Chiawa Safaris – Chiawa Camp and Old Mondoro

Chiawa Safaris was the first tourist company to enter the park when it was changed from a private reserve to a National Park in 1983.  The Cumings family, of Chiawa Safaris, entered a prime wilderness with few roads and no facilities.

They set up their first camp, Chiawa Camp, not far from the Chongwe River, then, some years later, after the park had developed more, they built their bush camp, Old Mondoro, further into the park.

Josh and I went to visit both camps in September 2014.  We drove in ourselves which is quite unusual for visitors to the park.  Most of the guests arrive by air to the airstrip at Jeki.  Our journey had started in Siavonga where we had been staying at Eagles Rest.

Chirundu is about an hour’s drive from Siavonga and is a major border post into Zimbabwe.  As usual we found it clogged up with trucks carrying all sorts of loads.  To make matters worse we needed to go to the bank and, because of some strange design, it was necessary to pass through the Zambian side of the border to get to the commercial complex where the banks are housed.

Chirundu had no petrol station but Gwabi Lodge does sell fuel, so we took the dirt road towards Lower Zambezi and, on the way, called in at Gwabi to buy petrol.

Bridge over the Kafue River

Having filled up with fuel we returned to the main road, crossed the new bridge over the Kafue River and into Chiawa Game Management Area.  Game Management Areas are usually mixed use, so there will be areas of village, farmland as well as wildlife.  Passing Kiambi and Kanyemba Lodges we reached a massive banana plantation, after which there were farms and villages for about 30 km.  Finally we reached the Zambezia sign which I knew meant that we were going into the wildlife area.

We had to drive through Chiawa, over the Chongwe River and into Lower Zambezi National Park.  Along the road we saw elephant, impala and kudu and then, following the road towards the park, we reached the Chongwe River.  The river had to be forded but we couldn’t see the route so we had to backtrack to Chongwe River Lodge to ask for some help.  One of their safari guides, Joseph, got in his vehicle to get us on the right road.

There are several crossing points through the river and it depends upon the height of the water.  Throughout the year, the height varies depending on the release of water from the Kariba Dam, which flows down the Zambezi River and then backs up the Chongwe River channel.

Safely across, we drove up the bank and to the park entrance where we were met by Richard, the Game Ranger, to pay our fees.  Having paid our dues, we headed off into the park towards Old Mondoro.  Although there are often diverging tracks through the park, we just kept to the most-used track and kept an eye on the GPS, reaching the lodge with ease.

Old Mondoro is Chiawa Safari’s bush camp.  The main area is a deck, roofed with thatch but all the sides completely open.  Elephants and other wildlife are free to meander all around.  The rooms are tented chalets along the river’s edge, a short walk away.  Like all good lodges in Lower Zambezi, all the staff are constantly on the lookout for wild animals around the camp and guests are warned if anything is nearby.  Of course, too, guests are escorted to the rooms after dark and told not to venture out until it is light the following morning.

Tess and David were our hosts and Victor our guide. After a short break from our drive to camp, Victor took us on a tour which went on into the dark.  Chiawa Safaris has adopted the use of red lights in the night.  It has been found that spot-lighting with red lights is less intrusive for the wildlife and that it does not detract from viewing.  We saw genet, serval and leopard.  One unusual ‘activity’ that Victor treated us to was to stop the vehicle in a clearing and switch off the engine.  We sat in the silent darkness for some minutes listening to the night noises.  What an eerie experience.

After dinner with the other guests we were taken to our room.  I really like tented chalets because all the night noises are heard in the room.  We heard hyena, lion and lots of rustling in the surrounding bush.

The following morning, we were taken on a river cruise.  Although visitors do see animals along the bank, the best part about a river cruise is seeing all the birds.  We saw herons, storks, ducks, geese.  For the first time an osprey was pointed out to me.  An osprey is a migratory bird from northern Europe which spends the European winter in Africa.  It is a fish-eating bird and looks similar to a fish eagle.

After breakfast Josh and I took to the road again to travel further into the park to Anabezi.

A few days later we stayed at Chiawa Camp, the original safari camp in Lower Zambezi National Park.  It is a lot different now from what it used to be.  Grant Cumings sent me a photo of the original camp … it looks a lot different now …

Whereas Old Mondoro is a small lodge with only 4 chalets, Chiawa Camp is much larger by comparison with 9 chalets.  Some of them face the Zambezi River, some the dry river bed of the seasonal Chowe River.

We had arrived at Chiawa from the GMA.  On the way to the Chongwe ford we found lions asleep on the road.  We watched and waited.  Although the lions were aware of us, they seemed intent on continuing their snooze.  In order to pass I edged the car forward a bit, then back a bit, then forwards again.  Eventually they moved off and we could continue.

There was a dead elephant in the Chongwe River, not far from the ford.  We had been told that it had died of natural causes.  The egrets were pecking about the carcass, I assume looking for bugs and the crocodiles were congregating.

It only took us about 30 minutes to reach Chiawa Camp which is in a thick grove of trees, hidden until we rounded the final bend in the track.

There we met Peter and Anita, our hosts.  The afternoon was spent chatting but then, towards the evening the guides, Bright and Spenser, took us off for a drive.   Using the red spotlights, we saw genet, civet, porcupine and white-tailed mongoose.  A real treat.  Thinking that we were heading back for a dinner in the main area, we were surprised to be taken to a boat.  Our meal was on an island which had been bedecked with tables, chairs and paraffin lamps.  It was full moon and a special treat for guests at this time.  Wonderful.

Early morning, after coffee and muffins, we were off on the river again for a cruise in and out of the inlets spying on the birdlife.  Then it was back for breakfast.

As we were chatting on the main deck an elephant came to eat the winter thorn fruit seeming to particularly want those on the deck.  Peter got out a broom to sweep them all to the edge.  The elephant looked at Peter, munched the fruit and then plodded off.

We packed our bags and got ready to leave but Anita had other plans and had put a table onto a boat and sent us off to eat lunch on the river … with a bottle of champagne …

After saying our goodbyes, we were on the road again, back into the Game Management Area.

Both Chiawa Safari Camps are excellent but what I enjoyed most was being about to talk conservation with the managers at both camps.  They were all knowledgeable and passionate about Lower Zambezi and wildlife in general.  It was a real treat.

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