North Luangwa National Park in Zambia, the northernmost of the three in the valley of the Luangwa River was founded as a game reserve in 1938, it became a national park in 1972. It is a 45-minute flight north of South Luangwa.
The 4,636 km2 park remains wild and untouched. The North Park was not open to anyone other than Game Department rangers for more than thirty years. Today, only two small seasonal camps are permitted in the whole park. It is very rare to see another tourist or vehicle in the vicinity.
This remote park, once almost forgotten and certainly heavily poached, now offers a superb wilderness experience. There is an incredible diversity of habitats in North Luangwa, ranging from mahogany forests, mopane woodlands and the Luangwa and Mwaleshi Rivers. These habitats house rhino, lion, leopard, elephant and numerous antelope.
The emphasis is on walking safaris in North Luangwa National Park. In fact, walking is the only activity on offer in much of the park – not because the park rules forbid vehicles, but simply because there are no roads and very few tracks. The quality of the walking camps here is stupendous. Many walks include fishing, hiking and swimming along the Mwaleshi River.
Even though there are fewer tracks and roads than most parks in Zambia, game drives are still offered in some parts of the park although no game drives are permitted in the Mwaleshi area.
Game viewing in the North Luangwa is exciting and includes huge herds of buffalo (sometimes up to 1000-strong), a feature of the park. Zebra, Impala, Cookson’s wildebeest and puku are common and preyed on by all the big predators including lion, leopard, hyena and some wild dogs. It’s possible to find the rare Lichtenstein’s hartebeest near the Muchinga Escarpment.
In the 1960s, Zambia’s black rhino population was the third largest in Africa. Two decades later, Zambia’s rhinos were hurtling towards extinction from poaching. In 2003 through to 2010, 25 black rhino were successfully reintroduced to North Luangwa. Looked after by the Frankfurt Zoological Society and a strong anti-poaching team the population is successfully booming and could soon be used to stock South Luangwa.
Just like South Luangwa, North Luangwa National Park is a birders paradise. All the birds in the South have been recorded here as well. Sighted regularly are the crowned cranes, purple crested loeries, broad billed roller, Lilian’s lovebird, the carmine bee-eater, giant eagle owl and Pel’s fishing owl. Occasionally seen are the bat hawk, black coucal and osprey.
Even though this park was officially opened to the public in 1984, the infrastructure in and around the park is not sufficiently developed to cater for the independent traveller.
Special permission to enter must be obtained from the Department of National Parks. The best way to experience North Luangwa is with an operator running safaris here.
The best time to visit the park is during the dry season as animals are drawn from the bush to the river banks in search of water. Furthermore, access in the wet season is virtually impossible.