We left Chifunda‘s community bushcamp early morning and headed in the direction of South Luangwa in Zambia. The 230-kilometre ride down south became one of the highlights of the tour so far. For almost 40 km we cycled through an old Mopani forest with very little undergrowth. The atmosphere was cool and calm as light seeped through the treetops.
The bird calls were spectacular throughout the day. Never would we have guessed that we would experience thriving birdlife in such a monotonous habitat. Racket-tailed rollers did tumbling displays right above our heads. Later that morning cicadas screeched so loudly that it was sometimes difficult to have a conversation while cycling. We will always associate this ride with the distinct and constant calling of the woodland kingfisher. Occasionally we cycled along fresh elephant foot prints but only encountered one family at the end of the day.
Later that day we cycled through small villages and through many more stretches of Mopani Forest. Tsetse flies became a problem. Wherever they can find a spot to bite you, they bite: on your shoulder blades, your bum, legs, face, arms, hands and even on the very tips of your fingers. We dressed in double layers of clothing and looked rather comical. Hendrik even pulled an insect net over his head. What must the locals have thought when they saw us? Even insect repellent did not prevent our bodies from being covered with itching bites. On the positive side, Tsetse flies are a great motivator to keep you going for as long as possible, as fast as possible.
We cycled to the camp near the gate at South Luangwa National Park. At the camp, the scouts (anti-poaching unit), offered their help over and over again. They swept a rondavel and offered it to us to stay in for the night. When it started to drizzle they got a canvas and covered the roof for waterproofing. They were very friendly and professional in their service. The following morning we cycled through the park in between dry rivers and pools. We constantly had to be on the lookout for elephants but did not encounter any. Judging by the many dry dung balls and footprints everywhere, there must be a healthy population of ellies in the area. Despite very little surface water at the time, it was still exceptionally beautiful. We felt privileged to cycle where elephants usually walk and were thrilled by the wild atmosphere in the park. Constant sightings of antelope and warthog and the numerous footprints in the clay soils testify of the great density of wildlife in the park.
In the afternoon we cycled through the South Luangwa Game Management Area. The vastness of the dry plains was beautiful in a different way. Hundreds of dead trees covered the earth like needles pointing to the sky. The road surface was partly sandy, partly rough and quite bumpy. It was tiring to cycle across long stretches of dried-out cotton clay soils. Many Zambian cyclists cycle through these parks on a daily basis. We stuck to their cycling paths which meander all across the actual road. At one point we had to cross a warm water spring. In the marshy area close by we saw a flock of Crowned Cranes of over 150 birds strong. Pukus were grazing around them and white-fronted Lapwings ran in between. In the far distance a few Thornicroft’s giraffe walked past. At that moment we realised that we hadnt seen any of these species before we started our cycling trip.
We reached our destination, Marula Lodge, and were welcomed by a saddle-billed stork and ground hornbills as we cycled to the lodge entrance. Marula Lodge is situated in the Garden of Eden on the bank of the Luangwa River. It has an open dining room and a fantastic view over the Luangwa River.
The first evening we watched hippos walk past on the opposite bank. Believe it or not, but the following morning we also saw a leopard, just walking past the lodge. Yellow baboons went ballistic in the tree tops, shaking branches and shouting alarm calls. Another night, around a dinner table a family of elephant appeared like phantoms from nowhere. Suddenly they were just there, within touching distance of us. They are known to pay a visit to the lodge on a regular basis. The matriarch was not worried at all when her tiny little calf was feeding two metres away from Riki. And then, as suddenly as they appeared, they disappeared, only to pay another visit later that evening. Staying at this lodge is very entertaining: we saw a water monitor chasing baboons over the lawn earlier and a green water snake catch an swallow a frog! As we are writing this blog another family of 12 elephants is crossing the river over to our side. It feels like we are going to miss out on something great the moment we walk back to our rooms so we are spending most of our time during the day with Mike and Jenny on the river bank, drinking tea.
We joined David for two game drives in South Luangwa National Park. Wow! David has such a wide and detailed bush knowledge. We thought that he must have years of experience. Only after the first game drive did we learn that he has only recently qualified as a guide and that our morning drive was his first official game drive. We were so impressed with his guiding skills. On our two game drives we fell in love with South Luangwa National Park. It has so many moods: dark grey-blue clouds fill the skies in the afternoons and rumbling thunder echoes over the fields before the break of a rain storm.
Animal activity and birdlife is around every corner. We saw lion on both drives (South Luangwa is known for good cat sightings). Visiting South Luangwa was a dramatic wildlife experience. It is definitely one of our favourite game reserves we have visited so far.
Mike and Jenny Waterhouse made us feel so much at home. Right now we don’t even want to think about leaving Marula Lodge. Our compliments to the chef: the food is great, divine, superb! If you plan to visit South Luangwa National Park, do not drive past Marula Lodge. It offers anything from self-catering to full board and the price is very reasonable. We better go and see what wildlife is at the river right now …
Contact Marula Lodge
Tel (+26) 0-216-246073, www.marulalodgezambia.com
Experience wildlife sightings like nowhere else on a five-day South Luangwa safari with Getaway Adventures. Click here to book.
You can read more about our epic journey on www.cycleafrica.co.za. We literally go the extra mile to visit game parks in central and east Africa. Our aim is to highlight current conservation issues and achievements in these parks and to promote tourism.