Zambia – Lower Zambezi National Park by ORYX Guest Jenny Brown
The moment your plane takes off from the dusty runaway to start your journey back home from the Lower Zambezi, your heart is aware of the void it is going to have to get used to bearing as a result of leaving this eden.
This 6-night stay began with seeing the mighty Zambezi from the air on the flight in. It is a magnificent path of glistening water between land masses that make up Zimbabwe and Zambia on opposite sides. The life-giving water supports vast green bushveld forests of most notebly Winterthorn, Mahogony and Apple leaf trees while the Baobabs stretch for the sky in between, like beacons to direct you through the wilderness.
The magic of exploring this wild space lies in the multitude of options you have for discovering its treasures.
We selected to begin with a cruise on the river on the first evening. The sunsets behind the escarpment on Zambian land, dimly illuminating hippos sailing in the current. This spectacle is beautifully photographed from the boat while floating downstream with your G&T at the ready.
Being a “bush nerd” I really needed my fix of dust mixed with morning dew and wild grasses, so the mornings were game drives. Here in the Lower Zambezi, every time you turn a corner is a magical discovery.
Lifting your head to look just a little ahead in the road and then a little more towards the sky, you take in a fabric of green lacey tree canopies above you.
The road seems to not exist because the forests create screens before the corners reveal what lies ahead. Whether it is a beautiful stretch of lilies and reeds that lead your gaze deeper into a magnificently Winterthorn-framed water source, storks fishing in an inlet from the river, hippos challenging and chatting in a deep pool, a crocodile sunbathing or African Jakanas trolling the lilly pads. There is a lot of life around you.
There were many new experiences for me, some being Elephant feeding on lilies, a proud Waterbuck bull gracing a Winterthorn grove with sunlight just catching his silhouette, an open-billed stork fishing and an egret catching a baby tiger fish.
One of my favourite new sightings had to be the elephants reaching for the pods on the high branches on the Winterthorn trees. While this is a very well know occurrence here and the image of this scene is familiar, to see them physically negotiate terrain and their own size and mass to reach what is a delicacy for them, is not only entertaining but impressive!!
Lillian love birds and Mayor’s parrots were more of the birding delights we experienced.
All through the terrain you will encounter lala palm groves too. Heavily laden with fruit, they are part of many inhabitants’ diets and are a playground for the abundantly occurring collared palm thrush, flitting in and around them. Baboons climbing up and sliding down these tall tree trunks is a comical sight.
As interesting as it is to experience the unique things of the landscape, being out there and seeing the usual pattern of bush life completing its intended circle of life is what you come to immerse yourself in.
Searching for lions you can hear roaring and finding the boys moving at pace across their territory is all there. Learning who they are, who and what they overcame to claim their territory and experiencing the comradery and love between brothers, brings a fullness to your trip. We were privileged to see a pride of moms with cubs in our area as well.
As the breeze blows, the sound from the palm fronds adds a new dimension to the game drive experience. The smells, new and familiar, wild basil in abundance and the pollen from the blossoms of the Winterthorns, fill the air as we search for a leopard in the early evening.
We not only found one but carried on encountering two more. In this part of Africa, leopards and baboons compete for territory and leopards can be hard to find because of the boldness of the baboons. As we register this, we find a young male leopard feeding on a kill he had just made … a baboon. Eat or be eaten, I guess! It was a unique sighting, and proved very interesting photographically, that night and the following morning when we caught up with our leopard again. Tummy full, he was not going to hang around long to bare the harassment of the troop he just affronted
The channels created in little valleys between the rise and fall of the land alongside the river give you the opportunity to float up close next to the animals inhabiting the land. Water in the wilderness is largely out of bounds in most reserves so this is a unique experience.
Meeting the canoe guide on the banks of the Zambezi gave me the opportunity to put my feet in these mighty waters (no dangling of limbs or anything else is allowed from inside the canoe or boat). Feeling better connected to this piece of earth, I happily climb into my canoe – something I wanted to experience but I must admit, I was concerned that it would be less than made out to be.
[Dan carefully kept suggesting the canoe activity, which I put down to him wanting to do it, and kept it in the once, maybe twice bracket! Sorry Dan, you were right, I should probably have done a canoe trip every afternoon!! We will have to go back and make that right!]
I was so wrong! The whole world goes quiet in that canoe. You can hear the the water ripple and the birds’ feathers flapping as they fly by.
Then you encounter an elephant matriarch and her family coming down the small rise towards you to drink. She need only feel a little threatened and she could hurt us.
This must be the animal I have the most respect for, the matriarch of a herd of elephants. I liken her challenges to those I have experienced in trying to grow two children into people that will better our world.
She looks you in the eye and there is no con you can execute that will convince her you are trustworthy if you have any negative intention, it is the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth with elephants. Complete humility is what I try to communicate to her.
Being allowed to stay near her and her family while they drank and the tiny calf played and then having her trust us enough to cross the crocodile inhabiting waterway with us metres from her, was a privilege and a gift I will never forget! I was infinitely grateful in that moment for my guides, Nobby from Chiawa and Dan from Oryx, without whom, I would not be able to go on these adventures.
It is the passionate people in wildlife conservation, preservation and travel that will be the heros that save our planet. It is my mission to support their work and passion as much as possible.
We cannot be all things to all beings, but we can support each other in our separate talents and works to build a whole earth.
Thank you to Chiawa Safaris and Oryx Photo tours for excellence in your fields.