It’s Monday 14th June 2010 and Norma’s special moments

‘So where exactly are we going?’, one of my fellow travellers enquired.

‘It’s a remote area in north-west Zambia.’

‘Remind me why we’re going there???’

‘It all began last July when we were on a family holiday in Zambia. While in South Luangwa, Jo and Robin came across for a cup of tea one afternoon and talked about Liuwa Plain and walking safaris . We were completely sold on the idea and that was it!’

Aerial View of Liuwa Plain, Robin Pope Safaris, Zambia

We flew from Lusaka to Kalabo where we were met by Jason. The journey took at least an hour longer than planned as he enthusiastically welcomed us to Liuwa and its wildlife by stopping to point out lots of things along the way. We were thrilled to see a malachite kingfisher, bateleur (male and female, not forgetting immature, as well as adult), wildebeest, hyena, a buffalo herd, which had been recently introduced to the park, and many other species. Liuwa Plain National Park comprises 3,660km2 and is managed by African Parks.

Wildebeest, Liuwa Plain, Robin Pope Safaris, Zambia

The landscape was amazing – miles and miles of empty space as you look around 360’, with the horizon punctuated by clumps of trees here and there. There were pools of water everywhere, which Jason told us were rapidly drying out but they were teeming with fish and we saw how the local people  had set traps, a bit like lobster creels, to catch them. There was no other sign of people anywhere – in fact we were the first tourists to visit Liuwa this season. There is no access to this area after the rains as the terrain is covered in water. Many of the animals migrate to higher, dryer ground during the rainy season, including the wildebeest. The months of May and June are a good time to visit.

Robin Pope & the Liuwa Plain team

Robin, Michelle and their team were waiting to show us around Matamanene Camp, the only camp in Liuwa. Our tent was a little more basic than the one on Chongwe River where we stayed last year but very comfortable. Lunch was exquisite – several delicious salads, coronation chicken and home-baked sunflower-seeded bread. No mean feat when you consider the nearest shop was a very long way away!  One of Michelle’s other skills is in photography and she patiently guided the novices amongst us to become more proficient.

Our first walk was with Robin that afternoon. We were captivated by the place and easily settled into our early morning walks, back to the camp for lunch and a rest, with game drives in the afternoon, sundowners at a beautiful location and back to camp for dinner. Robin and Jason were the most amazing guides – their enthusiasm was infectious! Previously none of us could have claimed to be avid ‘birders’ but we’re all converted. Over the course of our five days in Liuwa we saw nearly one hundred different species of bird and many in unimaginable quantities.

There were so many special moments that it is difficult to single some out. One evening at sundowners we watched as lots of pelicans swooped down to one of the lagoons and indulged in a feeding frenzy.  The pool of water was completely covered with pelicans and still more and more arrived and squashed in.

Another afternoon as we were driving, Robin spotted a Kittlitz’s plover on the track in front of us.  He spotted her nest just to the side and we watched as she quickly kicked sand over the nest to conceal it. We had a look and Robin gently blew some sand off the top of the nest to reveal two gorgeous speckled grey eggs.

Hyena, Liuwa Plain, Robin Pope Safaris, Zambia

Then there was the morning when we saw the lions at a distance and then followed the hyena and vultures to find the kill. It was the half-eaten carcass of a wildebeest which was being dessimated by the vultures. We saw four species – hooded, lappet-faced, white-backed and white-hooded.  As we watched, a jackal came along and did not notice our group until the last minute, as he too, was ready to feed from the dead animal.

Lady Liuwa, Liuwa Plain, Robin Pope Safaris, Zambia

We had heard the story of ‘Lady Liuwa’ who had been the only lioness in Liuwa Plain for eight years but were amazed to hear her roar the second night we were in camp. We saw her several times during our time there. Happily, two male lions were introduced to the camp last year and all three are usually together but Lady Liuwa does not seem to feel threatened by humans. Michelle showed us a DVD which was made last year called ‘The Last Lioness’, which was fascinating. She regaled us with great stories about the time when Lady was a regular visitor at the camp before the male lions arrived.

The ground was carpeted with beautiful flowers ranging from pink to purple, white to yellow in bands across the dry ground. The lagoons or pans were covered with white lilies. Another species of lily with a bright red flower was just beginning to bloom. We discovered that Jason even has a flower named after him – a new species which he identified. The night sky was another memorable aspect of Liuwa. We watched the colourful sunsets and were amazed as the star formations became visible in the inky backdrop.

Our journey from Liuwa was wonderful too. We went by boat along the waterways to join the river and made our way to Mongu from where we caught a short flight to Lusaka. Along the route we saw some villages and local people in small boats punting along, some selling fish from their boat. Again, the bird life was amazing and we saw more new species as we went along. Many people who live by the river, move to higher ground in places like Mongu, where they stay until the rain recedes.

We thought at one point we were starting to get somewhere with birding when one of us recognised a Bateleur flying overhead. Then Robin pointed out that the fifth feather of its right wing was missing! We realised that we hadn’t even started!!! Robin and Jason, along with Alex from African Parks, were wonderfully knowledgeable and extremely patient while being incredibly gracious, making our time in Liuwa extraordinary and most memorable.

Cheers,
Norma

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