Travel blogger Philippa Kaye shares with us her adventures in Zambia.
I had arrived at Flatdogs Camp in Zambia at night, meaning that I couldn’t see much of my surroundings. The camp is part owned by a friend of mine who, I’d like to say, having taken inspiration from me at quitting a great job in London to go an run a wildlife lodge in India, followed a similar path out to Zambia. We’d naturally caught up, had a few drinks and when it was time to hit the sack I was told, ‘Whenever you wake up, make your way up to the restaurant, and I’ll come and meet you there, oh but just watch out, we sometimes have elephants wandering into camp and they aren’t your tame little Indian ones. We do have watchmen around to make sure you’re safe but please be careful.’
I scoffed, after all, I’d just been running a lodge in India for a year and knew my way around wildlife, or so I thought.
The following morning, a little bleary eyed, I woke up and ventured outside my room as I attempted to get my bearings, ventured out onto the path and stopped in my tracks. There, just a few metres away was a female elephant, casually tearing a few leaves of one of the trees. I am always amazed at how such a large and seemingly cumbersome animal can be so silent. I then looked around me, and saw, on the other side of the path, her calf. I had the predictable, ‘Oh look, a baby elephant!’ moment before the realisation dawned, I was standing between a mother and her calf, this was not an ideal situation and I needed to get out of the way before she noticed me. At that very moment, silently, Lyson appeared by my side and guided me to a safe spot from where we could watch them at leisure. It was an utterly magical way to start my week in Zambia and one, as I am sure that you can imagine, I have never forgotten.
At this juncture I think that it is important to point out that the team at Flatdogs is made up of locals, trained trackers and wildlife experts for whom living amongst its extraordinary wildlife is second nature. They are there to ensure that your stay is extraordinary, and above all safe!
After a hearty breakfast (healthy options are available) Jess showed me around camp. What an utterly spectacular setting! It is located overlooking the Luangwa River, which forms the boundary of the South Luangwa NationalPark where all the game drives and walking safaris take place.
We grabbed a coffee and sat by the pool overlooking the river where, on occasion over the course of the next few days, I was to see hippopotamus wallowing, elephants bathing and puku, cautiously picking their way down to the water’s edge to drink, whilst keeping an eye out for an opportunistic leopard, lion or pack of wild dogs. A more magical setting was hard to imagine and easy to see why Jess and Ade had given up the London commute.
Over the course of the next few days, I oscillated between, attempting to read by the pool, though much of my time was spent gazing at the birds and wildlife surrounding me, taking part in game drives and the occasional walking safari. I’ve always said that it is the safari guide who can make or break your experience, despite the wildlife that comes to the river, spotting the key predators rarely happens by chance, and the guides at Flatdogs are simply incredible. On one occasion, our guide Malama heard baboon alarm calls in the distance and managed to work his way along the right route to perfectly position us for a leopard stalking nonchalantly along, whilst impala and puku were frantically calling to alert the rest of the herd – it was magical!
He guided us to a pride of lion a couple of mornings later, two cubs playing with the bones of a long gone buffalo whilst the females luxuriated in the sun, rolling and proudly showing us their bellies. Lions are surprisingly lazy, apart from when hunting! On another safari, we came across a pack of 14 wild dog playing together, then being chased off by elephant, also learning never to attempt to come between mother and calf. But I think the pinnacle for me, was one evening as we were enjoying sundowners which had been set up in the park, being alerted to a lioness who was on the prowl, a short while later, another appeared on the other side of us, then another. We clambered back into the jeep, stealth like, just to make sure, and watched them come down to the waterhole to drink. The sun was setting, casting a brilliant orange glow over the proceedings as we sat and watched and whispered at our luck, whilst clutching onto a perfectly poured gin and tonic.
There is one other thing that makes Flatdogs Camp unique and that is the accommodation. The ethos behind the camp is to make the safari experience affordable, which so many African safaris aren’t, and which encourages families to visit and share these extraordinary experiences. The younger people become interested in wildlife the better, as far as we are all concerned. Its future lies in conservation. Therefore they have come up with some very accommodating accommodation options all of which are thoughtfully designed with particular types of guests in mind.
The 4 chalets are made of stone and thatch and have 2 bedrooms in each building, with a kitchen in between, which makes them ideal for families with younger children and people who prefer to cook for themselves. The downstairs bedroom has a king bed plus extra single bed and is easily large enough for a cot as well. The upstairs room has two or three single beds inside, so a family of 5 or even 6 people can comfortably fit in the same house.
Luxury Safari Tents:
There are seven safari tents, including a honeymoon tent and these are ideal for couples and are set right on the river bank with views across the river to the National Park on the other side. The honeymoon tent is the only different tent as it’s positioned on a waterhole with maximum privacy and wildlife viewing potential! All the tents have huge gauzed windows, with a 270 degree view and the surroundings have been kept as natural as possible so there are plenty of animals in and around camp all the time.
The Jackalberry Treehouse:
A private house without many walls and spread over two decks containing the bedrooms and the middle deck, your private lounge/dining room/viewing platform. Perfect for a family of four or two couples travelling together.
The perfect contrast to the wilder and bushier Treehouse, the Croc's Nest is a large tented accommodation, in a private location and also with views onto the Luangwa River. It is booked exclusively and comes with private guide and vehicle for great value. There are two en-suite bedrooms plus inside and outside living and dining spaces as well as its own private swimming pool. Perfect for a family or friends travelling together.
A quick word about the food. The first surprise was having an la carte menu to choose from, totally unexpected when you are in the middle of nowhere in the bush, I can’t imagine how they manage it but knowing Jess as I do, it was never not to be! In addition there are daily specials to choose from and all the food I sampled was divine. They are even able to cater to vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free and lactose-free diets.
And finally, Flatdogs has invested time and money in the conservation of the area and the community who live there and this is repaying them daily in beautiful unspoilt natural surroundings and a really engaged and happy team who go out of their way to make you feel welcome and valued as their guests. Oh and if you were wondering about the name, flatdog is the local name for crocodile!
How to get there:
There are flights to Lusaka International Airport with Emirates, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airways, Rwandair and SA Airlink from the various African hubs. Turkish Airlines have also just started flying into Lusaka from Istanbul. There are daily connecting flights from Lusaka to Mfuwe airport which is only 30 minutes from camp.
It is possible to drive to Flatdogs camp as well, but it takes 9 hours from Lusaka or around 5 hours from Lilongwe in Malawi.
Combines well with the Victoria Falls, the Lower Zambezi National Park and Lake Malawi. A sample 7 day tour for a couple in a luxury safari tent would cost: US$4473 in low season (15 March-30 June and 01 November-15 January) or US$5796 in high season (01 July-31 October) for two people including their accommodation, all meals, tea and coffee, two game-viewing activities per day, National Park Entry fees, LCCF (Luangwa Conservation & Community Fund fee), Tourist Levies, laundry, an hour’s internet per day and return transfers from and back to Mfuwe airport. This package does not include alcoholic or soft drinks other than sundowners on the game drive or items of a personal nature like shop purchases or extra internet use.
A sample 7 day tour for a family of four in the tree house would cost: US$8694 in low season or US$10,143 in high season for 2 adults, 2 children under 12 years including private accommodation, all meals, tea and coffee, two game-viewing activities per day, National Park Entry fees, LCCF (Luangwa Conservation & Community Fund fee), Tourist Levies, laundry, an hour’s internet per day and return transfers from and back to Mfuwe airport. This package does not include alcoholic or soft drinks other than sundowners on the game drive or items of a personal nature like shop purchases or extra internet use.
Philippa is author of Escape to India available on Amazon, is the founder of www.indianexperiences.com and blogs at www.memsahibinindia.com
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org