There is something extraordinary about the light in the Lower Zambezi that is hard to describe unless you’ve experienced it. Whether it’s the trees or the dappled sunlight through the winterthorn forest, magic abounds in this spectacular part of Zambia.
A favorite haunt for elephants, they pass through Chiawa Camp at any time of the day or night, making for incredible sightings of these gentle giants. Guests may encounter them feeding on the surrounding greenery, taking a swim in the Zambezi, or enjoying a mud bath, followed by a sprinkling of sand. Seated in my plunge pool, I take in the passing parade of wildlife and can spot a herd of elephants ambling down to the river to quench their thirst.
Depending on the season, during the hot summer months, they lather themselves with mud, which serves as sunblock for their skin. Their colossal five-ton bodies change from light to dark grey, and even the babies take heed of what this spectacle is all about, trying to mimic what the adults are doing. Baby elephants are incredibly entertaining, especially when they run towards their mothers or siblings with flapping ears and very little control over their tiny trunks, which they try to manage in a rolling maneuver. The elephants also swim across the river to feed on the grassy islands along the Zambezi, which really is a sight to behold.
Getting to Chiawa Camp takes three exciting modes of transport – there’s a charter flight from Lusaka International Airport to the Jeki Airstrip with Proflight Zambia, then a game drive from the airstrip to the jetty, followed by a 45-minute boat transfer to camp. I’m collected by boat captain and transfer guide Lyson, who informs me that we’re going upriver towards the lodge. The wildlife along the way includes saddle-billed storks in the water, little bee-eaters on a tree branch, a white-fronted bee-eater perched amongst some newly sprouted leaves, an African Fish Eagle on the ground looking as though it’s about to take flight and various pods of hippos.
Steering the pontoon along the wide expanse of the Zambezi, I arrive at the Chiawa Camp jetty to song and dance from the entire staff. Assisted off the boat onto terra firma, I was shown around the main area and offered a refreshing drink while waiting for brunch. Brunch is served from 11 am, after which guests are free to retire to their tents or the pool area and while away the time relaxing. The camp is unfenced, so guests are escorted to the various areas where they want to be throughout the duration of their stay to ensure their safety.
I am staying in Tent number 7, named Kudu Tent, which is the most requested tent because of the view over the river and the wildlife that frequents the area. During my stay, I see warthogs, various herds of elephants, a lone buffalo, herds of impala, a lilac-breasted roller, and the resident elephant that regularly strolls through the property. His name is Stumpy due to his shortened tail – rumor has it he had a battle with a crocodile and lived to tell the tale, or should it be a tail? Communication is via two-way radio for a walk back to the main area where afternoon tea is served. I request a quick visit to the impressive Safari Suite, which is absolutely stunning! The stand-alone suite is perfect for a couple wanting more privacy or a family requiring their own space on safari.
It is time for the afternoon game drive, which is always filled with anticipation of what is out there, especially in this beautiful part of Zambia. I am in the very capable hands of the head guide and activity manager Chris, who chooses the path where the leopards were reportedly last seen. He doesn’t find the leopard he is in search of; instead, the alarm call of baboons indicates that there is a threat somewhere in the vicinity. Chris slows the game drive vehicle down, focusing on where the noise could be pointing to. Suddenly they come into view – a pride of lions, consisting of two females and two adult cubs. The female cub decides to throw caution to the wind and climbs to the top of a tree to have a better vantage point from up there.
Chiawa Safaris is owned and run by Grant and Lynsey Cumings. An improbable duo – the tall ruggedly handsome Zambian safari guide first met his match in the gorgeous petite blonde former flight attendant Lynsey on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River. A love story that reads like a romance novel, it was undoubtedly kismet when Scottish-born Lynsey set eyes on her future husband in 1997 – she had no inclination of how her life would change for the better. “We had a trip to Lusaka and on this specific visit, I traveled to Chiawa Camp,” Lynsey tells me over drinks at Latitude15. “I was the impala, and she was the leopard,” Grant says jokingly with a twinkle in his eyes.
Grant continues. “I was born in Zambia – my parents moved here in the late 1960s for their honeymoon and never left. Zambia has been very good to us. It has its challenges like everywhere else, but it’s a wonderful country. I set up the camps with my father straight out of university. Chiawa is in year 34 now, so technically it’s an old camp. Because of our location in a national park, we cannot use permanent building materials, so there’s no glass or steel – it’s not a luxury at all. It’s a challenge that nothing lasts long and requires constant maintenance. But it also gives us the opportunity to rebuild and reinvent every seven to ten years.”
When it came to designing Chiawa Camp, the couple drew their plans on the back of a cocktail napkin, and Lynsey visited local curio and material shops. “I’m a bush boy,” Grant says without hesitation. “My focus is on experiences, and I defer to Lynsey for all the beauty and the softs.” Lynsey had to quickly learn the tools for being an interior designer after becoming involved in the family business, and how to best use base colors and accents for Chiawa Camp. As a team, they make all the decisions together, after which Lynsey will pick and choose items for the lodge. “Chiawa Camp is very traditional,” she says. “Our design and colorway come from nature and the bush around us. There are no bright, big, bold colors; we keep it neutral, with nice natural palettes throughout the rooms, the main lodge, and the bar area. I work with a lot of artisans around Zambia whom I’ve gotten to know over the years. With Chiawa Camp being the first camp in the Lower Zambezi National Park, we were pioneers and trailblazers and in keeping that dream alive, we want to showcase Zambia in as many ways as possible, giving a complete Zambian story.”
How to Book with The Luxury Safari Company
Heléne’s flights with Airlink were generously sponsored by The Luxury Safari Company. Founded by Rose Hipwood in 2010, her passion for Africa is clear in the seamless arrangement of bespoke, luxury safaris across Africa that are made special by the people involved, the unique locations of the lodges, and the meticulously executed nature of each trip. Clients of The Luxury Safari Company can expect personal 24-hour service safaris which take them into new territory with the right people at the right time, and imaginative itineraries. To book, call +44 1666 880 111.
| Image by Teagan Cunniffe