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Zambia 2024 - A family adventure in South Luangwa National Park.


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Posted (edited)

Got back from Zambia 4 days ago so am going to get this trip report started while everything is still fresh in the mind!


This trip was a celebration of my 50th year, couldn't think of a better way of marking the milestone than embarking on a safari. Making it extra special was that I would also be introducing my 3 boys, aged 14, 11 and 9 to Africa. My wife, having been on safari 3 times previously with me wasn't overly keen on doing another and asked if it was ok if she opted out. No problem I said, a boys trip it shall be!


Our itinerary looked like this:


June 19 Fly Brisbane to Sydney. Onward and overnight in Johannesburg.

June 20 Fly Johannesburg to Mfuwe airport via Lusaka.

June 20-27 Flatdogs Camp SLNP.

June 28 Return to Johannerburg and overnight.

June 29 Return to Brisbane.


Planning stage


I've wanted to check out Zambia for some time now so it was an easy choice to go there. Nearly did back in 2018 but Tanzania won the battle that time. Threw around a few different combinations like combining SLNP with LZNP, but decided fairly quickly that the added cost of flying between parks would see the cost blow out fairly quickly. So SLNP it will be.

My biggest worry when booking the trip was what if the kids don't like safari life?? I knew they most probably would but it was a nagging doubt in the back of my mind that I just couldn't shake. So I decided that wherever I booked there had to be something there for them to look forward to between drives. I also had to factor in that I needed a place where we could all be in the same tent/room, as I assumed most places would not be keen on 2 kids sharing a tent without supervision especially at night.

I had been eyeing off Flatdogs for years and knew they had a pool and a family tent as well as chalets so they were locked in. I looked for a second camp in the north of the park to mix things up but couldn't find anything that really suited. So in the end I elected to spend our full 8 nights at Flatdogs.

I then looked closer at the accommodation options there and decided to make the trip that extra bit special. The Crocodile Nest is a large tented house with a private pool and wi-fi. Kids sorted! It also has the bonus of coming with a private vehicle as well. I contacted owner Jess, and as I was booking early (this was happening in Dec 2022) she not only locked in 2023 prices for me, she also offered a 10% long stay discount as well. This saving off-set the added cost of the more expensive accommodation so it really did work out quite well. Paid my 25% deposit before she could change her mind!

International flights were booked in July 2023 as well as Jo'burg before and after accommodation. As Flatdogs act as an agent for Proflight I was able to have my JNB-Mfuwe-JNB flights booked and held by them and didn't need to pay for them until final payment was due in early May 2024. 


So everything was in place, nothing could go wrong from here - right? Of course something would.

I will save that for the next post. In the meantime here is a teaser of what's to come. (Mainly doing this to make sure I remember how) :)

Photo taken by one of the kids on their Iphone so want to see how they come out too.





Edited by mopsy
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Posted (edited)

@mopsyReally looking forward to this trip report.  I visited SLNP about 10 years ago with my teenage son and stayed at Flatdogs.  At the time we stayed in the Jackalberry Treehouse (Crocodile Nest did not exist then).  We thoroughly enjoyed it and Jess and the team did great.  My son still talks about going back.  We are thinking of going back in the next few years with family of 6 and staying at Flatdogs + something in the Northern part/Nsefu sector.  Thanks to doing the trip report...

Edited by soleson
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Posted (edited)

Flatdogs 2008 for us. One and only time we have dragged our son (then 14) out to Africa, he is now completely resistant to the idea although his partner is really keen to go!

Jackalberry Tree House. Stunning! Waking up to see a young Ellie eating right by the bed, being stared at by a Giraffe while on the loo! Having to wait to leave for a Hippo to wander away and then keeping things safe from the Monkeys!

Loved the night drives in particular, mind you got in trouble for leaving late as we had to divert as a Lion pride was consuming a Zebra on the road and we had to go the long way round.

Edited by AndrewB
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Posted (edited)

@solesonI reckon the Croc’s Nest would suit your party of 6 perfectly. Stay tuned for more info! 

@AndrewBWow someone who doesn’t want to return to Africa?? Any particular reason? Hopefully your son didn’t have any kind of bad experience at all. Any repercussions for leaving the park late?

Story incoming about our experience with the monkeys! Bold they are!

Edited by mopsy
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@mopsy- well with our lad two things. Bad timing, first girlfriend arrived two weeks before the trip so that was a disaster with no communications! Also he really has no interest in wildlife and birds. That could change, I think he will be lucky to avoid a trip to Africa in due course as his partner is mad keen!

We had a great time in Australia a couple of years earlier including some wild camping in the Red Centre and my son thoroughly enjoyed that.

Learning possibly on this was that it was too ambitious. Self-Drive camping through Namibia and into Botswana up to Livingstone and then an extension to South Luangwa.

It was too much for him really. Some good stuff, he enjoyed camping at first then got too much. Long drives, boring. Enjoyed the boat and river up near Shakawe. Refused a helicopter ride over Vic Falls (not a minutes sleep the night before as he had internet and was "spooning" all night!!).

He did not find Ellies, Lions, Leopards engaging which was the main learning moment!

With hindsight a far less ambitious trip could have worked but nothing could have pre-empted the timing!


On leaving the park late, driver/guide got told off! Bit of banter but no real problems. We left a few dollars in a tip for the gate chaps who had to stay on half an hour late.

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It was good to meet you (and your boys) at Flatdogs @mopsy, they seemed to having a good time, hope the 'something' that went wrong wasn't too serious! I'll follow your TR with interest, it's good inspiration to get my own started before the details are lost from my memory.



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Great to meet you too @JimSThe boys indeed did enjoy the experience.

Hope the rest of your trip went well and was filled with great sightings. Looking forward to hearing all about it!

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Everything was on track before the first whammy hit. Flatdogs contacted me around 3 months prior to arrival to let me know Proflight had cancelled our flight out of Mfuwe at the end of the trip. We had booked on the later flight departing at 12:20pm so we could get in one last game drive before departure, but now had no other option but to take the 8:40am flight. Flatdogs apologised for the inconvenience but as I told them it really wasn't their fault and that's just the way things go sometimes. So we will have to make do with 14 drives instead of 15. Oh well, not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, worse things could happen.....


And they did. We got one of those phone calls we all dread.


On the Tuesday night 7 days prior to departure my sister called to say our Dad had suffered a massive stroke. And then in the early hours of Wednesday morning he passed away. It wasn't a huge shock as he had experienced some minor strokes previously, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with and process. All of a sudden safari was the last thing on my mind.

My Mum called a few hours later and we discussed what the next few days would look like. The one thing she was adamant about was that it would not impact our trip, as that was the last thing Dad would have wanted. So we ended up flying to Melbourne (2.5hrs) and driving back home to country Victoria (another 2.5 hrs) on the Friday, had the memorial service on the Monday, flew back to Brisbane on the Tuesday in time to catch our flights to Johannesburg departing 6am on the Wednesday.

So why do I mention this in a trip report? Well it was my Dad who initially got me interested in going to Africa from an early age, Firstly through watching Nat Geo documentaries with him while growing up, and then with him introducing me to books on Africa written by hunting safari guides (neither of us agree with hunting one bit, but the stories they re-told were captivating to both of us). Dad really was the driving force in me wanting to explore what safari life was all about.

So in a way I still don't know how to put into words, it seemed kind of like fate that we would be going to Africa and be able to use it as a way of remembering him, honouring his memory, something like that. I don't have the vocabulary skills to be able to describe it. Dad loved Africa, was fascinated by it. And I'm glad he got to experience a safari, if only just the once. And I also knew that he would be happy we were still going too.


So now we are ready to go on our adventure. Still a little sad, but excited to see what the next 10 days would bring!

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So sorry to hear about your dad @mopsy, I can imagine it made the trip quite an emotional one, but so fitting that you were introducing his grandsons to Africa for the first time. 

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Thanks @JimSyep that was really cool to be able to do that so close to his passing, inadvertent as it was.


Life really does move in mysterious ways sometimes!

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Getting there.


We fly to Sydney to catch our connecting flight to JNB. Delayed in SYD by an hour due to a mechanical fault we are informed just prior to taking off. Just what you want to hear! It's a long flight (14.5hrs) but it runs smoothly and everyone handles it pretty well. Even managed to make up a good chunk of the time lost.


After clearing customs around 5pm we catch the courtesy bus to Peermont Metcourt Hotel which is part of the Emperor's Palace complex. We always stay here, mainly because of the extensive breakfast which is included. It's also a short 2 minute walk to the food court as well, which has many different options for both lunch and dinner if required. We indeed do dine here tonight before hitting the hay around 9pm.


Have breakfast the next morning then head to the airport. Flight leaves at 12pm for Lusaka. At 2pm we are collecting our bags and making the short walk to the domestic terminal. Boring airport Lusaka, nothing to do or look at, so the time to our 4:45pm flight goes slowly. But finally the time passes and we are in the air.


We land at Mfuwe at 6pm and are greeted by Kennedy who will be our guide for our stay. The transfer to Flatdogs takes around 30-40 minutes. Nine year old Harry, who is not shy, starts firing questions at Kennedy as soon as we hit the road. What they were I can't recall, but I do remember Kennedy giving me a couple of those "Does he ever shut up?"  looks in a friendly way. Those 2 would go on to become great mates.


Once at camp we are taken straight to the Croc Nest. We will be having dinner there tonight which I order over the provided radio. Whilst waiting I unpack the bags and get everything ready for the next day. After dinner we all go to bed, anticipation rising for what lays ahead.

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Sorry for your loss @mopsy-it was my Dad that got me into birding-glad you seemed to have had a great time at Flatdogs-one of our favourites

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The alarm goes off at 5am. I wake the boys and we all get ready for our first drive. The daily ritual goes like this:


5:30am Picked up by Kennedy and go to camp restaurant for light breakfast and coffee.

6:00am Be at, or very close to park entrance ready for when it opens.

10:30am Return to camp from game drive.

3:00pm Picked up by Kennedy and go to camp restaurant for afternoon tea.

3:30pm Enter park for afternoon drive.

7=7:30pm Return to camp.


With the light breakfast over we make the short drive to the park entrance. Kennedy parks the vehicle and goes to sign in. I glance to my right and see an elephant approaching us from down the bank. It stops and eats some branches from a tree then proceeds to walk to the top of the bank and onto the road right beside us. The boys took these photos.






Not a bad first up effort. I didn't take any photos of this, I was more interested in watching the boys to judge their reaction. Harry who was in front of me on the right hand side of the vehicle was virtually hanging out of the vehicle trying to get a closer look. He will be fine it seems. Fourteen year old Jasper took it in his stride, he was in the middle seat behind me. I turn to the right to check how 11 year old Mitch who was directly behind me went. There's no sign of him. Turns out he hightailed it over to the left hand side when the elephant came up the bank! Hmmmm, bit of work to do there but time is on our side.


We enter the park to see what presents itself. The beauty of being with first timers is everything is new to them. It's great fun to get caught up in the excitement of it all. Even impalas!















We now come to an open clearing. Kennedy seems intent on going somewhere. He approaches a large tree and points up. Leopard! She is feasting on an impala kill she made 2 or 3 days prior. Be warned - Leopard overload incoming :)












After feasting for a while she very obligingly posed for us on a branch.








After a while it was down to ground level for a different pose.












After a while of lazing around it was time to go and check out the territory. We of course tagged along to see if we could be of assistance....












After all that exertion it was time for a well earned drink.




After quenching the thirst she melted off into the deep bush. Speaking of quenching the thirst we hadn't done that yet! Time for some morning tea.

As we drove away Jasper behind me whispered something to no-one in particular in a very quiet voice in a tone you use when in awe of something.

"So cool."

Couldn't have put it any better myself. We were off to quite the start.




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@mopsy love the leopard pic looking back towards the tree (number 6 of your above leopard pics) 

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My condolences, sorry to hear about your loss. A bittersweet safari for sure. From how you describe him your father surely would have been happy about you doing this trip with your boys. Must have been wonderful to see their excitement. The first trip to Africa is always the best. Great Leopard sighting at the start!

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Thank you @Towlersonsafari @michael-ibkfor your kind words, much appreciated.


And thanks to anyone else following along.

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Morning drive cont.


After leaving the leopard we are off to find a nice place for morning tea. The boys are taking photos of everything that moves, and some that don't too.










Kennedy takes us to a nice place on the Zambezi where we get out of the vehicle and stretch the legs whilst enjoying biscuits with coffee and hot chocolate. There is a pod of hippo and friends to keep us company. 












After our thirst and hunger is satisfied we resume our search.

"What else would you like to see boys?" Kennedy asks. 

"Ëverything!" is the reply. It seems they are enjoying themselves. I deep down knew they would, but it still comes as a bit of a relief to hear it.

In the last hour or so before heading back to camp we see the following.
















Well satisfied with how well the morning went we leave the park and head back to camp. After turning right into the Flatdogs driveway there is one more sighting left for us to complete proceedings.








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@mopsyThank you for sharing, and I'm very sorry to read about your dad. It sounds like this trip was a cathartic experience in more ways than one. That you got to take this trip in his memory and also experience the first time wonder of your boys is quite the trip, and what luck they had to be greeted with a leopard so early on! 

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Thank you @Toxicfor your kind words - very well put! And you're right, leopard first up was a great way to start.


Croc's Nest


After breakfast at the camp restaurant we are driven back to the Nest. As we arrived after dark the previous night and left before first light this morning it's our first real chance to properly check it out. It's not what I would normally book on safari - I would have been more than comfortable in the standard/luxury tents in camp. But as previously mentioned it was booked more as an insurance policy in case the boys weren't enjoying safari life.


Photo taken from across the river on a driveIMG_4807.JPG.bf62b5765e90f33882c62076a92d5995.JPG


From closer up and a view over the Luangwa River. (There is a firepit where the chairs are on the other side of the pool.





A couple of months before arrival Jess e-mailed to ask if Jasper would like his own bedroom or if he wanted to share with the other boys. This puzzled me, as at the time of booking it was a 2 bedroom house. In response to my confused reply Jess told me that in the off season they had added a 3rd bedroom. Having not been there previously I tried to envision where this would be, and the best I could come up with was maybe it had been done somewhere near the main entrance.

I didn't think of this possibility.



A really great idea, making it an even better option for families and friends alike. I took some photos inside all the rooms but they didn't come out well so I won't bother posting.

So we were very happy with our choice, the pool got a workout (not by me, too cold for my liking) and there were plenty of places to be able to sit down, relax and while away the hours between drives.


Next up is our first afternoon drive.

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Posted (edited)

Afternoon drive day 1.


Had the pleasure of meeting @JimSat afternoon tea before our next drive. Not sure how he picked me out of the crowd - perhaps me being the only one mad enough to have 3 boys in tow had a bit to do with it?? Jim has made an excellent start to his Zambian trip report, check it out if you haven't already!


So we head off for the park entrance and I must admit I had fairly low expectations for this drive. Not all of it, just the post sunset part. I've not had much luck in the past with night drives. Saw nothing of note in Hwange and it was a similar story at a couple of camps in Botswana. But who knows, maybe South Luangwa will be different.


As we meander through the bush we meet up with these guys.








Alright! That's 3 of the big 5 already. Obviously we won't see rhino here in the Valley but if we can find lions at some point the boys will be happy to have seen all that was possible.

 Next up Kennedy points out a bird in the sky. I can't remember what it was (I'm not a birder.) Well, I say I'm not a birder but I found myself naming a lot more than I thought I would on this safari. About half way through the trip one of the boys said to me "How do you know so many birds? You've never shown any interest in them." My reply was simple. "Well there's this website I always read called safaritalk".....I still get confused with the descriptive one's like white throated, red breasted and grey bearded but I'm making progress!

Anyway, Kennedy points out the bird and I have a chuckle to myself as Mitch lifts the camera to attempt a picture. I held back the instinctive reaction to tell him not to bother, only the really good photographer's get good bird in flight shots. I've tried quite a few times and always end up with a blurry mess. Glad I didn't say anything out loud as I reckon he did pretty well.




Not long after this we get the dreaded flat tire. We jump out of the vehicle while Kennedy and Blackson (our spotter for the next 3 evenings) work on changing it. Twenty minutes later we are on our way again.

It's a fairly quiet drive, especially compared to this morning's excitement.











We also find an elephant and our first giraffe, both prove to be most un-cooperative from a photography point of view.






Next we seek out a spot by the river for sundowner's. Not any game to speak of here. It's a Mosi for me and coke's all round for the boys as they try their hand at some sunset shots.






It's pretty much dark as we leave our spot on the river. We proceed to drive around for about an hour and see nothing of note. Some puku here, a herd of impala there, it really was quite uneventful.

My expectations of night drives are being met. Things are going just as I anticipated they would.

We are out in the middle of nowhere it seems. There's no sign of any other vehicles with their spotlights piercing through the dark night. What are we doing out here? Clearly no-one comes out here at night. We are wasting our time!

Then something crosses the road about 50 metres ahead of us.

I know what I think it looked like.

But it couldn't be.

Could it?

Oh yes it is.















We spend around half an hour with them all alone. They look like they are getting settled in for the night and aren't doing much, but that's more than fine. So lucky and privileged to see them. Even the boys are excited, as I had them watch a doco on wild dogs before we left so if we did see them at some stage they would have a greater appreciation of the sighting.

Unfortunately it's now time to go back to camp. We head off knowing where our starting point will be first thing the next day.

Always knew I would love the night drives here!


Edited by mopsy
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You saw the dogs on your first night! What a great start, and it's good the boys realised how special that was (and yes, it was fairly easy to pick you out in the Flatdogs crowd: just listened out for an Aussie voice with 3 boys in tow :D)


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Quite the amazing first day.  I'm sure you were thinking often of your dad.  It was indeed a Boys' Trip!

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On 7/8/2024 at 7:47 PM, mopsy said:

Not long after this we get the dreaded flat tire.


You had me laughing at this - not at your misfortune, but because I was puzzled for a few days why the drivers kept saying they were "going to check behind the vehicle for a flat" all the time. Eventually I realised that it was a full bladder that needed fixing, not an empty tyre.


Luckily we didn't suffer a flat for real, I think it would have really confused me if they announced a "flat" and then took 20 minutes over it.

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Thanks @Atravelynnyes it was an awesome start. No complaints at all!


And you had me laughing too @JimSwe had a running joke in our vehicle that 11 year old Mitch would be confusing all the inhabitants of the park. He was constantly out "marking his territory". Six times on one drive he needed to go! All you needed to do was ask if he needed to use the bush toilet and that would bring about the want for him to do so.

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@mopsyWhat a nice way to celebrate your father!  I do not remember how long it took us to finally figure out what checking the tires really meant….a game drive education.

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