South Luangwa, Zambia

STOP 23 | Day 71 to 74 |

Following a few relaxing days on the lakeshore of Lake Malawi, our next destination was Zambia to be reacquainted with wildlife at South Luangwa National Park. The sunrises and sunsets in Malawi have been some of the best we’ve seen in Africa and of course we decided to rise early on our final day to catch the sunrise before heading off. By now we were well accustomed to the early mornings and waking up before the sun – this is made easier as we were often in bed by 10pm because there is no electricity!

Crossing the border into Zambia we were pleasantly surprised that the visas and entry was all electronic. Zambia is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa and its economy has benefited from its copper mining industry and agricultural production. Once we crossed the border we were hit with the heat, temperatures hovered around 42 degrees celsius, which felt like someone was holding a hair dryer in our faces as we drove to the campsite for the next couple of nights.

Our home in South Luangwa National Park was the Wildlife Camp, which was located approximately a 10 minute drive to the official park entrance. As we neared the campsite we saw a family of elephants (around 10 walking alongside the road) – we later discovered from our safari guide that the elephants head toward the village at night as there are mango trees where they enjoy feasting and in the mornings they return on a similar route. Arriving at our campsite we could see that we would really be in the wilderness as the camp grounds over looked the South Luangwa River – as it is dry season the river was low, but we could still see giraffes, hippos, elephants, impalas and crocodiles! The campsite also was full of baboons and velvet monkeys, so we were warned to keep food out of our tents. The baboons and velvet monkeys were very clever and sneaky – we witnessed a few knock over a tent, steal a 10 liter jug of oil and open a Rubbermaid container! The baboons and monkeys would always be waiting while we ate our food, as once you turned your back they would move in. The campsite also had an elephant hide that overlooked a lagoon, which was home to a hippo. The night we sat in the hide and saw the hippo wander out of the water!

The next day we headed on a morning game drive at 6am, to try and beat the heat. However, it was a pretty quiet morning for game sighting – probably due to the high temperatures. One of our highlights, especially for A (who is becoming a safari snob) was our sighting of 3 wild dogs, which much to our surprise is an impressive sighting as they are endangered! We did see lots of hippos as well, but sadly our tour guide said 4-5 of them are dying everyday due to the high temperatures. We even saw one dead along the bank of a lagoon with lots of vultures feasting. Another highlight was seeing a hippo rise out of the lagoon as an elephant came to take a drink (see picture below), with a crocodile just downstream of the action. We were also fortunate to meet Ginger who was the local albino lion. We headed back to the lodge around 11am as the temperatures started to rise and made use of the pool to cool down in the 42 degrees weather! It was so hot that our cell phones couldn’t even charge. We decided to check out the elephant hide on the other side of camp, or the sauna as the manager called it; we sat and watched as a mother and baby elephant drank water and splashed mud on themselves to cool down.

Later in the evening we witnessed a group of 15 elephants come by the other hide for a drink as they were making their way to the village! That night we headed off before sunset for our night game safari, we had our fingers crossed to spot a leopard (the last of the big 5 we had not seen yet). We found three lioness resting in the shade, preparing for a hunt as their cubs were not with them. We made our way to the riverbank just as the sun was setting to enjoy a drink and a snack. As we headed off again the sun had set so our spotter was in position with the flood light. This was our first night safari and it was a great experience as we followed the spotter’s stream of light. We came across some hyenas and impalas as the night went on, but our hope of seeing a leopard was fading! Suddenly we saw a group of other safari vehicles in the distance and we knew it had to be something good… it was finally our leopard spotting! Lying inside a dike was a leopard with a group of impala about 50 meters away. We sat and watched in hopes it would hunt. Unfortunately as it started getting close to the park’s closing time a few other vehicles drove up in convoy right up to the leopard to take a few pictures – this of course spooked it off. As we headed out of the park we saw hyenas feasting on the dead hippo spotted earlier. The tour guide estimated it will take about a week for dead hippo to be reduced to a pile of bones.

The next day as we headed out of South Luangwa, about a kilometer from our campsite we saw three lioness on the side of the road with a dead giraffe on the other side! It was quite an unexpected sighting and perhaps it was the same pride we witnessed the day previous day lazing around. Shortly thereafter we stopped at Tribal Textile, a shop in the town of Mfuwe. Here we enjoyed a tour, seeing how the fabrics were prepared, hand painted and set to make colorful products such as bags, table cloths or pillow cases. After a few hours on the road we arrived at our stop for the evening near the town Petauke.

The next day we headed to the city of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. We were surprised as we came into the town with the infrastructure. Lusaka was the most developed city we had seen thus far and it was refreshing as it was glimpse again of civilization. We made a stop at a mall in town, which could have been a mall in a Western city. It was far more modern than the mall we had gone to in Nairobi, where we even managed to get a latte (a luxury we have been missing!). We then headed to Eureka Camping Park, about 10 minutes from town, which was situated on a private game farm. The grounds were home to zebras, giraffes, kudu and impalas. The animals were all very tame, where we even managed to get a few selfies with the zebras!

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