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South Luangwa Safari October 2013- First Trip Report


sek07
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My wife and i took our 5th safari to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia in October (aptly named suicide month due to the oppressive heat) of 2013. We kept hearing that Zambia and South Luangwa provided a glimpse of "true Africa" and a real wild experience. I was also drawn to the chance to do some real walking safaris and not the 'bird and turd' tours where the ranger is actively trying to avoid seeing wildlife we have experienced at times in the past.

 

Our itinerary was:

JFK-Joburg-Lusaka-Mfuwe A long day of travel

2 Nights Mfuwe lodge-located just inside the central area gate (the flagship Bushcamp Company lodge)

3 nights Kuyenda (one of the Bushcamp Company's remote bush camps in the south of the park

3 nights Chindeni (another Bushcamp Company camp)

 

We were hesitant to stay at Mfuwe as it seemed more heavily built and bigger than the lodges we prefer to stay in. It is also located in the busiest section of the park with many larger lodges located just outside of the park gate. We were swayed by the ability to visit the local school that the Bushcamp company supports and by reports that this is the best game viewing area.

 

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Road thru Mfuwe on the way to the main entrance of the park

 

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Villagers at the market in Mfuwe

 

On arrival we found the lodge to be large but very pleasant, and a really nice decked area with a pool overlooking the mostly drive riverbed at this time of year. The staff was very nice and did a good job of managing the large groups

 

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Main entrance to Mfuwe

 

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The best game viewing we had was from the deck of the lodge during siesta

 

While we saw some pretty good game on our drives we were disappointed with how crowded the area was with game vehicles, the behavior of some of the guides in the area (specifically breaking park rules and altering the behavior of the animals in some instances) and being in a vehicle with 7 people. Our guide to his credit did not follow the other guides (including some from his own company) going off road and driving right up to within feet of the lions, and when the other vehicles were practically cutting off the leopard at night causing it to change directions and not allowing him to hunt, we pulled away and left the scene.

 

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Mass of vehicles around a lion sighting. It wasn't long before one guide broke the rules and drove off road right up to the lions and most of the vehicles followed. Some of vehicles had 4-5 rows with 3-4 people in each row. I didn't know they made vehicles this big!

 

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As i said, there was a ton of game in the area, and when you got away from the crowds it was very pleasant

 

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Edited by sek07
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We were supposed to visit the school in between game drives but they rescheduled us during what was supposed to be our last game drive. We went to the school anyway because it was the main reason we stayed at Mfuwe and because of the above mentioned issues we had on the drives we did go on.

 

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These are pictures of the old facilities. The lodge is doing GREAT work for the school and are really improving the lives of these kids. We saw some of the old dorms they were crammed into and the new dorms. In particular the restrooms and washing stations were really a huge step up. Kudos to the Bushcamp company for giving back.

 

Our Next stop. Kuyenda- guided and hosted by the legendary duo of Phil Berry and his wife Babette

Edited by sek07
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Kuyenda Camp- only 3 classic rondavels. Open to the wild with just a half thatch wall and mesh wire and with open air bathrooms. PURE BLISS.

This was basically my safari eden. No frills, just amazing company with Babette hosting and some of our favorite food we've had on any of our safaris which is saying something. My wife was VERY skeptical and worried when i told her no electricity, open walls and open bathroom, as well as lots of walking. She was immediately put at ease by Phil, who is legendary in Zambia. He has basically lived in South Luangwa for at least half the year for the past half century. We felt totally safe with him and our armed scout Isaiah.

 

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We then set off on foot to see if we could find the wild dogs that had chased an impala into camp that morning before we arrived.

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we didn't find the dogs but we got very close to these giraffe who photobombed our pictures..

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We also startled an elephant and found very fresh male lion tracks. We ended by meeting up with Babette and the car and having a fantastic sundowners. It didn't hurt that we were the only people in camp for our 3 nights

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We then got to do our favorite activity, night drives..

 

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We found the culprits of the tracks, two big male lions who were on the move

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Terrible picture, but it was all we could get of our first porcupine sighting

 

The next day, on our last drive i had my own personal best sighting. I spotted a leopard hidden in a tree from the moving truck from a decent distance. Phil later told me i could guide for him any day which was a huge compliment!

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This is a leopard phil knew well because of his one blind eye

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To say we thoroughly enjoyed our time with Phil and Babette would be an understatement

 

Next stop- Chindeni..

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The road from Kuyenda to Chindeni

 

From Kuyenda we continued further south along the Luangwa to Chindeni Camp, another of the bush camps. This camp was slightly larger with 4 rooms and more luxurious. The camp is set on a hill above a tributary of the river which was drying up daily due to the heat. this lagoon was a birder's heaven, as you will see from the pictures. Watching the fishing parties of storks, pelicans, crocs, fish eagles and many more compete for the dwindling fish population that was trapped in the lagoon was mesmerizing.

 

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Tent at Chindeni

 

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View from the main deck

 

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Fishing party viewed from the camp deck

 

Our first drive that evening was extremely productive. Our driver and spotter worked well together and the light was really nice for photography. Unfortunately i'm uploading these pics in low def because of our internet connection

 

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They found the lions in the incredible beautiful and low riverbed. he then positioned the vehicle so as they came up out of the riverbed they walked directly by the vehicle one by one

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Another first for us were these crowned cranes. We left the lions sleeping to have sundowners overlooking a large pod of hippos above a bee eater colony.

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After the sun set we started out with the spotlight and immediately realized the lion pride had come to us on a hunt.. we watched a failed hunt unfold right in front of us, not realizing that one of the female lionesses has circled around until her position was given away by a troop of baboons who were roosted for the night in the trees.

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We left the lions when they entered the riverbed and we were unable to follow. We continued on our night drive getting a fleeting glimpse of a leopard and lots of other night creatures such as the civet below.

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Needless to say it was a great start at Chindeni

 

 

 

 

 

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The next morning at Chindeni we did a game walk. Unfortunately it was oppressively hot, and the animals we scarce. Our guide charles spent time explaining plants, trees and some insects.

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We returned and enjoyed the game viewing from camp during the break

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That afternoon we decided to investigate sightings of wild dogs closer to Bilimungwe camp (another bush camp). Its really nice being at an intimate small bush camp but also benefitting from other sister camps in the area sharing sightings and not really being limited from traversing other areas.

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On the way our guide spotted the same lion pride from the night before in the riverbed miles upriver from where we left them

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We were lucky to get there in time to spot the last 2 members of the pack before they headed back to the den site. The dogs had a litter according to the researchers in the area, but vehicles were not yet allowed to go see it and potentially disturb them.

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When the dogs finally headed out we spent over an hour watching a herd of elephants digging in the sand to get to the water beneath the surface. They are such amazing animals its always such a pleasure to spend time watching them in silence

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African sunsets never disappoint and never get old

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On the way back to camp we spotted another first for us, an elephant shrew. One of the little five!

 

The next morning we decided to not go on the walk with the rest of the camp as the heat was again intense. Luckily the backup camp manager also had his guide license and was able to take us out. We are glad we did as the group again reported not seeing much but we had a nice relaxed drive.

 

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Juvenile Martial Eagle- a really stunning bird and another first time sighting for us.

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This is just a really beautiful area with good resident game

 

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Night Jar on a quiet last night drive

 

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One last South Luangwa sunrise before heading back to Mfuwe to fly home. We were able to treat the trip back as a game drive which was nice and had some decent sightings along the way

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I didn't realise that they had such crowds around sightings. Quite off putting. The second camp looks wonderful. Some really nice scenery photos.

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A very enjoyable report, thank you for sharing. Although that scenery shot of Eles, Pukus, Zebras and Warthogs is just lovely Mfuwe and its cars and drivers sounds problematic. Luckily you found your Safari Eden in the next camps, those really look like wonderful places! South Luangwa becomes more and more tempting for me with each TR I read.

 

Love the Grysbok and the Civet!

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Your second and third camp look great + you had some really good sightings.

You had a good view of the dogs!

The Mfuwe are does look very crowded

We passed through when travelling from Nkwali to Nsefu in August - it looks even busier here and it is sad to read of vehicles not following the rules.

 

It is interesting to see the difference in October compared to August - much drier.

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Sad to see the guides not sticking to the rules - all we have had contact with have been very professional. I guess those vehicles with lots of occupants could have been on a day trip, which puts more pressure on the guide, however, it is no excuse. Unfortunately another reason to avoid the mfuwe area - luckily there are plenty of other parts to the park!

 

Good luck with the dogs

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  • 2 weeks later...

Some nice photos of the nightlife like the elephant shrew and civet! Troubling behavior by some of the guides at Mfuwe Lodge. You found the dogs! Cute ele 3-some.

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I enjoyed reading this, especially as I recently decided to visit SLNP. Great photos, especially beautiful sunsets and eles. Shame about the undesirable crowding but at least you were able to move away and not be part of it.

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  • 2 weeks later...

an enjoyable read and it still shows that the bushcamps in the south still yields good viewing. mfuwe sounds awfully crowded and so off-putting and makes me glad that we decided against staying in the area when we go up to SNLP in september.

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I enjoyed your report, especially since I've been to South Luangwa National Park twice, and I'll be returning again next year. I agree that the Northern part of South Luangwa is more expensive, but then again there is the compensation of neither seeing a lot of other vehicles nor many other people on walking safaris. It's wonderful feeling like you have an extensive area virtually to yourself. I've stayed at Mwamba for 3 days, and Kaingo for 3 in 2013. In 2011, I stayed at Kaingo, and Tafika each for 4 days.

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  • 2 months later...

Thank you @@sek07 for this enjoyable read. It's a shame about the crowds but fortunately you were able to move away from that.

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@@sek07 thanks a bunch for the timely trip report. We are booked next August at the start of a trip for the same three places. We must stay one night at the Mufwe Lodge because of the arrival time, but then will move on to Chindeni and Kuyenda. Our first trip to Africa started in South Luangwa so it will be fun to return. Glad that you enjoyed your trip...other than too many vehicles.

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