Mutinondo Wilderness is a private 100km2 reserve run by Mike and Lari Merrett, which encompasses a pristine area of verdant miombo woodland near the edge of the Luangwa escarpment – complete with huge granite whalebacks, crystal-clear rivers, stunning waterfalls, pristine woodlands and some small wetland areas. There are great plants and birds, which all make for a lovely ambience.
It's a lovely bit of Africa to wander around on foot or on horseback, as well as being terrific value; so if you can reach it, you should spend at least three nights here. However, as yet, Mutinondo is quite off the beaten track (if there is a beaten track in this part of Zambia?!), making access tricky unless you are driving yourself.
Although this area has been occupied for centuries, as witnessed by the Iron-Age workings about 6km from the lodge, Mutinondo was first really put on the visitors' map in 1994, when Mike and Lari started looking for a lovely place suitable for both conservation and tourism. By 1999 they had finally sorted out all the legalities with the local authorities and chief, and had a direct access road to their lodge site. Throughout the process, they seem to have made every effort to develop the area sensitively, with minimum impact and maximum use of renewable natural resources, such as solar and wind power.
Flora and faunaFlora
The main vegetation here is classic miombo woodland, which is in pristine condition with plenty of Brachystegia
species. This is interspersed with numerous lush, herby dambos, many of which drain into permanent rivers and streams on the reserve. This water, together with the shade of the established woodland, makes the atmosphere here relatively moist – which helps to promote such lush plant growth. Beside the rivers, you'll also find thin strips of riverine forest, and occasional patches of moist evergreen forest (mushitu).
Visiting in 2003, I found a huge cycad in the woodland, as well as various flowering plants. There is an impressive array of flowering proteas and a great range of orchids – many of the latter have been carefully relocated around the chalets after they were rescued from the trees felled to build the lodge's access road.
Judging by the thick lichens on the rocks and 'old man's beard' (Usnea) hanging from the trees, the air is clearly very clean here – and looking into the night sky you'll be hard pressed to spot any light pollution at all.
If you're visiting during the rains then keep a look out for specimens of Termitomyces titanicus
, which is the world's largest edible mushroom. The largest that Mike and Lari have found so far had a diameter of about 85cm. The local people have known about these for centuries; but it seems that they were first described to science as late as 1980, and that they grow up to a metre in diameter.Fauna
Some of this area's smaller flora and fauna has been meticulously catalogued – including over 300 different plants and trees, dozens of butterflies, and a good range of the varied birdlife. Mutinondo is a good spot for birding and is one of Zambia's 'important bird areas', according to Birdlife International. There's a bird list available to visitors (also see the lodge's website) which currently stands at 295 species, and is constantly growing. Obvious 'specials' include anchieta's barbets, long-toed flufftails, bar-winged weavers and Lady Ross's turaco.
For those interested in mammals, Mutinondo is not primarily a game destination, although spend enough time here and you'll find a variety of mammals from duikers and klipspringer to sitatunga. As the area remains protected, it's likely that larger antelope species like roan and sable, which are already in the area, will become more numerous with time. Of much more interest really are the plants, flowers, trees, mushrooms and smaller wildlife which also help to make walking here a real pleasure.