One of the perks of living in Zambia is the natural beauty and wildlife we have on our doorstep. Almost a third of the country is reserved for wildlife, with 20 national parks and 34 game management areas. South Luangwa is, according to Lonely Planet, the best park in Zambia and ‘one of the most majestic in Africa’. Since I first arrived in Zambia, lots of my expat friends have recommended taking a trip there.
Rosie and I have been intending to visit South Luangwa for some time. We heard that the hot season in September/October would be the best time to spot animals as they tend to concentrate around the Luangwa River. So we booked our trip during October half term. We hadn’t quite appreciated just how hot it would be, with daytime temperatures over 40c and still 36 degrees at night. Without any air con or a fan during the power cuts, it was pretty hot!
Rosie’s parents were visiting her here in Zambia so we hired a car and the four of us drove the long route to eastern Zambia via Lusaka. A 4am start plus various stops for ‘second breakfast’ (several times) meant we eventually arrived at South Luangwa at 9pm in the evening. It was interesting seeing the scenery change as we drove through the different areas. I’d almost forgotten how to drive uphill with gears as the Arise vehicle we use is automatic and Ndola is very flat. It seemed that each village sells lots of variations of one particular item such as mats or tomatoes...or even mice which were waved around in the air as we travelled past one area.
We stayed in a lodge just outside the park, where the highlight was having elephants traipse through during the day. When it was dark, there were guards to escort us to our rooms because sometimes elephants and hippos were found wandering around. This turned out to be useful since my tendency of forgetting to pack practical things meant I hadn’t taken a torch.
The park itself is over 9,000km², which is almost half of the size of Wales. As we entered, there was a huge number of crocodiles and hippos. Apparently there are 40 hippos for every kilometre in South Luangwa. We went on a couple of game drives with drivers from the lodge where we were staying, and also did some in our own vehicle.
I love safari. I’ve previously been on short safaris in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Even the 5am start was OK because the heat made it difficult to sleep in. Being driven around the beautiful landscape in the sunshine spotting lots of different wild animals was amazing. It was fascinating hearing facts about different animals and being in awe of God’s creation. Rosie was amused at my numerous questions for our safari guide about which animal would win in a fight. We discovered that my favourite animal, the elephant, rarely gets attacked by other animals because of its size. A much less pleasant sight was a rotting hippo which unfortunately we could smell downstream. The hippo’s skin is 5cm thick so animals leave it to rot for a while to make it easier for them to eat!
The highlight of our self-drive safari was when we spotted leopards for the first time. This was an adrenaline fuelled moment. We were driving off the main track watching elephants in the mud when suddenly we spotted a leopard chasing another one! Rosie speedily drove following the chase whilst I was hanging out the window with a camera and a couple of other vehicles raced behind following us.
The following day we were able to watch a leopard reasonably close up. I really don’t know how our guide managed to spot him as he was so well hidden on a branch in the tree. We also saw lions, zebras, giraffe, hyena and buffalo to name but a few. I would definitely recommend South Luangwa to anyone for an amazing African safari experience