North Luangwa National Park in Zambia
The North Luangwa National Park was founded as a game reserve in 1938; it became a national park in 1972 and now covers 4,636 square kilometres. It is a remote tract of land in the northern part of three parks in the valley of the Luangwa River. The other two are South Luangwa National Park and the Luambe National Park. It is considered to be one of the last surviving wilderness areas in Africa. The beauty of visiting this park is the truly remarkable opportunities to experience Africa as it is
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- Not open to anyone other than Game Department rangers
- Elephant numbers have recovered from poaching in the 1970s and 80s
- Situated in an area that is renowned for its plentiful wildlife
The beauty of visiting this park is the truly remarkable opportunities to experience Africa as it was. It is wild and untouched and you are simply an unobtrusive witness to its natural beauty and drama.
In 1984, Major John Harvey and his wife Lorna sought permission to conduct walking safaris in the area and for many years were the only operators in this remote wilderness. Then in 1989, two scientists, Mark and Delia Owens, famed for their book ‘Cry of the Kalahari’, were granted permission to set up a research station in the park. Through their influence and as a means of helping to curb poaching in the area, the authorities allowed entry to the park to a few more safari operators who bring limited numbers into the park for guided walking safaris and game drives. Their efforts in the North Luangwa are documented in their book ‘Survivors Song, The Eye of the Elephant’.
Ecology and habitat
Like the South Luangwa National Park, its eastern boundary is the Luangwa River. It rises to the west to cover a stretch of the Muchinga Escarpment. The Mwaleshi River flows east-west through the centre of the park. The area south of the Mwaleshi River is a wilderness of exceptional beauty. Vegetation ranges from mopane woodland to riverine forest, open grasslands and acacia thicket, the beautiful sausage trees, vegetable ivory palms, red mahogany and leadwood. There are a number of tributary rivers running through the park and into the Luangwa which plays an important ecological role in the area. The crystal clear Mwaleshi River trickles down the escarpment in a series of small waterfalls. It recedes in the dry season, leaving many pools along the way, drawing the animals from the bush to its banks in search of water. No game drives are permitted in Mwaleshi area, access is by organised walking safaris only.
Wildlife is found in abundance, including Cookson’s wildebeest, Craw Shay’s zebra and many antelopes and birds. The park is noted for its massive herds of buffalo, a spectacular sight if they’re seen on the run, kicking up dust for miles behind them. Large prides of lion inhabit the territory and it is not uncommon to witness a kill. Other common mammals are hyena, Cookson’s wildebeest, bushbuck, zebra, warthog, baboon, Vervet monkey, puku and impala. Elephant and leopard are also seen, but not as frequently as in the South Luangwa National Park. You are more likely to see hartebeest, reedbuck and eland here, however. For many years its wildlife suffered greatly from poaching, but recent years have seen poaching almost entirely stopped. It has generally suffered from a lack of investment and interest compared to the much more popular South Luangwa National Park, although its flora and fauna are very similar to its southern counterpart. In 2003, black rhinoceroses were re-introduced to the park. The North Luangwa National Park, Zambia is one of the most spectacular game parks in the country. If you are a traveler on the look out for an adventure rather than the run-of-mill safari, then North Luangwa National Park is that corner of the earth where you can fulfill a true return to the wild experience.
Birding in North Luangwa
All the birds in the South Luangwa National Park have been recorded here as well. Sighted regularly are the crowned cranes, purple crested lorries, broad billed roller, Lillian’s lovebird, the carmine bee-eater, giant eagle owl and Pel’s fishing owl. Occasionally seen are the bat hawk, black coucal and osprey.
What to see
The park is noted for its massive herds of buffalo, a spectacular sight if they’re seen on the run, kicking up dust for miles behind them. Game viewing is on foot,in a remote area renowned for its lion, huge herds of buffalo and endemic Cookson’s wildebeest. Luangwa North Camp is situated in an area that is renowned for its plentiful wildlife Large prides of lion inhabit the territory and it is not uncommon to witness a kill. Other common mammals are hyena, Cookson’s wildebeest, bushbuck, zebra, warthog, baboon, Vervet monkey, puku and impala. Elephant and leopard are also seen, but not as frequently as in the South Luangwa National Park. You are more likely to see hartebeest, reedbuck and eland here, however.Not many experiences can match the thrill of finding lion on foot or standing face to face with a thousand head of buffalo.Mwaleshi Camp situated on a scenic bend of the Mwaleshi River, a beautiful river within the North Luangwa National Park. All the birds in the South have been recorded here as well. Sighted regularly are the crowned cranes, purple crested lorries, broad billed roller, Lillian’s lovebird, the carmine bee-eater, giant eagle owl and Pel’s fishing owl. Occasionally seen are the bat hawk, black coucal and osprey.
It is not advisable to explore this park on your own. The solitude of the area can mean serious trouble for the self-explorers. There are very few roads out here and you are unlikely to see anyone else while you are there. The two main rivers, the Lufila and Mwaleshi, run through the park. the Mwaleshi River cascades down in a series of rapids and waterfalls before reaching the valley floor as the delightful Chomba Waterfall. This cool crystal waterfall, in the heart of North Luangwa National Park, boasts some of the largest herds of antelope.
The diversity of habitats in this North Luangwa National Park will leave you feeling bewildered. There are areas of pure Mopani forests, lush riverine forests and sausage trees laden with long dangling sausage-looking fruit. It is due to this that there are awesome varieties of birds from the Pel’s fishing owl to the purple crested Turaco. The park now has some of the most zealous game rangers in the country.
The access to this park is only through one of the few safari operators who have been granted the permission to conduct walking safaris in the park. You can apply for special permission to enter the park at the Department of National Parks services in Chilanga or Mpika. This is not advisable due to its remoteness should anything go wrong with your vehicle. The best way to experience this park is with one of the operators running safaris here. One can fly in to either Mfuwe International Airport, about four hours away and be picked up, or be brought in from the Mpika side of the escarpment. There are two airstrips that are open for charter traffic. There are very few roads and you’re unlikely to see anyone else for the duration of your trip. Like the South Luangwa National Park, it lies on the western bank of the Luangwa River bordered on the other side by the dramatic Muchinga escarpment which rises over 1000 meters from the valley floor. Its hazy outline can clearly be seen from the Luangwa River.
Where to stay
There are no lodges open to the public in the North Luangwa National Park but several operators run pre-booked, organised safaris there.Shiwa Safaris have two bush camps and their safaris begin at the Shiwa Ngandu estate over the western side of the escarpment.
Zambia’s smallest own operated camp, Kutandala Camp caters for only six guests on each safari. All the rooms have an unrestricted view of the Mwaleshi River and its flood plain throughout the day. Set on a stunning site on the banks of the Mwaleshi River in the heart of the North Luangwa National Park, Kutandala Camp offers the ultimate safari for those who seek truly remote wilderness. It comprises of 3 attractive reed chalets, each with stunning views over the river.
Special attention has been paid to ensure the 5 timber bungalows blend into the environment whilst still allowing wonderful views of the river. What a pleasure it is to sit on the viewing platform watching the animals come down to drink from the ever-changing river. The bungalows are built well above the ground with a walkway between each unit. The lodge has an enormous terrace of more than 300 square metres with views over the Luangwa River. Visitors often see buffalos; hippos, elephants and even lions come to drink. Lunch in the shade of the restaurant, with its exceptional views, is very popular. Candle lit suppers are accompanied by the sounds of the African night. All this, together with game viewing by vehicle with highly qualified guides, makes this a truly memorable destination!
When to go
Operators in this region conduct safaris in the dry season from June to October when animal sightings are at their peak. Access in the wet season is virtually impossible.
- Acacia thicket
- Mopane woodland
- Open grasslands
- Riverine forest
- Bat hawk
- Black coucal
- Broad billed roller
- Carmine bee-eater
- Crowned cranes
- Giant eagle owl
- Lillian’s lovebird
- Pel’s fishing owl
- Purple crested lorries
- Cookson’s wildebeest
- Vervet monkey
Places to stay
- Luangwa North Camp (formerly Delia Camp)
- Kutandala Camp
- Mwaleshi Camp