North Luangwa National Park is a remote tract of land covering 4,636 square kilometers and is one of the most spectacular and untamed wilderness areas in Zambia, if not Africa itself. It is not open to the public and there are no permanent camps in the park. Access is only available through one of the few safari operators granted permission to conduct walking safaris in North Luangwa.
Two main rivers, the Luangwa and Mulandashi, run through and along the park. The latter cascades down in a series of rapids and waterfalls before reaching the valley floor by means of the delightful Chomba Waterfall. This cool crystal waterfall, in the heart of North Luangwa Park, boasts some of the largest herds of antelope along its river course.
The diversity of habitats in this park leaves you feeling bewildered and dazzled. There are areas of pure mopane forests, lush riverine forests and sausage trees laden with long dangling sausage-looking fruit. This leads to an awesome variety of birds from the Pel’s fishing owl to the purple crested turaco.
Although declared a wilderness area, the North Park, was not open to anyone other than Game Department rangers for more than thirty years. In 1984, Major John Harvey and his wife Lorna sought permission to conduct walking safaris in the area and for many years, they were the only operators in this remote wilderness. The South Luangwa park has always enjoyed greater attention in terms of funding and conservation efforts and consequently, the North Luangwa park suffered – poachers shot a great many animals and the rhino population was wiped out.
Then in 1986, an American couple of zoologists, Mark and Delia Owens, famed for their book Cry of the Kalahari (about their experiences in central Botswana), were granted permission to set up a research station in the park. Mark and Delia fell in love with the beauty of North Luangwa and over the next couple of years, established a number of anti-poaching initiatives within local communities. Their efforts led to a virtual end to game poaching, to an improvement in the lives of local villagers and general better conditions for the wild animals as well as the people living in and around North Luangwa.
Through the Owens’ 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. The Owens’ efforts in the North Luangwa are documented in their book Survivors Song, The Eye of the Elephant.
The park now has some of the most zealous game rangers in the country. If you are a traveler looking for adventure rather than the run-of-mill safari, North Luangwa National Park is “the corner of the earth that smiles on you above all others”.
The beauty of visiting this park is in its truly remarkable opportunity to experience Africa as it was in years past. It is wild and untouched and you are simply an unobtrusive witness to its natural beauty and drama. There are very few roads and you’re unlikely to see anyone else for the duration of your trip. Like the South 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.
There are a number of tributary rivers running through the park and into the Luangwa which play 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 the Mwaleshi area, access is by organized walking safaris only.
North Luangwa Wildlife
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 (Connochaetes taurines cooksoni) – a subspecies of the Blue Wildebeest, bushbuck, Crawshay’s zebra, warthog, baboon, vervet monkey, puku and impala.
Elephant and leopard are also seen, but not as frequently as in the South Park; however, you are more likely to see hartebeest, reedbuck and eland here. All the birds in the South Luangwa have been recorded here as well. Sighted regularly are the crowned cranes, purple crested louries, broad billed roller, Lilian’s lovebird, the carmine bee-eater, giant eagle owl and Pel’s fishing owl. Occasionally seen are the bathawk, black coucal and osprey.