Niamh Sacramento blogs about a magical riverboat safari, an orphaned hippo and cocktails at sundown in Zambia
Eight years ago, I spent a few months in the small town of Katete in Zambia working in Saint Francis’ Hospital. It was my first time independently travelling to Africa and I left with bright memories. Zambia has a special place in my heart but as excited as I was to return, I was worried that visiting again would dampen my memories. Was it really as special as I remembered?
Crossing the border from Tanzania, we meandered slowly towards Lusaka. At Kapishya Hot Springs, we ran through the rain to bathe in deliciously clear hot water. In Mutinondo Wilderness, we hiked up hemispheres of granite to admire the expansive view and time-defying rock art. We were also introduced to the playful situanga, dancing at dawn.
Giles’ sister Anna and her boyfriend Josh flew from London to spend a few days with us. Whisking them from the airport, they sampled Zambian hospitality (and nshima of course, a staple food made from maize flour and water) at a roadside restaurant on the way to Livingstone. Crossing the Knife-Edge Bridge in front of Victoria Falls, we were overcome with awe and experienced a downpour of spray that left us soaked and invigorated. The dramatic downstream views of Mosi-oa-Tunya (or ‘smoke that thunders’ – the local name for Victoria Falls) were followed by serene sundowners upstream. Cocktails in hand, sun setting, spray rising from the falls, catching up with family – it really doesn’t get much better than this!
For some reason, Giles, Anna and Josh all felt the need to throw themselves off a bridge! High on the adrenaline, post-jump, we took a few nights to relax at an island upstream, reaching our resting place by canoe and sharing our dinner with the habituated genets. Refreshed and ready for the next destination, we arrived at the Lower Zambezi GMA and met an orphaned hippo. At less than a week old, baby Jackson was found abandoned near the jetty and had been taken in and cared for. His namesake, Jackson, fed him carefully with a makeshift bottle. A magical riverboat safari and a heart-thumping canoe safari later, we said goodbye to Anna and Josh.
The Great East Road is strewn with roadworks and diversions (although it is much improved since 2008) so we were relieved to reach Katete. I was even more relieved to find that the place was as welcoming as I had remembered and that the continued efforts of the staff at Saint Francis’ Hospital have resulted in significant improvement.
South Luangwa gave us our second-ever wild dog sighting, as well as an impressive display of elephant, hippo, croc, puku, impala, warthogs, genets and birdlife. Lions declined to show themselves but woke us each night with their roars. Our lunch table was rudely overtaken by a green spotted snake, which proceeded to strike an unlucky frog. All thoughts of our lunch were forgotten, while we watched the serpent mercilessly and slowly devour his, alive. It’s a harsh life! Luckily, life was anything but harsh for us in Zambia. I built on my old and treasured store of memories and would happily return again.
- Kapishya Hot Springs is not just a beautiful place to stay; it’s also a good budget option if you want to visit the old English house Shiwa Ng’andu. Mark and Mel are exceptionally friendly and sociable.
- Mutinondo Wilderness offers an impressive and unique landscape and also the chance to chat to Frank, an ornithologist with an impressive knowledge of the local wildlife. It’s worth visiting just to speak to him.
- Pioneer Camp, near Lusaka airport, offers camping in a comfortable and natural setting. Despite it’s proximity to the city, it’s peaceful and relaxed – and it does a great steak.
- Jungle Junction provides island accommodation upstream of the Falls and is a wonderfully relaxing retreat. Only 30km by road and a few metres by canoe, you could easily lose a few days here. Don’t miss the genets at dinnertime.
- For those on a budget, it’s a lot cheaper to stay in the lodges in the GMA (Game Management Area) of the Lower Zambezi than in the park itself. The game-viewing just west of the Chongwe River is fantastic and I can highly recommend a riverboat or canoe safari (or both!).
- Tikondane or Tiko Lodge provides basic but adequate (and cheap) accommodation if you need a stopover on the long drive from Lusaka to South Luangwa. There are basic meals available and it’s a wonderful opportunity to interact with, and contribute to, the local community.
- Just outside the South Luangwa park gate, the Wildlife Camp is based right beside the river and offers great animal viewing. This is one of the best campsites we visited.