A fantastic park. We were spoilt seeing lions attempting to kill a water buffalo calf, and two leopards, who were resting in the trees as we sat and watched them for two hours. We camped at Croc Valley for three days just outside of the park gates.

27/04/2010 – Croc Valley – South Luangwa National Park to Lusaka via Chipata (first three hours off-road), six hours from there to Lusaka – We knew it was coming, so we got the long drive to the capital started early. I had to pick up the map that I left at Mama Rula’s in Chipata. The landscape changed a lot on the long drive. When we got to the huge bridge over the Luangwa river I stopped to take some photos. It was good seeing the river after spending the last three days on the banks of the river at Croc Valley. The bridge was wide enough for two vehicles but the lorry behind us had stopped. I then knew that the police at the other end would get funny about me taking photos. In most countries we passed through, bridges are the one no photo opportunity, especially in Ethiopia and Sudan where it’s a military threat.

At the gate the policeman told me to park up. He said it was a traffic offence and asked me to go back to Nyimba, 120km back up the road we had just travelled down and pay a traffic fine. ‘I don’t think so’! I didn’t say that, but pretty much said that there is no way we are going back that far, when we need to get to Lusaka before it gets dark. A bribe was coming up, so I evaded it by apologising and playing the ignorant tourist. Bun argued with him for a while, saying there were no signs up. As with most police officers, if you grind them down with questions and a few apologies you can normally get away without paying anything. I was told by the one sitting under the tree ,who refused to move, to speak to his colleague. By the time I crossed the road, he was laughing with Bun and told us to move on.

One other stop on the road, this time a barrier across the road that was checking for Tsetse fly. The man on duty brushed the Landcruiser down with what looked like a fishing net. He looked inside and saw nothing so moved us on.

We arrived at Pioneer camp on the outskirts of Lusaka around five. We bumped into the English couple again, who had come from Chipata today. We can’t stop bumping into them, and they accused us of stalking them!

26/04/2010 – Croc Valley – South Luangwa National Park – We could have gone into the park again, but after yesterday we thought we should leave it at that and just hang out at the campsite for the day. It made more sense to stay here rather than break the journey to Lusaka, the capital, in Chipata. It was much nicer here, so we decided to make a move early the next day to Lusaka, doing the whole nine to ten-hour journey in one day. The Germans got lucky when they came back from their drive, seeing a large pride of lions with a male present who looked battered and bruised. We spent the evening with them and saw their photos from today.

We walked into the village to pick up some fillet steak that the Dutch owner at the camp next door had recommended.

25/04/2010 – Croc Valley – South Luangwa National Park – Our permit we bought the previous day allows us to enter the park for up to 24 hours. We got up at five aiming to get into the park at six when it opened. We were allowed to drive in our own vehicle for a small fee.

We were free to go anywhere in the park and had until 4 pm to get out. We followed some of the tracks we took last night on the night drive and then decided to see the giant baobab tree that was marked on the map. We took some of the smaller tracks that had dried out and then ended up on the zebra loop. It was from there that we noticed three lions walking on the track. We parked up pretty close and then kept seeing more. After five minutes we then noticed some water buffalo in the bush. We couldn’t believe our luck. A funny thing then happened. We saw the top of an overland vehicle on a side track, that belonged to the English couple we first met in Lulongwe in Malawi. They had stumbled across the lions at exactly the same time. They had seen us first then noticed a lion appear from the bush right next to them.

The lions looked like they were ready to kill. We got a glimpse of a young calf in the herd, so that was going to be the kill if they could get past the adult buffalos. Suddenly the lions were off and one after another, eight lionesses were on the move chasing down the herd. I took random photos, trying to see what was happening at the same time. The buffalo stampeded into the thick bush and the lions seemed to give up.

We got going again, trying to predict where they would end up. We found them again at a dry open section near the zebra loop. By this time, a few day-trippers with one of the big lodges had got a sniff of it and parked up next to us.

We were there for over two hours watching the lions tease the adult buffalo as they tried to make their way into the centre of the herd. There were eight lionesses in total, all hiding in different places behind trees and bushes.

After leaving the park around eleven, we decided to head back to Croc Valley and grab some lunch. We knew we had some time this afternoon to enter the park again.

The Germans were back from their drive and had said they saw a leopard up a tree near one of the main tracks. They were with us at the lion viewing earlier as well.

On entering the park in the afternoon, we were told that we only had an hour left as we had to leave by four and not six, which we had thought. That meant we only had one hour to see as much as we could so we went in search of the buffalo thinking we would get to se the lions again. The lions were desperate to kill the calf. Not a sight, but we did see our first Thornicroft giraffe, a rarer species than the normal Southern giraffe It has different colouration with dark patches on the body.

Whilst driving back to the main gate , we saw the Germans parked up in some bush looking at something. As we slowed down, I got a glimpse of a leopard resting high up in a tree. Then we saw a younger cub, resting in a lower tree, looking like it was about to fall out! We decided, after watching them for ten minutes, to race back to the main gate five minutes away and try to persuade them to let us stay till six, when all staff vehicles had to be out of the park.

I paid $20 for one person to enter the park and we both raced back to get a good spot and watch the leopards. This was incredible after seeing the lions this morning. The most solitary and secretive of the big game cats was resting without a care in the world right next to the main track. The Germans efforts had paid off and they were the first to spot them. They had followed their lead from earlier after they saw them briefly. Leopards rarely rest in the same place day after day. Zambia’s bush is perfect for leopards. They like plenty of cover like riverine woodland. This rare cat was looking right us as Bun read from the ‘Safari Companion’ in a soft voice, describing the animal in detail.

We sat there watching them for over an hour, then the adult leopard began to move from his high branch. It made its way down and then headed for some kill that we hadn’t seen in the thick grass. It must have been killed the night before. We could hear the crunching of bones and the smell of the dead impala. The cub followed soon after and had its turn on the impala.

It got close to six and we had to leave. South Luangwa could turn out to be the best park we visit on the whole trip. It’s more isolated than many other parks and it was well worth the trip here. We could have spent a long time here, making our way into the park everyday to see what we could find. Highly recommended. Zambia’s other parks are equally, if not more, isolated and there is plenty to see here in the dry season.

24/04/2010 – Croc Valley – South Luangwa National Park – We took it easy all day, hanging around the camp keeping an eye out for the monkeys and baboons that come about at lunch time. It was nice also to sit and watch the hipoos in the river. Our guide and driver, Freddie, arrived at three for us to get going on the night drive at four. He had worked in the park for thirty years and had worked in different lodges over the years. He had taken a film crew from the BBC around when they came in search of leopards. Only after fourteen days after they packed all their film crew away, did they got a sight of one. Freddie had to drive at speed to pick up the cameras so they could get some footage.

The guides in Zambia are generally better than other game parks in east Africa. They also use completely open safari Landcruisers, which makes you feel a lot closer to the game. In Kenya and Tanzania they only use the open roof jeeps that you pop your head out of to get a decent view.

We drove around until it got dark, seeing elephants and zebra among other animals. The park is just drying up after the rainy season. Many parts of the park are still out-of-bounds and impassable. Black cotton soil is a nightmare trying to drive through and a lot of people you speak to say keep well clear of it. Our original idea, after seeing the park, was to head north to Mpika, but were told not to try it as the Luangwa river is still too high to pass.

The torch came out and Freddie’s assistant stood up on his seat and flashed the torch left and right, spanning the bush to see if he could catch a highlight in an animals eyes for us to view. A totally different experience from the day. We got the chance of seeing animals that are nocturnal such as the Civet, a relation to the mongoose which has a similar coloured coat to a leopard.

We were really hoping to see a leopard. Freddie had seen one the night before when he took the German’s out. As the night went on, our hearts were thumping at the excitement at seeing one. We reckoned that game viewing is close to gambling or placing a bet on a horse race. The expectation is intense.

As time went on we resigned ourselves to not seeing one. As we headed out of the park after being in there for three hours, Freddie got sight of a few safari jeeps shining their spotlights into a small clearing on the bush up the track. He raced round and once we were there, we got sight of a leopard. It was on the move through the thick grass, so we moved further up the track. Once we got a view of it again, it had placed itself on a fallen tree. It rested there for a good while. I was trying to take a decent photo with the aid of the spotlight.

We couldn’t believe it and were totally blown away by seeing it. We got lucky again.

23/04/2010 – Chipata to South Luangwa National park (Croc Valley) – The road was pretty bad despite being told it was OK. We covered the 150km in three hours arriving at the Mfuwe international airport. The park is pretty isolated and most game viewers fly in from the capital, Lusaka. We then headed to Croc Valley. We had heard good things about this place and weren’t disappointed. Right on the edge of the river. On the way there we headed to one other site to check it out and got stopped by an elephant in the middle of the road. There were two other vehicles waiting for it to move. We waited twenty minutes for it to budge. Great to see it close up as it flapped its ears and trunk about.

Sean, the owner of Croc Valley, gave us the low-down that evening. He told us to be aware of hippos and elephants wandering around the camp at night. The night guard also told us a few funny stories about campers encountering hippos in the night when they left food outside their tents. He said we were living inside a zoo cage and that we needed to be careful at night!

The Germans, camping next to us, ame back from their night drive around nine, so we chatted to them for a while. We aim to do the same tomorrow, and a day drive on our own the following morning.

It’s one of the few parks a night drive can be done. What also makes it so special is the large number of game to be seen. The Luangwa River is almost totally unaffected by man. It has no dams on it, nor any commercial agriculture along its banks so you can see the natural fluctuations in water levels and flooding. Lodges and camps come and go as the they are swallowed up by river erosion.

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