South Luangwa National Park - THE ENCHANTED VALLEY
MILLIONS OF YEARS AGO, due to a shift in the continental shelf, a gigantic fault occurred which split Africa through from the Red Sea right down to the southern part of the continent. The subsidence resulting from this fault created the Great Rift Valley and it is this which accounts for the large African lakes and the spectacular scenery in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
At the northern borders of Zambia this rift divided - one branch eastward, forming Lake Malawi, and the western arm creating the Luangwa Valley.
This is where I live and is the setting for my story.
(The storyteller is Norman Carr, exerpted from his book "Valley of the Elephants")
The Luangwa Valley is a typical low-lying African river valley with a mean altitude of less than two thousand feet and acts as a spillway for the rain from the plateaux on either flank. The valley has a large concentration and variety of wildlife. Its two major national parks (North and South Luangwa) are 1800 square miles and 3500 square miles in area respectively and lie mostly on the west bank of the river. The national parks have no settlement and the rest of the valley is only sparsely populated.
The valley created by this rift stretches several hundred miles roughly north and south with the precipitous Muchinga escarpment on the west rising more than two thousand feet above the valley floor. When the shadows lengthen we see it as a misty blue mountain range as the sun sets behind it.
In the east the mountain range is not so well defined and there are negotiable gaps down which motor roads have been constructed.
Anyone wishing to visit the Luangwa Valley nowadays by car from, say, Lusaka, or any other town in the west, would have to go around the foot of the valley and come in, metaphorically speaking, through the back door at Chipata, which is our nearest town - a hundred miles away.
The Luangwa, which meanders down the centre of this valley, is a dynamic river that is continually changing its course. When it is in flood the hairpin bends along its tortuous journey are progressively eroded away and get farther and farther off course until eventually the main stream cuts through one of the loops, leaving behind a dead river or 'Luangwa wafwa' as the local people call it.
Left: Norman crossing the river on a pontoon during Luangwa Valley's dry season
These abandoned loops of South Luangwa National Park silt up and develop into attractive ox-bow lagoons which are found in a chain along the length of the river and are one of the most picturesque and ecologically important features of the valley.
These lagoons, in fact, are the main reason why the area has such a high carrying capacity, for it is on the lagoons and the associated vegetation rather than on the main river that wildlife depends for its sustenance and habitat.
South Luangwa National Park
The valley of South Luangwa National Park is seasonally flooded, so for approximately five to six months of the year (December - April) most of it is inaccessible except on foot. The valley also harbours tsetse fly which, although a minor nuisance to man, is fatal to domestic stock. The combination of these two factors makes the valley ideal, if managed intelligently, as a wildlife management area, for, with the presence of flooding and tsetse fly, there is little prospect of the land ever being required for other forms of intensive development.
Walking safaris were first introduced as "Wilderness Trails" by Norman Carr in the Luangwa Valley. To see a photo of a group on such a walking safari Click Here
How conservationists in other developing countries must envy us when their national parks come under fire and they have to fight off demands for more living space for the ever-growing human population around them. As you can see, South Luangwa National Park is shielded from such development because of the annual flooding giving it two distinct seasons - the green and the dry. If you visit during the rainy season you will see a lush green landscape quite unlike that of the more popular and more accessible landscape of the dry season.
One visitor to South Luangwa National Park shot this compelling video and posted it to Youtube