The Luangwa River after which our South Luangwa National Park is named starts as a tiny spring in the Mafinga Mountains close to the border with Tanzania and Malawi at an altitude of 1500m. From here it flows in a South Westerly direction. After about 300km it reaches the South Luangwa national park having already passed through both the North Luangwa National Park as well as Luambe National Park.
By this stage the level of altitude had dropped from 1500m at source to around 520m above sea level. The river begins to slow down and starts to meander which has in turn (pardon the pun) created the habitat that exists today with the oxbow lakes and the vast flood plain. It is this flood plain that we have to thank for our abundance of wildlife. With the river flooding yearly it deposits extremely rich sediment which creates a perfect environment for the riverine forests to grow. In turn this brings in vast quantities of herbivores which again attracts a huge number of predators.
At about 500km from source the valley narrows by half from 100km wide to 50km in width. Here the valley is divided into two separate valleys that run parallel to each other. In the valley to the North West flows the Lukusashi River a tributary of the Luangwa and the valley to the South East flows the Luangwa itself.
At 600km from the source in the Mafinga it enters a gorge that rises 200m from the flat valley floor and flows for a further 100km where it merges with the Lukusashi and finally after a journey of approximately 770km it flows into the mighty Zambezi River which continues its journey through Mozambique into the Indian Ocean.
I often feel that visitors to the park take the river for granted as just a part of the scenery when in actual fact it is the river along with the geology of the area which has created one of the finest game viewing areas in the whole of Africa. I hope this brief summary will give you a better understanding of the Luangwa River and why it is so important to us.