S Luangwa Trip Report - Part 2


Apr 3rd, 2005, 01:04 PM
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S Luangwa Trip Report - Part 2

Also posted at the end of the Part 1 thread but thought some of you might miss it due to the title.

(RuthieC now takes up the writing……..)

As well as being on the river and microlighting we also undertook a couple of short (2 – 3 hour) safari walks while we were at Tafika. The most enjoyable was the walk to the huge Stork Colony early one morning (after Phil’s exciting microlight experience). We set off on the river for about 40 mins in the motorized dinghy and then walked for about an a hour and a half, stopping to look at lots of interesting things on the way – insects, plants, animal tracks (we failed to identify the aardvark!) as well as impala, giraffes and elephants (somehow so much bigger when you are on foot!). Finally we arrived at an open grass area where there were 5 or 6 large trees in a line all covered in nests and Storks. The chicks were beginning to hatch and the noise, pretty loud when we were there, must be deafening by now, as they should all have hatched within a week. We spent ages trying to get the perfect shot of a Stork flying over-head (not sure we succeeded but it was fun trying). It amazed us how hot it was even at 9 o’clock in the morning and we were very glad that our companions included the all important refreshments carrier – a welcome pause under the shade of a huge sausage tree – luckily enough the fruits were not yet ripe enough to pose any threat! We were even more amazed to learn that earlier in the season the Stork colony can be reached by boat and that the trees are usually surrounded by water at this time of year – even more evidence of the unusually dry “wet- season” in the S Luangwa this year.

We also went for an afternoon / evening game drive one day. We saw very little game during the whole time – mainly because the grass and undergrowth was still quite thick and provided many hiding places. However the scenery was beautiful and we felt much more remote than at Mfuwe as we didn’t see a single other vehicle and we knew that we were the only tourists in this whole area. We were lucky enough to see the endemic Cookson’s Wildebeest – much bigger than the ones we had seen in East Africa.

The great thing about Tafika was the range of different options available to us – driving, walking, boating and microlighting (although I don’t want to mislead anyone, this is charged as an extra which we always understood). For anyone not sure of including one of the walking only bush camps in their itinerary this is a great half-way house – remote and rustic but with a degree of comfort and a range of options each day (although the river safaris will not be available later in the season as the river dries up).

After 3 nights at Tafika, we left mid-morning on the Thursday for a hot, bumpy and tsetse-filled car journey to Mfuwe airport. Shortly after checking in, we met up with several people we had previously been introduced to and were chatting amiably when the announcement was made that there would be a half hour delay in departure. No problem, said Nick Aslin (M.D. of Norman Carr Safaris), and we all decamped to the famous Moondog Café for a cool drink. In the brief time we sat in the café we met Willie, our guide at Kapani, Rocky from Nkwali and Kim from Robin Pope Safaris, all either collecting new guests or traveling to Lusaka with us. Above the bar is a notice declaring the spot as Coppinger’s Corner, a reference to bygone days when the Moondog was the only place that had a reliable telephone line. John (Coppinger) would fly in to the airport in his microlight, head for the Moondog and set up his laptop to work on the camp reservations system! It seemed clear to us that the café was integral to the history of the South Luangwa lodges, and still retains a special atmosphere for the regular visitors there.
We had an uneventful one hour flight to Lusaka, during which we were served lunch (a carton of nectarine juice and a small packet of milk peanuts, yum, yum). The onward flight to Livingstone was much more exciting, as the pilot asked us if we would like a small detour and then flew 360 degrees over Victoria Falls, giving us a clear view of their sheer size and power.

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Apr 3rd, 2005, 01:05 PM
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On arrival we were met at Livingstone by the driver from Islands of Siankaba and were quickly on our way. The drive was 45 minutes, followed by a short boat trip. The lodge is very pretty with the bar and dining areas on one small island and rope and wooden walkways across to the other small island where the luxury tents are. The rooms are not really like tents – they feel much more substantial with just the top half of the walls and the zipped area onto the decking the only obvious canvas areas. Our tent is split-level with the sitting / sleeping area on the lower level and the main bathroom area on the higher level (the toilet was in a separate little room). All the furniture was mahogany with very pretty soft furnishings and the bed was the centre-piece with wonderful views out over the Zambezi. In the bathroom area there was a huge claw bath, shower cubicle and “his and her” basins, all complimented by lovely sandalwood toiletries.

However, while the setting and accommodation were beautiful, we were immediately aware that we were at a much more “commercialised” lodge. As soon as we got into the transfer car we were directed to read the “price list” for extras – and there were a lot! This continued throughout our stay as we were reminded at various intervals about what was excluded. All drinks were excluded which wasn’t an issue, as the prices seemed quite reasonable and we had been made aware of this before we booked. But when we were offered each evening a free sundowner cruise it was disappointing to learn that even these drinks weren’t included! Most concerning was the very high cost of all activities. Siankaba is about 45 minutes to 1 hour transfer from Livingstone and the return trips cost $40 each regardless of how many are in the vehicle. This meant that it would cost us a minimum of $80 for any outing – a bit of a shock to the system after the all-inclusive nature of the other places we had stayed.

Luckily, after a very hectic ten days we were quite happy to lounge about either on the sunbeds near the pool or on our own deck rather than trying to fit in any activities. We also had one very lazy day when it was very cloudy and rained quite a bit and we hardly ventured from our room and deck apart from mealtimes. We did undertake one trip to Livingstone to see the main local market in the Maramba township near Livingstone. This was very interesting and gave us a very small glimpse of day-to-day life – the whole of a typical UK town-centre seemed to be in this market – from butchers and fruit and vegetable sellers through to carpenters and bicycle repairs.

One thing I forgot to mention is that on our first night there we were hoping to be able to dine alone. When we saw the table laid up for about 16 people, Phil discreetly had a word with Tessa ( the trainee manager) and asked if we could eat at a separate table together – we didn’t want to be anti-social but were very tired and also had been looking forward to some time on our own. What a beautiful surprise; they set up a very romantic candlelit table for us outside under a little canopy lit up by 4 hurricane lamps. We had our own waiter who stood at a discrete distance looking the other way but always very attentive. It was a very special meal – I just wish we hadn’t been so tired and could have enjoyed it even more. Overall the food at Siankaba was excellent (although we both agree that Nkwali was even better!). I even tried crocodile tails one day – nothing exceptional but at least I can say I tried!

Overall we had a very enjoyable and relaxing time there and had rested up sufficiently to face the journey back home (Livingstone – Johannesburg – London). This time however we got what we paid for and were in economy for the 10 hour BA flight. Nevertheless it was OK, we both managed to sleep and the time seemed to pass quite quickly and we soon found ourselves back at Heathrow, landing on time at 6.30am!

Final observations – South Luangwa is beautiful – Roccco is right to recommend it to everyone. The Mfuwe area was not quite as remote as we had expected as there are a lot of lodges in the area and also, at this time of the year many of the smaller roads away from the main park roads are impassable so all the vehicles are sticking to the same sort of area. However we saw everything we had hoped to see and more (the wild dogs being the highlight) and the quality of the guiding was as high as we had been led to expect. The “wet season” was a complete misnomer for the time we had there – one very short evening shower on our first night was the only rain in S Luangwa although Livingstone was cloudier with more rain. In terms of the camps, for variety and excitement it would be hard to beat Tafika with the thrill of microlighting along with the option for boating, driving and walking. The accommodation at Kapani was beautiful and the manager, Claire, a delight to spend time with and the deck overlooking the lagoon was a wonderful spot to relax, meet everyone and have our meals. But overall we both agree that Nkwali was our favourite camp – mainly because of Rocky our guide who very quickly got on our wavelength and tuned each drive to our particular interests and for the exuberance and friendliness of all the other staff we came across.

Phil said to me yesterday that it was the best Africa trip ever; it’s a very close second for me, but my heart is still in the Ruaha!

That's it, homework done (if a little late). Happy to answer any questions.
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Apr 3rd, 2005, 02:44 PM
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Loved the Moondog Cafe story.

I remember that stork colony, quite unlike anything else. And the trees in the area were just glistening white with stork doo doo.

Cooksons Wildebeest in South Luangwa. Thought they were only in North Luangwa, and never saw any in South L, so I learned something from your post.

Appreciate your Kapani observations. I had been wondering about it. Sounds lovely.

You also addressed a question I posed in your other thread about this low/green season trip being typical or not. From your comments about weather, it appears to have been much drier, thankfully.

One more question. Now where to?
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Apr 18th, 2005, 01:07 PM
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Fabby dabby!
Can't find part 1 - do you have a link?
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