30 October 2018 by Alison Nicolle
Wexas travel specialist Alison Nicolle has just returned from an unforgettable trip to Zambia. Alison has totalled up weeks of safaris and her visits include Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Swasiland, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa an impressive 10 times. Here, she details her recent spectacular visit to Zambia, her fourth time to the country, and explains why it's such an unexplored African gem with truly world-class wildlife viewing.
I had been to the area around the iconic Victoria Falls many times before but this trip provided an exciting opportunity to explore deep into the famed national parks of Zambia. Approximately 30% of Zambia is reserved for wildlife and my trip was to visit three of the twenty national parks which are ranked as having some of the finest game viewing in Africa.
Having flown into the capital Lusaka I took a light aircraft flight to the airstrip at Royal in the Lower Zambezi where I stayed at the beautiful Chongwe River Camp. The camp is nestled along the riverbank at the confluence of the mighty Zambezi and Chongwe Rivers under a canopy of winterthorns. The setting is truly beautiful – you wake to beautiful sunrises over the river and the might grunts of the nearby hippos. I loved how open the camp was with elephants wondering freely through, providing much excitement! There are countless activities on offer including game drives, short nature walks add canoeing which was the highlight for me as I floated peacefully along the backwaters, past elephants and buffalo drinking at the water's edge.
Chongwe River Camp
From here I took a light aircraft flight a couple of hours to Mfuwe and travelled by safari vehicle into South Luangwa National Park. The drive provided a nice opportunity to see a bit of local life in the villages and fields along the route with the children waving as I passed. I was on a Norman Carr walking safari which involved hiking between remote bush camps and lodges in a quiet area of the park. The late Norman Carr is credited with inventing the walking safari and with South Luangwa being one of the most unspoilt regions in Africa, this promised to be an exciting experience.
South Luangwa National Park
My first stop was at Luwi, an authentic and secluded safari camp overlooking a permanent lagoon situated deep in the park on the Luwi River. It really felt wonderfully remote. My first evening was an exciting one, with a game drive where I viewed many hippos and elephants before sundowners overlooking a hippo pool – a real highlight. The next morning my small group and I set out into walking safari heaven following in the footsteps of Norman Carr himself. We set out early to avoid the heat of the midday sun and it felt incredibly thrilling to be walking through the bush with regular sightings of wildlife. It was about 8km to our next camp, Nsolo, with a half way stop under a shady tree for our morning coffee and biscuits.
Hippos, South Luangwa National Park
Nsolo is another gorgeous camp in a stunning location, overlooking a stunning river lagoon. We had a lovely time here, enjoying a fine brunch and a bit of time chilling out at the lodge before setting out again on foot towards the location for our 'sleep out under the stars' about 4km away from the camp. The walk to the riverbed location for the night was both beautiful and exciting as we encountered elephant and a pride of no fewer than 18 lions en route.
Once at the campsite we joined in with preparations for the night, unrolling the bedrolls and putting some meat on the bbq. The night was both fun and thrilling; it was such a unique and memorable experience sleeping out under the stars under just a mosquito net. And, nothing beats waking up in the open to a beautiful sunrise alongside the roar of lions and the howl of hyenas.
After a delicious full English breakfast in the bush, we proceeded to hike cross-country through the bush to Mchenja, another walk of a few hours, through beautiful mixed Mopane woodland. Mchenja was my favourite of the bush camps and it’s a lovely feeling to arrive on foot and by your own steam into camp, especially the final approach through a gorgeous ebony grove. The setting for this camp is spectacular –right on the banks of the Luangwa river, it's home to huge pods of hippo and many elephants who come down to the water's edge to drink. We quickly discovered there was a pride of lions asleep not far from the swimming pool and it was beautiful to watch the cubs playing on the sandy riverbank.
Mchenja Bush Camp, South Luangwa National Park
In the evening, we went out for a game drive and came across an iconic African sight of a resting leopard spread-eagled in a tree. Then, the next morning, it was time to continue our hike, quite possibly my favourite of the walks. We ventured 8km from Mchenja to Kakuli and the entire length of the walk was atop the edge of the steep river bank. The views were spectacular the whole way, accompanied throughout by the grunting of hippos.
From Kukuli, another beautiful camp with a great sunken viewing hide at its waterhole, we picked up our game vehicle and drove on to Chinzombo, a luxury camp on a sweeping curve of the Luangwa River. Following our days in the bush it provided a welcome opportunity to reconnect with WiFi and the outside world; I loved relaxing in the stunning plunge pools. Food at the lodge was gorgeously sophisticated and, as well as game drives, we enjoyed a visit to the nearby Mulberry Mongoose, an excellent initiative that employs local women to make jewellery from the snare wire found in the park. Some of the proceeds are then used to fund further anti-poaching patrols.
After a lovely day relaxing at the lodge we transferred via the beautiful Tribal Textiles workshop back to Mfuwe for our flight back to Lusaka. Here we spent a night at the beautiful boutique hotel Latitude 15 that made for a lovely base to have a dip in the pool, a bit of pampering and a stunning dinner. The next morning it was an early start back to the airport for our flight from Lusaka to Kalabo. From here, we drove to the wildlife-rich and relatively undiscovered Liuwa Plains; it was an interesting drive including a river crossing on a little manually-propelled ferry surrounded by local colour and life, including long horned cattle who swam alongside us. I stayed at King Lewanika, Zambia's most exclusive camp, and the only permanent camp in the national park.
Lion family in Liuwa Plains National Park
The area feels wonderfully remote with its stark landscape and vast open skies, and the game viewing was amazing. I saw huge clans of hyena (up to 50 at a time) and the second largest wildebeest migration in Africa – I was lucky enough to witness the wildebeest coming back in the area to have their calves, heralding the arrival of the first rains. Another highlight was a mother cheetah and her three still-fluffy 6-month-old cubs playing in the long grass. I particularly loved this lodge as I got to meet various members of the Zambia Carnivore Programme out and about in the reserve monitoring the wildlife. They even came into the camp one night to talk about the vital work they're doing over a drink around the campfire.
From here, it was time for the long journey back home after what had been an amazing trip visiting a remarkable area of unspoilt African wilderness. If this trip interests you I'd recommend our Two Rivers Safari, where you'll discover Zambia's luxury lodges and experience the magic of the Zambian wilderness with walking safaris, guided game drives and more.
Elephants, Lower Zambezi River