SPONSORED CONTENT by Robin Pope Safaris
Ditching the confines of the game drive vehicle for a pair of walking boots as you venture out in the bush on a mobile walking safari is undoubtedly one of the most thrilling wilderness experiences in the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.
It is also perhaps the safari experience Robin Pope Safaris is most famous for, and each year they operate at least 20 guaranteed set departure mobile walking safari trips. As they celebrate the 30th anniversary of what many consider the best wilderness trip next year, they offer us an insider’s guide to what mobile walking safaris are, what to expect and, of course, what makes them so special.
South Luangwa is considered one of the most remote and last unspoiled natural areas of the continent with varied topography and supported ecosystems. Found in eastern Zambia and part of the broader Luangwa Valley, a major feature of the South Luangwa National Park is the mighty Luangwa River that runs through it.
It is one of the remaining few rivers in Africa that has not been tampered with, following its natural pathway. The recent proposal to turn the Luangwa River into a hydroelectric dam was halted, which means it remains today a pristine natural beauty and source of water for both wildlife and people in the park.
The Luangwa River and its winding tributaries experience marked changes as the seasons change, from flooding during the rainy season to almost arid in the dry season, which affects the type of safari one has at these different times.
South Luangwa is widely known as the home of the walking safari. A mobile walking safari with Robin Pope Safaris, for instance, is seven nights and operates in both northern and southern regions of the park. The walking trail covers five nights in the extreme north, where you will walk around 10 km a day, with the Mupamadzi River – a tributary of the Luangwa River – as your natural guide.
Of course, you will also have the most seasoned bush guides and armed game scout leading the way. A vehicle and crew, accurately nicknamed ‘The A Team’, ensures the setting up of the temporary camps every other day; out of sight.
While tracking spoor or inspecting an interestingly constructed bird’s nest, perhaps the last thing on your mind will be camp though. A walking safari takes you right into the thick of nature, immersing you fully in the sounds, smells and sights of the bush. It is a wonderful time to detox from the busy, digitally-fuelled world back home and just connect with the tranquillity of Africa’s wilderness.
The ultimate wilderness adventure takes you far off the beaten track, which means that the usual luxury amenities that you enjoy in safari lodges and camps are not coming with you. On the one hand, this might be the reason a mobile walking safari is not everyone’s cup of tea, while on the other hand, this may just be one of the major drawcards for those who enjoy these expeditions.
The twin walk-in canvas tents are well-equipped and the beds comfortable, the bucket shower is under a tree and the toilet is a long drop with a wooden throne. A maximum of six guests are allowed on one trip and the minimum age is 21 years old.
There is something special about having all your meals prepared on an open fire in front of you. Whether it is the daily freshly bread baked in an oven dug into the earth, delicious porridge made as the sun is rising or the first sip of your ice-cold gin and tonic after the day’s walk, the rustic charm of bush camping is a huge part of the entire experience.
The timeframe over which mobile walking safaris operate coincide with great game-viewing season in the South Luangwa. The dry season means the vegetation has dried and died back and waterholes and rivers are scarce, so animals gather around the most reliable ones.
Along with four of Africa’s Big 5 (lion, leopard, buffalo and elephant), you might encounter an animal unique to the Luangwa Valley, the Thornicroft’s giraffe, which is a morphologically distinct sub-species of giraffe. There are also the near-endemic specials like Crawshay’s zebra and Cookson’s wildebeest, and even the endangered painted wolves (African wild dogs).
If you are very lucky, you might spot the big eyes of a bush baby at night, although more easily to see are is the genet and porcupine. Over 450 bird species have been recorded here, including the elusive Pel’s fishing owl and Verreaux’s eagle owl, making the South Luangwa a veritable birder’s delight.
As the mobile walking safaris take place during the dry season from June to October, you will find that it is hot during the day while the nights are cooler. In June and July, temperatures are around 28°C during the day and 11°C at night, and by the time September and October arrive it can get up to 36°C during the day and 20°C at night.
Don’t forget to pack sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, torch, binoculars and, of course, your camera. If you are keen on having a swim in the wild, then a swimming costume is a must too!