As our boat entered the Chula Camp lagoon to the tune of a grunting hippo, a resident croc slipped off a sand bank and into the water, making tracks as if to join the small team as they welcomed us with smiles and waves.

While this Zambian lodge’s main mess area itself is simple, with a well-stocked bar, small eating area and a table, covered by canvas and overlooking the shallow channels of the lagoon, there are plenty of alluring details. I loved the row of director’s chairs that line the riverbank, luring guests to while away evenings exchanging exhilarating stories around a campfire.

A couple of hundred metres away through sandy soil was my room for the night. Comprising a rectangular mosquito net covered by a canvas cloth, the sides draped with dark material for privacy, it looked extremely cosy – especially nestled under a thick natal mahogany tree for additional shade. Inside was a comfortable king size bed, and, through a zip door, an open-air bathroom, complete with flush loo and bucket shower, with the most stunning views over the lagoon. I felt truly at one with the wilderness.

Mid-afternoon, a selection of sweet treats and tea was served before we headed out on the afternoon activity – a sunset boat cruise – joined by a couple of Dutch travellers. The perfect end to a stifling hot day, we boated upstream, stopping to view the abundance of elephants and hippos enjoying the cool water and observe a small herd of buffalo browsing the mahogany trees on the edge of the banks. Buffalo are considered grazers, but during the dry season and with the lack of grass, they often turn to shrubs and trees to supplement their food source.

In the setting sun, the pink and orange flashes of carmine bee eaters filled the sky – in Zambia’s breeding season (August – November), their nests line the riverbanks throughout southern Africa, making it a favourite time of year for photographers.

After a peaceful gin and tonic enjoyed while drifting back towards camp, we turned back into the lagoon as dusk began to settle. I returned to my secluded haven to refresh before dinner, then radioed for the night watchman to collect me from my room and guide me to the main mess area. I waited, fully absorbed in the night sky and sounds of the bush – from grunting hippos and water thick-knees calling (birds that sound like a draining battery when they communicate) to the endless toad and frog calls, a party was in full swing, and I was invited.

Some 20 minutes passed, and the night watchman still hadn’t appeared to collect me. I was about to radio a second time when I saw a light approaching. I turned on my torch to scan the area before heading towards it, when movement caught my eye to the right of the tent. I swung the torch back and there was a beautiful leopardess slinking into the undergrowth, about 10 metres from my room. What an incredible pre-dinner visitor! The watchman told me he had bumped into her on his way to collect me and couldn’t pass, hence the wait.


Back in the mess tent, the other guests couldn’t quite believe it as we tucked into our traditional Zambian dish, sharing stories of our days in the bush. After dinner, we bumped into another camp visitor on the way back to our rooms. A bull hippo had come to graze and was blocking our path. A diurnal animal that typically spends the daytime in water to avoid the sun, hippos then spend night-time feeding, when the world around them is cool. We waited for several minutes before heading off a different route, wondering if we were going to bump into that beautiful cat again.

I soon fell sound asleep to the murmur of the wilderness, exhausted after an action-packed day. A highlight of sleeping in open fronted accommodation in the bush (without curtains or a physical wall) is waking to natural dawn light. At about 4am, the golden glow of the sunrise poured through the mesh walls, enveloping me in gorgeous tones of light – the perfect wakeup call. After a quick cup of coffee and a bite to eat, we were back on the boat out of the lagoon and enroute to where the game viewing vehicles were parked. Before long we were bumping through towering winterthorn forest, surrounded by waterbuck, elephants and impala.

Our morning game drive brought us more luck of the feline form, with two separate leopard sightings of two sisters. At about 18 months of age, they were beginning to become more independent and move away from their mother but couldn’t resist returning from time to time, to feed off her kills.

We stopped for coffee on the edge of a river channel, covered in delightful water hyacinth. Although invasive, the hyacinth provides a stunning backdrop of a vibrant shade of green, which pops amongst the dry browns and greys of winter vegetation. As the morning drew to a close, we hopped back in the boat and headed to camp, bringing 24 hours of glorious adventure at Chula Camp to a close. From here I would be heading to Tusk and Mane’s sister camp, Kutali, for another magical wilderness experience…

From Annie White’s trips to Zambia

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