Travel Africa editor Laura Griffith-Jones travelled to Zambia to find out what makes this picturesque reserve unique. Photographs by Will Birtles.
rifting along on the Zambezi, Zimbabwe to your right and Zambia to your left, is magical. Birds flit among the reeds; hippopotami wallow in the shallows, emitting cautionary snorts if the boat passes too close; Nile crocodiles carve the surface with only their gleaming, amber eyes visible. If you’re lucky, a family of elephant may splosh into the water and swim across in front of you. While Lower Zambezi National Park is famous for this legendary river, it is also renowned for the elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and African wild dogs that roam its magnificent escarpment and forested valleys. Here are eight incredible experiences that make it stand out:
1 Watch wildlife from the water
This provides a wonderful contrast to your usual 4WD game drive. You observe the wildlife at their level and can get much closer without disturbing them. There are plenty of options, including a dawn or dusk speedboat cruise, where you can putter along spotting bee-eaters, fish eagles and kingfishers to your heart’s content. Alternatively, a canoe gets you even nearer to the surface. Exploring the narrow channels, dodging hippo, is idyllic yet exhilarating; there are enough Nile crocs here to make sure you keep your hands in the boat.
2 Lunch or dine on the Zambezi
There’s nothing more peaceful than sipping Champagne and enjoying fresh tilapia goujons on a boat on the Zambezi, with antelope and elephant grazing nearby and birds serenading you. Dining out on the river, for us at least, was a little less romantic, due to an inquisitive hippo scratching its ‘derrière’ on our anchor; but it was an extraordinary experience nonetheless.
3 Spot the Big Four
There may be no rhino due to devastating poaching, but this is made up for by the number of lion, buffalo, leopard and elephant that you’ll see whether you’re exploring by boat, 4WD or on foot.
4 Encounter elephant everywhere
You’ll find these great pachyderms blocking the roads (‘elephant jams’ are common), snorkelling across the river or plodding through the camps, where they could easily stroll right past your room.
5 Witness wild dogs hunting
You might be lucky enough to spot resident wild dogs. Our expectations had been low but, miraculously, we stumbled across a pack of 20 – and spent a few hours watching them hunt. Moving as a team, they artfully crept up on a herd of impala and made chase. It was remarkable to watch the dogs work together at the speed of light. However, this attempt failed and, panting heavily, they slowed to a trot, saving their energy for the next ambush. Suddenly, they accelerated again – this time in pursuit of baboons. With military precision, they grabbed a baby, and we watched in fascinated horror as they hungrily tore the terrified creature to pieces.
6 Eat like kings
It is incredible what can be produced out there in the wilderness, but despite the remote location, you can expect four hearty, scrumptious meals a day, from bush breakfasts to three- or four-course dinners washed down with Shiraz under the stars.
7 Explore the wilderness on foot
Walking safaris enable you to notice the smaller things that you’d miss on a game drive. Termite mounds, plants, tracks, feathers, bones and dung become your focus as you snake through the wilderness, eyes peeled in case of bigger game. A leopard perhaps?
8 Sleep under the stars
At Chongwe River Camp, you can spend the night high on a ridge of the escarpment. It’s a matchless experience to snuggle down on a comfortable mattress suspended a metre up, with nothing but a mosquito net between you and the vast, bejewelled universe overhead. This Tentsile Tree Tent gives the sensation of slumbering in a hammock in the wilderness. The sounds of the night will ring loud in your ears: lions call, hyenas laugh and the soporific orchestra of nightjars, cicadas and tree frogs hums. The golden glow of dawn gently wakes you, as the sun rises above the horizon and the bush stirs.
Lower Zambezi National Park’s unique scenery and wildlife make it a photographer’s heaven, so always carry a good camera with you. If you don’t have your own, you can rent all the equipment you need from UK-based Lenses For Hire.