Today was one of the best days of game viewing that I have ever had in all of my visits to Africa, and I finally did something that I was hoping would happen on this trip – finally see all of the Big 5 in the wild during game drives in the South Luangwa National Park!
A morning game drive
We had two game drives today – the first, which was included in the cost of our trip, being a morning game drive at around 6am. It was a very short drive to the National Park where we spent around 4 hours driving around checking out some amazing wildlife including Elephant, Giraffe, Zebra, Hyena, Crocodile, Antelope, Baboon, Hippo, Warthog, and a huge variety of birds.
The scenery in the National Park was breath-taking and during the game drive we stopped on some cliffs, surrounded by wildlife, with an amazing view overlooking the river. We spent maybe 30 minutes there admiring the view, taking photos of the wildlife, and watching two Hippo fight in the river below us before slowly returning to camp.
After our break we continued driving around the National Park for another hour or so and the wildlife kept coming. Every corner we turned round there were more animals and this quickly became the best National Park that I have ever visited in terms of the wildlife that was spotted.
However, all good things must come to an end and it was soon time to make our way back to camp.
Relaxing back at camp
We had a few hours spare before we would head back into the park for our night game drive and I spent this time just relaxing, catching up on notes for my travel blog, and taking in the scenery. Croc Valley also has a great pool and, while it was a bit too cold for many of the people in the group, it was perfect for me so I spent a while cooling off in the waters while other enjoyed the sun.
Before long it was time to return to the South Luangwa National Park for what would be one of the best experiences of my life.
Finally seeing Lion up close
When I was in Uganda in 2009 we missed out on seeing Lion in the wild several times. In many of the National Parks that we visited we were told that they had been spotted that day but we were never lucky enough to see them. When I saw Lion from a distance in Tanzania I was so happy, even though it was only from a distance, and assumed because they can be elusive that I wouldn’t see them again on this trip. How wrong I was!
We hadn’t even been in the park for 20 minutes before we came across a Pride of Lions drinking from a pool of water right at the side of the road. We first saw some females, who spent ages drinking from the pool so they must have been thirsty, before the male came along a little while later. He was an older Lion, you could tell that both from looking at him and also by how comfortable he was around safari vehicles, but it was amazing to see him.
When you see wildlife as powerful as this in the wild it can be awe inspiring but also scary as well. In 2009 I also visited Rwanda and was lucky enough to spend an hour with the Mountain Gorillas in the Virunga National Park. That was an amazing experience but it also got the adrenaline going when a male Gorilla got right up close to me and grabbed me on the leg while walking past.
I had a similar experience today as, around 15 minutes after we first spotted the Lions, the male decided that he wanted to start moving to a different location. The route saw him pass only 2 or 3 metres away from me and, as he walked alongside the vehicle, he looked up and looked straight at me for a second or two. Our driver told us that we would be safe in the vehicle as long as we didn’t move, but seeing a male Lion look right at you from only a couple of metres away will definitely make your heart race for a while.
In total we spent around 30 minutes with the Lions, which is something that I will never forget, before making our way deeper into the park to see what else we could find.
I’ve now seen all of the Big Five
By this point the only member of the Big 5 to have evaded me completely is Leopard. I had come very close to them in the past – in fact, while in Namibia in 2002, one walked right past my tent in the middle of the night and woke me up with a scream. However, I had so far not been lucky enough to actually see one.
That luck changed less than 5 minutes after leaving the Lions when we saw a Leopard about 50 metres away from us at the base of a tree. It didn’t do much, other than relax in the shade, but we were told that was likely the Leopard which had been spotted chasing and killing a Baboon a few hours ago so it was probably completely exhausted by the hunt.
We spent 15 minutes or so watching the beautiful, but deadly, cat and I was happy to have finally ticked off seeing all of the Big 5 from my bucket list.
It was soon time for sunset and we enjoyed it overlooking the plains of the South Luangwa National Park. The views were absolutely incredible, and it was one of the brightest and most colourful sunsets that I have ever seen, as you can see below.
This sunset is definitely in my list of top 3 sunrises and sunsets that I’ve seen while travelling, with others of note being sunrise over the Kazinga Channel in Uganda, and sunset on Swinton Island in Myanmar while on a sailing trip there. Sunrise over Northern Territory while flying from Darwin to Cairns was also pretty special, although I didn’t get any good photos of it.
A night game drive
After sunset we spent a couple of hours driving around the National Park spotting wildlife by the power of a spotlight. We didn’t see as much as we did at the start of the tour but we did see Hippo, Crocodile, and lots of smaller nocturnal animals. We even saw another Leopard, this time a little bit closer, and I couldn’t believe my luck to have seen two in the space of a couple of hours when they are often very hard to find!
By this point the South Luangwa National Park had definitely found its way to the top of my list of best places to spot wildlife. Not only had I finally seen all of the Big 5 – including getting very close to a Pride of Lions – but we saw all 4 of the Big 5 that live in Zambia within the space of 2 hours on the evening game drive!
It was still fairly early when we returned to Croc Valley so a few of us spent some time chatting over drinks in the bar. This place had Savannah cider, which is something that I’m very familiar with in the UK, which was a nice treat although a little expensive compared to the local variety that I was drinking in Malawi.
Tomorrow is mostly a driving day but we have another early start so I’m going to try to get a good night’s sleep. The Hippo didn’t keep me up last night so fingers crossed that they don’t tonight either.