On safari in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi

Max King goes off the beaten safari track in Africa – and finds the extra effort is well rewarded.

934-travel-South-Luangwa-National-Park
Safaris are expensive, but you get what you pay for

Safaris are expensive, but you get what you pay for. You can slot a couple of days into a trip to South Africa, but the camps are a little too comfortable and the game viewing a little too contrived to provide more than an appetiser for a longer trip further into Africa.

The best time to go is in the dry season, up until October, when the animals come down to the water to drink but the landscape is parched and less scenic. We started off on the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls, reached by a flight which connected to the overnight British Airways flights to Johannesburg. We arrived at the park gates when they opened at 6am; visitors are few and the sun rising over the falls was spectacular. After breakfast back at the hotel, there was plenty of time for a helicopter ride, numerous other activities or just lounging round the hotel.

The Victoria Falls Hotel, built in 1904, offers faded colonial grandeur faded enough to be charming but grand enough to have the best location and grounds. As often in Africa, the service is erratic but always smiling and anxious to please.

934-travel-The-Victoria-Fall-Hotel
Victoria Falls Hotel: faded colonial grandeur

An early morning transfer across the Zambian border took us to Livingstone for the onward flight by a single-propeller small plane to the Lower Zambezi National Park. This lies across the river from Mana Pools in Zimbabwe, but has the advantage of wildlife viewing by boat as well as a simpler itinerary.

Chongwe River Camp occupies a picturesque setting among acacia trees on the Chongwe river, close to where it joins the Zambezi. Elephants stroll through the camp by day, hippos by night and the exceptional friendliness of the staff together with generous servings of Malawi gin ensure highly sociable mealtimes. Expeditions by boat make the game viewing more varied and comfortable the tracks for the jeeps to and through the park are in poor condition.

The flight that brought us here carried on to Mfuwe, the access point for South Luangwa National Park. We stayed at Kaingo Camp on a bank above the Luangwa river, which provides great vantage points for seeing wildlife. The guides, as elsewhere, tend to focus on the big cats, but if you arelucky enough to see a pack of lions stalk a herd of buffalo before bringing one down, you will see why.

934-travel-Chongwe-river-camp
Elephants stroll casually through Chongwe River Camp

As by the Zambezi, the birdlife will convert the hardest cynic into an ornithologist while the beautiful ebony groves provide shelter from the heat of the sun. Each chalet has a deck looking out over the river, the staff are hospitable and the Malawi gin plentiful, but the key differentiator here was the excellent food provided by a resident chef from South Africa.

Another flight from Mfuwe took us via Lilongwe to Monkey Bay for a few days' rest by Lake Malawi, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. Bilharzia snail fever makes swimming from the shore inadvisable, but the unique ecology makes it a magnet for snorkelling and scuba divers.

Though the Pumulani is beautifully situated with spacious villas, two swimming pools and the usual range of watersports, our stay was marred by poor management.

A visit to the nearby village provided a stark reminder that Malawi is much poorer than Zambia, while a boat trip to nearby Cape Maclear revealed some attractive-looking, cheap and cheerful alternative accommodation.

From Lilongwe, the direct flight to Johannesburg connects with the BA flight home.

Our trip was arranged by Safari Consultants;safari-consultants.com;01787-888590.

Recommended

Forgotten wonders of the world
Travel and holidays

Forgotten wonders of the world

There is plenty to see away from the main tourist trail, says Chris Carter
23 Oct 2020
Get out and enjoy the autumn
Travel and holidays

Get out and enjoy the autumn

It’s the season for hikes among the trees and cosy meals in pubs, says Nicole Garcia Merida.
16 Oct 2020
Travel: a cosy weekend in London at No.5 Maddox St
Travel and holidays

Travel: a cosy weekend in London at No.5 Maddox St

Chris Carter enjoys a city break in London, his home town.
9 Oct 2020
Where to take a skiing holiday this winter
Travel and holidays

Where to take a skiing holiday this winter

There are still several appealing options for a skiing holiday, despite Covid-19, says Chris Carter.
2 Oct 2020

Most Popular

Negative interest rates and the end of free bank accounts
Bank accounts

Negative interest rates and the end of free bank accounts

Negative interest rates are likely to mean the introduction of fees for current accounts and other banking products. But that might make the UK bankin…
19 Oct 2020
Why commodities could be the best investment for 2021
Commodities

Why commodities could be the best investment for 2021

There’s plenty for investors to worry about right now. But things will inevitably recover. And the sector most likely to do best when they do, says Jo…
22 Oct 2020
UK post-Covid recovery stocks: these 20 companies could be set to rocket
Share tips

UK post-Covid recovery stocks: these 20 companies could be set to rocket

Finding stocks with the potential to rise tenfold or even further is far easier said than done. But the pandemic has produced the most promising backd…
22 Oct 2020