It’s Monday 1st January 2018 and it’s plain sailing

I do hope that you are all well and that so far the New Year is treating you with the kindness and joy that you all deserve. Here in the Luangwa well everything has got off to its usual start but we are actually heading straight out and all the way up to Liuwa Plain as we have a wonderful story from Alastair Newton who has just been up there on safari with Robin, so for this week Alastair, over to you:

“It may or may not be literally true; but there are spots on the Liuwa Plain where our eyes told us that we could see the curve of the earth in a way normally associated only with sailing in mid-ocean. And this was early December before the annual flood is in full spate!

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For Clare and myself, it was our first foray in to Liuwa. As we live in Livingstone, driving there was, in principle, the obvious option; and especially with the new highway from Sesheke to Kalabo (where one crosses the Luanginga by hand-hauled pontoon to enter the park). However, the road from Kazungula to Sesheke is not in good shape. So, when the chance of being guided by Robin Pope himself came up, it was not difficult for us to decide to drive to Lusaka (despite the Mazabuka-Kafue road!), where the tour started, and fly to Kalabo.

The views from the plane — Lochinvar, Itezhi-Tezhi, the ‘mighty Zambezi’ — are spectacular. But it is not a short (or cheap!) flight, recalling just how big — and, oft-times, empty of people — Zambia is.

Even putting the flight (and even more time-consuming road option) to one side, to be hon-est we would struggle to recommend Liuwa to the first-time safari-goer! From this perspective, it is perhaps as notable for what is not to be found there (yet) as it is for what is. No elephant, giraffe or even impala for starters! But the wildlife is still spectacular. The blue wildebeest (numbering around 24,000 in total) multiplied visibly before our eyes every day we were there, as the migration from the north approached its zenith. The (re-introduced) buffalo, now moving in two herds, are also thriving. As is the small but growing lion population, which, like the cheetahs and hyaenas, continues to benefit from the presence on the ground of the Zambian Carnivore Programme. Hopefully, the painted dogs, made famous by David Attenborough but absent for the past couple of years for reasons unknown, will be seen again soon in this most perfect of environments for them.

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Then there are the birds. Even so early in the season, the Cranes (Grey Crowned and Wattled) are numbered in hundreds and the waders in thousands, vying with the waterbirds for space in the swelling pans. Stately Secretary Birds and Bustards stride majestically through the grass. And raptors — from Little Sparrowhawk to Martial Eagle — are in abundance.

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But, as the headline implies, Liuwa is as much about its scenic beauty and flora as it is its fauna. It really is food for thought to be walking in, literally, the tree tops of the under-ground suffrutex forest with a sea of green, ‘spoilt’ only by a scattering of pink and yellow blooms, stretching all the way around to the seeming curve of the far horizon. At various points of the compass cumulonimbus clouds rise like billowing sails, bringing the storms which will shortly flood the plains more or less totally. And the odd clump of ‘normal’ trees is not only a real landmark but also a likely shelter for wildlife from ‘the King of Beasts’ to the Woodland Kingfisher.

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As for the brand new King Lewanika Lodge, for those (like me!) who enjoy their creature comforts of an evening it should satisfy all but the most over-developed hedonistic streak. Add to this the resources and expertise which African Parks continues to pour into Liuwa and we are seriously looking at what must now be one of Africa’s very finest safari destinations. This being said, for those (like us) who prefer their safari ‘far from the madding crowd’, we barely saw another visitor throughout the entire stay of our small party. Hopefully, though, this will not last. Luiwa needs many more visitors if it is to be commercially sustainable. But, for now, it remains ‘a road less traveled’ — and one, which we shall certainly travel again very soon.”

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Thanks so much Alastair, what a wonderful trip you had, thank you for sharing it with us. So really for this week I believe that that is where we are going to leave it and bid you all a very fond farewell and have a fabulous week ahead with plenty of smiles and laughter.

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