Walking On The Wild Side: Zambia’s Undiscovered North

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I can still remember what the crisp air smelled like. It was sweet and earthy with hints of eucalyptus and fresh dew.  The sky, always impossibly blue, seemed vaster on the open plains and grasslands then it had back home. The sounds of birds chirping tender songs awakened me each morning — their fervor inspiring my enthusiasm for the day ahead. Safari became more than just a journey along the African savanna — it sparked a connection to the natural world that has become a part of my existence.

It has been over a year since my trip to South Africa, and I still turn to old photos, news clippings, and personal memories to rekindle the internal peace I found during my stay. I was reminded of my visit to Phinda Game Reserve while reading Lucia van der Post’s “The Beautiful North” in the Financial Times, where she discusses her exploration of places less traveled, but worth visiting in northern Zambia.

Zambia is home to what is arguably some of the most pristine reserves in Africa. The southern region is where most travelers often spend their holiday, but by doing so they will be missing something quite spectacular.

As the article points out, North Luangwa National Park in northern Zambia is one of the best spots for walking safaris in a genuinely rustic setting. “It’s a raw and empty wilderness and these days that is something to be savored,” recalls Van der Post. There are no designer lodges or cars, just camps that sleep 28 people at a time. The accommodations are generously spread out “so that as you sit at sunset, your feet dangling in the clear and shallow waters of the Mwaleshi river, a glass of Pommery in hand, you have the illusion that you and your little group have all Africa to yourselves.”

Meals are usually cooked by guides and feasted on under a sky of pulsating stars.  The game are skittish around humans (believe me, this is actually a good thing), but it is not unlikely to encounter the big five as well as eland, hartebeest, and wildebeest. The most appealing part of the experience is being able to wander on foot for several days enveloped by the wild serenity of the Zambian bush.

Van der Post also suggests a trip to Kasanka during November or December where a massive daily migration of five million fruit bats occurs between 6 and 6:15 p.m. each day.  The incredible spectacle can be viewed from above in the Fibwe hide, deep in a mululu tree, as the bats scour fruit trees for food all night long.

An overnight stay at Shiwa Ng’ andu, the magnificent house of Sir Stewart Gore-Browne (now occupied by his grandson, Charlie Harvey), is a unique experience as guests live and dine with the family who enjoys sharing stories about their historical journey of survival in the African bush.

As I ponder ongoing reveries of my trip, I wonder if I will ever make it back; if I will ever feel as close to the natural world as I did during those clear winter days. I can only hope that concerted efforts to sustain these delicate ecosystems will protect some of the last remaining wild lands on Earth, so that I may one day return to the Africa I once knew.

By Maria Russo


About the Author

Maria Russo is a freelance writer who loves natural wonders, good eats, ethical travel, and boutique hotels. Her work has appeared on the Huffington Post, USA Today.com, People.com and A Luxury Travel Blog, among others.


When Maria is not writing for her all-time favorite site (that would be The Expeditioner), she spends her time blogging about foreign jaunts and delectable food experiences for her site: Memoirs of a Travel & Food Addict. She is also up to no good on Twitter (@traveladdictgrl, @expedmaria).

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