Africa expert, Cameron Neill speaks about his new-found love for bushwalking in the African wilderness.
I’ve been lucky enough to be with Bench Africa now for a few years and have spent countless hours sharing my stories of African adventures and encouraging others to follow their bucket list dream. During that time and prior to that I have spent a great deal of time on the African continent visiting all the major attractions and a lot of the smaller, often ignored gems. Suffice to say, although not anywhere near as knowledgeable as our incredible reservations staff I consider myself to be a bit of an African expert.
It is with this long, rambling preface that I must humbly admit that I was wrong. Dead wrong.
Let me explain…
I was lucky enough to revisit Zambia again in late May to see and share some of the amazing national parks Zambia has to offer. I have been to this particular country three times and also visited what would be considered the Zimbabwean equivalent of a few of their national parks just across the border (the border being the mighty Zambezi River). From this exalted viewpoint I thought that I knew what this part of the world had to offer and additionally what sort of travel I personally enjoyed. So, when Zambian bushwalkingwas brought up I generally gave the same sort of response, which I give to other offers of bushwalking: a general apathetic shrug.
That’s not to say I don’t like African bushwalking. I really do. Take the natural beauty of bushwalking, throw in an abundance of animal and plant-life with a hint of adrenaline and that what it is. Seeing the minutiae of the ecosystem, discovering the intermingling tracks of various animals and seeing what goes on beyond the view of the game vehicles is something that I have always enjoyed. But devoting an entire safari holiday to bushwalking? Although there is a big demand for just such a thing it wasn’t something that I would really have had front of mind when planning out my holiday.
For this trip we originally started our trip upriver from Victoria Falls where the busy hectic nature of the great falls drops away. Up here you suddenly find yourself with the time and space to relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings of the Zambezi River. With a gin and tonic in hand (strictly for the quinine – it’s medicinal!) and the distant honks of the hippos you can feel your stresses fall away.
After a few days of this we then headed to the Lower Zambezi national park where wonderful game drives meet the Zambezi River. Here a morning spent tiger fishing is complimented wonderfully with an evening spent observing leopard and lion. For the record, I did catch a tiger fish and it was fearsome. Well, it wasn’t very big but I imagine that its ferocity is inverse to size.
It was then we headed to the South Luangwa National Park further north (ironically) in the country for the bushwalking element. If you are wondering why South Luangwa is in the north it may help for you to know that there is also a North Luangwa National Park even further north. So, the south is simply relative.
North Luangwa for me was the one park on this trip I hadn’t previously been to and really is indicative of “the wild” that Zambia is known for. Combining the simple travel and facilities of the Southern Africa with the landscape and adventure known to East Africa I can see why experienced safari hands often come back to Zambia for their return trips. There is a sense of removal from the outside world, where the calls of the birds have a sweeter and more urgent tone than the ringing of a mobile phone.
It was here that we looked into the bushwalking I had been too quick to dismiss as “not for me”. There are a series of bush camps spread out through the park with each camp having usually only about 4 rooms. Each camp is built in and around its own location with some having views of dried riverbeds, others overlooking a hippo hollow and each giving you hours of endless animal entertainment. And don’t let the name “bush camp” fool you either. They range from the quite basic to the absolutely stunning and I would be happy to trade in my bank-owned city apartment for any of these in a flash. The biggest surprise came when I realized that these camps all provided game drives as per other game lodges meaning you don’t miss those but instead the game walking was far more in-depth than offered elsewhere. In this area the game walking not only gets into great detail of the ecosystem but also gives you more opportunities to approach animals on foot and have that thrilling experience. And after a few days when you change locations and camps? You walk the way between. This means over an 8-day period you can stay at a few different camps and enjoy the longer walks between them. Your bags will be taken from one to the other for you and all you have to do is enjoy the amazing knowledge of your guides and the incredible environment you find yourself in.
Although the walk is only a few hours long what would it be without stumbling across a small breakfast nook in the middle of the bush where a chef is cooking up your breakfast to order? Or in my case, approaching a grove of trees only to find white linen covered tables and wait staff ready to help me prepare my own custom-made pizza. In a pizza oven. In the wilderness, in Zambia! It is hard to get across in words the feeling that you get from being in such an amazing place to begin with then having these lovely experiences along the way. It was very early in this that I realized that these sorts of things were for me. Bushwalking through this area means that you do see less, but in size alone. You see the lesser things of the area that you completely miss from a vehicle. And it also means you can take advantage of those experiences you will also miss if you stick to the dirt roads, like stumbling across a full restaurant staff and bush kitchen hidden in the bushes.
So, I was wrong. It clearly won’t be the last time. The beauty of Africa is that no matter how many times you go there is always something to surprise you. Africa, as a destination is known for its ability to open your eyes to the greater world and this still applies no matter how often you go.
Don't forget that although we have walking safaris on the site, we can tailor-make a bushwalking safari for you. Please contact us on 1300 AFRICA (237 422) or fill out our enquiry form and speak to one of our friendly Africa experts today.