South Luangwa’s ‘emerald’ season
Seasoned safari goers know that the early part of the year, when the rains have come and the landscape is lush, can showcase Zambia’s national parks at their best. Many parks are inaccessible, but some camps in the South Luangwa stay open, as this is the top time to see migrant birds as well as to explore the Luangwa River.
(Photo: Yellow-billed stork © Tricia Hayne)
Birding at its colourful best
When the foliage is dense, the insects thriving and the rain falling – that’s when birders in the know come to Zambia. Fire-crowned bishop birds, yellow-billed storks and the spectacular paradise whydahs are in full breeding plumage, and numerous migrants come to join the party.
The majesty of the Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls presents an extraordinary site at any time of year, but early in the season, when flow is at its height, is as good as it gets. Come for the drama, the noise and the sheer spectacle – but if you want to get up close, don’t expect to stay dry.
Photographers: this is your time!
When the skies are generally clear and the vegetation washed clean by the seasonal rains: this is when photographers should flock to Zambia. Some of the national parks will be inaccessible at this time, but there are always rewards; consider central Kafue, the South Luangwa, or – now that the road has been tarred most of the way to Mongu – the western Zambezi.
Search for shoebills in the Bangweulu Wetlands
With its prehistoric looks and ugly mug, the shoebill is high up on most birders’ lists – but you’ll have to work to find it. Shoebill Camp in the Bangweulu Wetlands is the place to start, and April to June, when the waters are receding, the best time to look. But be prepared for long days that may involve wading through mud!
Shiwa Ng’andu: a stately home in deepest Africa
Most visitors to Shiwa Ng’andu shake their heads in disbelief, for nothing would lead you to expect this stunning stately home in the heart of Africa. Built in the 1920s by the late Sir Stewart Gore-Brown, the estate is now home to his grandson and family, and boasts a full-scale working farm, plenty of indigenous game, a beautiful formal garden, a serious riding stables, and more than 375 species of birds.
Down on the Lower Zambezi
Nestling at the foot of a steep escarpment, the Lower Zambezi National Park lines the northern shore of the great Zambezi River. As the dry season gets into full swing, join the lucky few at camps along the river to watch the wildlife – some just drawn to drink, some to wallow in the shallows, and some to cross to the other side.
Captivating Kafue National Park
Proximity to Lusaka makes the fringes of Kafue National Park easy to visit at any time of year, but tucked away in the north is the Busanga Plains, rendered largely inaccessible by flood water except between June and October. Frequented by elephants, cheetah, lion and wild dog, it’s a magical area that can be seen by 4WD, on foot or even from a hot-air balloon.
(Photo: Lioness drinking in the Busanga Plains © Tricia Hayne)
Walking in the North Luangwa
The adrenalin rush of encountering wildlife on foot is unbeatable, and exclusive North Luangwa is the place to go. In fact, its few tiny camps are entirely about walking, with excellent guides, plenty of game and the thrill of having one of Zambia’s top parks almost entirely to yourself.
Fighting for tigerfish
Guaranteed to get most anglers salivating, the Zambezi, Kafue and Luangwa rivers are teeming with tigerfish during the dry season, when the waters are clear. Many of Zambia’s riverside camps have custom-designed boats and experienced guides and – with plenty of other fish in the rivers – it’s fun even for the complete novice.
Bats, bats and more bats
Little known outside Zambia, Kasanka National Park comes into its own in November when literally millions of fruit bats home in on the riverine trees for the annual fruitfest. Watch from a tree hide if you can; crocodiles tend to occupy the ground space in search of bats that topple from overweighted branches.
Gather at the gathering, Liuwa Plain National Park
As the first rains fall, animals start to drop their young almost in unison – and Liuwa Plain, where herds of zebra and wildebeest congregate in their thousands to feed on delicious new grass, is at its most enticing and rewarding. You’ll need to be part of an expedition, though; time it wrong and you could be stuck for the entire rainy season.