Geography & geology of South Luangwa
Geography of South Luangwa
The South Luangwa National Park (known locally as simply 'the South Park') now covers about 9,050km2 of the Luangwa Valley's floor, which varies from about 500m to 800m above sea level. The western side of the park is bounded by the Muchinga Escarpment, and from there it generally slopes down to the eastern side of the park, where, except in the extreme south, it is bounded by the wide meanders of the Luangwa River.
Near the banks of the Luangwa the land is fairly flat, and mostly covered with mature woodlands. There are few dense shrubberies here, but many open areas where beautiful tall trees stand perhaps 10–20m apart, shading a mixture of small bushes and grassland. Occasionally there are wide, open grassland plains. The largest are Mtanda Plain in Nsefu, Lion Plain just opposite Nsefu, Chikaya Plain north of there, Ntanta around the Mupamadzi's confluence with the Luangwa, the huge Chifungwe Plain in the far north of the park, and the little-known Lundu Plain, south of the Mupumadzi River. These are not Serengeti-type plains with short grass: instead they usually boast tall species of grasses and often bushes. It is their lack of trees that makes them open.
Understandably, the highest density of animals (and hence camps) is around the Luangwa River. However, increasingly camps are being set up elsewhere in the park. The trio of bushcamps run by Norman Carr Safaris are located along the Lubi River, one of the Luangwa's smaller tributaries, while walking camps run by Robin Pope Safaris are dotted around the Mupamadzi River rather than the Luangwa.The Luangwa River
For the visitor, perhaps the most notable feature of the Luangwa is the pristine river that runs through it. Take a close look at it, as very few rivers of this size in Africa (or anywhere else!) have been so unaffected by man. There are no dams on it, no commercial agriculture along its banks, and incredibly little pollution. Hence here you can still see the natural seasonal fluctuations of water levels and flooding which leads to the dynamic nature of a river in a really natural state. It's not only beautiful but also text-book geography.
Note how the river's twisting curves easily cut through the Valley's fertile soil, leaving a sprinkling of crescent-shaped ox-bow lakes in their wake. Every year new sandbanks arise as its original banks are cut back and the river's course changes with the floods. Just look at the number of river-side camps and lodges that, over the years, have either moved or gradually been swallowed up by river erosion.
Geology of South Luangwa
The Luangwa Valley is a rift valley, similar to the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, though probably older, and it shares its genesis with the adjoining Lower Zambezi Valley. The original sedimentary strata covering the whole area is part of the karoo system, sedimentary rocks laid down from 175 to 300 million years ago.
During this time, faulting occurred and volcanic material was injected into rifts in the existing sediments. One of these faults is the wide valley that the Luangwa now occupies. In geologically recent times, the Luangwa has meandered extensively across the wide valley floor, eroding the volcanic rocks and depositing mineral-rich silts. These meanders also left behind them old watercourses and ox-bow pools. The most recent of these can still be seen, and they are an important feature of the landscape near the present river.