As Zambia is but a hop skip and a jump (ok, about 8 hours) from Nkhata Bay I decided to book onto a trip (with Tubby Tours) into South Luangwa National Park, said to be one of Africa's best kept safari secrets. This place is home to 4 of the big 5 and lots of others as well, but most importantly, I was guaranteed hippo spottings, perhaps even hippo camp site encounters. Take my money, TAKE IT ALL!!
The drive was long. And dusty. And uncomfortable. But I had great company and chatted most of the way, slept some of the way and wriggled about trying to stop my ass going numb 95% of the way. When we finally arrived it was already going dark and we had missed our night safari, but pulling into Croc Valley, we were surrounded by monkeys, elephants and, by the river.... HIPPOS! So we had a little wander around camp before sitting down to a three course meal, followed by beers in front of a log fire over looking the river. A long day of travel and load shedding equalled an early night tucked up in our tent, listening to the hippos Ho-Ho-Hoing in the not-so-distance and talking till one of us fell asleep.
The next morning was a 5am start. Our group of 8 piled onto the safari truck, binoculars and zoom lenses at the ready, and set out into the National Park to find us some wildlife.
Before even reaching the park gates we'd come across a small herd of hungry elephants munching at the side of the road so I knew it was going to be a successful day.
Inside the park within minutes were more elephants, giraffes, zebras, impala. Next we saw a lonely hyena stalking a deer.
I proved myself to be absolutely terrible at wildlife spotting.
Me: Is that a baby hippo?
JR: No, Kat, that's a warthog.
Me: Is that a crocodile?
JR: No, it's a log.
Fortunately others around me were much better and within 20 minutes of arriving in the park we were hot on the trail of a leopard casually following a deer.
We drove slowly behind her for quite some distance; she was not a bit bothered. We watched, breath held, as she slunk along in a ditch, pausing now and then to sniff the air, sticking her head above the parapet to check on the position of her prey.
We were urging her to pounce, but she was in for the long game and seemed quite content just to watch, as, in the end, were we.
Our next spot was a pack of juvenile lions, sunning themselves around a bush. There were seven of them, all fast asleep. We pulled up barely metres away from them, so close we could almost hear them breathing.
You can easily see why they're known as the kings of the jungle, they are truly majestic. They move with a haughty sense of importance that no other animal seems to have.
After the lions, we headed back to camp for a big brunch and to relax for a few hours before our night drive. Our morning drive had been so successful I had high hopes for the evening, although we were warned that we probably wouldn't see much. It was true, we didn't see as much, but there was still plenty to keep me happy. Hippos, for starters. Hundreds of them wallowing in the river, with the constant backdrop of their comedic deep belly-laughing. After pointing my zoom for 10 minutes I managed to get the shot I had wanted - a yawning hippo. I was happy now if I didn't see anything else. I'd got what I came here for.
As the sun went down, everything was bathed in a rich salmon pink glow and our final sight as the sky burnt red was this family of giraffes standing watch over the plains.