June is one of my favourite times of year in this part of Africa. Lovely warms sunny days with temperatures in the mid-twenties are complimented by cool evenings. Colours are still bright and the bush still green following the rains which usually finish around March.
By June, dwindling water supplies are drawing the wildlife closer to Zambia’s beautiful rivers providing excellent and easily accessible game viewing.
On this trip we visited Zambia’s three best known reserves, South Luangwa National Park in the East, Lower Zambezi in the south and Kafue in the centre area.
Compared to other top safari locations, Zambia’s parks are relatively unknown, visitor density is low and there are just a few relatively widely spaced safari camps, particularly outside of the central Mfuwe area of South Luangwa so you really do feel as though you are pioneers in wild Africa.
SOUTH LUANGWA NATIONAL PARK
This large park is Zambia’s flagship national park and is without doubt one of Africa’s finest containing a huge pool of wildlife.
South Luangwa is also one of Africa’s most scenic parks. Around the floodplain of the Luangwa River and the many oxbow lagoons the wildlife is very dense and the birding spectacular.
The biodiversity here is not as great as in some parks with cheetah, rhino and ostrich notable absentees.
South Luangwa is particularly famous for its leopards and it did not disappoint on this occasion including two excellent daytime sightings. Wild dogs are also doing well and each time I have visited I have seen more of them, on this visit we saw three packs including one pack of three on a hunt at dusk and a large pack on a waterbuck kill one morning.
South Luangwa is also famous for its walking safaris, these can be shorter walks of one or two hours or longer walks of up to 6 hrs, often walking between different camps. We did take a couple of very enjoyable shorter walks. June is a good month for walking as it is not too hot.
We started in the South of the park a three to four hour game transfer from the airport. This area is very remote, and the camps down here are very small, most of them operated by the excellent Bushcamp company. Despite their small size the camps are of a very high quality and the guiding excellent, they are also surprisingly affordable.
The game viewing was good but due to the late finish to the summer rain the bush was quite thick and the grass still quite long, so the best game viewing was on the floodplain of the Luangwa and Kapamba rivers.
Perhaps the highlight was watching a pride of lions jumping over a wide channel whilst a large crocodile who was aware of the wildlife crossing point tried to grab one of the jumping sub adults but without success.
We then moved North to the Nsefu area where the park extends to both sides of the river. This area is also remote but here there are slightly more camps and lodges some of which are a bit larger.
In addition to traditional day and night drives and guided walks, overnight sleep outs are also a highlight in this area and great fun for a small group.
We stayed at Luwi Bushcamp which is further from the river and also in a couple of camps close to or on the main river whilst also doing a site inspection of most of the other camps in the area.
We did see a new first for me in the Cookson’s wildebeest a rather handsome animal that is endemic to this part of Zambia and more common in North Luangwa National Park. This was also the only area where we spotted Eland.
In June the grass is still a bit long in the more remote areas deeper into the park and there were more Tsetse flies in evidence, so I would suggest early in the season that the camps close to the river are a better option with the other areas coming into their own by mid-July.
Favourite Camp – Lion Camp due to its recent luxury rebuild, great location and value for money with Tena Tena a close second. I also really liked Mwamba Bushcamp and Kaingo Camp with its photographic hides.
We finished our visit to the park in the central Mfuwe area. This is by far the most touristy area of South Luangwa with accommodation to suit all budgets.
The game viewing in this area, as I have observed on previous visits, is perhaps the best of all as the wildlife is used to safari vehicles and generally quite relaxed. The park is large enough to absorb the greater number of visitors and one does not see that many vehicles on game drives, the downside is that with the bush telegraph very effective, premium sightings such as the successful wild dog hunt we witnessed can attract a bit of a circus in a short time.
The highlight here for me was, when whilst watching the wild dogs, a leopard out patrolling his territory in broad daylight got a bit of a fright when he walked right into the feeding pack and decided that he had better make himself scarce quickly.
Favourite Camp – Nkwali is a nice mid-priced camp on the river, but at the top end Chinzombo is very nice and the more budget orientated Flatdogs camp offers great value for money.
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