Zambia part 2: South Luangwa NP

Once we arrived in Lusaka, we had to say goodbye to our swaying 4×4 (those shock absorbers were completely useless at this point). However, we were getting our old and trusty minibus back. Yes, our next safari we were planning to do a self-drive in South Luangwa national park in a (2×4) minivan! We left quite early the next morning, however because we chose an ‘alternative route’ along the way, we only arrived right before sunset at our campsite on the Luangwa river. We stayed at the wonderful Track&Trail river camp, really close to the park gate!

This time, we at least remembered to bring a full gas canister. So tonight we cooked a delicious macaroni. Right after dinner we heard some rustling, about 15 meters away from us. When we checked (with torches) it turned out there was a hippo grazing! It is already fairly well-known that hippo’s can be quite dangerous. So it was a nice reassurance that there was electric fencing between us and this enormous animal. Although he did not seem very impressed with us being there.

A grazing hippopotamus just outside the fencing of the campsite

The next morning we woke up to the sound of baboons rustling through our trash. There were some iron bins provided, but the night before we could not seem to open ours. And thus we had left a banquet for the baboons.

Into the park

Despite all the wildlife on the campsite, we really wanted to enter the park early. Once inside we started with the River Drive. Rik and I saw three leopards there last time. On this route was also the elephant crossing, which is at its busiest in the morning. Unfortunately we did not see any leaopards this time. Also, we managed to completely miss the turnoff to the elephant crossing. So we drove on beyond the parts Rik and I had seen before with our guide a couple of months earlier. Heading down in this direction, the road got more sandy. There were only small patches of loose sand, so we could still get over it with our bus. Until the moment the road got more than just a few meters of loose sand.

We were stuck. Again.

And again in the middle of a park. Next to a – crocodile filled – river. Sounds familiar… Well, we did not have a lot of choice, so we got out of the car in order to dig us out. Because our minivan has automatic transmission, it was impossible to swing it back and forth to get out of that ditch. As soon as the tires lost traction, they would spin insanely fast, even after pressing the brakes! Now we were getting really deep in the sand. We did the only think we could think of: digging out the tires with our hands and poke big branches underneath them.

We did not manage to get the stick under the tires this way, so Rik got the car jack. Now we had a little bit of space underneath the tires, so we could stick all the sticks we could find under there. In the distance we spotted a safari vehicle, but they did not seem to notice us. It did not matter, because at this point it seemed our work paid off. Rik got in the car and put it in reverse, while we (my mom, sister, and me) were pushing. This time the car rolled back a couple of meters, in the direction of the solid road. Unfortunately we did not make it all the way and we got stuck once more.

This time we knew what were were doing, and we did not end up so deep in the sand again. In the meantime the safari vehicle, which we had tried to notify earlier, drove our way. They decided to help us push, but this time it was already so much easier to get out of the sand. I have to say that I was quite wary around patches of loose sand for the rest of the day… Back on solid road we continued our way to the north of the park. Because we had been stuck we were already in the park for 1,5 hours without really seeing anything.

The first sighting

At the top of our wish list were lions and leopards. And hyenas, because my mom had never seen those before. Well, she was lucky! Within five minutes of being back on the road, Rik suddenly yelled: ‘Wow, a hyena!’ The hyena was standing in a ditch, while we drove over the little bridge over it. This way we got very close to the hyena, and he even looked right at me ‘for the picture’. I was really happy for my mom that she could see a hyena from up close. By the time another car appeared, the hyena dove under the bridge. Out of sight.

Another highlight

After waiting for a little while, hoping the hyena would return, we decided to move on. At least we have seen one, and we took some nice photos! South Luangwa is an extremely beautiful park and we have seen many things. Yet there was another highlight: lions!

I had never seen such a big group of lions before. Only this time, we were not the only ones that spotted these mighty animals; the lions were almost surrounded with cars, if it wasn’t for the cliff and the river bed behind them. On one hand I was a bit disappointed that no one complied to the park rule of only 3 cars per sighting. On the other hand I completely understood that many people wanted to look at these beautiful (but lazy!) lions. We did stand out with our minibus amidst all those big 4×4 cars. However we too managed to get here (without too much problems if we would’ve stuck to the main roads).

Down here I put some more pictures out of the many we took in our 1,5 day self-drive in South Luangwa National Park.

Zambia part 1: self-drive in Kafue National Park

For our next destination a 4×4 is highly recommended, as we were doing a self-drive in Kafue National Park. So the day after we picked up my mom and sister it was time to switch our minibus for a 4×4. Because we had to arrange a car on short notice, and we didn’t want to spend thousands of euros on a car for just a few days, we got an older Toyota Prado.

With this car we were able to arrive at Nahubwe Safari camp near Ithezi-thezi. Ithezi-thezi is a town near one of the park entrances of Kafue NP. The campsite turned out to be in a completely different place from what I expected. Google had shown the pin inside the national park. (Nahubwe Safari camp is NOT located here.) When we arrived on site (with directions of the manager) we saw that there was absolutely nothing there, except a run-down green tent. However, I did really like the view!

A panoramic image of the view from the campsite.

In this place – which had no facilities whatsoever – we unpacked our gas stove for the first time. It didn’t work. Later we realized that the gas canister we had with us was empty. The idea was to make a nice and simple macaroni bolognaise. However after struggling with the stove for so long none of us felt like actually cooking anymore. So we ended up grilling ham and cheese sandwiches over the fire.

Getting to the park – Ithezi-thezi entance

The following day we had already packed our tents early in the morning and went on our way to the park. It was time for our self drive through Kafue National Park. However, we couldn’t go straight to the entrance. We first had to get some petrol on the black market (again), because neither this gate, nor the main gate was close to a petrol station. (Why is it so difficult to get fuel in Zambia!?)

Once in the park we would take the ‘spinal road’. This would lead us from south to north through the park. Our next campsite (Mapunga Bush Camp) was namely in the north of the park, as close as we could afford to the famous Busanga plains. The plains are known for the lions and other carnivores that roam this part.

Kafue National Park is only accessible by 4×4 and doesn’t have many tourists. In the south it’s especially very quiet. Animals are therefore easily scared off, opposed to animals in Kruger, for example. The spinal road was horrible because of the very deep corrugations, which even at low speeds caused the car to get out of control. We have not seen many animals in this part at all. A few groups of baboon and some antilopes. Because the animals in this part of the park were so skittish, the people we’ve seen driving behind us, probably haven’t seen any animals at all; every single one of them quickly took off as soon as they saw us.

When we decided to go off the main road

We were getting close to the tar road, which intersects the park from east to west. We decided to take one of the few ‘loops’ in order to see if there was more wildlife away from the main road. The roads in this loop were not very clear and easy to distinguish. It was visible that many people chose their own way or that people had cut the loop short. This loop supposedly followed the river bank on both sides. But since we were there only at the end of the dry season, the river had almost completely dried up; except for some small pools in a long cleft in the ground. At one of those pools we saw many crocodiles, so we decided to shut off the engine and wait for a little bit to see if more animals would show up.

When it seemed that nothing was going to show up, we couldn’t get the car to start! There was a moment of panic, because we were stranded of the main road (which was already not busy), literally next to a pool filled with crocodiles. Fortunately we quickly found out what was wrong: one of the clamps on the car battery had come off. Rik then put it back in place after which we could immediately start the car and continue our journey north.

Problems during our self-drive in Kafue National park: we found out that the car battery clamps had come loose

The ‘touristy’ area of Kafue National Park

Once we crossed the tar road, we entered the ‘touristy’ part of the park, even though the whole park isn’t really to be called touristy at all. Nonetheless the animals here slowly seemed to get less skittish, even though we still didn’t see so many. Right before the camp there was one turnoff at which we decided to try one more detour, and that detour eventually became the highlight of our long day driving. From this road, we spotted the first elephant of our trip to Kafue; it was a solitary male which calmly roamed the bushes. Although, he was calm until he decided that he didn’t really appreciate our presence, after which he suddenly charged at us, ears wide and a loud trumpet sound. Slightly panicked we drove a bit away from him. Nevertheless, it actually was very nice to photograph!

A male elephant photographed while he was charging at us.

Self-drive to Busanga plains

The next morning again we drove off early. Also on this day we had a certain destination in mind: this time, the Busanga plains. We have tried to get information about this area online while plannning our trip. In the few places where we found information, a self drive was discouraged. But where your mom has a will, there is a way. And so we drove off around sunrise on our way to the north.

The drive wasn’t short, but we didn’t encounter any problems. We arrived at the wide open plains in 3 hours and 15 minutes. I had read online that it was very easy to get lost on the plains. The roads were visibly not used very often, but the advice to not go to the plains because of this seemed highly exaggerated. That said, we were very late at the end of the dry season. The plains are not accessible (by car) for a couple of months every year because the plains are flooded. So perhaps any time shorter after the rainy season could provide more problems.

In a few places there was still a bit of water. Very big groups of red lechwe – and the occasional warthog (which startled the antilopes several times) – were gathered around these pools. Unfortunately there was no sign of the famous lions of this area

Large group of red lechwe antilopes gathered around the pools of water.

Oh well, we would get more chances to see lions and other preditors. Because after our self-drive in Kafue National Park, our next destination was South Luangwa National Park!