From South Luangwa we continued up the Luangwa river valley toward North Luangwa NP. The road follows the course of the river, but never comes close enough to actually see the river. The road is not too bad, typical African dirt road, but that is true only during the dry period. As it crosses several smaller rivers and streams, it becomes totally impassable when the rains start and remains closed for half a year. It winds through nice miombo woodlands and grass plains, passes small villages and crosses another small national park between both Luangwa ones – Luambe NP. Poaching was rife in this park until very recently, so the animals are very skittish and nervous, but we did see a few herds of impala, zebra and wildebeest there.
Orientation can be quite a problem on this road, if you don’t have proper GPS guidance. There are many junctions in the villages, where it is often hard to guess which track leads where. On one occasion we have come to an unexpected gate on the road and gate keeper explained to us that we have missed the right turn about 15 kilometers back.
The original plan for the day was to continue until Chifunda village and then to the community campsite right near the pontoon across the river into North Luangwa park. This would be a very long day on the road, but our neighbors in Wildlife Camp told us about another exceptionally nice community camp at Kanunshya, about 30 km before Chifunda. This camp is not yet marked on the latest Tracks4Africa, but was marked on our paper map. We decided to give it a try and found it to be the most idyllic camp of the whole trip. It is positioned right on the south bank of Luangwa river, exactly at its confluence with Mwaleshi river. It has perfect shade, working ablution and camp attendants will heat water for your showers. There is a large pod of hippos in the river, right at your doorstep and for us, there is no better music than hippo’s grunting to lull us to sleep.
The next morning we continued toward Chifunda and to the pontoon across Luangwa. This is quite a scenic pontoon. Its capacity is only one vehicle and is pulled to the other side by hand. A quick look at its ledger book revealed that only about 5 cars had crossed it in last week.
Once inside the North Luangwa Park, we took a track along the north bank of the river, and then up north toward Buffalo Camp. There’s only a couple of lodges in North Luangwa park and Buffalo Camp is the only one that also accommodates guests on self-catering basis – there is no camping inside the park. It is positioned on the banks of the Mwaleshi river and comprises from 7 en-suite chalets, kitchen and bar with dining area. Due to flooding it must be built from scratch every year and is only opened between May and November. Chalets are completely opened on one side, providing an unobstructed view across the river.
North Luangwa’s trademark are walking safaris. It is a completely different experience, when you observe African wilderness on foot (of course, accompanied by a guide and armed ranger), compared to a normal game drive. We set off early in the morning, were transferred to our starting point in a safari vehicle, and then continued on foot down the Mwaleshi River. We crossed the river twice and finished our three hour exploring back in the camp. If you are lucky, you can even come across black rhino here – we weren’t, but we did see its clear footprint from the previous night in the sand. Our guide was very skilled and has explained a lot of very interesting details to us. His tracking skills were amazing and by the reading footprints he determined that a pride of lions was moving along our path about an hour before us.
Just before our return into the camp, we came across a large herd of Cookson’s wildebeests, a subspecies endemic to Luangwa valley.
After our return to the camp and short refreshment, we said goodby to Buffalo Camp and continued our journey toward the northern exit of the park. Just a few kilometers before the gates, on a steep road section up the wooded escarpment, we suddenly noticed a strange creature in the middle of the road. Could that be ….. Yes, it was! It was an African wild dog, one of the scarcest carnivore animals! It was alone, but probably his pack was not far away. He seemed baffled to meet us there – he just stared at us, and didn’t know what to do. This eye staring contest lasted for about 10 minutes. Then, he suddenly decided he had enough of it, and vanished silently into the woods. Our visit to North Luangwa could not end with a better sighting!