Fresh from the latest Aardvark visit to Zambia, Victoria Langmead confirms that Africa’s pre-eminent wilderness region still retains its lasting appeal.
Walking safaris in North Luangwa
There are only three camps in North Luangwa National Park, which is a huge area. This makes it ideal for those who want to get off the tourist trail and find somewhere remote and exclusive. Kutandala Camp is a wonderful semi-permanent bush camp on the banks of the Mwaleshi River. It is owner-run and hosts a maximum of only six guests. Each wet season the site is washed away by floods and it is rebuilt from scratch for each new season, running from the 1st June to the 31st October. Kutandala’s owners are Rod and Guz Tether, a relaxed, welcoming but dynamic duo. As well as vehicle-based game drives they also offer walking safaris, on which you tread quietly and keep voices to a hushed whisper to get close to game. Rod wowed us with his birding and wildlife knowledge. Guz is an excellent hostess, famed throughout the country for her cooking. The smallest members of the Kutandala team are the Tethers’ two small boys who enchanted us with their incredibly life-like animal impersonations. North Luangwa is also an important haven for relocated black rhino, with a fence 77km long protecting 15 of these endangered animals.
South Luangwa National Park
South Luangwa is where the walking safari was pioneered, and has a number of small rustic camps in the heart of the Park. From here, as well as vehicle-based game drives, you can venture out on foot with a guide and armed ranger. I stayed with Robin Pope Safaris and went out fly camping which involves spending a night (or two) in a simple but comfortable camp, erected before you arrive and taken down afterwards. The camp moves on a daily basis and is always in a spectacularly beautiful remote spot. The walking between the camps was fascinating; being so close to the game without the security of being in a vehicle was exhilarating. We saw a large herd of buffalo, 60 or more from a very close range, and the great thing was that we did not cause them any alarm but were able to watch them interact. At the same time I was relieved to have an armed ranger from the National Parks Authority close by. The camp is a simple A frame safari tent with a mattress. There is a separate long drop loo and shower tent a short distance from your own tent. It was a wonderful experience after our day’s walking to get to camp and find a hot shower waiting before an evening by the campfire under the stars. After a hearty breakfast the whole camp was disassembled, packed up and moved. The team pride themselves in taking great care that no trace has been left to damage the bush or the wildlife once the camp has been packed up.
Our guide was Debs Tittle, one of the most experienced walking guides in Zambia, who was especially skilled at bringing out the less obvious things (insects, plants, trees and so on) that often get overlooked in favour of the big stuff. Walking was gentle and the group size is kept to a maximum of four.
on the Zambezi River
Canoeing on a quiet, still and peaceful river is a beautifully intimate way to discover Africa’s game. In an afternoon exploring the backwaters and waterways of the Zambezi I saw an array of exquisitely coloured bee-eaters, kingfishers, egrets, herons and African jacanas. We paddled close by hippo as they glared with beady eyes, watched an old male buffalo swim past, and had to wait as a herd of more than fifty elephants crossed the river ahead, frolicking in the water completely oblivious of our silent presence. You don’t need to worry about your canoeing skills as a guide does all the hard work and knows where to go and – more importantly – where to avoid.
In the north of Zambia, Sir Stewart Gore-Brown’s famous mansion has recently been restored by his grandson and is a very interesting addition to a Zambian itinerary, with the chance to mix game viewing with a cultural experience. Recently portrayed in Christina Lamb’s book ‘The Africa House’, Shiwa House epitomises the boundless optimism of the 1920s colonial settlers. Typically guests stay three nights among the original furnishings of worn antiques, artworks and trophy heads, with activities including guided walks, horse rides, and boat-trips on the lake where, it is said, crocodiles ate David Livingstone’s dog.