One-week photo safari/workshop in Mfuwe/South Luangwa
I spent a week in the Mfuwe area of South Luangwa under the wings of lodge owner/bushguide and wildlife photographer Peter Geraerdts of Track and Trail River Camp.
The Camp is located on the other bank of the Luangwa, just outside the Park's Mfuwe gate.
We stuck to a 'first in, last out' policy: arriving at the gate for our morning drives just before six, and trying to leave the Park at 8pm sharp. Regime was strict: morning drive until 10:00-10:30, early lunch, and afternoon/evening drive from 15:30 or 16:00 through 20:00, followed by dinner around 20:30.
I've been around SA, Namibia, Kenya and Uganda, but Zambia was a first-time visit. A few (online) friends had recommmended South Luangwa, time to find out for myself!
It's a long trip (Amsterdam-Nairobi, Nairobi-Lusaka, couple of hours off to a hotel then Lusaka-Mfuwe), but worth it. Door-to-door is probably just under a full day, but the lack of time difference cuts out jetlag at least...
Transfer from Mfuwe to the Lodge was a painless <40m exercise, over remarkably good (tarred) roads. The Lodge/Camp is situated right on the bank of the Luangwa, with pool/gym/massage/spa facilities, as well as a bar, restaurant and small library.
I was assigned a spacious thatched chalet with a comfy double bed, large bathroom and safety features for both my valuables/documents (small safe) and my photo gear (a padlocked strongbox). Food was good to excellent, with 3-course lunches and dinners every day. Good pastry as well, with always a slice of something waiting for me at tea time. The Camp feature daily laundry service, and had reasonable wifi coverage in the bar/restaurant area.
My goal for this trip was twofold: a week-long safari in a park and country yet unknown to me, as well as improving my wildlife photography skills. Peter proved to be the ideal host: his fauna and flora knowledge is remarkable and perhaps even better than some of the native guides I worked with, and he's a skilled and patient photography teacher.
Our safari vehicle was not your regular open 4X4: it was heavily modified for the (pro) wildlife photographer... The rear section of the car features heavy steel swivel arms with beanbags and ballhead mounting space on the sides, supplemented with more beanbags in front and at the back. This effectively gave me a 360-degree line of sight with steady support for even the longest piece of glass...
Both of my goals were met: my skills have tangibly improved, with a couple of impressing shots as evidence, and I got to sample most of South Luangwa's flora and fauna.
More on the latter: the floral diversity was impressive, ranging from monumental Baobabs to wild jasmin, from nile cabbage to the intriguing ansellia. A remarkable amount of sausage trees in the area, bearing some of the largest fruits I've seen...
The fauna is probably why most people come and visit, and I was not disappointed... Both of the big cats (with 4 leopard sightings in just two drives!), a large group of wild dogs, heaps of elephant, a small herd of buffalo, and much, much more. My timing was just right to come across fighting grazers: we saw some impressive male impala and zebra battles!
Crocs, water monitors and hippos are abundant thanks to the river, with the latter two incidentally paying a visit to the lodge. The smaller mammals were well-represented: we saw 5 species of mongoose, 'caught' both civet and genet up close, young porcupine, spotted honey badgers twice(!), and ran into the accidental shrew or shrub hare during our night drives.
I'm not a 'hardcore' birder, so haven't recorded every sighting, but we must have easily seen 100-120 different species. Ranging from raptors (bateleur, tawny, snake eagle, martial eagle, lizard buzzard, goshawk, ...) to storks (open-billed, woolly-necked, yellow-billed, marabou) to herons (my first decent shot of a squacco) to the more colourful birds like rollers, sunbirds and - especially near the river banks - bee-eaters.