Camping in South Luangwa – Kalovia Camp

We had wanted to have my parents experience the remote and wild camping that we love so much. Unfortunately, these sites aren’t as easy to find in Zambia as they are in some of the other countries that we’ve been to. After a Sherlock-esq search we found a spot in South Luangwa. It’s called Kalovia camp. It’s just outside the north-eastern part of the park above an area that juts out like a peninsula from the park called the Nsefu Sector. We booked 3 nights.

We drove through the park from Wildlife Camp to get there, stopping for photos of zebra and birds as well as lunch (we didn’t take any photos of our lunch, we just ate it.) We drove through multiple villages and continued right through until we saw no other cars for a few miles. At that point we took a left off the already dirt road onto a 4×4 track which eventually led through a dried riverbed and into the camp.

Cheryl and I looked around and thought “Wow! This place is great. It’s a luxury campsite. There’s a shower, toilet, sink, braai pit – everything we could need.” One look at my mom’s face though and we could tell she wasn’t sharing our excitement. At least it wasn’t ‘Oh no, what have I done?!!?!?” though. It was more like, “Stay positive, I enjoy a challenge.  Keep smiling…” Smile she did. She’ll claim she never had any doubts but her face showed otherwise. I can’t blame her. The first two nights at least there was electricity and plumbing. Here it was firelight and hand-filled bucket showers. Still those doubts must have quickly faded as she settled into camp around the fire with her and my dad teaching Cheryl and I how to play pinnacle for what was the start of an epic contest of the wits in cards.

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Setting up camp.

Over the next few days we hung around camp, read, worked out, played cards, went for a hike and went for a long game drive. I’m sure I’m forgetting something but you get the idea. We relaxed.

The camp had two attendants staying at it that helped us out. We’ve come across this a couple of times before and it is pretty awesome. They lit the camp fire for us, heated the water for our shower and even acted as our guides on the hike. We later found out that they built everything in the camp by hand out of sticks and reeds. On top of all that they were super friendly and great hosts too.

The hike was pretty cool. We were originally planning on driving through the bush to “hippo bend” which has the highest concentration of hippos in Africa. We were disappointed when we found out the road had not been fixed since the rainy season so it wasn’t passable. However, our favorite camp attendants offered to take us on a guided hike to ease our disappointment. We walked through the bush past puku and impala until we got to the river. There in front of us, on the far bank, 50+ hippo were roused from laying in the sun and stampeded into the river throwing up dust and causing an awful commotion (the bank we were on was on top of a ledge some 30-feet high above the river – safely out of the way of any charging hippos). As we looked slightly further down-river and up-river we saw more and more hippos. They were everywhere. We walked to “hippo bend”! (Actually, we later found out we were only at the far end of “hippo bend” and further upriver there are hundreds upon hundreds of hippos all vying for space in a small section of river but that was the part that was inaccessible.) Awesome to see. Little did we know when we went for the game drive the next day we would see hundreds more hippos. Needless to say, we have plenty of hippo photos. Almost one for every hippo seen…

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Hippos were literally on top of one another in Hippo Bend

We had to wade through a river to start and finish the hike.  No hippos or crocs in this river though.  At least not that we could see.

The next day we were up early again to get into the park for a game drive. We tracked back to the Nsefu sector and spent the majority of the day in the park. We had a couple of different great sightings of lion (not eating this time, just lounging), giraffe, elephants, buffalo, crocodiles and many cool birds. We topped it off with a pancakes and bacon breakfast, some scrabble and reading during the heat of the day. What a great day in the park.

Some of the animals we saw in the Nsefu sector.  Also, the roads got a bit interesting at times.  Luckily we were there during the dry season or we may not have made it up the other side of this river crossing.

A late breakfast while on the road in the park.  Perfect place for pancakes!

Unfortunately we weren’t staying at Kalovia forever and after 3 nights we set off.

Next stop: Malawi

Camping in South Luangwa – Wildlife Camp

One day after sitting on a plane for over 20 hours we made my parents pack into Fiona for a 9+ hour drive from Lusaka to South Luangwa National Park. We were joined early in the morning by Cheryl’s and my friend Calvin whom Cheryl worked with in Joburg but now lives in Lusaka. I mostly packed the car while Cheryl and he reminisced over tea and coffee. It was great to catch up.

Since Cheryl and I only arrived late at night we hadn’t had time to do the grocery shopping or fill up on diesel so we quickly filled the last remaining few cubic inches of space with food and fuel and we were on our way. (Actually, we only left around 10am but still, it was kind of quick.)

Then the chatting began. 9+ hours of driving = 9+ hours of chatting.

We caught up on everything from the grand kids to the Mets. From work to adventures. Along with everything in between. I think we re-told every story about our trip, even the ones they had already read in great detail in this blog. They lovingly pretended to be hearing it for the first time and maintained strong interest despite the jet lag.

We were still on the road when the sun went down but when we finally pulled off the tar road (after a few near misses in the dark with unmarked one-lane bridges) we were greeted by a pack of wild dogs. We weren’t even in the park yet. They are rare to see and to have two dogs come right passed us on our first evening in Zambia was very specially. We finally stopped at Wildlife Camp just outside of South Luangwa. It was a lovely campsite on the banks of the Luangwa river with hippo and elephant passing through to say hello from time to time. We put my mom and dad to work straight away (Mom on cooking dinner and Dad on unpacking with us.) I think everyone slept surprisingly well that night. Especially since it was Mom and Dad’s first time camping in a long time (maybe ever for mom?)

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Mom posing in front of her loft apartment.

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Despite having driven all day in the car the day before, we were up early and packed up for a morning game drive. We didn’t know where to go but heard that driving along the river was the place to be. Unfortunately we didn’t find the “common” leopard (I’ve never heard such a thing as seeing leopard being “common” but that’s what some sign said when they listed common sightings in the park.) We did however have an awesome sighting of 7 lions eating a buffalo. We were on our way out of the park and to head back to camp when we noticed a couple of vehicles parked in the middle of the bush. With a little more searching through binoculars we were pretty sure it was lions. We didn’t know they were on a kill though. It took some exploring but we finally found them. They were full, fat and lazy pretty much just lying around in the shade. 2 males and 5 females. Awesome.

You can see these lions are collared and tracked.  Nobody told us where they were though!

After a bit of time back at camp my parents and I went out again in the afternoon. We went back to the lions straight away and got to see one of the females eating this time which was pretty cool. We then also enjoyed two young bull elephants practising their fighting technique. As we sat and watched another elephant was struggling to get up a very steep embankment from the river below. As he struggled we noticed a fourth elephant below him and saw that elephant literally push the third elephant up the hill with his head. It was incredible. When the fourth elephant made it up, those two started fighting as well. It quickly became a 2 on 2 tag-team match. Fun to watch.

And now for an aside about elephants: For those concerned about the elephants fighting and us just watching and not scolding them it is actually just a natural thing for males to do. Elephants live in three different types of groups; 1. A breeding herd – mostly female and young. They are led by a matriarch and can grow very large in number. 2. Lone males – typically older bulls that are crotchety and just looking for some peace and quiet. 3. Small groups of young males – these bulls have gotten too old to stay with the herd they were born into so they go off and form small groups of 3 – 5 elephants. These young bulls often “fight” with each other but they are really just playing to learn how strong they are. When they meet up with other groups they also fight. Through this play-fighting they learn how strong each other are so when they hit puberty and are ready to mate they can actually avoid real fighting because they have already established dominance and know how strong the other bulls are. Sometimes, when two strong bulls are in musth (male elephant term for ‘in heat’) they do fight for real and injure each other but it’s often avoided because of all of this play-fighting beforehand.

Anyway. Enough about elephants for now. I could go on though. We’ve probably learned more about elephants on this trip than any other animal and we’re full of fun facts. Did you know elephants are actually walking on their toes? It’s true. Their “flat foot” is actually a sack of fat that comes down but their heel never hits the ground. That’s how they can walk so quietly despite their massive size.

After a couple of nights at Wildlife Camp our next stop is Kalvoia camp – just north of the Nsefu sector for anyone that’s got their Google Maps out.

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3 countries in a day

We were up and out of our campsite before dawn on our last morning in Ihaha, Chobe. We had one heck of a day ahead of us. One last drive along the river front to get to the park gate and on to the boarder yielded no final hurrah in terms of animal sightings. In fact, we saw barely anything moving for the first 30 minutes until a heard of giraffe and kudu came to bid us adieu.

Once we hit the tar road we were all business. Through the park gate and the nearby Ngoma boarder post we were cruising at 120kph back toward Katima Mulilo with high hopes that the spare parts we had ordered had arrived on time and that the mechanic remembered we were arriving to get them installed. With all fingers and toes crossed we nervously pulled into the local Midas. Sure enough our leaf springs and bush kits had arrived and were out and ready for us to have them loaded into our car. As we pulled around the corner to the mechanic he too was ready with extra guys on hand to install them as quickly as possible (still to take ~3 – 4 hours.)

All going according to plan.

Cheryl and I headed to a coffee shop / restaurant to do some final things on the internet, eat some breakfast. (Actually we had already had breakfast in the car so at 10am I ordered a chicken burger. A bit odd given the hour but definitely delicious.) We had meant to finish up with enough time to do our food shopping (only buying non-perishables because we weren’t sure what could be taken across the border into Zambia.) but to our surprise Fiona was out of surgery with beautiful new leaf springs installed before we left the restaurant.

We are on schedule.

We split up (Cheryl to start shopping, Josh to go to the bank and pick up the pick-up) before coming back together for a couple of more errands (fill up with diesel, buy some stools so everyone has a place to sit when my parents join us) and headed out.

The crossing into Zambia took much longer than necessary thanks to an American couple in front of us in line who were in anything but a hurry. 6 lines and 5 payments later we entered into Zambia having spent significantly more on border fees then we had expected. Time to hit the road again.

It is 3pm. We are a bit behind schedule but still ok.

As we pulled out of the border something happened that we hadn’t anticipated. The road was horrible. We expected them to be bad but this was a whole new level. How can you even consider this a road?

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It is 4:00pm. We had over 600km to drive. We are way behind schedule

Our average speed for the past hour was 20kph. How do you even call this a ‘tar’ road? We had been warned that a part of the road some 400kms away from us was “very bad.” If that means this wasn’t “very bad” we would be driving all night.

Luckily the roads cleared up considerably once we got passed Livingstone and were on our way. We drove well into the night despite the many warnings against doing so and only had to slow down at the “very bad” section we had been warned about. Though it still felt like a highway as we could easily avoid the potholes at 90kph.

We finally made it to Lusaka just before 1AM and then embarked on the mission of finding the Air BnB that we had booked. Mom and Dad had been picked up by the local driver who knew the place so they made it without issue. (Good thing too because we were still a few hundred kms away when their plan landed.) Unfortunately for the owner we didn’t know the place and they were woken up with a phone call from two lost customers in the middle of the night.

We pulled into the driveway around 1:30 and Fiona’s purring engine woke my parents so they came outside and greeted us with lots of hugs and kisses.

Finally made it.

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