The never-ending search for the quirky-looking African wild dogs in between sundowner gin and tonics can become an all consuming passion, despite the fact that when I was at Chindeni Lodge, it was their denning season, and the likelihood of seeing one was extremely remote. Hoping to have a rare sighting in one of the world's greatest wildlife sanctuaries, where there are 60 different animal species and more than 400 bird species, happens when you almost become blasé of the herds of animals that are surrounding you. It's a whimsical wish that needs satisfying because your senses have become so overloaded that they crave to go that little bit higher by seeing something more unique than what you just saw. You literally become an animal junkie looking for that next outrageous peak of adrenalin.
Chindeni Bush Camp sits in the remote southern area of the South Luangwa National Park, with the hazy, smoky-blue Chindeni Hills providing a dramatic backdrop to its open plain, where a lagoon becomes the playground of hordes of African creatures, both big and small. The jeep jaunt from Mfuwe Lodge takes you over some of the roughest country I have ever experienced. It ranges from deep gullies with cleaved banks—from when the rainy season inundates the landscape with gushing water rushing to meet the river—to long stretches of dry sandy tracks interrupted by roadblocks of sleeping lions or prancing impala, with the odd lumbering, mud-encrusted elephant and strutting warthog families thrown in for good measure. Fishermen risk their limbs whilst fishing on sandy cays or in hand-crafted wooden canoes in the middle of crocodile-infested waters. Herds of Cape buffalo— with their helmets of thick horns and parasitic birds constantly pecking at the insects on their hides—frown and glare at you like angry old men being interrupted.
You arrive at a surreal sight of vaulted tent structures perched on wooden decking with their individual verandahs facing the vast open plain. Almost like tree houses, they majestically sit in their individual privacy within a canopy of bushy trees where baboons cavort. Massive beds hide beneath mosquito netting, despite the fact that the tents are insect-screened, with huge rolled-up canvas flaps to let the breeze flow through. Your own sitting area and ensuite complete your "glamping" accommodation, with that touch of decadent African flair and the ability to watch the passing animal parade whilst having a shower. Only eight guests can be accommodated at any one time, as there are only four huts, plus the "social" area, so there is definitely no fear of seeing more people than animals. At the end of the night the fire pit calls for you to recline in cozy comfort, with a nightcap in hand, reminiscing of the sights you saw during the day.
Upon my arrival, the baboons took exception and decided to pepper me with half-eaten fruit whenever they could. A young one decided to play hide and seek, not knowing that its rear end stuck out the other side of the tree trunk. As with the other bush camps, there are no fences, so you had to be walked back to your hut each night by one of the guides. The morning would always bring the surprise of paw prints of various animals that had been traipsing around your hut during the night.
Your days become like an animal bootcamp, riveted around the best times to see the animals, or if you wanted to recline and do absolutely nothing, but maybe imitate a sloth, there was nothing stopping you. My opinion was that I wanted to make the most of my time in the African bush and that catching up on lost sleep was something I could do when I left.
Every morning you would have a gentle "hello" calling you at 5.30 a.m. to ensure that you were awake. A quick continental brekkie was on offer before jumping in the jeep for a morning drive, or packing a backpack for a safari walk. Hyped up from the morning adventures, brunch would be waiting for when you returned about 11 a.m. Until 3 p.m. the time was your own to do whatever you wished within the camp's boundaries—in other words this was siesta time. Decadent homemade cakes and rich, dark Zambian coffee (or tea for those that preferred) was on offer before the 3.30 p.m. afternoon drive. Gin and tonics featured for most when the jeep would stop for sundowners in some incredible location, with baobabs dominating the landscape. Quite often, as darkness descended, an astrology lesson might be had, as the star-lit sky enveloped the surrounds. Dinner was a friendly event at about 8 p.m., when stories were told, and strangers became friends.
Safari drives would sometimes turn into stake-outs, as you would patiently wait for a leopard to begin his stalking of the impala grazing close by, or for giraffes to slowly munch their way through the leaves at the top of bushes. At one point we spent an hour just watching a pride of lions lazing in the afternoon warmth whilst the young cubs taunted the adult females by jumping on their backs or tried to squat their swishing tails with their small paws. Once you glance at the majestic horns and markings of a kudu, you appreciate where African artists get their inspiration, and giggles have to happen when the busy warthog arrives with playful baboons in tow.
You get to know the quirky group names for animals, such as a pod of hippos in the water is named a "raft", a group of zebras standing together is a "dazzle", giraffes standing still is aptly named a "tower", whilst if they are walking in a line, it is a "journey". You realize that animals react differently to when you are in a jeep compared to walking on the land. Their comfort zones become a priority if you don't wish to upset an animal that may already be having a "bad tooth" day and is inclined to "fight" not "flight". Animals and their behavior become a fascinating topic that you can't seem to get enough of, and even their urine is worthy of discussing ad nauseam for what it tells the other animals. Paw marks become the object of intense scrutiny as you try to work out what animal it is and how long ago it left its mark.
Surprise lunches would be had on riverbanks where hippos were lazing in the water after being told that you had to investigate what appeared to be a "poachers' camp". The dry African sense of humor in your guides will have you laughing, as what poachers dine with white linen and wine glasses in picturesque spaces?
Chindeni Bush Camp is one of a kind, as are all of the bush camps under the umbrella of The Bushcamp Company. It is an up-close and personal experience in the African bush in decadent luxury, where you really do step into the animal's lives, not the other way around.
Quick Facts - Chindeni Bush Camp
Location: It's remote—45 minutes by car from Mfuwe International Airport to inside the South Luangwa National Park to Mfuwe Lodge for refreshments, before travelling south another 2.5 hours to Chindeni Bush Camp
Open: May to December
Children: 12 years and older (if younger children, there are special conditions)
Accommodation: 4 guest luxury tents with private decks/ensuites
Social areas: Bar, dining and lounge, fire pit seating area, viewing deck
- Winter - May to mid August - mild days plus chilly nights
- Summer - September to April - "quite" warm
- Dry Season - May to October - warm days
- Rainy Season - November to April
- Hottest Months - October and November
Activities: Game drives (day and night) and guided walking safaris with experienced and knowledgeable guides.
Electricity & WaterSolar power (limited battery charging is possible), hot & cold running water, lighting via solar and paraffin.
Complimentary: Laundry service
The Bushcamp Company is comprised of:
- Mfuwe Lodge - the main lodge sitting just inside the gates of the South Luangwa National Park, from which you can either drive or walk to their bush camps.
- Kuyenda - sitting by the Manzi River with old African charm.
- Chamilandu - on the Luangwa River where you can sit in bed and watch passing game.
- Bilmungwe - cloaked in huge mahogany and winter-thorn trees.
- Kapamba - remote and secluded bush camp with a dash of elegant luxury and personal plunge pools.
- Zungulila - overlooking the Kapamba River, decadent tents of a true African safari in style.
Gail Palethorpe, a self proclaimed Australian gypsy, is a freelance writer, photographer and eternal traveller. Check out her website Gail Palethorpe Photography and her Shutterstock profile.