3 November 2005
Five leopards crossed my path on my first night drive in Zambia's Luangwa Valley some years ago.
It seemed a never-to-be repeated experience yet when I returned some time later, the game viewing was just as good.
This time my tally was three leopards, a large pride of lions and a herd of buffalo all within the space of three hours.
Game reserves in different African countries each provide wildlife enthusiasts with varied experiences. Some swear Namibia is tops for game while others claim the honours should go to Kenya.
But Zambia came to mind at a recent workshop with Solistor Cheelo, the Southern Africa manager of the Zambia National Tourist Board. He was there to promote an extensive array of tourist options, among them Zambia's superb national parks which encompass virtually a third of the country's land mass.
Cheelo had much to tell of recent developments in Zambia. Had I visited the luxurious Chichele Presidential Lodge in South Luangwa, he asked?
Once a private presidential hideaway it has since been renovated to become the flagship of the valley .
And what of Kafue? This game reserve covers more than 22000 sqkm and is one of the world's largest national parks.
There are plenty of elephants, lions, leopards and buffalo, but never mind the mammals.
This is a birder's paradise with more than 400 species resident in the park. Birds remain a major attraction and enthusiasts will have a field day in Kasanika, a privately managed national park with profits from the tourism channelled back into the community.
Kasanika lies on the fringe of the vast wetlands of Bamgweulu, where the papyrus swamps provide a retreat for sitatunga antelope and where birds abound, among them the rare shoebill stork. Here, too, more than a million fruit bats come home to roost.
Further north, on the Malawi border, there's the Nyika Plateau where an 80 sq km park supports a range of fauna including roan antelope, eland, reedbuck, zebra, hyena, jackal and prolific hirdlife. Its main appeal, however, are the alpine flora, with flower enthusiasts advised to look out for the orchids.
There's yet another park in the far north, Sumba, which includes some 80 km of Lake Tanganyika's shoreline. Yes, there is plenty of game in the reserve, including warthog and puku, sable, eland, hartebeest, buffalo and a good many lions and leopards. Flamingoes call there on their migrations, but Sumba is best known for the lake's fish. This is a must-visit destination for sports anglers.
There are still more parks, including the Lower Zambezi where canoe safaris are now commonplace, despite the hippos and crocodiles.
Perhaps one of the most accessible parks is Lochnivar to the south of the Kafue Flats. It is one of Zambia's smallest game reserves but one that contains the widest variety of bird species in the world. The park shelters an estimated 428 species.
Lochnivar is divided into three distinct zones - the northern flood plains, the central grassland and the southern woodland. Lechwe graze on the floodplains in their thousands, while buffalo, zebra, wildebeest and oribi prefer the grasslands.
Game reserves apart, Zambia this year celebrates the 150th anniversary of David Livingstone's first sighting of the Victoria Falls - one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
He described his impression thus: "Scenes so lovely, must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight."
This year also marks the 100th anniversary of Livingstone, the town at the falls named after the famous explorer. It is a charming African dorpie and capital of the region's water sports industry.
Zambia's rigorous standards for training guides, rangers and trackers enables visitors to enjoy the natural wonders of the world in safety.
Visitors who are interested in history may want to pop into the Livingstone Museum. It has a good collection of memorabilia relating to the famous Dr Livingstone, including some of personal items.
Two other sites are worth seeing: the Victoria Falls Field Museum where stone tools, some dating back 2,5-million years, are on display and, also, the Mukuni Village where the chief's people give demonstrations of ancient skills.
But all is not just sightseeing and game viewing.
Action addicts can go on boat safaris on any one of Zambia's rivers and lakes. Elephant-back safaris have also become popular, as have horse-back safaris and, of course, walking safaris. That, after all, was an initiative started in Zambia.
Other things to do? You could try bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls bridge, go abseiling down the Batoka Gorge, flying over the falls, high-wiring above the gorge, jet-boating on the Zambezi or river boarding, whitewater rafting and micro-lighting, or, on land, quad-biking or simply playing a stately game of golf at one of several championship courses at Livingstone, Kasaba Bay, Chingola, Ndola or Lusaka.
As Solistor Cheelo says: "Zambia is a great place for a holiday." For more information e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit them on their website www.zambiatourism.com
The Star - 3 November 2005Winnie Graham
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