North Luangwa National Park
North Luangwa National Park (known usually as 'the North Park') covers about 4,636km2 of the Luangwa Valley; it's half the size of the South Luangwa National Park (aka the 'South Park'). It shares the same origin as the South Park, being part of the same rift valley, and its eastern boundary is also the Luangwa River. It has the same geology, soil types and vegetation as South Luangwa, and so its landscapes are very similar.
However, unlike the South Park, which is basically bounded by the steep Muchinga Escarpment to the west, the North Park takes in a lot of this within its protection. About 24% of North Luangwa lies within the escarpment, compared with about 5 % of South Luangwa. This means that North Luangwa has a more diverse range of habitats, which is especially interesting for birdwatchers, although there are also mammals found on the hill which aren't normally seen on the valley floor.
From a conservation point of view, it also means that much of the catchment area of North Luangwa's main rivers falls within the boundaries of the park – giving the park authorities more control of its rivers and habitats.
For visitors to the wilderness camps, perhaps the park's most important natural feature is the Mwaleshi River – which is unlike the Luangwa or any of its tributaries in the South Park (except, possibly, stretches of the Mupamadzi). It's a permanent river that flows even in the heat of the dry season, when it's generally very clear and shallow.
The park's zones
For the visitor, it's important to understand that North Luangwa is now 'zoned'. Most of the southern side of the park is strictly reserved as a wilderness area. It has very few roads and is currently used only by three small camps, which concentrate on walking safaris. The only way to visit this is to arrange your trip with one of these operators, and stay in one of these tiny camps. If you're not staying at a camp, then you cannot even pass through this area; you'll find clear signs and even booms across the tracks.
However, north of this is a 'zone' was opened to wider access in 2002. Now it's possible for experienced travellers to bring fully equipped vehicles into the park, and drive through from east to west, or vice versa. These are strictly restricted to the more northerly zone of the park, which has one main track across it and several side-tracks. This is a new way to see parts of this remote park, whilst getting between Luambe National Park and the Great North Road. It also opens up the possibility of an interesting (if challenging) circular drive around eastern Zambia.