Fri 21st & Sat 22nd Oct – Wildlife Camp, Mfuwe, South Luangwa (camping with naughty monkeys)
Sun 23rd Oct – Tafika Camp, Nsefu Sector, South Luangwa
Mon 24th & Tues 25th Oct – Chikoko & Big Lagoon Walking Camps (both in northern South Luangwa NP)
Wed 26th Oct – Mfuwe Lodge, South Luangwa
Thu 27th Oct – Wild Dogs Lodge, Lusaka
Mchinji – Mwani border – South Luangwa Mfuwe area – 148km
Our own game drives in Mfuwe area – 113km
Mfuwe – Nsefu (Tafika) – Mfuwe for walking safari – 114km
South Luangwa – Lusaka – 682km
Total km travelled since Nairobi: 6,332km
Walking Safaris: Total walked inside South Luangwa National Park – 30.2km (11h58m)
Mon 24 Oct:
AM walk from canoe to Chikoko Camp 7.0km (3h25m)
PM evening walk from Chikoko 4.1km (1h44m)
Tues 25 Oct:
AM from Chikoko to Big Lagoon Camp 11.5km (4h39m)
PM evening walk from Big Lagoon 5.5km (2h10m)
Wed 26 Oct:
AM walk from Big Lagoon to Canoe 2.1km (0h50m)
A Week of Wilderness and Walking in Luangwa
I had a lot of great things to say about our time in Ruaha but I think I may have just found a new favourite safari destination from our trip … South Luangwa National Park.
At 9,050 sqkm in size, the park is not the biggest we’ve been to, but by the time you add in all of the Wildlife Management Areas (unfenced, open areas used by community, photographic safaris and some hunting) and North Luangwa National Park, the contiguous habitat available to wildlife stretches to over 30,000 sqkm, which rivals the other massive ecosystems of the continent.
The end of October is the end of the dry season and pretty much the only remaining water is in the mighty Luangwa River and a few close by lagoons, all of which are ox-bow lakes, cut off from the main winding river as it has changed course over the years. This means that almost all of the wildlife in the park is gathered within a 2-3km strip of the river, which makes for absolutely amazing sightings … from the vehicle but particularly on foot – see the list of sightings from our 3-day walking safari below. The annual rains are due soon and when this happens, wildlife will disperse over the entire park, accessing areas that are currently unavailable to them due to lack of water. The rains here are fierce and the floodplains become swampland that is impossible to access much of the park by vehicle, so most safari camps will close operations for 5-6 months, only opening again in June each year.
The bulk of our time in Luangwa was spent in the more remote northern sector of the park – the Nsefu sector and the northern most walking camps. Here we stayed with the Coppinger family who are in their 40th year of operating their camps in this unspoiled wilderness area. Each year as the waters recede from the floodplain, they regain access to their campsites and have to rebuild many from scratch – thatch is cut to makes roofs and walls and all furniture is canoed back into the different locations – and the result is a charmingly, rustic series of small camps, all built in with a different style and feel and with de-facto exclusive access to certain parts of the park.
Our sightings here were amazing. From the Tafika base-camp we found a pack of wild dog and spent the evening with them as they woke from their slumber and set about hunting, a puku narrowly escaping a grisly end by fleeing onto the soft sand in which the dogs struggled to keep up. We saw quite a few lions but it was the 3 different leopard sightings, 2 of which were on night game drives, that confirmed Luangwa’s reputation as one of the best places on the continent to view this normally elusive cat. The days are so hot here (40+ C / 105 F) that nights are a hive of activity and we also saw honey badger and porcupine active at this time.
Our 3 days of walking safari was a definite trip highlight. The 2 walking camps we stayed at (Chikoko and Big Lagoon) were in a part of the park that has no roads at all, so we had to access this by canoe under the watchful glare of massive hippo pods. Amon, our walking guide, and Titus, the gun-bearing scout from the national parks, had us following hippo trails around dried lagoons and through dry mopane woodland getting us close to big game. Our lion sightings were particularly memorable and I was amazed at how relaxed the lionesses were at our presence, with one of our sighting of 7 seemingly nodding off into a snooze as we watched them from about 60m, but we were reminded of how quickly they can move when we tracked another pair of lionesses to the bush they were sleeping in, only for them to suddenly awake and be aware of our presence, resulting in them shooting out of the bush and running off amidst a series of growls and snarls.
We started and ended our safari in the busier Mfuwe area – the large bridge is the single main entry point to the park so lots of camps and lodges are gathered nearby along the river on the outside – but we avoided the bigger roads and found little tracks that weaved through the floodplains, close to the riverbanks. It was here we got our first sighting of Puku, which looks a shaggy, beefed-up Impala, with whom they are often found in mixed groups … which initially confused us a bit. However, it was the large numbers of elephant, buffalo, hippo, crocodile and greater kudu that were most impressive, and we particularly enjoyed following a group of bull elephants down to the river, where we watched them drink and splash around before wading across for a night in the forests of the community land. Luangwa has endemic sub-species of 3 common animals – giraffe, zebra and wildebeest – all of which we got decent sightings of and could see how they differed from their East African cousins (more on that in our walking animal sighting list).
Spending time in Luangwa was like stepping back to an older, wilder era so it was with some sadness that we embarked on the nearly 9-hour drive to Lusaka. Clouds had begun to gather on our final nights and the small shower we drove out through will soon become a deluge as the annual cycle of dry and wet seasons continues. I look forward to returning and would recommend Luangwa to anyone interested in a truly remote wilderness experience with lots of walking.
Animal Sightings from our Walking Safaris
- 7 adults (5 female & 2 male) at 60m – walked right up to where they were resting and observed them for 20 minutes
- 2 females at 20m – tracked them to where they were sleeping in a bush … but then they woke up …
- 5 adults at about 400m – viewed them on a carcass across the river valley
- Honey Badger
- This is an elusive creature that we don’t get to see that often on our East African safaris
- At dusk, as it was getting ready to raid the camp kitchen … apparently yet again … it had previously eaten through the bottom of the fridge to get at food!
- Several family groups, typically viewed at a distance of 60+m
- Lots of old males, either alone or in small groups
- One large breeding herd
- Thornicroft’s Giraffe
- The same species as our Maasai giraffe but much darker patterning
- Crawshaw’s Zebra
- A sub-species of common zebra like our plain’s zebra in East Africa
- It has much narrower stripes and shadow stripes are rare
- Cookson’s Wildebeest
- Very much like the white bearded wildebeest that make up our migration but with darker (almost black), smaller beards
- Common Waterbuck
- Greater Kudu
- Yellow Baboon
- Vervet Monkey
- Tree squirrels
- 4 toed elephant shrew
- Mostly glimpses as they raced away from us down the little pathways they clear of fallen leaves (s they can hurry away without making a noise)
- Banded Mongoose
- Monitor Lizard