Jonathan Fitzsimmonds, Africa senior tour consultant at Cox & Kings, follows the trail of David Livingstone throughout Africa. Here he recaps the life of the man himself, and the activities and accommodation one can experience while tracing Livingstone’s adventures.
This year, 2013 marks the bicentennial of the birth of David Livingstone, one of Britain’s greatest explorers. Today it is possible to visit and enjoy many of the places Livingstone passed through, and marvel at the natural wonders while enjoying a few more creature comforts than the Victorian pioneers.
David Livingstone was born in Scotland in 1813. He began studying medicine in 1836, and in 1841 he was posted to the edge of the Kalahari Desert. Livingstone became convinced of his mission to reach new peoples in the interior of Africa and introduce them to Christianity, as well as freeing them from slavery. In the process he filled huge gaps in western knowledge of central and southern Africa.
Makgadikgadi plain, Botswana
One of Livingstone’s early expeditions passed through what is now known as the Makgadikgadi plain in modern day Botswana. Livingstone’s party was guided by a massive baobab, Chapman’s Tree – believed to be 3,000 to 4,000 years old, and the only landmark for hundreds of miles around. He is believed to have described this unusual species of tree as ‘that giant upturned carrott’.
Cox & Kings’ Africa tour consultant Ines Moosmann visited this unworldly region of starkly beautiful salt pans and stayed at Jack’s Camp. Jack’s is named after the present owner’s father, Jack Bousfield, who was a trapper in the region in the 60s. The elegant tented camp evokes a bygone era with Persian rugs and antique furniture.
As well as walks with the local Bushman people, one of the highlights at Jack’s is getting up close and personal with a habituated meerkat colony. These sociable creatures are used to having human company around, especially as they emerge in the morning, and will frequently use guests to gain a better vantage point when on sentry duty or to bask in the sunshine before heading out on a foraging expedition.
Linyanti region, Botswana
From 1852 to 1856, Livingstone embarked on an exploration of the Zambezi river, following it to the Indian Ocean. He set out initially from the Linyanti region of Botswana, today a haven for game and particularly known for elephant, buffalo and the elusive African ‘painted’ wild dog. It is much less visited than its neighbouring Chobe National Park.
Ines Moosman visited Kwando Safari’s Lagoon camp, located in Botswana’s Linyanti region. The Lagoon camp sits shaded by trees on the banks of the Kwando river, with just 8 tented chalets. The lagoon wild dog pack regularly den nearby to the camp. A memorable excursion in this area is a relaxing afternoon river cruise, enjoying mammal and birdlife spotting while sipping a sundowner.
Victoria Falls, Zambia
Perhaps Livingstone’s most famous achievement was the ‘discovery’ of Victoria Falls, or ‘the smoke that thunders’. The town on the Zambian side of the falls is named in his honour.
Livingstone described the falls as a scene “gazed upon by angels in their flight”.
I visited the falls last in April 2013, and stayed at the wonderful Tongabezi Lodge (which has to be one of the most delightful properties in the area), in a secluded setting on the Zambezi river. Room types range from river cottages to a ‘tree’ house open on all sides, where you can gently fall asleep to the sounds of the the hippos calling, while the breeze comes in off the river. They even have their own island retreat – Sindabezi – a perfect getaway from it all, full of romance and reached by a 15 minute motorboat from the main lodge. Food and service are exceptional at Tongabezi and a variety of activities are included in the price.
One possible excursion is Livingstone Island, where David Livingstone first glimpsed the falls. After an exhilarating boat ride, you can enjoy afternoon tea and a hair-raising paddle close to the edge.
Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia
Livingstone travelled through the Kafue region of Zambia and onto what is now the Lower Zambezi National Park. Former Cox & Kings tour consultant Laura Waite is one of the managers of the charming Chongwe River Camp – helping to overcome her fear of close-up elephant encounters. Apart from day and night drives, boat cruises, canoe and walking safaris, another unique experience here is the chance to participate in ‘catch and release’ tiger fishing.
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
The Lower Zambezi pairs nicely with the South Luangwa National Park, another region Livingstone explored. I visited in 2012 and stayed at two of Robin Pope Safaris’ lodges. Nkwali, Robin Pope’s gateway lodge situated just outside the park, is one of its most luxurious properties. The park is accessed either by passenger motorboat straight from the lodge, or by a fun vehicle pontoon crossing. There is also fantastic game right around the lodge – I had a bull elephant casually wander past my room one evening. Food is wonderful hearty fare in a beautiful setting, done like a dinner party with friends.
The Nsefu Camp is further into the park, with another beautiful river setting. If desired, this camp can be the starting point for a 2 night walking and bush camp experience. Walking safaris are what the park is famous for, and there’s nothing quite like setting out and reading the morning ‘newspaper’ of animal tracks in the sand. Situated in a clearing, the overnight camp was surprisingly comfortable and was set up prior to our arrival. It also included a well-stocked bar sitting beneath an ebony tree.
Shire river, Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi
As well as the Zambezi, Livingstone explored the lower reaches of the Shire river, located within the borders of the Majete Wildlife Reserve, in Malawi. For those people looking for something a little different, Robin Pope Safaris have a new lodge called Mkulumadzi, perched high above the raging river below. The thundering rapids really do make you think of the early explorers navigating their way along.
I came here after visiting the South Luangwa, first by light aircraft to Blantyre, plus a 2 hour road journey to the wilds of the Majete Wildlife Reserve. As a big 5 game viewing park it’s in its early stages, but there are still interesting antelope species such as sable, rowan and more. Personally, I had the best elephant encounter I have ever experienced. While on a boat safari we encountered a family group of around twenty elephants, playing and drinking. They swam (tails and trunks up), from the bank to a grass island to feed, and then back again. You are unlikely to encounter other anyone else in the park, we were the only people there, and happily observed the scene in a nearby boat with drinks in hand. After around thirty minutes of quality time with these majestic animals we left politely before a matriarch signalled we may want to think about leaving them to bathe in peace.
The setting for the Mkulumadzi lodge is stunning – the suites are huge and luxurious, the staff lovely and you really do feel like you’ve escaped it all to somewhere very special.
Lake Malawi and Likoma Island, Malawi
To finish off a safari-based holiday, why not unwind on the shores of Lake Malawi? David Livingstone reached Lake Malawi in 1859, and named it Lake Nyasa. Much of the African region surrounding this lake was then soon claimed by the British Empire and formed into the colony of Nyasaland – present day Malawi. Robin Pope Safaris have the Pumulani Lodge perched on the southern shores of the lake.
There is also Likoma Island, located close to the Mozambican border and reached by plane from Lilongwe. A mission was founded on the island in 1880, in response to a plea by David Livingstone. Today there is a large cathedral which can be visited – one of the largest in Africa, and supposedly bigger than Winchester Cathedral.
I stayed at Kaya Maya on Likoma Island, the epitome of lakeside barefoot luxury. Sitting beachside to the sparkling lake full of tropical, darting fish, you could almost forget you were a long way from the ocean. What better place to reflect on the journeys of the early explorers, toes in the sand, drink in hand.