Screeching vervet monkeys serve as a dawn alarm call on my first morning at Kapamba Bush Camp, tucked deep inside Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. It’s a call that hints at the activity throbbing through the park during October, the hottest and driest month of the year. Dubbed ‘suicide month’ by locals, it’s when the animals are at their most desperate.
Sleep-logged, I step out of my chalet and into the already hot day to start the morning’s game walk. In single file our small group follows our guide Charles and a rifle-toting scout as the rising sun bronzes the arid bush. We pass termite mounds like ice creams left out in the rain and watch giraffes galloping across the plains. Within 20 minutes we encounter the remains of an impala and the rest of the morning becomes a game of whodunit, with Charles occasionally bending to the ground to inspect the latest clue. This time it’s a paw print.
“Wild dogs killed that impala,” he declares. At first we doubt him; the wild dog is the second most endangered species in Africa and rarely seen. But that afternoon, after a lunch of homemade pizzas and a siesta, Charles tracks down the elusive pack of 17 wild dogs, with their mottled tortoiseshell markings and ears like big butterflies. We watch them play in the shade all afternoon, stopping only for sundowner G&T’s. Afterwards it’s a night game drive where our spotlight illuminates a hyena feeding five young, followed by an alfresco dinner in the belly of a dried-out river.
South Luangwa is a leopard hot spot, and the next day we search for them at Puku Ridge Tented Camp. We manage to manoeuvre our Jeep just a few metres away from two of the usually skittish creatures draped over a tree. They’re so hot and hungry they barely move when we pull up beneath them.
Next up is Chinzombo, Zambia’s most luxurious camp spread over 60 acres on the banks of the South Luangwa River.
“Until we opened there was nothing of this high-end in Zambia,” says Tom, one of the camp managers. “Having this level of experience means Zambia can properly keep up with other African countries known for high-end safaris, like Botswana.”
Chinzombo has been fastidiously designed, incorporating leather, raw timber and linen, air conditioning, Wi-Fi and plunge pools in the six villas, gourmet food and wine and outstanding guides.
During an afternoon game drive, our guide Innocent leads us to an astonishing scene. We round a corner and there, just 100m away, are 14 lions attacking a baby elephant. The elephant manages to shake the ferocious felines off and rushes towards a nearby watering hole, but the lions have tasted blood and follow their prey into the river.
Suddenly, the little elephant decides he’s had enough and charges the sleek cats with all the strength he can muster. “I’ve never seen anything like this, in all the 30-plus years I have been leading safaris,” whispers Innocent.
We cheer the elephant on until, miraculously, he makes it to the other side and slips out of sight into the bush. The lions turn, stopping just once before bounding off, to cast a disdainful glance back at their vanished prey.
From here we switch from a Jeep to an eight-seater plane to fly to the Lower Zambezi National Park, where we explore Zambia’s wild beauty by water.
At Baines’, a lodge set on the banks of the Zambezi River, the morning is dedicated to fishing for glossy, razor-toothed Tiger Fish.
Chongwe River Camp, where elephants stroll through the camp day and night, offers an afternoon of canoeing. It’s hair-raising zigzagging across the Zambezi, but once we thrash our way past the hippos and into the narrow channels it’s heaven. Crocs slip silently into the water, while baboons, birds and buffalo graze on the sweet grasses and purple hyacinth flowers of the floodplains as the sun sinks below the trees.
For my last day on the river I’m at Sausage Tree Camp. We laze about in Bedouin-style tents, complete with plunge pool and personal butler, and have lunch on a sandbank with our feet submerged. On a final walking safari we search for the oldest, fattest Baobab tree in the area. When we find it, I step inside the thousand-year-old beauty and wish I never had to reappear.
The writer travelled courtesy of Bench International Safari Company.
Emirates Airlines flies daily from Sydney and Melbourne to Lusaka, Zambia, stopping over in Dubai. Regional flights are through the local carrier, Proflight. See emirates.com.NEED TO KNOW
Bench International’s eight day Best of Zambia package includes three nights in Lower Zambezi National Park and four nights in South Luangwa National Park. From $7955pp twin share. Tel: 1300 237 422; visit benchinternational.com.au.