Trip Report: South Luangwa, Rivers and Rainbows
Updated: Mar 5, 2018
Let’s just say that this particular safari did not go according to plan. To begin with, we arrived in Lusaka and after a night acclimatizing from a long flight we made our way back to the airport to head to Time + Tide Africa’s King Lewanika Camp in Liuwa Plain. We boarded our flight, due to take approx. 2 hours 30 mins. The further into the flight we got the worse the weather became, until the pilot decided it was too dangerous to continue and turned the plane around and headed back to Lusaka.
Back at Lusaka we were met by the wonderful people at Tours Africa who told us to grab a bite to eat and they would shortly come back to us with a plan to get us on our way again. Unfortunately, all flights to that part of Zambia were cancelled, not just for the day but for the week ahead. After scratching our heads for a few minutes I asked if it was possible to jump on the 1600 flight to Mfuwe, South Luangwa, where we were due to be in a week’s time. Fortunately, it worked out and we found ourselves Mfuwe bound that afternoon.
We arrived at the airport and we transported to Chinzombo, a beautiful camp situated on the banks of The Luangwa River overlooking the park. This luxurious camp was a welcome sight after a long day of travelling. After an early dinner we found ourselves tucked up in bed, falling asleep to the sound of light rain on a metal roof and hippos snorting.
The next 3 days were spent exploring the main game-viewing area of the park. I was amazed at how green and lush the park was at this time of year, having only ever spent the dry months of June-November in the area before this trip. The park seemed alive in a way I had not experienced before. Everything from the grass to the elephants seemed happy and content with life and the abundance of food that came with the rains. Birds were busy building nests and young impala who were born on the onset of the first rains were just starting to grow into their long gangly legs.
After some fantastic bird sightings, including the much sought-after Pel’s fishing Owl, along with elephant and general game. We came across a lone lioness who was looking a little worse for wear. We found her whilst she was trying to catch up with the other members of the pride. It was soon clear why she had fallen so far behind. As she got up to take shelter form the rather heavy downpour. It was clear for all to see she was carrying a nasty injury to her front paw. Not a bad start to the safari, but little did we know, things were about to get a whole lot better.
After three nights at Chinzombo, we made our way upstream to Mchenja Camp to explore the river and its various tributaries and lagoons that dry up completely in the dry season. I was very excited to see these usually dry channels and what they had to offer at this time of year. It wasn’t long into our transfer up stream that we came across a beautiful, young female leopard perched on the river bank, seemingly enjoying the view. That is until we showed up. She did however give us enough time before moving off into the lush foliage to get a good look at her. Not a bad start to our river safari!!!!!
We arrived at the beautifully rustic Mchenja bush camp in time for lunch. Followed on by an afternoon snooze, before heading out on our afternoon/evening river safari. We spent the next three days exploring the many water ways that feed the mighty Luangwa, encountering countless hippo and crocodile as we moved through the narrow water ways. It wasn’t long before we had our first proper big cat sighting from the boat when we spotted a huge male leopard on the bank of the Luangwa. Due to his immense size he was clearly far more confident and comfortable with the boat than the young female we encountered a few days earlier.
After three nights up in the bush camp, we found ourselves heading back down stream to Chinzombo. The rain that had been pretty persistent for the past few days was now beginning to subside, not without one last show.
As things started to dry up, more and more animals began to come out of hiding. The next four days proved to be a constant stream of special sightings. Lion, Leopard and wild dog were all out and very keen to show themselves. One particular morning’s game drive however, stood out from the rest.
We manged to find a pack of Wild Dogs that we had seen the previous evening, they were on the move and were in no mood to wait around. We followed them as they cantered along the road, stopping occasionally to assess if any potential prey was close by. After tailing them for about ten minutes, the road dropped down into a gully. We came to a stop as the dogs had slowed at the top of the ridge, and tried to asses where they would go next. I took us a while, but very soon we noticed 8 lioness sat right next the vehicle, all looking at us wondering why we were not paying them any attention. Just as we noticed they were there, the dogs began to move again. We all agreed the lions would not be going anywhere soon so we followed the dogs to return the lion later on. We followed the dogs for another 15 minutes or so when they finally settled down to catcher their breath and cool off in the shade. After regaining their energy, they eventually moved off the road into an area that we could no longer follow. So back to the Lions. As we predicated they hadn’t moved far. After a few minutes they did decide to get up and find a more shaded spot. We watched them move off into the bush and just after the last lioness had disappeared from sight, a leopard dropped down from a tree, where she had been hiding from the lion. What a morning that was. And that wasn’t the end of the excitement. The next few days produced some incredible sightings. More lion, a number of beautiful leopard sightings as well and a second pack of Wild dogs numbering 21 strong.
After a great four days at Chinzombo, it was back up to Mchenja for the final four nights of our safari. We had had no further rain and the river level was beginning to drop. The next few days on the river were very different to the previous 3 up there. We managed to make our way to the famous yellowed billed stork colony. As well as a sighting of two Pel’s fishing owl. We also happened to come across the Mwamba Kaingo pride on a number of occasions enjoying some time on the beach. It was fantastic to see this pride of lion that I know so well from my time spend as a lodge-based guide in the area. Seeing them from the boat added a whole different dimension to the safari experience. We enjoyed a number of sightings of them as they spent a number of days in the same area which made for some great viewing.
After our final four days at Mchenja, it was time to start the journey back home. A night in Lusaka gave us time to reflect on a wonderful safari. Having not been to The South Luangwa during the rainy season, I did not know to expect, but it is safe to say that it surpassed all expectations.