Friday, October 11, 2013

A recent ten-day trip to Zambia in September highlighted some of the wonderful and unique aspects of this diverse country.

The journey started at Sussi & Chuma Lodge, situated on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River, upstream from Livingstone and the Victoria Falls. The rooms are built as tree houses overlooking the river, with spectacular views over the river. The trees surrounding the lodge are populated with birdlife, from Tropical Boubou’s to Puffbacks, with the river itself home to countless water birds, pied and giant kingfisher, and breeding pairs of rock pratincole. We saw countless open-billed storks but unfortunately no skimmers.

The kitchen at the lodge obliged by cooking a local dish, Rape, which is a Zambian staple, similar to Marog or Spinach. Prepared simply with onions, it has a nutty flavor, and is delicious. Equally good were fillets of Nile Perch and Tilapia. All in all, the food was excellent.

Onto South Luangwa National Park, the primary purpose of the journey, to view the southern carmine bee-eaters preparing their nests in the riverbanks. Apart from this spectacle, the South Luangwa boasts the highest population of hippo in Africa, and arguably the most leopard.

Kaingo Camp, situated in the northern part of the park, specializes in purpose built hides from which one can view and photograph the carmines, massive pods of hippo, and herds of elephant crossing the river. Suffice it to say, it was spectacular. Apart from the spectacle of the nesting carmines, the general game viewing was excellent, with unusual species such as puku (antelope), Thornicroft’s giraffe, Cookson’s wildebeest and Crawshay’s Zebra. Massive herds of elephant, lion, great raptor sightings, an abundance of hippo and two spectacular leopard sightings were highlights of Kaingo.

From Kaingo, we were transferred to Puku Ridge Camp, in the southwestern part of the park. The transfer was essentially a long game drive, and en route we encountered red-necked falcon, shikra, countless lilac-breasted rollers, brown headed kingfishers, Lilian’s lovebird, and, of course, many more bee-eaters, both carmine and white-fronted.

Puku Ridge is spectacularly positioned overlooking a large plain, with a waterhole in front of the lodge, an attraction for plains game, the resident troop of yellow baboon, and the occasional leopard.

The individual tents, cooled by ceiling and standing fans, are large, spacious and well appointed. The dining area, situated on a spectacular deck under a massive tree, overlooks the waterhole and plain. The service and food at Puku Ridge were 5 star, and the birding and game viewing outstanding.

The highlights were the six individual leopard sightings in three days, (one being a mother with two small three month old cubs), two nocturnal porcupines and a pride of 22 lion. Apart from this there were crowned cranes, many fish eagles, yellow-billed storks, saddle-billed storks, giant eagle owl, tawny eagle, ground hornbill, many more carmines, hippos and elephant.

Our final stop was again on the Zambezi, at The River Club. Peter Jones owns and manages a quintessentially colonial lodge, with wonderful double story tree houses situated right on the water, and the common areas festooned with historic photographs and memorabilia. The setting, service and food were spectacular, and with possibly the tastiest roast lamb enjoyed in many years!

En route to the airport we visited the Zambian side of the Falls, and then a local market in Livingstone. This was en eye opener, with its vast tables piled high with dried Kapenta and other staple foods, stalls selling the colourful Zambian Chitenge, (two metre pieces of cloth that Zambian women wrap around themselves), and all sorts of household items.

This was a fitting end to a visit, with overriding memories of a warm, friendly people, great service, excellent food, and unbeatable birding and game viewing. We will be back!


Article written by Jan Van Huyssteen, co-owner of GOLD Restaurant. Images courtesy of Jan Van Huyssteen.

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