west of the Luangwa River. After crossing the river I was handed over to Shenton Safaris for the next two nights experiencing their two camps Mwamba Camp and Kaingo. Mwamba Camp was created on the site of a poachers campsite in 1995 to push poaching out of the surrounding area and has just four chalets which sit idyllically along the Mwamba River that was completely dry in October apart from a small waterhole in front of the camp which still had some water in. I soon discovered that the whole camp was surrounded by a pride of lions staking out the waterhole! Mother lion had left her two baby cubs on the veranda of the chalet next to me and as I was led to my room I spied the two babies peacefully slumbering on the warm wooden slats - a mere 50 foot away from my veranda. This was a common occurrence as she obviously felt that the cubs were safer being babysat by humans in camp and left them here on a regular basis!
After the drama of Mwamba I transferred to Kaingo for one night. Kaingo is a stunning lodge with lots of creature comforts set just a stone's throw from the Luangwa River. The lodge caters for both groups and individual photographers very well and my afternoon's game drive incorporated a viewing of the many photographic hides scattered around the camp designed to get guests keen on photography closer to the wildlife in the area. There was no shortage of wildlife or drama here either - a little later in the evening a male lion was seen tucking into a baby hippo it had caught on the dry riverbed.
After Shenton Safaris I headed north again to Lion Camp - set away from the Luangwa River with a waterhole in front of the lodge. Lion Camp is again a very comfortable lodge with stylishly main area and rooms - a main lodge linked up to 10 rooms linked by a raised wooden walkways. Lion Camp has air breeze beds - a type of air conditioning which cools just the bed and as the temperatures rocketed in the 40's it was very welcome. Just as we were about to set off on our afternoon game drive the drama kicked off again as a number of lions approached the waterhole which was being used by a herd of buffalo. Rather than go out on a game drive we watched the interaction between the lions and buffalo which was very entertaining and at times riveting. With both lions and buffalo in the area when we went out in the vehicle a little later the game viewing was outstanding.
The next day I was transferred by road all the way down to the main gate of the park and on to Flatdogs Camp. My home for the night was to be Crocodile Nest - a luxurious two bedroomed tented villa with its own swimming pool! Oh the joy! Flatdogs offers accommodation options to suit all kinds of budgets - chalet rooms, safari tents, Jackalberry Treehouse and of course my home - Crocodile Nest. I will say that I did tear myself away from the pool to go on the evening game drive with Flatdogs and they did treat me to my dinner and breakfast in my room - a wonderful luxury!
Mfuwe Lodge is just a few moments' drive from Flatdogs and I was transferred by road to the lodge for a quick site inspection (only one in the whole trip!) before heading down to the south of the park to visit a selection of The Bushcamp Company's camps. Over the course of the next 4 nights I would visit Chamilandu, Bilimungwe, Kapamba and Chilindi - 4 beautiful and very different camps and lodges each with its own charms and character. The wildlife in the south of the park was stunning with many prides of lions and we saw one pride splashing through the water on a river crossing whilst enjoying sundowners of the river banks.
The drive back up to Mfuwe lodge marked the end of my time in the South Luangwa - 18 nights and 19 days of some of the most wonderful wildlife viewing, 18 very different camps and lodges with a dinner party each night, meeting lots of new friends and catching up with work colleagues old and new - a flurry of sunshine, wildlife, activity, fun and heat. And I loved every minute of it!
Trips like this are hard work but extremely rewarding in many ways - one of the greatest difficulties is staying in touch with the office as WIFI at some camps is non-existent or just not working. Guides - as always - are simply wonderful, and in a couple of cases drove me to where they knew a little wifi was available to set up an impromptu office on the banks of the Luangwa River. So I leave you with the image below - having travelled an hour to download emails my guide set up a bar on the boot of his vehicle and a wonderful cold glass of white wine and snacks appeared - just for me!
I hope I have inspired you to travel to the South Luangwa National Park - if you don't like too much heat then the best time to visit is May and June when the weather is a little cooler. September and October are hot - and the later you get into October the hotter it gets. I travelled late October and into early November. Many of the bushcamps are closing down for the season at the beginning of November and there are a few lodges and camps open during the rains which usually start around early November.
We can put together an itinerary for you to suit your interests and budget and can recommend camps and lodges to suit you. There is a huge choice in the Valley and there are other camps which I did not visit this time which I will visit again on my next visit. They valley is well known for walking safaris and we can recommend lodges and camps which offer walking as an activity or you can walk from camp to camp (with your luggage going by road). if you are a keen walker we can organise a walking mobile safairi for you ranging from a couple of days to a whole week exploring by foot.
You can add a few nights walking safari in the North Luangwa National Park or combine another park into your itinerary such as the Lower Zambezi or Kafuwe National Park or perhaps a few days of rest and relaxation in Livingstone.
Please do call us on 01386 830264 or email [email protected] to start planning your South Luangwa adventure and talk to someone who has been there!