Neither of us knew very much at all about Zambia. It is another huge country, not quite as large as Tanzania, but still three times the size of The UK. We had two planned stops in the country, one in the capital Lusaka, and our first stop in South Luangwa National Park.

Although we had seen only small numbers of wildlife since leaving Ngorongoro Crater, our time had been more than adequately filled with the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar and the beautiful people of Malawi. In fact, you should never really get bored travelling through Africa as there is always some scene being played out as you look out of the window. But now it was time to get back to some game viewing.

Getting ready for a game drive in Zambia.

In years to come, when we look back at our travels, we are sure that there will be certain places that will standout more than others. Places that we will remember for good reasons and bad. South Luangwa will very much be remembered for the good, it was exceptional.

We did a couple of game drives in the day time and an evening/night one as well. We saw so much and it was hard to take it all in, thank goodness for cameras.

There is an emense amount of wildlife in the continent of Africa, but people talk a lot about ‘The Big 5’, which are the Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Rhino and Leopard. They are so called because years ago they were considered the most dangerous and most difficult to hunt. Now, although hunting and poaching is still a big issue, most people ‘hunt’ The Big 5 for that fantastic photo.

Looking out for ‘The Big 5’.

From our experience, the Leopard is by far the most elusive. Solitary animals who spend most of the day hiding out in trees hidden from view. You have to be observant and lucky to see one. We had a brief glimpse of one from a distance of about 50 metres in The Serengeti but, up until now, that had been our total Leopard exposure. Hopefully South Luangwa would prove more rewarding.

We had arrived after dark. When we got up early for breakfast, before a game drive, the sun was just coming up and Steve wandered over to the edge of the river we had been camped next to and saw three elephants slowly crossing from one side to the other. We had a good feeling about this place.

Early morning in South Luangwa

One of the things we will remember about this particular National Park was how close we were able to get to the animals. As we bobbled about the dirt roads in our open 4×4 safari vehicles we had some great encounters. We had seen many hippo wallowing in the water back in Tanzania and also a few out of the water from a distance. But here in Zambia we drove around one corner and came face to face with a big, old hippo who had ventured out of the water right next to us to have a graze.

He was a big boy!

Then a family of three elephants just wandered across a road, only metres ahead of us. You never get tired of seeing baby elephants.

Cameras at the ready.

We drove along to different sections of the park with the driver and the guide always on the lookout, with our 8 pairs of eyes contributing to the scanning as well.

“Stop!!!”, came the shout from the back of the vehicle. The driver kept going “Stop, stop, stop”, came a much louder shout as Steve almost jumped forward and grabbed the handbrake. “I’m sure I’ve just seen a leopard in that tree”. Sceptically, the driver maneuvered the vehicle into the bush towards the tree Steve was pointing towards. “Whereabouts”, he asked. “It was about halfway up, laying on a branch”. The driver moved forward and there it was, coming into view almost directly above our heads, less than 10 metres away.

The leopard stood up on the branch, observed us for a few seconds, snarled a disapproving look at us, and then gracefully jumped down right next to us and trotted off into the bush and in a few strides it had disappeared from view.

The driver and guide couldn’t believe how Steve had seen it and how close we had got. Steve just sat back and said, “That’s my contribution to this entire trip. I’m done!”

Its the Leopard….not a big snake!

Our fantastic encounters in South Luangwa didn’t end there. The evening drive threw up its own amazing experience. We had been driving for about an hour with very little luck at spotting any animals. The sun was setting, the heat was starting to drift away from what had been a particularly scorching day. In the orange glow, and slightly cooler temperatures, South Luangwa started to take on a different feel. The slow lethargic feeling of the day was disappearing and being replaced by a feeling of impending action. It was a time to hunt.

The sun is going down, expectation builds.

We drove on deeper into The Park with still no signs of the big game, until we rounded a corner and there, lounging and sleeping in the road, was a pride of 13 lions! Several big females and their young of varying ages.

It was a fabulous sight. We parked where the guide said we were a safe distance away, which still seemed very close, and we sat back and watched them.

The cubs were easily the most active, play fighting with one another and annoying their mothers by clambering over them as they tried to sleep. One by one the four big females started to slowly move into action, rolling over, standing and stretching, and all the while keeping one eye or ear on us. They rounded up the cubs and maneuvered them into the long grass near to the side of the road.

Then they wandered away over the brow of a small hill. We drove a large circle around in the direction they were heading and found they had walked to a watering hole. They all lined up and crouched down to drink together. They stayed drinking for several minutes, preparing for a thirsty job ahead. One last check on the cubs and then they strolled off into the bush in search of dinner.

We had been with the lions for well over 30 minutes, during which we had virtually no conversation, we just stood up in the vehicle and watched. We probably will never get this close to this many lions, watching the cubs play and the adults prepare to hunt again, so we just soaked it up.

After South Luangwa we drove across Zambia towards the capital Lusaka. It was clear Zambia was still a relatively poor country but not as poor as Malawi. More cars on the road, more brick buildings, more roadside shops and stalls and when we arrived in Lusaka it was a much more modern city than either of us had expected and not the total chaos as had been the case in Dar Es Salaam. We stopped at a large, modern shopping mall which contained a big supermarket so that we could restock on much depleted provisions. The whole complex would not have been out of place in many European cities. We found a great coffee shop with an espresso machine and sat down with great coffee and cake for the first time in what seemed like an age.

Our campsite on the outskirts of Luangwa was also of a good standard and we treated ourselves to a cheeky upgrade and spent the night in a room, in a bed with a thick mattress and an ensuite toilet and a shower with hot water.

Zambia had been a total hit!

We wouldn’t want to forget Pumba!

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