Robin Pope Safaris have specialized in walking safaris in big game areas since their inception in 1986. From Tena Tena Camp in the exclusive Nsefu Sector of South Luangwa, the walks are amongst the best in Africa. Awake at dawn, I watch the emerging color through the floor to ceiling gauze sides of my uncluttered tent. Soft light shimmers on the river as I enjoy breakfast, seated on a canvas director’s chair set on the flood plain. Oatmeal porridge, local fruit, fresh eggs and toast fortify me for my walk. I view hippos as they return to the water after nocturnal grazing and White-fronted lapwings promenading on the riverbank.
Image by Gillian McLaren
As well as my guide, I have an armed scout from the South Luangwa National Park, to lead us through big-game territory. We are briefed to walk in single file, in silence and to obey any commands given, especially not to run when we encounter predators or elephants. Carrying my camera and binoculars, I set off with eager anticipation. Walking enables me to see the smaller creatures in the bush, to learn the tracks of game, birds and even of a crocodile. When my guide sees something that may interest me, we stop for him to quietly teach me about the spiders, ants and the importance of dung, to know more about the life and habits of fauna. I gaze at butterfly species, marvel at beautiful trees - plus their flowers and pods - as I am educated about their medicinal value in local culture
Thornicroft’s giraffe stare at us from their lofty vantage point, probably as interested in us as we are in them. The crushing of dry leaves under our feet as we continue to walk warns some waterbuck of our presence. When elephant bulls of monumental proportion saunters towards us, we move carefully on a trajectory away from them, to crouch down beneath a tree to observe their behavior. Though they are some distance from us, I feel dwarfed by their bulk.
Image by Robin Pope Safaris
Finding a suitable spot, where we sit on the fallen trunk of a Rain tree, our guide whips out picnic fare from his backpack, to prepare tea or French press coffee, accompanied by freshly baked cookies. It’s nature nirvana with Thornicroft’s giraffe, browsing Crawshay’s zebra and a herd of buffalo in the far distance. Ambling back to the camp, we pass a hippo that is out of the water and lumbering to the river.
When back at the Tena Tena Camp, I shower beneath a spreading canopy of a mature Natal mahogany tree, in my en-suite, open air bath room. Its curved walls, are topped by branches from fallen trees. With energetic glee, two young Yellow baboons swing on thin branches of a nearby tree. From an armchair set in the bush in front of the tent, I observe a lizard sunning itself. Three elephants are reaching up to branches of a Rain tree, with their trunks fully extended. They respectfully walk past me, up a sandy path into the camp, aware of my presence. Hippos in the water display their dominance with wide open mouths, as an array of birds alight on the river shore.
With only six stylish safari tents, decorated in subtle bush hues, it’s an intimate and tranquil experience to be here. My tent has everything I need and nothing I don’t. The communal dining area is covered but open-sided, where guests enjoy convivial meals together. A private table is set up in the shade of an aged Mahogany tree for those who would like this. At night, staff place my table under the night sky, where I can spot the Southern Cross.
The South Luangwa National Park, at the end of The Great Rift Valley, is pristine and a remote wilderness area. On morning and evening game drives, I have multiple viewing of big game. Of the famed big-five, only rhino are absent from the region. One astounding sighting is that of an elephant carcass, with one lion feeding alongside nine hyena, plus over thirty vultures scrapping for a turn at the kill!
It’s the time of year when Southern carmine bee eaters have returned to the area to breed. They form a colony by tunnelling out nesting sites in the steep, dry banks of the South Luangwa River. In a profusion of crimson, with loud chirping, thousands of these beautiful birds flock in a spectacular display. Their aerial acrobatics are a dazzling accompaniment to our evening drink stop. Traditional safari gin and tonic in hand, I am mesmerised by this vibrant scene until the sun’s last rays are reflected in the water. This marvel is a wildlife highlight, even for those who are not yet interested in birding. Scores of sizeable crocodiles bask on the banks of the river, keeping an eye out for unwary prey.
Wending our way back to Tena Tena Camp, our tracker sweeps a spotlight over the bush and finds Large spotted genet, an African civet and a Verreaux’s eagle owl.
After a satisfying three course dinner, with a glass of iced Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa, I am escorted to my tent, as the camp is unfenced. I soon drift off to sleep, embraced by the vocalisations of hippos, dueting African scops owls and the rustle of leaves in the wind.
For more features by Gillian McLaren: www.gillianmclaren.blogspot.com
From Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, Proflight Zambia offers a two hour flight to Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka. The Bombardier CRJ 100/200 is comfortable, with ample leg room, overhead stowage and space below the seat to store my backpack with cameras. A light, cold in-flight meal is served, with a choice of fruit juice, coffee, tea, water or beer. All food is halal.
In Lusaka I am met by a Robin Pope Safaris representative, who assists me. From Lusaka to the small Mfuwe International Airport is a pleasant 1hour 30 minute flight with Proflight Zambia. Snacks and soft drinks are provided. Tena Tena Camp, Robin Pope Safaris, provides pickup and transport from Mfuwe International Airport, (which is also is easily accessible from the Lower Zambezi). The journey in an open game vehicle, through Mfuwe village and the rural area, provides an opportunity to see a slice of local life, before entering the South Luangwa National Park. I have my binoculars ready, as the game viewing and bird watching begins on the transfer.
The Urban Lusaka
For an overnight stay in Lusaka, during your trip to Zambia, I recommend The Urban Lusaka. This sophisticated hotel is sited in the pretty diplomatic area, 30 minutes from Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, within walking distance from two shopping centers. Minimalist rooms with a shower - in pencil-carbon black, charcoal and white hues - have views of the cityscape. A buffet breakfast is included. A la carte dinner includes vegetarian options. I savor the renowned Zambia Beef. The in-house bar is a chic, festive space, to meet fellow guests if you would like a convivial evening.
Words by Gillian McLaren (@Jetset_Gillian)
Images by Gillian McLaren and Robin Pope Safaris
Also read: A Traditional Safari, Remote and Game Rich: Anabezi Camp, Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia