Other than enjoying the magnificent wildlife and peaceful surroundings when on Safari, sometimes it comes down to a little bit of patience and the willingness to take risks (not life-threatening of course).
The Emerald Season is an exciting time to head off on Safari, you will be blown away with the amount of wildlife you encounter and for a number of reasons it is my favourite time to head to the bush. The roads are quiet with hardly any vehicles on the roads, the bush screams a vibrant green and the birding is at its best.
This trip we were checking out a couple of the Robin Pope Safari properties, Nkwali and Nsefu. Due to the time of year and those magnificent rainstorms, not all camps and lodges are open. The two camps are situated in different parts of the park, so it was a great opportunity to understand what works best in the Emerald Season for our clients.
Our first two nights were spent at Nkwali, situated in the Mfuwe Sector and generally a busier part of the park. The Lodge has a warm homely feel to it, the bar and lounge area look out onto the Luangwa river and the deck stretches out over the water at this time of year. This is the only lodge in the area that faces due North, so you have the pleasure of enjoying early morning sunrises and those glorious late afternoon sunsets. The Lodge boasts 6 chalets (3 either side of the main area), that are spacious and comfortable, and each looks over the Luangwa River. You do get a full sense of being right in the bush here as the rooms are very open to the wild and have ‘hippo highways’ surrounding them. Instead of falling asleep to the sounds of whales in the sea let the gentle munching of a hippo as it mows the lawn outside your room be your bush lullaby! The food was outstanding, the staff friendly and welcoming and the guiding exceptional. We were lucky to see all but Leopard over the two days, but our favourite and most memorable drive of the two days was our first.
After arriving a little later than planned we enjoyed tea and coffee and the most delicious late lunch snacks before heading out on our evening drive around 4 pm. The thick clouds were coming in over the area and looked a little ominous, but it wasn’t going to stop us – we were mentally prepared for a little downpour and our guide, Chilumba had the ponchos out for us as we embarked the vehicle. Heading out away from the storm and wind (literally and metaphorically) we heard the lion call in the opposite direction, right towards where the rain looked to hit. Decision time – take a risk and get soaked and hopefully find the lion or head off and enjoy a rain-free drive? Being the adventurous type we are, we took the risk, thunderstorms and lion were on the agenda, and, being British a bit of rain doesn’t scare me off! Not long after, we found the male and female cats enjoying an afternoon nap in the middle of the road. Not fazed by us in the slightest taking their picture we enjoyed watching these beautiful beasts snoozing, before moving onto see what else was hidden around the corner.
Heading deeper into the bush we found a small family of elephants, a very enthusiastic baby kept us entertained for a while. The amateur photographer I am was in the middle of getting a lesson in how to take a clear shot of a baby elephant when suddenly the bush and wildlife around us came alive. We could hear the impala’s warning calls, the guinea fowl making a racket and the elephant trumpeted and ran into the thick bush until they were out of sight. Searching around to see what all the fuss was about we soon spotted the aloof and glorious African Wild Dog! Adrenaline ran through me, I haven’t seen these magnificent canines in years, they are incredibly quick on their feet so if you want a good sighting you have to be fast. Lucky for us our guide knew exactly where to go and what to do. The dogs were in a playful mood and we watched them dance around the vehicle, warning each other about the lion in the area, and scoping out their next meal nearby. As the grass at this time of year is pretty long, the chances of witnessing a kill are not as easy but we got to enjoy them up close and it was a spectacular sighting. I never got that ‘perfect’ baby elephant shot but I did manage to capture the dancing delights.
Nsefu was the next stop on our trip and is situated in the aptly named the Nsefu Sector. In the dry season its only about an hour’s drive from Nkwali but in the Emerald season the roads aren’t accessible, so they transfer you to the stylish little Bushcamp by boat. The trip is about an hour and a half, and although pleasant, we didn’t get to see much on the river banks at this time of the year. Someone must have warned them about me because they provide G&Ts, I was in my element.
Nsefu was originally built in the 1950s and is South Luangwa’s oldest camp. Six rondavels sit close to the river bank, each very simple, comfortable and intimate. The furnishings are minimal but tasteful and each room has an ‘evening breeze’ for those hotter months. With your own raised verandah, you can enjoy the setting in peace and quiet and take in the wild sounds that surround you.
The main area is very rustic yet stylish and homely and has gorgeous views over the river, sit in the comfortable chairs with a favourite book, or enjoy a glass of wine at the bar, watching the sunset over the river banks. We had some close encounters with birds, ground squirrels and even the odd impala roaming nearby too.
We were unable to enjoy one of the walking safaris or land-based activities instead the camp offers riverboat Safaris during the wetter months. This way you get a very different perspective of the area and South Luangwa, the landscapes are completely transformed. The river safaris are calm and peaceful and while there is no guarantee of some of the larger and more exciting wildlife to be seen on the banks if you enjoy birding this is paradise. The channels are lively with birdlife, after all those years of rolling my eyes when my parents wanted to stop and check out the brightly coloured feathery friends, I now fully understand what the fuss was about. I lost count on the number of species we encountered on this trip, but it was nothing short of amazing.
If you wish to relax and unwind at the end of a trip then Nsefu during the Emerald Season is perfect. Why not combine a few of the Robin Pope properties, Nkwali, Luangwa River Camp and Nsefu and get the full Safari experience. Great food, top class guiding, incredible sightings at each location and diverse sceneries.