It’s Monday 16th July 2007 and Robin flies north

It’s Monday 16th July 2007 and Robin flies north

Robin and Jo are currently off in Zanzibar enjoying the sand and sun, but before he left Robin wrote a great account of his helicopter trip up north for you all to enjoy.

Have a great week!

Last week I was most fortunate in being asked to accompany a family on a day tour to Bangewelu Swamps and Shiwa.

Flying over the park Helicopters…To me one of the most exhilarating forms of flying. The fact that one can swoop along at low level and pull up into a climb and then stop…hovering at the top of the wave so to speak. There is the muffled noise of the engine and blades through the ear phones, and as the helicopter turns and banks from time to time, you suddenly hear the long low pitched strange swooshing noise of the blades, almost reaching a musical tone.

Two helicopters lifted out off Luangwa House’s hippo grazing terrace almost simultaneously and climbed quickly, first to the east then turned west over the Luangwa River. Speed almost 200kms per hour, the second helicopter out to our right.

Muchinga EscarpmentChitemene Agriculture 'Slash and Burn'

We flew over the headwaters of the Mushilashi and Kapamba Rivers ahead of us the huge Muchinga escarpment which we climbed over. The bush changed quickly into much thicker forest with small clearings. The Mupamadzi River drains from this broken mountainous area through a series of huge gorges and later breaks out eastwards to form the beautiful sandy river down which our mobile safaris take place. The Muchinga escarpment (photo, above left), the western side of the Rift Valley, is a series of compressed ridges reaching 4800 ft with occasional granite dome outcrops. I noticed quite a large number of Phoenix palms growing in the river valleys. Suddenly the forest began showing signs of habitation with bush clearings created by Chitimene agriculture -Slash and burn (photo, above right. The centers of the cleared areas with piles of tree trunks and branches pulled together to burn and to increase the fertility of the ground. Old clearings with the secondary growth rapidly establishing itself.

We swept over the great north road and railway line and then swung to the left around the mountain range covered by the Lavushi Manda National Park. This is a “depleted park” with spectacular views and quite diverse country. I have heard that a number of these depleted parks may be tendered out to interested Wildlife Organizations in order to improve their standing.

Slightly to our left a series of small buildings ribbon like along the winding roads. …Chindaponde.. Close to where Livingstone’s memorial is located.

Ahead of us the beginning of the Bangewelu swamps and marshland. From a thousand feet the grassland looked lawn-like with an incredible number of fairly small termite hills. Interspersed amongst these termite hills, thousands of Black Lechwe (antelope) a marshland species found only really here below us. We landed at Chimbwe (Hyena) airstrip just east of a large herd of Black lechwe and close to the receding water line.

Black Lechwe at Bangweulu SwampsChambeshi River

We were greeted by a compliment of very well turned out National Parks Officers. The wind gusty and cool and all around a most amazing amount of birds, mostly storks and some gulls and a few Wattled Cranes. Dugout canoes, fishing baskets. We were met and embarked in two Copper Bar boats (made of fiberglass) and poled into and through the reed beds towards Shoebill Island. Ducks, white cheeked bee eaters, herons egrets, cormorant’s kingfishers abounded. We did not have time to reach the location of the shoe billed storks before we had to return for a quick lunch and off to Shiwa Ng’andu one hour to the North West. As we flew north one could see the Chambeshi River (photo, above right), one of the largest rivers feeding into the swamps, the outlet of which is through the Luapula River which flows into Lake Mweru and on to become one of the branches of the Congo River. So we are in real Central Africa. The flight to Shiwa was over mostly Miombo woodland dissected by large “Dambo’s” (Seasonally flooded grasslands) distant views of the Lusenga Plains to the West.

We circled the Old House and landed on the airfield close by. We were welcomed by Charlie who was on his best behavior and gave a most interesting conducted tour of the house and its strange and unusual history here in the middle of Central Africa. After high tea and cake, farewells and we raced for Mfuwe following a radial which took us over the Chifungwe Plains , the long grass golden in the afternoon sun, the Mupamadzi River with its many memories, the country turning brown with the beginning of the dry season. Over the Luwi River and as we approached home a pride of six lions were sprawled out just a little way off Luangwa House. We landed at last light. By the following evening, I was at the Mushilashi Palmgrove, the family were in the Seychelles, the helicopters in Livingstone and all our thoughts were gently riding over the Muchinga’s catching up.



Heading Home

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