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Bridging the Luangwa

Bridging the Luangwa

Luangwa Bridge
Luangwa Bridge
Norman Carr Safaris/Will Burrard-Lucas

There is something very special about bridges – not only do they perform the obvious and important function of spanning the river, creating links that improve logistics, economics and opportunity – but I doubt there was ever a bridge built that does not have some extraordinary stories about it. Every year hundreds of new adventures are created as tourists cross over the Luangwa River to access the pristine and abundant wilderness areas.

In its 1,500km journey to the Zambezi, the LuangwaRiver is bridged only three times. The first, not far from its source in the Mavingo Mountains, the border and watershed between Tanzania and Zambia, is a small concrete road bridge. The Luangwa is an insignificant rocky stream with matete reeds at this point, with no indication of the mighty river it is to become.

Downstream 1,000km, after most of its major tributaries have joined in, traversing some of the wildest and most prolific wildlife country in Africa, the river is bridged at Mfuwe. Here the river is home to some extraordinary concentrations of hippo. During the dry season populations exceed 50 animals per kilometre for hundreds of kilometres - one of the highest seasonal concentrations of hippo in Africa.

Constructed in the 1970s, the Mfuwe Bridge was part of the Kaunda government’s second development plan, thanks to which there is also an international airport and tarmac road linking the airport with the bridge and the South Luangwa Park gate. It is a main artery along which a local economy has grown, built purely around wildlife tourism.

Without the bridge, the airport, the all-weather roads and the vision of that quite newly independent government, it is arguable that the wildlife in the park would not be as prolific as it is now.

500km further downstream and 100km up from its final confluence with the Zambezi is the great engineering project of the Great East Road Luangwa Bridge.

Built in 1932 by the Beit Trust, in June 1968 the Luangwa Bridge was blown up by a Portuguese commando group - although never acknowledged or admitted to by the colonial Portuguese engaged in a war in nearby Mozambique against the Frelimo fighters who were being supported by Zambia - this effectively cut off the eastern province (and Malawi) from the rest of Zambia for some months until a temporary bridge could be put in place.

The Second Luangwa Bridge opened in 1968, just a few months after the attack. It was built quickly above the first, with aid from Britain, Zambia’s old colonial power. Today these bridges continue to carry travellers to wilderness areas which depend on tourism for their continued conservation. Bridges can indeed play their part in saving wildlife.

Read more about the region in our destination guide:

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 14, Sept 2013)