Why a safari within the wet season is to not be missed. By Mike Unwin.
Image copyright Robin Pope Safaris
sick we make it again in time? The storm clouds have been constructing all morning and now, as our Land Cruiser lurches homewards, lightning flashes alongside the horizon and a sky of rumbling purple hangs above us, poised to burst.
The first heavy drops cannon off the bonnet as we roll into camp, shortly gathering rhythm, and inside seconds, the skies have opened: a thunderous downpour that hammers on thatch and canvas and explodes from the dusty floor. But we’ve made it. After two days of constructing stress—every morning, the effervescent name of the coucals promising rain—it’s exhilarating eventually to look at nature unleashed. Especially when protected and dry, with beer in hand.
For guests to Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park—as in lots of safari locations—the wet season is historically the one to keep away from. The May–September dry season is seen as a a lot better wager. This is when the sport herds focus on the shrinking water sources and the vegetation dies again, making wildlife simpler to identify.
Come the rains, in keeping with typical knowledge, all of it turns into too tough: the wildlife disappears behind an impenetrable curtain of greenery, the temperature soars and the flooded roads grow to be un-navigable.
Occasionally, although, typical knowledge misses a trick. Right now, it’s January, the very top of the rains, and sure, the grass is chest excessive and the bush blanketed in inexperienced. The sweeping river terraces, on which only a few months in the past buffalo raised clouds of mud as they trudged all the way down to drink, now lie submerged beneath the nice cocoa-coloured Luangwa. Many of the park’s roads are underneath water or past attain. Many of its lodges have closed.
These storms seldom final lengthy, nevertheless. As we sit again after lunch, a blue sky unfurls over the dripping bush and the magical soundscape of the rains resumes.
Birds of all types are quickly making up for time misplaced to the downpour: orange-breasted bush shrike, white-browed robin chat, black-headed oriole, every proclaiming its territory with the gusto of the breeding season. Interspersed among the many native residents, I additionally hear the seasonal guests: the laughing trill of a woodland kingfisher; the three-note chime of a red-chested cuckoo. Painted reed frogs are at it too, piping away like a string orchestra, whereas a soporific background hum means the bees are again on the nectar.
By mid-afternoon we’re again within the car, our information negotiating contemporary puddles as we meander by way of the river financial institution combretum thickets. Impala nibble on fallen blood-red sausage tree flowers, whereas elephants thrash clods of mud from trunkfuls of grass earlier than stuffing it into their nice pachyderm maws.
We meet francolins bathing in a tyre monitor, a chameleon advancing painstakingly alongside a vine and, better of all, a younger leopard, who shakes the rain from her shiny pelt and pads down the highway, leaving her signature four-toed tracks.
The profusion of life is breathtaking. Everything is consuming, breeding or displaying. Even the dung beetles seem in tip-top situation.
The roads can solely take us thus far. But the next morning the thrill continues once we take to the bush by boat. Hippos snort and submerge as we nudge between the trunks of a submerged ebony grove. And when our craft can go no additional, we get out and stroll, shouldering by way of the foliage to search out searching kudu and a cautious celebration of giraffe. Fresh lion prints lead us to a clearing beside the river, the place two of the large cats are nonetheless tucking into final evening’s zebra. A low growl from the thickets suggests the remainder of the pleasure is mendacity up close by. We depart them to it.
So, it’s price pondering once more concerning the rains. A safari on the coronary heart of South Luangwa’s ‘emerald season’ gives a wildlife expertise of distinctive riches. The sport viewing may take just a little extra work, however the sightings, once they come, really feel that rather more intense.
Meanwhile the brand new development brings a pageant of bugs, flowers, reptiles, singing birds and gambolling children, whereas the drained, bleached-out tones of the dry season give strategy to an excellent palette of vivid greens, earthy reds and majestic cloudscapes.
Worried about getting moist? Bring a brolly.
Mike Unwin visited South Luangwa through the Emerald Season with Robin Pope Safaris (robinpopesafaris.web).