A safari in Zambia’s South Luangwa National park will have your heart thumping wildly. That’s because you’re likely to be on foot, with not much between you and the animals.
I realise the power of these animals when I encounter an elephant stamping its feet and fluttering its ears.
“Try not to make any sudden moves,” says our guide without taking his eyes off it.
We are walking by a dry waterway bed across the way from the restless pachyderm.
Man with a gun
We’re on a safari in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park by foot, with an experienced Zambian safari guide.
Also with us is a man with a gun, a Parker Hale M81 African bolt action .375 rifle to be exact. According to our guide, this weapon will stop a fully grown elephant in its tracks. Phew! As a lover of elephants, I’m hoping he won’t have cause to use his rifle.
We had actually met this anxious elephant while on a drive earlier during the day. Only a couple of kilometers from our camp, the elephant had decided to charge at a pride of lions.
I had expected the lions to win the fight but all five lions turned tail and fled.
My impression of the lion as ruler of the jungle was dashed during my visit to South Luangwa National Park. Here, it seems elephants rule.
Our guide swung his binoculars towards three more elephants trudging along the dry stream bed.
On a normal African safari, guests for the most part view wildlife from an open top or open sided vehicle. But in Zambia, walking safaris offer an adrenalin rush.
Luckily, the elephants choose to allow us to watch. We contemplate the herd from across the dry river bed. Being on foot so close to these wild animals is quite an experience.
After awhile, we trek into the Riverine backwoods which has trees like mopane, leadwood, winterthorn, baobab, black and vegetable ivory palms.
Hippos and hyenas
We find hippo, elephant and hyena droppings. Pukus and impalas run when they see us. One of my companions finds a puku horn belonging to a 17-year-old animal.
We see a huge hippo bathing in a stream.
Startled by the crackling of dry twigs underneath under our feet, the hippo rockets out of the water and vanishes into the greenery on the opposite side of the stream.
Hippos are everywhere we look. We see heaps of hippos in the water. It’s not surprising as there are 48 hippos per kilometer of water along the Luangwa River. We also spot a couple of them running agilely over the fields like ballerinas.
Buffalo Herd in South Luangwa
There is one minute when my heart skips a beat. Our guide spots a her of buffalo and cautions us not to make sudden moves. “Whatever happens, we all stay together,” he says.
A couple of days earlier, he had barely escaped from being gored by one. Luckily he managed to leap his vehicle in the nick of time.
There must be no less than 50 of them here today and we have no vehicle nearby. Six people on foot couldn’t possibly survive a stampede.
I drop to the back of the group thinking that if anything should happen those in front would be trampled first!
The buffalo peer at us and for a moment my mouth goes dry as I imagine them charging at us. Fortunately they decide to run in the opposite direction.
Puku Ridge Camp
Back in the security of my tent at Puku Ridge Camp, I stand under a hot shower while the wildlife wander around outside.
My tent is absolutely enormous. It has a vast open air deck and a huge bed swathed in mosquito mesh. The furniture is industrial chic.
Meals are served in the common area and the grounds are not fenced.
A camp guide accompanies me to my tent each night, just in case we come across a lion (which is entirely possible).
The time of the day is at sundown, when the sun is as bright as the Bloody Marys I’ve come to appreciate.
Abercrombie & Kent organises walking safaris in South Luangwa National Park.
The dry season from April to October offers the best game sightings.