Monday, 1 July 2013

Safari Day 1: South Luangwa National Park

Giraffe - are you looking at me?

We were woken with a knock at the door at 5am for a 5:30am breakfast in the lodge. As the sun rose we could see that Thornicroft Lodge is built on the river and the strange animals noises we could hear during the night we from the hippos below us.

After a quick breakfast we were on the road by 6am with our guide Godfrey. Safari here we come! We were at the park gate within 10mins, paid our entrance fee to the friendly staff and it felt like we were the first people into the park for the day.

Trees in the river

I wasn't really sure what to expect from a safari, but thought sightings would be precious with animals hard to spot. The park had an immediate wow factor with animals everywhere. We saw impala and puku immediate and then giraffe, zebra, baboons, elephants and warthogs all within the first half hour. Later on in the morning we would also see buffalo and hippos.

We spent most of our five hours in the park trying to track a leopard. We saw footprints and heard the warning calls of baboons and birds nearby, but didn't get a sighting.

The damage at the base of the tree is caused by elephants
rubbing themselves against the trunk

It wasn't just the animals, the scenery in the park was stunning too. There were wide open plains, wooded areas, termite mounds and areas cleared by elephants with just the tree stumps remaining.

Godfrey, our guide, almost seemed annoyed that we hadn't seen a cat, but I couldn't have cared less. For my first safari experience I was pretty overwhelmed. We'd seen a lot more animals in the first morning than I thought we might during the whole trip and the National Park was just glorious.

Young elephant

We got back to the lodge around 11am and had an early lunch sitting by the river with a French couple who were also staying in the lodge (but hadn't joined us on the game drive). We spent the middle part of the day reading in the shade while watching hippos and crocodiles in the river. After a bit of indecision I decided to go for a dip in the pool as well. There was an initial cold shock as I got it, but it helped me to cool down by a few degrees which was very welcome.
Hippos

After tea and a slice of cake we got back into the safari truck just before four o'clock and headed back into the park for our sunset drive. The park was a lot quieter, in terms of the number of animals, than it had been in the morning. However, as the sun set there was a beautiful warm orange glow which gave the park a magical look. It really was the golden hour.

Zebra

Just before six o'clock we were driven to a spot of the river to have a drink while we watched the sunset. As we pulled up to our sunset spot we heard some baboon warning calls nearby. We jumped back into the 4x4 and headed towards the sound of the alarm calls.

Puku

We found the leopard pretty easily as two other safari trucks has already found the animal. It was amazing how close he walked to the 4x4s and how unfazed he seemed by our presence. At one point the leopard was walking right towards our vehicle. I asked our guide if it was ok to take photos, "yes" came the reply "just don't stand up!"

The leopard walked into some long grass and we could no longer see him. We drove round to the rear of the bush / long grass, but couldn't see the leopard reappear.

Sunset over the river

We headed back to the river, where it was now almost dark, for a beer and some snacks. I was drinking a beer, watching a new moon illuminate a beautiful river, having just seen a leopard. Does it get much better.

After our drinks we got back into the 4x4 and started driving with a search light. We'd been driving for an hour and hadn't seen much. I was starting to think of dinner and heading back to the lodge and then we rounded a corner and saw one of the most amazing things of my life.......

Our first sighting of a leopard

Licking his lips - hopefully not because I look tasty

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