North Luangwa National Park

... some information about North Luangwa National Park

A very remote wilderness.  This is wild Africa with very few roads and only a few small bushcamps in the entire park. The wildlife is less accustomed to humans and not as abundant as in the south park, however there are excellent populations of lion, buffalo and the endemic Cookson’s wildebeest. 

The 4 636 sq km North Luangwa National Park (NLNP) is a pristine and remote wilderness area with no permanent tourist facilities and only three safari operators. In order to maintain the wilderness aspect of the park there are only a limited number of game viewing roads with the emphasis on walking safaris from temporary camps. 

The park is located in the eastern region of Zambia in the northern region of the Luangwa Valley which was formed by the Great Rift Valley System.  The western boundary of the park runs along the Muchinga Escarpment, whilst the Luangwa river forms the park boundary to the east.  The park is characterized by extensive areas of scrub, mopane woodland, miombo woodland towards the escarpment and riverine vegetation along the meandering Luangwa river. 

NLNP is one of 4 national parks in the Luangwa Valley and is the only park to incorporate a substantial part of the Muchinga escarpment within its boundaries (24%).  The miombo forest here is the best example of undisturbed escarpment miombo in national parks in Africa.  The road down the Muchinga escarpment is very beautiful with breathtaking views of blue, atmospheric hills, mature forest and clear streams.

The North Luangwa Conservation Project (of the Frankfurt Zoological Society) has been assisting the Zambian Wildlife Authority in the management and conservation of NLNP since 1986.  The park has thus recovered dramatically from the poaching of the 70s and 80s.

Further information can be obtained from the NLCP website: www.nlcp-fzs.org

Wildlife

NLNP is particularly known for its large herds of buffalo and very healthy lion population. Cookson’s wildebeest, an endemic species to the Luangwa valley are very common together with zebra and impala.  Larger carnivores in the park also include leopard and hyaena.   Elephant are starting to recover from the heavy poaching but are still quite wary of vehicles. 

In the escarpment area Lichtenstein’s hartebeeste, elephant and kudu may be seen.  Black Rhino have also recently been reintroduced to the park under tight security and in the next few years may be released from their fenced enclosures once again offering the classic Big 5 for tourists.

The North Luangwa National Park is an Important Bird Area. IBAs are critical sites of international importance for the conservation and biodiversity of birds. They are selected by strict criteria and may hold significant numbers of one or more globally threatened species; be one of a set of sites that together hold a suite of restricted-range species or biome-restricted species; or have exceptionally large numbers of migratory or congregatory species. Refer to Section 10.0 for IBA species listing. 

The avifauna is very similar to that of South Luangwa.  The Zambezian biome endemics include Babbling Starling, Neocichla gutturalis and several species typical of escarpment woodland such as Shelley’s sunbird, Nectarinia shelleyi and Chestnut-backed sparrow-weaver, Plocepasser rufoscapulatus.

Best Time of Year to Visit

June/July: The bushcamps open. This is “mid winter” and can be very cold in the early morning and evening. During the day the temperatures are cool/warm. The bush is drying out. Gameviewing is good/excellent.

August: Cool to hot with the bush now dry. Gameviewing excellent.

September: Hot, dry and hazy. The spring flush of the miombo woodland trees is particularly beautiful. Gameviewing is now excellent. Buffalo form large herds and come to the river daily to drink with lion not far behind.  Everything is waiting for the onset of the rains.

October: Very dry with excellent game viewing, animals concentrating around the last remaining water. Storm clouds start building up and there may be occasional rain which cools the temperatures down and clears the air. Can be very hot (up to 40 degrees in the shade).

The game viewing improves as the season progresses and the areas become drier, however the temperatures also increase and can be extremely hot in late September/October.

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
TEMPERATURES (centigrade)
max 32 31 32 32 31 30 29 30 35 40 37 33
min 20 20 19 18 19 12 11 12 15 20 22 22
RAINFALL (mm)
normal 195 287 141 91 0 0 0 0 0 50 108 110

Normal Activities offered in the NLNP

Walking safaris

June – October: Children under 12 are not allowed to walk in the national park. 

Game drives – night and day in open safari vehicles.  These are limited and not generally offered.

The normal daily program at most camps is approximately as follows

  • 05:30 (summertime) / 06:00 (wintertime) Wake-up call and a light continental breakfast served
  • 06:00 (summertime) / 06:30 (wintertime) Morning safari.  After a few hours walk the guide will chose a scenic spot where guests can stop for a break and enjoy a light refreshment and snack.  The safari will then continue for another hour or so (depending on what game is seen).
  • 11:00 A hearty brunch is served.  The afternoon is spent at leisure
  • 15:30 (wintertime) / 16:00 (summertime) Evening safari similar to the morning.  The guide will choose a picturesque spot to watch the sunset whilst enjoying drinks and a snack.  If the guests are walking, they will return to camp before dark. 
  • 20:30 dinner is served.

Campsite: Natwange Community Camp

Natwange Community Camp is located just inside the park beyond Mano gate, across a wooden bridge over the Mwaleshi River.  It is a lovely campsite set amongst the indigenous forest with 2 small private clearings for camping, each with their own ablutions.  Run by the community, it is rustic, neat, intimate and very much the bush experience.  The community offer a village walk or the option of staying the night in a village.  Enquire on arrival.

The ablution blocks are primitive (the toilet is a concrete hole in the ground) but clean and the staff will light a fire under your bucket for a shower.  When it is the right temperature, you wind the bucket up to the desired height using an ingenious pulley system.

Mwanya Camp

  • Mwanya Camp located at the pontoon on the eastern boundary of the park is run by the Chifunda Community Resource Board and was newly opened in 2005.
  • The camp consists of two chalets, each with two beds, hot showers, and toilets.
  • Camping is also available with ablution facilities.

International Rates (Local rates would obviously be cheaper):

Chalets

Full-catering USD 25

Volunteers such as Peace Corps USD 15

Camping

5 USD/night.  8 USD if you bring your own food but ask the camp cook to prepare it for you.

A walk with a NPWS scout:  USD 5 per person.

Safety

All camps within the Luangwa area are open to the surrounding bush without fences of any kind.  The wildlife can, and does, roam freely through the camps.  Guests should take the utmost care when walking about their camp and stay within their camp area at all times.  At night clients should not walk around the camp by themselves.  Should a guest come across game they should not approach the animal. 

Payment

The bushcamps in North Luangwa do not have credit card facilities.

Cash: US dollars are easier to change than sterling. Smaller denominations of bills are recommended. USD notes should be recent with "large heads". Old notes with "smaller heads" (except One Dollar Bills) are not accepted ANYWHERE in Zambia.

Health and Insurance

Clients are advised to have comprehensive travel insurance (including Trip Cancellation/ Curtailment and Medical Evacuation & Hospitalisation.

Malaria – Zambia is a high risk malaria area and protection from malaria is imperative. Guests are strongly recommended to take malaria prophylactics and are advised to adhere strictly to the dosages, especially for the four to six weeks after their stay in Africa. Guests are further advised to use mosquito repellent and wear long clothing in the evenings an d sleep under a mosquito net at night. 

If you come down with flu-like symptoms either during, or within four to six weeks after your visit to a malaria area, seek a doctor’s advice immediately.

Tetanus and the hepatitis vaccinations are recommended.

What to Bring on Safari

Casual, comfortable, lightweight clothing in khaki, brown, green and beige colours. Pale or bright colours are not advisable for walking safaris as the animals can easily see these shades. (Shorts or trousers are best for walking safaris)

• Light cotton tops and cotton trousers
• Shirts with long sleeves (even in summer; to protect from the sun and mosquitoes)
• Shorts or a light skirt
• Jeans or safari trousers for evenings and cooler days
• Sweater or warm jacket (game drives in open vehicles can be very cold in winter)
• Comfortable walking shoes/boots
• Sun block, sunglasses and hat
• Strong Torch (when staying at bush camps)
• Swimsuit if your lodge has a pool
• Light, compact raincoat during the rainy months
• Insect repellent, anti-histamine cream, personal toiletries and medication
• Binoculars (Each person should have their own pair of binoculars)

Camera Equipment

  • a telephoto lens (200/300mm)
  • Flash and fast film (400 ASA) for night photography
  • Lots of film (64,100,200,400 ASA)
  • Camera cleaning equipment and a good dust proof bag
  • Videos - bring spare batteries

If you wear prescription glasses – bring a spare pair.  For contact lens wearers bring a spare pair of glasses as the dust and insects in the open vehicles can be a problem

Getting there by Air - There are only charter flights to NLNP. All lodges do transfers to and from the airstrips.

Mwaleshi Airstrip – eastern side of the park 

  • Close to Mwaleshi Camp, (about 45 minutes walk) or 15 minute drive
  • 40 minutes drive from Buffalo Camp and
  • 1 hour from drive Kutandala Camp

Lubonga Airstrip (located at Marula Puku)

  • 1 hour drive north east of Kutandala;
  • 1 ½ hours drive from Buffalo Camp (28km) and
  • 2 hours from Mwaleshi camp

Flying times

  • Mfuwe – Mwaleshi takes approximately 45 minutes
  • Lukuzi - Mwaleshi takes approximately 35 minutes
  • Mfuwe – Lubonga would take a little longer.
  • Charter flights

Restrictions - It should be noted that luggage is restricted to 12kg on charter flights in soft suitcases.

Meet and Greet - Both Proflight and Airwaves charter companies are able to meet and greet clients from international flights and assist them onto their charter flight to Mfuwe.

Getting there by Road

Transfers: Tondo and Shiwa Safaris can arrange transportation for guests from/to Shiwa House,  Kapishya Hotsprings or Mano Park gate.  Enquire on booking.

NLNP Wildlife Scouts will NOT under any circumstances allow self drive guests into the park without a prior booking and notification from the relevant tour operator with whom the guests will be staying.  Alternatively, if guests are intending to stay at one of the CRB camps either Natwange or Mwanya Camp, the only access to the park allowed is via the pontoon at Luelo.

There are four access routes to the North Park

1. Approaching from the south - from Mfuwe via Kanunshya gate

2. Approaching from the south - from Mfuwe via Luelo pontoon

3. Approaching from the north - from Mpika via Mano gate

4. From Lundazi in the east (less well used) – via either Kanunshya gate or Luelo pontoon.

Early in the season, roads within the parks can take longer if not graded. Approximate times are:

- 2 hours drive Mpika to Mano Park gate 101km (plus 3 hours from Mano to most bushcamps)

- Mano Park gate to Buffalo & Kutandala - 2 ½ hours (56km).  Mwaleshi is another 40 mins.

- 8 - 9 hours drive from Mfuwe to Kanunshya park gate

- Kanunshya park gate to the various bushcamps 1 – 1 ½  hours (Mwaleshi is closest, then Buffalo followed by Kutandala which is furthest north along the Mwaleshi River)

Drivers MUST ensure they have adequate fuel, spare parts and supplies for any of these journeys as the roads pass through very remote, rural Zambia.  There are no shops or fuel stations along any of the routes. Fuel can be purchased in Mpika, Petauke, Chipata or Mfuwe. Fuel in Mfuwe is much more expensive and petrol in particular can be difficult to obtain.

Directions for the Mpika via Mano Route

58km north of Mpika (27km south of the Shiwa turnoff) there is a small sign saying Mukungule North Luangwa National Park (NLNP). Turn east off the GNR and continue for a slow 42km to the park gate.  This road is a rough dirt track with a high central camber, sand and rocky sections.  Pass Chabala school after 15km, bear right after another 18km (Mukungule) and continue to the Mano park gate a further 10km.

From Mano park gate, the road down the escarpment is passable with a competent driver all year (bearing in mind that the bushcamps are only open June – October).  Drivers need to ensure they have extra fuel as they will use ½ a tank just to get down and up the escarpment.  The road is extremely steep requiring 4 x 4 traction and experience. There are sign posts all the way from Marula Puku airfield to the three bushcamps. Mano park gate to Marula Puku airfield is 28km.

Directions from the east - Mfuwe via Kanunshya Gate

NOTE: ONLY CLIENTS STAYING AT A TOUR OPERATOR’S CAMP MAY USE THIS ROUTE.

The access road to the North Park from the main Mfuwe area can be extremely difficult 4 x 4 driving depending on the time of year.  The minimum driving time is 9 hours through extremely remote, rural Zambia.  It is an incredible drive to do, however road directions can be quite confusing and guests must be well prepared.  The crossing of the Luangwa River can be tricky if inexperienced and is not recommended until later in the dry season. It is important that guests wanting to drive obtain current information regarding the state of the Luangwa River before crossing, early in the season the river is likely to be too deep for fording.  The Luelo pontoon should then rather be used  (again enquire before starting your journey as the pontoon is only put in place once the river is low enough).

  1. Halfway between Mfuwe and Mfuwe Airport is a wide bend in the road – at this point, opposite Cool Runnings Bar there is a signpost to Tena Tena, Nsefu etc, turn down the dirt road heading north.  Cross over the first dry sand river, turn sharp right and continue on.  After a while the road will then join up with another main road from the right (this would take you back towards the main Chipata – Mfuwe road).  Ignore this road and continue straight ahead to Miliyoti park gate. (about 2km north of Milyoti Gate is a road bearing left towards Nsefu and Tena Tena camps -  Keep right)
  2. You are now in the Nsefu Sector of the South Luangwa National Park.  From Milyoti Gate to Kauluzi River is 7.7kms
  3. Kauluzi R to Chichele stream (always flowing) is 8.7kms. Take the track which crosses the stream. Chichele Stream to the junction (keep left) is 6.8kms. The junction to Chikwinda park Gate is 1.6kms
  4. After Chikwinda the road passes Tafika and Chibembe turnoffs (not marked).  After a while you will pass a green painted mosque on your left within a village where there are lots of mature mango trees.  It is important to turn left here (if you turn right the road will eventually take you to Lundazi).  Cross over a dry sand riverbed and continue until you reach the Luambe national park gate. 
  5. You will pass the Wilderness lodge on your left and then go through Chipuka gate.
  6. At the white court house building (flag post in front and broken roof) on your left turn sharp left. 
  7. Drive through the centre of a village, at the concrete sign for a school (in the middle of the road) turn right.
  8. Continue through Zokwe gate and drive through mopane woodland for a long, long way.
  9. At the T junction within a village, turn left and pass a large school on your left. (N.B. After a while there is a sign to the right towards Luelo park gate (optional pontoon route) The pontoon is operational from approximately mid May to the end of October.
  10. Continue straight, through the middle of another school and eventually arrive at Kanunshya park gate. From here it is about 1 hour drive to the bushcamps.
  11. Bear left after the gate and ford the Luangwa River. 4 x 4 is required
  12. Once in NLNP, follow the signs to your bushcamp from here.

N.B. The map in Section 3.3 has GPS points of the above route, starting at Tafika Camp which is located just north of the Nsefu Chikwinda park gate.

Directions from the east - Mfuwe via Luelo Pontoon

NOTE: ALL SELF-DRIVE CLIENTS STAYING AT MWANYA CAMP OR CROSSING THE PARK TO STAY AT NATWANGE COMMUNITY CAMP AT MANO GATE ON THE ESCARPMENT, MUST USE THIS ROUTE. THEY ARE NOT ALLOWED TO CROSS THE LUANGWA RIVER AT KANONSHYA.

Follow the directions on the map in Section 3.3.  It should be noted that during some years the water may become too low for the pontoon to operate, in which case, vehicles will need to ford the river at this point. 

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