Zambia – October 2019

Stepping off the plane in Africa is a feeling all of it’s own. The sight of the dry bush, sounds of the cicadas in the distance and the smell of Africa fills the senses.

My first stop was back to Livingstone, where I last visited in 2001. My destination was the luxurious Royal Chundu, about an hour and a half from Victoria falls. Located all on it’s own on the banks of the Zambezi River. There are 2 properties, Royal Chundu Lodge and Royal Chundu Island Lodge. Both offer the same activities but cater to a slightly different clientele. The lodges are tastefully decorated with all the amenities your would expect from a 5* lodge. If you choose not to do anything but stay at the lodge you certainly won’t be disappointed. Relax by the pool, have an amazing massage in your room or just sit on your deck reading a book. There are several signature tours that are included and I was able to do 2 of them. The canoe ride was wonderful with a short drive to meet the canoes and then a float, small rapid ride takes you to their breakfast/lunch spot on the river where you are treated to fresh baked pizzas (yes, they have a pizza oven) as well as a variety of goodies and beverages. Slung between the trees are a couple of hammocks but, if that is not your style, there is a mat with pillows or a table and bench to enjoy your meal & relax. Nearly all their staff hail from the local villages and you get the opportunity to visit the village (the grandmother of one of the guides) takes you around to show you where most of the vegetables that are served at the lodges come from as well as shows you daily village life. It is so wonderful to engage with the local people and feel that you are coming away with knowledge of the trees & bushes that the locals use for medicine and food – quite enlightening.

Next it was onto the Lower Zambezi. The Lower Zambezi National Park lies on the northern bank of the Zambezi River, the Park stretches back through the hills to the north but most of the game is found on the fairly narrow stip of land between the river and the hills. There are a few camps up-stream of the National Park but only 6 safari camps inside the Park itself so visitors never feel overcrowded. Whilst the Park doesn’t offer a large variety of habitats one of the features that make it so popular is the variety of activities on offer, with a river that is navigable year-round, some water activities such as boating & canoeing to contrast with the usual driving & walking safaris that are also available. This stretch of the mighty Zambezi is also one of the best areas in which to fish for the notorious Tiger Fish, Africa’s most exciting fresh-water sport fish.

I flew direct from Livingstone into Jeki airstrip. This flight has just started and takes about an hour. Flying over the mighty Zambezi river is quite a sight to behold. The river is a raging torrent after it comes over the falls and cuts through a very narrow gorge. It them flows into the manmade Lake Kariba, which was dammed in 1959.  The dam provides not only most of the electricity for Zambia but is also a huge source of income for Zambia, as they sell excess to neighboring Countries. Before the river was dammed the river used to flow with the whim of the weather and the animals and birds would breed according to the water levels. Today the river meanders shallow and wide eastward past the Lower Zambezi National Park splitting Zambia from Zimbabwe. I was to visit a variety of lodges along the banks of the river for site inspections. First stop was Chongwe River Camp. Situated just outside of the park this was a great introduction to the wonders of the area. The rooms were tented with an outside bathroom facing either the Zambezi or the creek that runs by the side of the lodge. Most of the lodges offer the same activities, with a few exceptions, which are game drives, fishing, sunset cruise and walking. About 5 minutes drive away is the private house with 4 bedrooms, all with their own private bathrooms, private vehicle and chef. This is a wonderful option for an extended family.

Chiawa Camp was my next destination. Another tented lodge but the accommodations were more spacious with a wonderful outside deck and outside shower. For those that want to keep it all within the confines of your room there is also an inside shower and even a bathtub. For the honeymooners there is a wonderful tent at the end of the property with it’s own small pool and butler. For those that like to sit around a pool there is a small one located past the lodge area. When we arrived we were treated to a very unique lunch. After settling into our rooms we were taken to the dock where we boarded a barge for an amazing champagne lunch on the river. Food was delicious and the situation wonderful.

Next stop was something to behold. Sausage Tree is something to behold. Seven tents looking out over the Zambezi all with their own private plunge pools, butler and private vehicle. The main area is open and sits right on the river so breakfast is at a bar/table overlooking the river which is beautiful. For those that want a little exercise there is a lap pool for all to enjoy. The rooms have concrete floors but are tented. They are spacious, luscious and very nicely put together. Like all the properties along the river there are a multitude of activities to choose from but, when not on an activity, then the massage is a wonderful option or just kicking back and watching the elephants right outside your room. Right next door is Potato Bush. This is a great option for a family group or a small group. With only 4 tents it has all the same amenities (except the plunge pool which is only in the 1 family tent) as Sausage Tree but is a little less fancy.

My favourite surprise on the whole trip was lunch served in the river…..literally. You are taken by boat to a sandbank in the middle of the river where a table, chairs, a bar & table displaying a buffet lunch. It was so amazing to have the river flowing past your feet as you are sitting eating and drinking. Definitely a unique experience.

Onto Old Mondoro, a fabulous bush camp also on the river. A wonderful bush camp style experience all in the same area as the other properties. The 5 rooms are spread out along the river and a creek and area concrete floors with rattan walls and a canopy roof and outside bathroom. The location is great, right in the middle of the park. This camp is very popular and often sold out with repeat guests.

Our last stop on the Lower Zambezi was Anabezi and Amanzi camps. These are sister properties a few miles from each other. At the eastern end of the park they sit in a totally different terrain to the central and western part of the park. Anabezi has 12 rooms and is quite spread out. There are 2 sitting areas, the main lodge and then one at the end of the walkway that overs a small river bed and can be great for game viewing. The lodge sits back a little from the river but has a nice flat area below the lodge and pool where the animals come and graze. The rooms have both indoor and outdoor showers as well as an individual plunge pool and, again, are spacious and very comfortable.

Amanzi is their smaller sister lodge that has only 4 rooms. Again another great option for a family or small group where you take the whole property. There are no plunge pools in the rooms but have a nice main pool. The location is wonderful overlook a small crescent shaped body of water and very intimate and warm.

Ending our trip in the Lower Zambezi we all flew (34 agents) to the wonderful offices (and home) of the owner of our Inbound Operator for a gathering of lodge owners & operators from around Zambia to present their products and to meet the agents. There were some wonderful speakers who have dedicated themselves to conservation and the preservation of the wonders of Zambia. It was an amazing luncheon and wonderful to meet the team and put faces to names. Not to let us get too comfortable, after a wonderful meal, we left in stages to catch flights to our next location….for me it was South Luangwa.

The South Luangwa National Park, which is Zambia’s premier wildlife destination, lies in a large part between the Luangwa River to the east and the Mchinga escarpment in the west. It is 9,050 sq. kms (3,500 sq miles) in size and home to over 60 species of mammal and almost 450 species of bird. The Luangwa River takes a slow meandering course down the valley, with the seasonal rise and fall in water levels many ox-bow lagoons are formed. It is the fertile soils associated with these lagoon systems which allow the large variety of species and high number of animals that are found in the areas close to the main river.

Our first stop was Mfuwe Lodge, the pride and joy of The Bushcamp Company. This is a large property and serves not only as a gateway stop for those on the late flight into Mfuwe but also as a less expensive option for those who want to visit the park and be inside the park. There are 18 rooms in 3 sections. Most of the rooms are single storey twin or king rooms but there are some family rooms that are 2 levels with a king bed above and a sofa bed/living area below. Rooms are large and spread over the property with lawns that are watered so throughout the day and night there is always an array of animals, Elephants, warthogs, impala, hippos etc, come to graze which is wonderful but can also be a little exciting walking back to your room at night!!

Our trip continues for the second lodge in South Luangwa, and my personal favourite. Puku Ridge is a property that has been completed redone and it is quite something. We arrived and the property was actually not open or complete but they welcomed us with open arms and still provided the most amazing service and stay of my trip.

There are 8 villas, all with their own plunge pool, inside and outdoor showers as well as an individual star bed. The rooms are large, luxurious and very thoughtfully done. There is a star bed above the bathroom with a winding staircase accessible directly from the room so you can spend the night, some of the night or just be up there for a little while to star gaze. The beds roll out from a canopy and is totally enclosed with a mosquito net. The food was amazing (since the kitchen wasn’t finished and they were bringing it by car from Chechele (their sister lodge up the road). The guiding was superb and, to top it off, we sat one whole drive with one of the packs of wild dog, that are found in the park, and then watched them hunting some impala at sunset – amazing.

From here we headed to a more ‘authentic’ Africa camp, Chindeni Bushcamp which is part of The Bushcamp Company. We had a fun surprise on the transfer as we veered off road towards the river only to find a chef standing infront of a table where there was pizza dough and all the fixings. We got to make our own pizzas right there in the bush and eat them……..what a fantastic experience. There are 4 tents on an ox-bow lake and a totally different feel that any of the other camps. It had a wonderful cozy feeling and gives you the feel of being close to nature. We saw 3 other Bushcamp Company properties with 3-5 rooms each that I really liked also – Billimungwe (Billy), Kapamba & Chamilandu. All of their camps have completely different feelings but all are wonderful, small and have such a great guiding staff.

Heading to Chinzombo, on the other side of the Luangwa River. Quite and experience to get here as you have to take a boat over to their dock. A beautiful lodge siding on the banks of the river with a very welcoming lodge full of photos of Norman Carr, who was the founder of the walking safaris in the South Luangwa. The lodge has 8 rooms spread along the river with watered lawns in front that attract a variety of grazing animals day and night. Each room has a small pool with large rooms. Located close to Chinzombo is Mulburry Mongoose. This is a fantastic company that takes snare wire, local feathers & fruit/nuts and makes the most incredible jewelry – definitely worth a stop at their shop.

After leaving the luxury of Chinzombo we headed back to one of the bushcamps in the Time & Tide portfolio, Lewi Bushcamp. These bushcamps are predominantly walking camps but game drives are offered twice a day. Set on a plain near the Lewi River this was the most basic of the camps we visited. We really enjoyed the guiding while he took us to 2 other Time & Tide properties, Nsolo & Mchenja. There are 5 bungalows at each camp made of concrete floor & rattan walls & ceilings all slightly different with varying degrees of comfort level. The guides move between the camps and all have the same menu that rotates every 2 weeks and the food was delicious. Each camp is set in a different location but all offer great game viewing. In fact, when we were at Mchenja we had to wait a little bit as a bull elephant came into camp and around the room we were looking at then, when we were walking back to the main area a pack of wild dogs (different from the ones we saw at Puku) came running down the river bed. As we left, it wasn’t more than 5 minutes and we saw a pride of lions – it all seemed to be happening around the camp that day but that can happen at any of the camp anytime. Quite exciting.

Our last camp was Lion Camp. Completely re-built in 2017/18 opening in the fall of 2018. The owners were meticulous in the fixtures in the camp and the linens are Italian and the water if from their own water distillation plant on site. The main area is spacious with a small pool overlooking an expanded creek with a plains area beyond. There is a hide right underneath the main lodge with viewing windows at seat height as well as lay-down windows for those that want to get at eye level. All 10 tented chalets are raised with all the walkways raised so that clients don’t need to be escorted to and from their rooms. The chalets are spacious with a wonderful sitting area overlooking the water. This area of the park has more open plains (looks like it should be cheetah country but unfortunately there are no cheetah in the South Luangwa).

Sadly the trip came to a close and it was back to the Mfuwe airport, via Tribal Textiles to buy some locally sourced textiles & fabrics, and the long journey home. What a wonderful trip to really see what the parks in east Zambia had to offer. There is a such a variety of terrain, lodges and encounters that it should definitely be on clients list.