Seasons and Climate
A common question is - "when is the best time to travel?" There is no easy answer. Our seasons are basically divided into the dry months (April-October) and the wet months (November - March). Of course there is variation during these months in temperature and each season has their highlights. Take a look below at the seasons of the South Luangwa - a reflection of Zambia's climate.
- South Luangwa ~ open all year in central area, mid May to October in outer areas, some bushcamps open in Emerald Season
- Lower Zambezi ~ open April to mid November
- Kafue ~ main season June-October but a few central camps open all year
- Livingstone ~ open all year
January - March, the Emerald Season
Open: Nkwali Camp and Robin’s House. Nsefu Camp is open 21 Jan – 31 March.
Temp range 19-32 C, rainfall 200 mm per month
The rainy season has always been traditionally known as a time to avoid a safari destination. Well they have it wrong. We think this is far from the truth and find the rains bring all sort of treasures that the “peak” and dry season do not have. We opened at Nkwali for the first time in 2006 for these months – only five times did “rain stop play” and the game drives did not go out.
Migratory birds breed
The valley hosts many migratory birds that come, feed, may change into wonderful colours, breed, and fly away again. The cuckoos arrive and drive us mad with their never ending calling. The bishops turn from LBJ's (little brown jobs) to the most splendid flashes on wings. We are also in a migratory corridor of many birds and see huge columns of European storks, or hundreds of kestrels flying fast down the river. A birders paradise.
Huge storms of staggering beauty
We have wide wide skies without mountains, or of course buildings, to interrupt the vision and if you have not seen a storm passing through with all the drama of the building cloud which is constantly changing colour, the lightening which is like experiencing your own high tech light show, the wind blowing the sand up the river, the wall of rain arriving and then water falling like buckets being emptied. Then thirty minutes later you are in sunshine and blue clear skies. It is quite spectacular. Having said that many of the storms come in the evening and we do often have early bed time, where we listen to the storm, safely tucked up.
This is the one that everyone misjudges. The game in the Mfuwe area remains very good. It is not migratory, and much of the game is resident. As the lagoons fill, the animals are mostly found on the high ground which is where the roads were built for obvious reasons. We often have to wait for sleeping lions to wake up and move off the road! It is wonderful to see the game in the vegetation that is so green it looks like it is vibrant with colour. And of course around mid February the wild dog packs come out from the hills and we start to have regular sightings through to early to mid April.
As the English discuss the weather, we discuss the level of the river - endlessly. Through the three months of the rains the river rises and falls dramatically. The catchment area is vast and it could be raining hard in the far northern area of Zambia and a couple of days later the river rises considerably although we have had blue skies for a week ! And sometimes we have a lot of rain (at night!) and the river hardly shifts.
In March 2006 we had had around 200 mls of rain for 4 nights so the ground was saturated. Then a huge storm arrived – 210 mls. Very dramatic. The next morning the river was rising 10 cms an hour – that is a lot of water. But two days later it had dropped 1.5 meters. All very variable when it is being extreme.
And this higher river means we can play with the boats. And what a great joy it is to have sundowners on the river with pink and purple light bouncing of the 30,000 ft clouds or to spend a day boating up the river, and even boating into the flooded lagoons where we drive in the dry season. Boating on such a river is a real delight.
The Months and The Moths
Again it is hard to say which month out of the three will have more or less rain and when the river will be at its peak. They are all great months but usually by mid March the rain is starting to ease off. And the moths come out to play. Amazing creatures.
April – May, the end of the rains and beginning of the dry season
Open: Nkwali, Robin’s House, Luangwa Safari House. Approx 20 May – Tena Tena and Nsefu Camp open
Temp range 18-32 C, rainfall 80 mm April, 0 mm May
By early April the rains have abated and we have only the occasional storm if any. The grass is now long and is starting to colour from green to brown. These are glorious days of clear blue skies, and great temperatures.
The river is can be high enough for boating trips in April but it is slowly drops now for the rest of the year. The sandbanks start to emerge from river and are gathering points for the waders. But the lagoons are full and are a huge attraction for birds and animals. The roads that were impassable during the wetter months are now starting to dry up and the game viewing area starts to open up more.
Towards the end of May the migrants are flying out, the last bright feather has fallen from the bishops and the young water fowl are getting ready to fly out as well.
At some point in early April we will start camp building up at Tena Tena and Nsefu to get ready for the opening dates in May.
June and July, the dry season and our winter months
Open: All the camps. Walking Mobile Safaris starts mid June. Bush Camping starts 01 June
Temp range 11-30 C, rainfall 0 mm per month
June is the known as the start of the dry season. It is traditionally when the camps in the remoter areas of the park open (although we have managed to bring this forward to around 20 May at Tena Tena and Nsefu). The smaller lagoons are starting to drop and dry.
In the Nsefu Sector – where Tena Tena and Nsefu Camp are the only camps, there is the spectacular yellowed billed breeding colony. It is thought to be the largest in Southern Africa. At this stage the youngsters are still fluffy but huge and very hungry. The parents feed of the trapped fish in the drying lagoons and return to feed their young one. A great sight. In June the smaller lagoons may even dry up and this attracts large numbers of birds – known as a fishing party. Pelicans fly into the Valley during these months to join the resident storks and herons and these fishing parties move from lagoon to lagoon.
And this is our winter. The nights will get cold and a fleece is needed for the night drives (and early mornings!).
August and September, the dry season continues
Open: All our properties
Temp range 12-35 C, rainfall 0 mm per month
By mid August the temperatures have started to rise and by the end of August we have usually packed our fleeces away till next June. The bush fires, that start slowly in July, will now be more prevalent and the air becomes hazy. As the water away from the river continues to dry so the game moves towards the remaining water. The herds of buffalo increase from around 300 to up to 1000 strong.
It is also the time when the trees flower and many will loose their leaves. The sausage tree loose everything, flowers, and regrows the leaves all in period of a couple of weeks. Many antelope are seen gathered under the trees feeding on the delicious flowers.
The carmine beaters start to arrive, gather, choose their spots and the building of the nests proceed (deep horizontal holes in the banks of the Luangwa). These colonies are an amazing sight and become of the “specials” of these months.
October, the hottest month of the year
Open: All the camps and houses
Temp range 20-40 C, rainfall 50 mm
By now the heat has increased and we are starting our summer. The game has increased and is concentrated around in the riverine area. Bets are placed on when the first storm will arrive. It is usually in the first week and this hopefully clears the air of haze and cools things down.
During the month there are lots of firsts – the first storm, the first baby warthogs seen, the first baby impala spotted. We are heading toward the period of birth.
The river is now crossable by vehicle – hard to imagine the bank to bank fast flowing water of February.
November and December, the Emerald Season begins
Open: Nkwali, Robin’s House, Luangwa Safari House
Temp range 20-35 C, rainfall 110 mm per month
The start of the rains – usually in sporadic storms and these are the months of rebirth. Many animals give birth and the Valley becomes a nursery! After the first big storm there is a flush of emerald green grass and the leaves on the mopane trees burst forth. The flowers start to push through the ground and as the storms increase in number so does the growth.
By December we have a valley vibrant with growth. Christmas therefore is a wonderful time – with fantastic storms, lots of youngsters about and the ground with flowers and green grass.