Zambia Part III – South Luangwa National Park

South Luangwa National Park

Experts have dubbed South Luangwa to be one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, and not without reason. The concentration of animals around the Luangwa River, and its oxbow lagoons, is among the most intense in Africa.

The Luangwa River is the most intact major river system in Africa and is the life-blood of this
9 059 km² park.
The park hosts a wide variety of wildlife, birds and vegetation. The now famous “walking safari” originated in this park and is still one of the finest ways to experience Africa’s pristine wilderness first-hand.
The changing seasons add to the park’s richness, ranging from dry, bare bushveld in the winter, to a lush, green wonderland in the summer months.
There are 60 different animal species and over 400 different bird species in South Luangwa National Park. The only notable exception is the rhino, sadly poached to extinction.

̶̶  Source: www.zambiatourism.com

South Luangwa National Park in eastern Zambia, the southernmost of three national parks in the valley of the Luangwa River, is a world-renowned wildlife haven. It supports large populations of Thornicroft’s giraffe, and herds of elephant and buffalo often several hundred strong, while the Luangwa River supports abundant crocodiles and hippopotamuses. It is one of the best-known national parks in Africa for walking safaris. Founded as a game reserve in 1938, it became a national park in 1972 and now covers 9 050 km².
The Luangwa Valley, continued to the west by the Lunsemfwa River Valley, contains some varieties of animals such as Cookson’s wildebeest and Crawshay’s zebra, which are endemic or near-endemic to the valley. It also represents something of a natural barrier to human migration and transport: no roads cross it and this has helped conserve its wildlife.

̶̶  Source: Wikipedia

On Wednesday, 17 June, day 114, we left Lusaka to go to South Luangwa National Park. The first part of the road, the T4, was unpleasant. They were tarring the road and we had to drive on the temporary gravel/sand/4×4 roads next to it. Along the road, many people were selling vegetables, charcoal and sugarcane. Men on bicycles were everywhere.

Halfway to the park, we stopped at Petauke to spend the night. The only campgrounds were at Chimwemwe Lodge. It was very basic but adequate. We met another South African here, Jannie, who gave us some welcome tips for the rest of Zambia.

The second part of our journey was mostly on tarred roads. Pure bliss! Something that fascinated us was all the school children wandering around in uniform, some towards the school, some heading away. And at all hours of the day. We saw this throughout the rest of our trip in Zambia. Later on in Tanzania, it was noticeable that the children obviously had very strict school hours. I’ve read that almost all teachers are volunteers and receive no compensation. I guess that limits the number of teachers they have (and most aren’t even properly trained) and therefore the children go to school in several sessions per day.

One family recommended we stay at Track and Trail outside South Luangwa, but Jannie said they had only furnished tents on the river banks; at Croc Valley you could camp right next to the river. We chose Croc Valley purely for the view, but would definitely recommend Track and Trail for those who are not camping. Their campsites are out in the open without any shade, which means it gets very hot if you’re in a tent any time of the year. At Croc, we had big trees and a thatched canopy. Our campsite overlooked the Luangwa River, teeming with hippos and crocs.

On our first morning here, we had to take care of … washing! Croc Valley charged an arm and a leg, which they probably fed to the crocs, to do laundry. What a waste of our time to do laundry by hand, but like Hugo loves reminding me, I show more than just a little obsessive compulsive behaviour. At least nobody will be able to accuse me of letting my family walk around in stinky underwear! Or no underwear, for that matter.

In the afternoon, we attempted to bake a chocolate cake, as it was Gustav’s ninth birthday the following day. It was a success, but the bread we also baked went straight to the bin.

On the morning of 20 June, we had chocolate cake for breakfast, as you do when your big boy turns nine. He was happy to have his cake, just us and only two small presents  ̶  a complete contrast to his previous eight birthdays. The assistant manager found out that it was Gustav’s birthday and in the late afternoon they also brought a cake over. We send two thirds back to the kitchen (we can only eat so much!), and made a lot of people happy when we told them that they had to celebrate with us.

After our cake breakfast, we went for a game drive in the park. An extremely expensive game drive but, as we would learn later on, much cheaper than in Tanzania. The drive didn’t take very long, because Gustav kept complaining that he wanted to go back to build the Lego truck and spaceship (from Sophia) he got for his birthday. The Lego building consumed the rest of the day.

The next morning, our last day, we got up early and spent the whole day in the park to make up for the previous day’s wasted effort. We were richly rewarded for our trouble. Barely into the park, we came upon nine lions eating a young hippo. Other than in the Kruger and some other parks, we were allowed to drive closer to the show. We spent a long time watching two females eating until their bellies looked ready to burst. The rest of the pride already had their fill and were lying comatose under the trees. Strangely enough, even a herd of giraffes came closer to watch the spectacle.

We decided to drive further and come back later  ̶  the lions were not going anywhere soon. We were lucky to see many other animals, but not the famed leopards of South Luangwa. Apparently, you WILL see them when visiting.

Elephants were plentiful. At one stage, we saw a young elephant, maybe five to eight years old, on her own. As I was saying I wondered where the rest were, we rounded a sharp bend in a dense forest, and there they were! On the right-hand side behind a big, dense, bush. They had just as big a fright as us and all four or five of them started trumpeting. The one elephant’s face was maybe a metre from Hugo’s window. He put his foot down and steered to the left to get away, straight into a heap of sand that bogged us down and tried to keep us there. As elephants are Hugo’s biggest nightmare, he just kept his foot down until we were in the clear. Phew!! It was the first time in my life that elephants really managed to scare me. I guess they probably felt they same about us and the experience!

[Ed: So we have the phobias almost down: children – tsetse flies, Hugo – elephants. Dorette? Hippos?]

We loved South Luangwa and Croc Valley, but got an unpleasant surprise when we went to pay and their exchange rate was ZKW5 against the US dollar, instead of the ZKW7,50 the rest of the country used [Ed: Is this even legal?]. It made quite an expensive difference to our bill. To make matters worse, the price they quoted us for camping did not include tax  ̶  also the first time we came across this practice. By all means, go stay there, but be warned: make sure of the exchange rate and taxes before you check in. Or any other place for that matter!

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