In eastern Zambia sits South Luangwa National Park, the southernmost national park in the Luangwa River valley – the tail end of the Great African Rift Valley system, which extends 4,000km from the Red Sea down to the Pungwe River mouth in Mozambique. In 1938, the area was founded as a game reserve, but became a national park in 1972 and now covers a little over 9,000km2.
The park is serviced by a little town called Mfuwe. It has an international airport with daily flights to and from the Zambian capital, Lusaka.
The winding Luangwa River, with its ox bow lagoons, gives life to woodlands and large plains – a combination found in very few places in Africa – that attract a plethora of wildlife, including elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion, giraffe, hippo and over 450 species of birds. The river teems with crocodile and hippo, especially just inside the Mfuwe Gate entrance, while large herds of elephants and Cape buffaloes, and Thornicroft’s giraffe graze out on the open grassland.
As a protected game reserve for over 65 years before that, the park was never subjected to the degradation of unregulated mass tourism, thus sustaining its pristine wilderness. It was here, in this park, that the now famous ‘walking safari’ originated, when Norman Carr, who was originally a ranger in the game reserves in the 1940s, began to operate wilderness safaris in the area. Carr recognised the limitations of the early format of hunting safaris, and developed the walking safari to increase tourism to the area, as well as species conservation.
What makes South Luangwa National Park a great destination for a safari is the unparalleled variety of wildlife that visits and gather around the meandering river and its many oxbow lagoons, with much of the game concentrated along the valley floor. There is also the remote Muchinga escarpment, which acts as a physical barrier to many of the park’s animal species, and where species like the elusive hartebeest, sable and roan, among others, can be found if you explore that area with a guide who knows where to look.
But you don’t have to travel to the most remote areas of the park to see some amazing animal sights. Expect some terrific photo-opportunities as enormous herds of elephants, some up to seventy strong, gather at the Luangwa River’s edge to quench their thirst and splash around. In fact, don’t be surprised if a handful of elephants wander in and out of your camp, as they have a habit of making themselves welcome. Also, impala and puku – the impala’s fluffier and cousin with a rich orange coat, are found throughout the park, not to mention prolific birdlife.