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Hunting Dog

Leopards Everywhere : South Luangwa June 2019 : Nkwali, Nsefu, Tafika, Tena Tena.

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Hunting Dog

Thought I should post a trip report as I got some very useful advice in the trip planning section!

 

Our schedule was, 3 nights Nkwali, 2 nights Nsefu, 3 nights Tafika, 2 nights Tena Tena.  The slightly odd tour around 3 camps in the Nsefu sector was partly a result of it being a relatively late booking, and partly a result of me not realising that Tafika also use the Nsefu sector. For some reason, I'd assumed they crossed to the West of the river like Nkwali.  Ooops!     Anyway, that element worked out OK and whilst I'd have liked to have seen a bit more of the centre of the park there was plenty to see in the Nsefu area.

 

Logistics: 

We flew BA to Johannesburg, SA to Lusaka, had one night at Latitude 15 as we couldn't usefully get to the park, then morning Proflight to Mfuwe.   Latitude 15 was pleasant for a stop-over.

 

BA, SA and Proflight all have different sizes and weights for allowed cabin baggage so we spent days weighing, and measuring things and working out a packing regime that involved repacking at part-way points into foldable bags.  We'd tried to ask SA for the exact sizes for their 'small lap-top bag' to see if that could be used for a large DSLR and lens - they un-usefully referred us back to the website (which didn't give sizes) and the gauge boxes that would be at the gates in Jo'burg, which would be a bit late!  Proflight we emailed to ask if the 5kg allowance would be OK as 2 separate camera bags weighing 5kg total and they said no, it had to be one bag...

 

So we arranged it for:

BA - everything as hand luggage, one BA sized, one the smaller SA size including the largest camera and other electrics, and the 2 other camera bags stripped down to meet the BA small extra bag size.

SA - the larger BA sized cabin bag with just clothes went into hold, the smaller SA sized one retained, folding bag at SA cabin bag size, deployed to take some spare clothes and 2 cameras.

Proflight - everything into the hold, except the 3 cameras and lenses combined into 2 lightweight folding bags, with various spares stuffed into pockets to keep to the 5kg limit.

 

Of course, no-one else paid any attention to the weights or sizes, and by the time we'd got onto the SA flight the other passengers had occupied all the overhead storage space so we ended up taking the cameras back out of the bags and shoving them under the seats.  We also had a minor panic with the Proflight flight as we realised that in our concern about getting the camera gear down to weight we'd put literally everything else, including the malaria tablets into the hold, the hold luggage had been taken and disappeared sometime before they announced that the plane they were meant to be using had an issue and a replacement would appear at some indeterminate time in the future. Happily, in the end, that was only a couple of hours, and the luggage turned up OK!

 

Camps/Lodges:

(I keep wanting to call everything 'camps' but as most aren't tented am not sure if that's the right description)

Summary of what we thought of the camps in case the rest of the report with pics ends up TLDR:

 

The order of preference turned out to be also the order we visited, e.g. Nkwali best, down to Tena Tena least,  though that might be partly due to being pleasantly surprised at how good the viewings were at first and seeing the dogs from Nkwali.

 

South Luangwa overall is lovely and we'd really like to go back, possibly in other seasons but June seemed really good for it, with moderate temperatures, good access, good sightings and some green and pleasant landscapes.

 

Our travel agent thought Nkwali's game viewing area might be a bit too busy being nearer the centre, but it was fine for us except for one point at a wild dog sighting where there were 12+ cars circling!  Viewing, guiding, and the one walk we did from there were great, and Kiki was a wonderful host, we felt at home there instantly and would love to go back.

Nsefu was great too, similarly good viewings (partly due to the seasonal Stork Colony and a leopard following film crew), good guiding, nice atmosphere.  Accommodation quite not so good in some respects (privacy around the bathroom), probably due to the restrictions on adapting the 'historic' rooms.

Tafika was the best guiding experience (thanks, Lloyd!!!), but we didn't enjoy the dining/camp so much, to the extent that on 2nd night I was starting to wonder if we could enquire if somewhere else had a spare room"!  It seemed to be mainly catering to a slightly older and richer clientele, and the initial guests and atmosphere made us feel as though we were rather uncouth, and perhaps we should have "dressed for dinner"  (3rd night with a change of clients was much better and more relaxed).  Tafika was also the only place where we've ever been presented with the portable steps for getting on/off the cars.  We managed to persuade our guide we didn't need them, and would be better off without some wobbly mini wooden steps, but every time we arrived back from a drive the other staff/hosts insisted on dashing out with them and offering to help carry our camera bags.  All of that irritated me much more than it probably should have done, but has contributed to me not wanting to go back there...

Tena Tena we had some initial issues with the cars (we had a very cramped 3 row car as a private car for our first night), and on the first night we also ended up being dashed across the area to join into a 'champagne sundowners' no-one wanted, which didn't help.  Our guide was the camp manager, who is lovely, but we didn't quite 'jell' so well on working out when we'd like to stop/move as we had with the others.  

 

Viewings:

Will be following in separate posts

 

 

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offshorebirder

Thanks for the trip report and candid details @Hunting Dog.    I am looking forward to following along.

 

 

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janzin

Very interesting, we had a similar experience with Tena Tena, being herded to a bush breakfast which took us away from a great sighting. I guess they haven't learned :)

 

 

 

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Pamshelton3932

I loved Kiki!  He took me on a solo drive from Nkwali and found painted dogs also.  I have no idea how I wound up solo as I hadn’t requested it but it was also in June and maybe less busy.  I’m loving your report and reminiscing.

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Atravelynn

Thanks for sharing all these experiences and looking forward to the leopards.

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Julian

Regarding Tafika, If you have a look at my Zambia trip report , which is next to yours, on pages 2 and 3 of my report you will see that our whole experience at Tafika was excellent. The mix of the type of people staying at a safari camp will always vary depending when you go, and Tafika certainly is not in the price range that would attract mainly ‘richer’ travellers.

we found the atmosphere there very relaxed throughout, and there was never any question of being smart for dinner as we mostly did not return from the evening game drive until  well after 8.00pm, so we had dinner immediately.

with regard to the steps into and out of the vehicle, I think this may be ‘health and safety’ issues creeping in to Safari holidays, as when we moved on to our last camp, Chiawa, the vehicles drove into  a ‘ platform’ ,rather like a sort of simple train station platform, so you stepped in and out of the vehicle at the same level then walked along the platform and down some steps with handrails.

Of course the other fact is there are now an ever increasingly elder population, who travel far more, so there are bound to be a proportion of elderly people at any stay.

Great to hear you had Lloyd as your guide, as did we. Looking forward to the rest of this report. Still only half way through mine and we went nearly a year ago.

 

Edited by Julian

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Atravelynn

Years ago Tafika provided me with a top notch experience during my weeklong stay.  Sometimes the other camp guests do color the overall experience.  I recall a walking safari (not Tafika related) with about 10 alcoholic South African birders.  Not that all South Africans are alcoholics--or birders for that matter.  But these were both and it was just me and them.  Quite a challenge as they enjoyed flinging dung at each other during the walks and sleeping off hangovers late into the morning.  Not the best strategy for finding birds.   I have to give a shout out to Nature Ways in Mana Pools for handling that situation well.

 

Those safety issues you mention may be a product of the demographics of who goes (and who can afford to go) on safaris.  I don't have stats but it seems the age is skewing older rather than younger for places like Tafika.  Even taking safari and travel out of the equation, the world population's median age is going up.

 

One other ironic comment on the safety steps.  Tafika is also the place for those aerial microlight rides.  Fly through the air on a tiny plane contraption but step off the vehicle on  portable safety steps.

 

On with the leopard sightings.

Edited by Atravelynn

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Hunting Dog

Another couple of general bits I forgot to add in the first post.

Zambian Visa:

After much debate, we decided not to bother trying to do anything online in advance and just got it on arrival.  That worked fine.

TseTse Flies:

I'm still itching :(.  They seem to like the smell of insect repellent, and they can bite through socks.  I've got a ring of bites around each ankle. Unfortunately, I got a bit paranoid about the one type of antihistamine being illegal in Zambia and didn't take any bite soothing cream - that probably contributed to me being a bit grumpier than usual.   (Mr HuntingDog who didn't use the insect repellent didn't have any problems!)

 

 

@Atravelynn, your experience with alcoholic South African birders sounds 'interesting' :P.  On this trip at least we didn't have anyone who thought the fact that drinks were included in the price meant you had to get your money's worth!

 

I think part of the element that made Tafika feel more formal (as well as just the particular guests) was that they were using two tables for the meals, and you were directed to sit at a specific table instead of choosing who to sit with for yourself.

 

And part of my objection to the 'safety steps' is they didn't actually feel safer, as they're quite wobbly, the treads quite narrow and the gaps between quite wide, and you're trying to reverse backwards down them to get out of the car.   I can see that if you have hip mobility/strength problems and can't stretch to the first rung of the car ladder they'd help though.

 

 

Leopard and other sightings coming next...

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Hunting Dog

Nkwali

We stayed for 3 nights, we had Pias as our guide, Yobe as our spotter, and Kiki was the camp host.

 

Rooms were pleasant, open to the river during the day,  with folding screens and curtains drawn across the front at night.  There were a group of banded mongoose, lots of baboons and vervet monkeys around the camp.  The monkeys were quite cute and had a habit of appearing over the bathroom walls, they were slightly less cute for the ladies in the room next to us who had them playing in the roof beams and relieving themselves on one of their beds.

 

Pic below was the monkeys just moving away, I'd been photographing something at the front of the room, and turned and saw four little faces peering at me from the top of the bathroom wall.

IMG_9574.JPG.794e8e07212dfdfea1cc1d78945ca170.JPG

 

On the first evening we crossed the river by the pontoon, which is a ferry type arrangement rather than a bridge.  Pic is the car that crossed in front of us.  When we crossed we surprised a hippo that emerged from the water in front of us with a big splash! IMG_9175.JPG.dcf2fcb26b3facdba4f4f197c86a1bb3.JPG

For the rest of the trips the car was left on the Park side of the river and we crossed the river via power boat.

 

That first evening we saw leopard #1IMG_9201.JPG.d82c1a2f908c1b7c47150c7f9ed6cdf1.JPG

She was attempting to hunt some puku, but they spotted her and were pronking and chasing her off.  That's a behaviour we hadn't witnessed before so very interesting for us.

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When she was in the distance we could just about see her startle two young pukus who bolted.  One of them misjudged the edge of the cliff and fell into the river and was instantly grabbed by a crocodile.

 

As we were having sundowners overlooking the crocodile-infested river we were alarmed to see a local fisherman poling a dug-out canoe who was repeatedly getting stuck on the submerged sandbanks.  Happily, he did eventually free himself and at least made it round the bend in the river and out of sight.

 

We saw leopard #1 again in the dark, and also saw leopard  #2 (her daughter) walking along the track as we headed back towards the boat crossing. (no photos of that one)

 

The next morning we crossed back via boat and headed south-west.  There's a very interesting area with an unusual red heather type grass/flower.  No-one at the Nkwali knew what it was and had sent a sample off for analysis.   It was very spectacular but didn't photograph well...redgrass.jpg.aa0f2853ca4cb4660410a88b197eca0d.jpg

 

We had some good bird sightings at a swampy/lagoon area:saddle-with-fish.jpg.5b2c467e6d976a170e6e9ba1367c0e22.jpg

 

Then crowned crane:

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Then we met a passing car from another camp that had heard about a dog sighting towards the centre of the park, so of course we headed that way!  We found a pack of 13 wilddogs, I think there were meant to be 14 in the pack, but we only ever saw 13 together.  They had recently eaten and were mainly resting.

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Except for a little tug-of-war with a left over bone:dogandbone.jpg.6d4396628a5d550b9dc3e94af598391c.jpg

 

On the way back we passed by the lagoon in front of Mfuwe Lodge whilst I'm sure the tents had an interesting view, I'm not sure I'd be happy walking around between them, due to the number of hippos, large crocs and large monitor lizard!

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That evening we saw leopard #3 sat happily beside a track:

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We opted not to try and find the dogs again that evening as they were expected to still be in the central area, and by now all the other camps/lodges cars would probably be gathering there.

 

Next morning, lots of hippo:hippos.jpg.a09e11f633e6e5df2b0001940f039872.jpg

and general game sightings. 

 

Other groups had found the dogs again closer to Nkwali so we headed off to find them that afternoon.  We set out relatively early and were the only car with them for about an hour.  We still only counted 13 of them, they were mainly resting and moving around just to stay in the shade:

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When other cars started to arrive, a lot of them arrived and we had to move out, we ended up lurking further out so we could just about see what was going on.  Pic below is of the cars closer to the dogs who are lying down out of view.

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We moved back in when most of the cars had gone off for sundowners.  The dogs didn't set off to hunt until it was dark and then unfortunately disappeared straight into the dense bush behind them instead of across the plain as we'd been hoping!

 

Next day was our transfer up to Nsefu and we saw leopard #4 sat happily next to the 'main road' through the park:IMG_9742.JPG.750cdc7ef050220a0fdfdc9792ad0217.JPG

By this stage we were getting the impression that it was quite hard to not see leopards in South Luangwa!

 

 

EDIT:  I just realised I've entirely missed the walk we did on the 2nd morning!   It was very interesting and we were accompanied by Pias, Gilbert an armed ranger, and Michael bringing up the rear and carrying tea.  It was very informative and a great experience, we felt very safe with them.  Michael was training to be a guide and my other half had fun trying to ask him awkward questions (which he handled very well).   I have pics of various types of animal dung and small plants, insects and tree leaves, but I suspect they're not going to look very interesting in a post, hence not including them in my folder of pics for Nkwali.

Edited by Hunting Dog
forgot walk

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Pamshelton3932

It’s interesting that you mentioned the two table dining, as that was my main complaint about Tafika.  I was traveling solo and am a little on the shy side.  I’d been conversing with someone and we were assigned different tables and I was totally out of my element after that.  The people were all very nice but I was out of my comfort zone.  This was the one camp where I felt like odd man out traveling solo and was just added wherever they could fit me in.  Others wo may be more outgoing wouldn’t have had any problem.  

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Atravelynn

"...startle two young pukus who bolted.  One of them misjudged the edge of the cliff and fell into the river and was instantly grabbed by a crocodile.

 

As we were having sundowners overlooking the crocodile-infested river we were alarmed to see a local fisherman poling a dug-out canoe who was repeatedly getting stuck on the submerged sandbanks.  Happily, he did eventually free himself and at least made it round the bend in the river and out of sight."

 

Oh my goodness and watch out fisherman!!

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Hunting Dog

@Pamshelton3932

sorry to hear about your experience, but many thanks for posting, I was starting to think we were the only ones that didn't get on so well there.

 

 

Photos:

I should have mentioned earlier;  Mr Hunting Dog has some much better pictures of most of the sightings, but I'm using mine taken with the shorter lens just to illustrate the story (and because he hasn't sorted his out yet).   I'll also attempt to reduce the file size a bit more for the next post.

 

Nsefu next...

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Hunting Dog

Nsefu

We crossed the river over to the Nsefu sector by pole/rowing boat accompanied by an armed ranger.   On the car ride to Nsefu we saw a young giraffe sat completely on its own beside the track.IMG_9831.JPG.d4e1c3b7deb813ae39c80e50b3dff15e.JPG

That seemed to be rather unusual behaviour so we hung around and waited to see if it was OK.  Eventually mum turned up and they wandered off together.

 

We only had 2 nights at Nsefu, our guide was Willie, our spotter was Elton and the host was Catherine.  Catherine had been a 'floating' host previously and this was her first season assigned full time to Nsefu.  The camp is the oldest in the valley and retains the 1950's rooms which are raised brick rondavels (with en-suite bathrooms added).  The bedroom floor level is higher than the bathroom, with steps down, the bathroom walls are relatively low by the sink/toilet,  if you're female you may want to keep a top on when transiting from bedroom level to bathroom...  Other half also found it a bit odd to be able to look over the wall and say hello to the passing staff whilst standing at the loo.

 

When we were checking in, after signing the disclaimers Catherine was about to show us to our room when we heard someone else say there was a bushbuck by the small pool in front of the camp hide.  They said it quite matter of factly as though it was a common occurrence, so I thought it would be rude to dash away to try and get a photo...  apparently, they're not so easy to spot and Mr Hunting Dog hasn't quite forgiven me for missing that opportunity!

 

The first evening drive, we had hippo out of water with waterbuck behind:

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Whilst driving along the top of a bank we saw 2 pukus on the plain below suddenly run away from the embankment.  Me and guide and spotter thought they were just panicked by the car and looked away.  Mr Hunting Dog in rear seat looked back and noticed the leopard chasing them!  The leopard (#5) failed, and also wasn't particularly keen on us following but we did get some pics:IMG_9907.JPG.929c670e3df5d524f30283abdac68d89.JPG

 

On the next morning drive we headed for the Stork Colony.   This is the habitual nesting spot for yellow-billed storks, they'd been there for some time and most of the chicks could now fly.  Willie estimated they'd only be there for another couple of weeks.   We spent quite a long time there trying to get interesting pics.   It is a very impressive site with about 8 large trees completely covered in birds and bird droppings.   Due to 'failure to fly' casualties amongst the chicks it's also a popular area for scavengers and leopard.

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Afterwards some more hippos:

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There are a husband and wife film crew currently based at Nsefu who follow a female leopard (who habitually hunts around the Stork Colony) and her sub-adult son, and older daughter.  As we were approaching the minor river crossing back towards the camp they heard our car approaching and radioed us to warn us that there was a leopard resting on the side of the bank beside the downward slope into the river.   (I think the sub-adult son)  We drove up very slowly to avoid startling him, and of course had to pause to take some pics.  As the car was on the downward slope to the river that resulted in leopard (#6) at eye level and needing the lenses zoomed out to get the whole leopard in view!   Another new experience for us :)

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As you can probably tell he was rather relaxed and stayed there and posed for us and for the next car that used the crossing.

 

On the way back to camp we had an excellent monitor lizard sighting, as the lizard was hunting and moving along the edge of a lagoon:

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That evening we saw elephants crossing a minor river:

IMG_0190.JPG.157b2db08acadde1579d38c55802b9c9.JPG

 

Giraffe:

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As the light was dropping we got a radio call from the film crew to say there was a leopard with a kill at the Stork Colony (they were moving off soon as they only film in daylight).   This was another point where I'm not so popular with Mr HD,  I'd opted not to go straight to the colony as we'd spent so long there that morning, if we had gone there we might have seen the kill!    The leopard had taken a very large male impala, and was currently eating the innards in one of the trenches at the edge of the trees:

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She was clearly starting to get worried about being interrupted and started trying to drag the impala out of the trench towards the tree line:

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She did manage to get it out of the trench, after a lot of intermediate rest stops, and you could see her looking sadly towards the trees, but she clearly wasn't going to be able to get the impala off the ground!  Now she was out in the open with the kill the hyena that had been hanging around chased her off and started eating.

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Another smaller hyena turned up and was trying to get a share but the first hyena wasn't cooperating.   We were surprised to see the leopard didn't move far away.  She was obviously hoping to get back to the kill if the hyenas lost interest: 

IMG_0275.JPG.c663d421edf49e0f317fb40b2a03c951.JPG

She did have one attempt when the larger hyena moved away leaving the smaller one at the kill, but the larger animal turned and chased her off again.

 

After watching some interaction between them we moved off for sundowners and the journey back to camp.   On route we heard the distant sounds of some commotion including what sounded like a lion.   Willie drove back to the kill site and we saw a lone lioness walking off.  There were now more hyenas around the kill, so we presume the noise was from her unsuccessful attempt to get a share.

 

Next morning was our drive/transfer up to Tafika, Willie took us all the way there.  On route another visit to the Stork Colony:

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Hippo out of water:

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The little magic moment of the trip was as we stopped for our last morning tea/coffee break by the river.  We'd stopped relatively close to some giraffes.  We'd all assumed they'd move away as soon as we got out of the car, but they didn't and actually came closer, so we had tea with three giraffes in the open to our right peering at us and two other giraffes to our left intermittently peeking around a bush at us:IMG_0391.JPG.ce3eef9af5c4756c59cc2ce4d60ec320.JPG

 

 

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Towlersonsafari

I do like the tree storks, the hyena,  eye level leopard and the giffgaffs in paricular @Hunting Dog

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philw
On 6/21/2019 at 10:33 PM, janzin said:

Very interesting, we had a similar experience with Tena Tena, being herded to a bush breakfast which took us away from a great sighting. I guess they haven't learned :)

 

 

 

Me too... also experienced a very cramped saloon car back to the airport. really should have been a safari vehicle. 

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ForWildlife
On 6/22/2019 at 3:04 PM, Atravelynn said:

One other ironic comment on the safety steps.  Tafika is also the place for those aerial microlight rides.  Fly through the air on a tiny plane contraption but step off the vehicle on  portable safety steps.

 

 

Often, contrary to what you might think, flying related activities aren't classed as dangerous when it comes to insurances. Parapenting, hangliding, microlighting etc is safer than skiing, kayaking, mountainbiking, diving. But I agree, making a mistake stepping out of a vehicle might twist your ankle, not strapping in in a microlight and slipping out probably will break every bone in your body.

But the staff wants to help you, and often it is hard to realize that the best 'help' they can offer at times is to step away and do nothing.

I think the film crew based out of Nsefu is working on a great movie! They should finalize the filming this year. Previously that couple filmed Vanishing Kings.

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The_Norwegian

amazing stuff, i want to go :-) 

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Caracal
On 6/23/2019 at 3:27 AM, Hunting Dog said:

EDIT:  I just realised I've entirely missed the walk we did on the 2nd morning!   It was very interesting and we were accompanied by Pias, Gilbert an armed ranger, and Michael bringing up the rear and carrying tea.  It was very informative and a great experience, we felt very safe with them.  Michael was training to be a guide and my other half had fun trying to ask him awkward questions (which he handled very well).   I have pics of various types of animal dung and small plants, insects and tree leaves, but I suspect they're not going to look very interesting in a post, hence not including them in my folder of pics for Nkwali.

 

I always think a walk gives a different and special feel to the whole safari experience and if you decide to post a few photos of plants,dung,insects, landscape etc I'd be happy to view them. 

Nsefu was my favourite of the three Robin Pope camps nestled on that superb section of the Luangwa when I visited back in the 1990s.

Been thoroughly enjoying your report with your narrative and excellent photos. You certainly had great sightings.

 

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ZaminOz
32 minutes ago, Caracal said:

and if you decide to post a few photos of plants,dung,insects, landscape etc I'd be happy to view them

I second that!

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madaboutcheetah

@Hunting Dog - You bring back great memories from my trip to SLNP last year ......... With Lloyd, I was lucky enough to see a start to finish Leopard hunt!   I'm surprised regarding your comments about Tafika. Not sure if something has changed or just the particular guests there at the time of your stay.  From my observation, it was one of the most relaxed camps I've been to in Africa and there were mostly repeat clients there during my stay! 

 

 

Edited by madaboutcheetah

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Hunting Dog

@madaboutcheetah - I think most of our issue with Tafika was probably due to the particular guests.  And Tafika did indeed have a lot of repeat guests there whilst we were there too.   But the other bit that really influenced us not enjoying it was the enforced split between tables for eating, if we could have chosen where to sit for ourselves we would probably have mixed more with those repeat visitors and enjoyed it more, or just varied things more.  In retrospect now we know how it worked we could possibly have had a quiet word with someone and said in advance we'd rather sit with 'x' than 'y',  or rebelled come dinner time and disobeyed...  but that does all get a bit awkward, see also Pamshelton's post above.   

 

Anyway,  Lloyd was indeed brilliant, and probably the best guide of the trip. I'll try and post the Tafika related pics soon, and the missed walking safari from Nkwali... complete with poo!

 

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TravelMore

Eagerly following!  My husband wants to visit South Luangwa.  He's been trying to convince me that I will see relaxed leopards, perhaps he is right.

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Game Warden
6 minutes ago, TravelMore said:

My husband wants to visit South Luangwa

 

Me too :)

 

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optig

@Travelmore I urge you to visit South Luangwa because everyone who visits says that without a doubt it's one of the finest national parks in Africa. I've already been there 4 times and just love. The night drives and walking safari is some of the best in Africa.  I just loved seeing the Thornicroft giraffes and Crawshay's  zebra which are indigenous to South Luangwa. 

 

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TravelMore
5 hours ago, optig said:

@Travelmore I urge you to visit South Luangwa because everyone who visits says that without a doubt it's one of the finest national parks in Africa. I've already been there 4 times and just love. The night drives and walking safari is some of the best in Africa.  I just loved seeing the Thornicroft giraffes and Crawshay's  zebra which are indigenous to South Luangwa. 

 

Ok, I'm interested. I'm primarily interested in BIG cats and their babies BUT,  the hippos are definitely a sight to behold and ellies near water are an attraction for sure.  I was somewhat leery that the leopards might be too skittish but  that doesn't seem to be the case. Wow, and that Stork!  So stunning.  More please, dying for More!

Edited by TravelMore

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