Upon our return from Mekele we had a couple of lazy days around the house. One of these days I decided to leave the confines of the house with my helper Haile, to not only meet our local neighbours and see the area, but also to practice some Amharighna (the local language).
Outside the house is what some would describe as shanty but you soon realise it is rather better built then the slum areas; people dry their spices on the streets and sell vegetables, and there are numerous small shacks selling groceries.
The trip was interesting seeing the ‘local stores’ however the Amharighna
did not go so well as I pointed to Lucy (our Ethiopian street dog) and said,” Habesha woosha”, which to my understanding meant ‘local dog’, however it turned out I had insulted the old Lady I was talking to, calling her a dog. Haile later told me adding the word ye in front of my phrase would have worked! Oops!! Read more…
Day 1: After being hoiked into the car and positioned on my new cushion the Levene charabanc sets off, the land cruiser packed to the rafters (mostly my stuff, including a wheelchair, a shower chair and a spare set of wheels and medical supplies; oh the joys!).
We left at 11:00 to meet Leul, a well respected Ethiopian army
colonel and war hero, who helped fight off the Dergue and is now our Tigrean fixer, translator, negotiator. I was greeted in usual Ethiopian fashion with a kiss on the cheek – something hard to get used to, but in Ethiopia it’s a rather rather warm gesture of friendship.
The day consisted of driving through the beautiful countryside of Amhara, passing through many villages which each curiously seem to specialise in one product, with one village solely selling oranges, the next onions and the next offering car washes.
It was late morning and we were nearing the end of a successful game drive. Usual routine – up just before dawn, coffee and a few biscuits, wrap up against the cold of early morning and into the vehicle.
It had started well and we were looking forward to brunch
and the chance to see what the others had spotted on their drives. As we came up a long track that bisected a grove of acacias, we spotted lithe but powerful shape moving out of the trees and then two small shapes alongside it.
It looked like a leopard but it couldn’t be – not out in the open in the
middle of the day and with small cubs. But it was.
A muscled, lithe female with two young cubs – maybe a few months old – was walking calmly down the track in front of us. We slowed and were careful not to approach too close. Tuwele, our guide, was beaming. He’d found us a big,blond-maned lion on an impala kill, a pride of lions with cubs, a massive herd of buffalo and the biggest troop of baboons I’ve ever seen, but this was the jewel in the safari crown.
It was not our first leopard in Luangwa not our last. We saw five in four days. They weren’t too tame or too easy to find, making it like a trip to the zoo; but they weren’t so wary that all you got was a tail disappearing into the bush and a blurred image that you tried to convince friends back home really was a leopard.
Over 30 years of visiting Africa and driving myself or going on small group safaris has taught me to be modest in my expectations – but when I went to Luangwa I couldn’t help but hope. When I first went to Africa in 1981, I was
working in Malawi and ever, but it took me 29 years to do it – safaris to the
Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and parks across eastern and southern Africa
So it was with a feeling that the time had come that we set off in July 2010. A trip to Kafue National Park in south-west Zambia had preceded it and been a severe disappointment. Now it was to be the real thing.
South Luangwa covers 9,050 sq km along the Luangwa river northeast of Lusaka. It’s been called one of the greatest safari destinations in the world, though is often overshadowed by the Serengeti, Masai Mara or Kruger parks in higher density tourism areas like Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa. The park is split into North and South Luangwa areas and the South is the best bet for tourists.
Packed with game – particularly leopards and lions, buffalo, impala, zebra, hippo and crocodiles – it is not packed with tourists. Only on our entry into the
park from Mfuwe airport in the south did we see other camps and a few other vehicles. Once at Lion Camp in the north we saw no other tourists until we got back to the camp after each drive. But we saw predators, prey, hippo,
crocodiles, elephants, buffalo and a wealth of birds.
While not being inaccessible, Luangwa is not on the usual circuit and is reached by air from Lusaka or by a longer road trip from there or from Chipata on the border with Malawi. It has numerous camps but they are not the
huge sprawling sites of Kruger of the massive hotel-like lodges in Kenya. They range from ones that will suit backpackers to the top end of the range where a night will set you back a thousand dollars.
Because it is not overpopulated with tourists, ecological damage by over-use of tracks, illegal off-road driving and waste from the camps is kept down. The
limited number of tourists is also a reason why walking safaris and night
drives are permitted in the park – not usual in reserves unless in a big group
with a game guard.
The park is dry woodland with open areas of grassland, watered by
the meandering Luangwa River and the numerous oxbow lake creating by the river. The trees are mainly mopane, but baobabs and acacias are also found. There is standing water in the river and some lakes all year round and during the dry season this is where you will find the animals.
South Luangwa is inhabited by a great diversity of mammals, birds and reptiles. You’re likely to see more hippos and crocodiles than anywhere else in Africa, along with big herds of elephants, Thornicroft’s giraffe, Burchell’s and Crawshay’s zebra, buffalo, impala, the rarer puku and then predators, large numbers of lions, very good chances of plenty of leopards plus hyenas, cheetah and, if you’re lucky, wild dogs. The park has over 400 species of birds.
The dry season from May to October is the best time for game viewing, when the animals stay closer to the waterholes and river. Up until August it is cool (even
cold in the early morning and on night drives) but it becomes hotter in
September and October ahead of the humid wet season in the closing months of
How to get there:
The two main access points for the park are the Mfuwe Gate, near the small airport of the same name and more rarely used Nyamaluma gate 50 km south-west. You can fly into Mfuwe from Lusaka or Livingstone (the Zambian side of Victoria Falls).
Fixing your trip:
While you can arrange your own flights to Lusaka and arrange transport from there to the park, your best bet is to approach a safari company than can organise package for you and help you out if there are any hitches – which are not uncommon in Zambia. Just search South Luangwa or Zambian safaris on Google and you will find a host of companies who will take the pain out of the organisation. Accommodation varies according to your purse but Lion Camp is not to be missed if you can afford it.