Magical South Luangwa
by Chris Pullen
The sightings were fantastic. I find it hard to single out any one of them in particular. The five leopards, seeing my first two kills by the “Hollywood” lion pride, following them on other hunts, seeing endangered Cookson’s wildebeests and Thornicroft’s giraffes, the hippos and so much else.
Safari Company Performance
From the moment I was met at Mfuwe Airport by Innocent from Shenton Safaris I started the adventure of my life. Innocent is the safari guide and a very personable young man.
On the way into the park we stopped at the Shenton’s farm to pick up produce for the camps. I was later to enjoy terrific food made from some of this produce. The food at both camps was excellent.
The service I received was nothing short of fantastic. The best way I can describe the service was that it was without fuss and delivered in a most easy going style. Things just happened when they were supposed to.
The first couple of game drives were with the owner Derek Shenton which were terrific. Then when I transferred over to the bush camp called Mwamba I had a guide called Ian. My 5 nights at Mwamba, with Ian’s expert knowledge & laid back style, were exceptional. The sightings always came first before anything else. Just what I expect when I’m in the bush.
The open vehicles used by Shenton Safaris seat a maximum of 6 guests. The only way to get a better situation would be to have my own vehicle & guide, something that was beyond my budget.
I stayed in Shenton’s 2 camps called Kaingo and Mwamba.
Kaingo is the permanent camp right on the Luangwa River. I think the maximum number of guests is only about a dozen people which is what I look for in a camp. All the facilities were as I would have expected and were all I need when I am in the bush.
Mwamba is even further into the Park and in a remote area. This is their “bush” camp that is put up and taken down every season. However, there is still all the proper bathroom facilities and the hut I stayed in was closest to the bar and dining area. The maximum number of guests is 6, or less if there are single travellers like myself.
Staying in both camps is really being in the wilds of Africa. One night at Mwamba we finished dinner and went down to sit around an open fire. Just 15 metres away was a hippo feeding. Like I said, these camps are really “in the wild”.
After the adventures of the morning game drive we sat down to a hearty breakfast. There were healthy options of cereal and fruit and/or the full “English breakfast.
Lunches were my favourite meals of all. Good sized servings of lighter meals with excellent fresh salads were the norm. One lunch at Kaingo was individual chicken pies in their own dishes topped with wonderful puff pastry and served with a salad. Really delicious.
Again, after the afternoon/night game drive, dinners were eaten with everyone, including the guides, seated around a single table. All the food was great and there was no hesitation in filling up wine glasses as the meal progressed.
When I am in the African bush I expect good service & simple clean lodgings.
But, my biggest expectation is quality guiding with the main emphasis on providing the best wildlife experiences possible as the priority above all else.
It is on this issue that the Shenton’s did not fall short. But I guess the highlight would have to be seeing my 1st kill.
Around sundowners Ian found the Hollywood lion pride. As darkness fell we followed them in an area I think was called the “Shelves”. Ian suddenly stopped where a track crossed in front of us. Seconds later, the lions ran past us and near a small tree only 30 metres away we heard them take down something.
Ian raced in and there were the lions on a female puku. The 6 four month old cubs in the pride ran past us and tried to get a “place at the table”. All the noise and aggression were just like I had seen on countless documentaries. One of the cubs actually bluffed an adult female from her place. Just awesome behaviour from such a young cub. I sat there watching from only 10-15 metres away with my poor brain in overload.
With all those hungry mouths, a small meal like the puku was never going to last long. The 2-3 year old sub adult male had got himself a bone and had moved away from the kill site and sat even closer to us. Two of the lionesses got too close to him and an enormous fight started 5 metres away from me. Unbelievable.
The cubs ran past the vehicle in complete panic. The sub adult male had blood pouring from his nose but he still went straight back to gnawing on is bone, growling the whole time. One of the lionesses had a decent chunk out of her neck.
As Ian pulled away from the kill site I noticed a lioness some 15 metres away who had obviously got a decent piece of the puku and had moved away but not been noticed at all by the others. A little way down the track we found two lionesses reassuring the cubs. The difference was like chalk and cheese. From the absolute fury and aggression to the sweet mothering of the cubs by their mothers, the contrast was quite stark.
All that was left of a beautiful antelope was a stain on the grass. When I tell people about this sighting, I genuinely say that it was not an “enjoyable” experience. But it was almost like a “rite of passage” for the passionate lover of African game that I am. Ian handled the whole sighting beautifully.
The one really sweet, wonderful experience was sleeping in the Elephant Hide one night. During the day this hide is used to watch any elephants crossing the Luangwa. At guests request, the Shentons will set the hide up for an overnight stay.
Proper mattresses and bedding with the mandatory mozzie net, tea & coffee and homemade biscuits and bowls for having a wash in the morning are all provided. Derek drove me to the hide with Gideon, a Zambian Wildlife Service scout who stayed on the ground all night to look after things.
I sat on the cooler box and listened to the sounds of the night. Eventually though, I was ready for bed. Serenaded by hippos nearby I went to sleep fairly quickly. At one time through the night I woke up to the sounds of baboons across the River making all sorts of noise. Probably a leopard on the prowl. I also heard hyena over on that side as well.
Just before I got up in the morning I heard a leopard at the base of the tree grunt just the once. By five o’clock I was washed, dressed and back sitting on the cooler box and having a coffee watching a new African morning dawn. I still get emotional when I think of that time, one of the most magic of all my African experiences.
Just before sun rise the beating of African drums calls everyone to tea or coffee and homemade cakes & biscuits. Then it’s off on the morning game drive with all its possibilities. This is why I go to the African bush.
Back in camp for a late breakfast, after which its time to do some personal things like showering, writing up the diary and any photographic jobs. Of course it’s also the time to relax and just take in the surroundings, listening to the sounds of the bush.
Depending on guest’s desires, around midday an activity is offered. These are often visits to the Shenton’s various photographic hides.
Then lunch and more time to relax before the afternoon/evening game drive. Being in the bush in the dark is to strike at something primordial in my DNA. I love it.
Dinner then bed to rest before doing it all again in the new day to come.
I suspect that giving a camp a perfect rating may appear to be a little hard for some to believe. But the Shentons come so close.
Derek and his wife Jules and their staff are first class people. The locality is sublime and the experience rates as the best week of my life.
Oh, and I’ll be back in 2009 for another 8 nights of adventure.
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