Part 7: In the heart of the South Luangwa National Park

Photography and report by Bert Duplessis

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August 12

We’ve been sending a few of our clients to Kaingo Camp (Shenton Safaris) for several years now, with excellent results. Everybody comes back with rave reviews. Now I know why. Kathleen and I arrived here after dark last night, so I was a little disorientated as to the general location and layout. Upon waking up this morning at 0545, I realized that we were right on the Luangwa River. Of course I should have known that, considering how loud the hippos were particularly early this morning. It is truly a magnificent location, very peaceful, surrounded by beautiful trees, with lots of hippos on the sandbank in front of camp, and elephant right in camp.

Crossing the Luangwa River and entering S. Luangwa National Park

Our room at Kaingo Camp

The fireplace at Kaingo Camp; it also serves as the venue for the pre-game drive light breakfast

Kaingo’s very comfortable lounge area

Our morning game drive was superb on many levels: the scenic beauty of this part of the S. Luangwa National Park is rivaled by few wildlife areas in Africa. It simply screams ‘Africa’ and ‘safari’; this is the African bush as you’ve always imagined it. From the wide bends on the Luangwa River to a simply amazing African ebony forest, grassy plains, pockets of thick brush, the area literally has it all. Not surprisingly, the wildlife was equally abundant with elephants just about around every corner; no large herds but several groups of up to 6 or so, many with young ones and relatively approachable, compared with the skittish Busanga Plains/Kafue elephants. We were fortunate to see a particularly nice group of the endemic Cookson’s Wildebeest, a beautiful tawny, auburn color. Other wildlife included several groups of zebra, some giraffe, and fantastic birdlife including one new life bird, the Lilian’s Lovebird.

A particularly nice stand of African ebony trees in the Kaingo area

Thornicroft’s Giraffe – there were good numbers of them in this area

Plenty of elephant in the area as well

We saw quite a few zebra in the Kaingo area

We made a short stop at Mwamba Bush Camp, a simply delightful small camp (3 rooms) where one feels even more connected to the bush than at Kaingo. What you gain in intimacy and by being truly out in the wild, you don’t have to lose in the way of creature comforts, with nice cozy rooms, very spacious bathrooms including cold (plumbed) and hot (on demand) water showers and regular flush toilets. The camp also has a popular sundowner spot/lookout area and a hide/blind a little ways further from camp.

Interior of one of the rooms at Mwamba Bush Camp

The lookout point at Mwamba Bush Camp

A sundowner gathering spot at Mwamba Bush Camp

From there, we went back to the Ebony Forest where we enjoyed a most memorable brunch under the trees, consisting of a tasty array of toast, sausages (including some veggie ones), bacon, eggs, beans, several cereals and muesli as well as a maize porridge.

Brunch under the trees in the Ebony Forest near Kaingo Camp

On the way back to camp, we inspected the elephant hide/lookout, a platform overlooking a well-used elephant crossing point. Guests are driven out to the lookout whenever elephant are seen to be crossing the river.

Kathleen at the elephant-hide/lookout point; guests can also enjoy a night sleeping out on the platform. 

After a light lunch of pizza and a salad, with fresh fruit salad and homemade bread, we took a very short siesta and then visited the hippo hide. Here, we had an amazing close up experience with several rafts of hippos wallowing in the water, the picture of indolence, with some lolling about on the edge of the water, and others whiling away the daylight hours semi-submerged. A couple of them were resting their massive heads on the backs of willing partners, while oxpeckers were chipping away at small open wounds on the massive beasts.

Entrance to the hippo hide near Kaingo Camp

You can’t get much closer to hippo than this. Safely, that is.

By 1600 we were on a game drive again, this time heading along the Luangwa River past the hippo hide, finding elephant, puku, impala, kudu, lots of yellow baboons, vervet monkey and of course scores of hippo and crocodile in and around the water.

At sunset, we watched some elephant in the background, with a scops owl calling in a tree near to us. Driving back onto the ‘shelf’ – an old oxbow lake – apparently a favored lion hunting area, we came upon a large male lion which was semi-resting but keeping an eye open for movement across the way.

The large male lion which we spotted on a night drive in the Kaingo area

We watched him for quite a while, then moved along and had the spotlight on a female leopard for several minutes. She was busy grooming herself when a female lion unexpectedly entered from stage left, and single-mindedly bore down on the leopard, apparently intent on killing it. Fortunately for the leopard and for all of us, who definitely were on the leopard’s side, it must have heard the approaching lion because it looked up and streaked away towards some bushes and safety, within a couple of seconds. The lion ran up to the spot which had just been vacated by the leopard, sniffed around a bit and then turned its attention to hunting down a puku. At once stage it was stalking a puku across a small wash, but despite our unspoken wishes, the lion gave up on the attempt when it became clear that the puku was wise to its presence. Lions are not known to waste their energy for no reason.

The leopard which was attacked by a lion but which managed to escape

The lion then turned its attention to several other puku on the south side of the ‘shelf’, but after a few tense minutes, during which we were anticipating an attempted kill at any second, the puku gave a couple of snorts and disappeared into the thick brush. We took one last look at the lion and then left it in peace.

August 13

We said goodbye to Kaingo Camp and its lovely people this morning, & was driven to Mfuwe Lodge by our guide Freya. En route, we saw several of the usual suspects including elephant, buffalo, zebra, and of course hundreds of impala and puku.

This elephant was taking a dust bath as it was crossing the road in front of us

One of the most interesting and educational experiences was a talk by Freya about a sausage tree just coming into full bloom: it was covered with dark maroon flowers, many young ‘sausages’ looking a lot like zucchini and a profusion of light green leaves. Freya mentioned that the new fruits grew from zucchini size to a solid several pounds in as little as a month or so. Obviously the sausage tree puts every bit of its energy into this burst of activity, with all the leaves falling off just prior to the new flowers and fruits appearing.

A sausage tree covered with flowers and new emerging fruits

Soon afterwards, we arrived at Mfuwe Lodge, where we were shown to our large, comfortable room on the Luangwa River, again with great views over some shallow areas with plenty of birdlife, some crocodiles etc.. We arrived at Mfuwe Lodge just in time for an excellent brunch with aubergine, Asian style pasta, vegetarian roll with soba noodles, fresh salad, and fresh homemade bread. Luxury of luxuries: I took a long hot bath at Mfuwe Lodge, while Kathleen enjoyed a massage. By 1630 we were out on an afternoon game drive with Richard as our guide. It was hard not to notice that there were many more vehicles on the road than we are accustomed to seeing almost anywhere else. However, the abundance of game and plentiful big cats sightings make up for it: we saw several prides of lion, including 4 females, and also a much bigger pride feeding on the remains of 2 buffalo which had been killed early this morning. On the way back to camp we bumped in the 4 female lions feeding on a freshly killed warthog, tearing it to pieces right in front of our eyes.

The four lionesses feeding on a warthog

Part of the interior of our room at Mfuwe Lodge

Prior to dinner a local performing group of artists put on a 20-odd minute play & pantomime performances, about the conflict between humans and animals, and some other themes. It was quite physical with the actors really getting into it. The performance was well received by the audience, many of whom made a contribution at the conclusion. Dinner was a barbecue with various kinds of red meat being grilled on an open charcoal fire; nonetheless there was plenty to eat for a vegan with a traditional bean stew, sautéed leeks, potato and salad, as well as fresh bread.

Sunset over the Luangwa River near Mfuwe Lodge

An elephant spotted en route from Mfuwe to Chindeni

The following morning we departed on a longish drive to Chindeni which would be our home for the next couple of nights. Not far out of Mfuwe, we came across the pride of about 16 lions, still hanging around the buffalo carcass, with one or two of the young lions occasionally chasing off some vultures. Got a few good pictures of amongst others the youngest cubs, then continued on towards the southern part of S. Luangwa NP.

Part of the lion pride which we saw on our way out from Mfuwe Lodge

Probably the youngest member of the large Mfuwe pride

Our first stop was at Kuyenda Camp, a lovely traditional Zambian bush camp – with all the comforts. Constructed largely of reeds, the camp is managed by Phil Berry who is a living legend in the area, one of the world’s foremost experts on the Thornicroft’s Giraffe, several of which we had seen just a while before reaching the camp.

The dining area at Kuyenda Camp

Interior of a room at Kuyenda

From there it was not far to Chamilandu for another quick stop. This camp has a beautiful setting right on the S. Luangwa River, with the most amazing views to the left and right and for that matter across the river too. The camp has 4 elevated rooms, probably good for ventilation & cooling off when it gets even hotter here in September and October.

Great views over the Luangwa River at Chamilandu Camp

An elevated room at Chamilandu Camp

Part of the dining area at Chamilandu Camp

Interior of a bedroom at Chamilandu Camp

We finally arrived at Chindeni at about 1140 just in time for brunch. The superb rooms are quite massive with a separate lounge area – they are also elevated and overlook a lagoon. At Chindeni we met two really interesting couples from the UK and Australia, and we were looking forward to their company over the next couple of days.

Interior view of the tent at Chindeni

A young elephant reaching for a tasty morsel in the S. Luangwa National Park

The afternoon game was uneventful and quiet; a fairly stiff wind came up and put paid to any predators’ hunting plants, with so many scents being blown around. Dinner was a traditional Zambian affair, with nshima, beans, beef stew, cabbage and fresh bread rolls. We ate mostly by hand, which was a bit of a struggle but fun nonetheless.The meal was quite delicious and very filling.

Some Zebra on the edge of a lagoon

 

Continue to Part 8

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