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Wilderness in Zambia is not only about big game. Six hours northeast of Lusaka you will find a very different landscape from the safari country of the Luangwa Valley or Lower Zambezi: one where great granite whalebacks rise from the rolling miombo woodland, and empty horizons – devoid of dangerous beasts – beckon the walker. Joseph Schatz reports on the unique charms of Mutinondo Wilderness. There are no real trails up the enormous granite inselbergs that dot Mutinondo Wilderness. You just hit the rock and start climbing. So, as the sun rose over northern Zambia in early May, my two companions and I did just that: scrambling up through a tangle of scrub and boulders as our breath got shorter and our legs ever heavier. Our reward was a sweeping view like nothing else we'd seen in Zambia: miles of untouched miombo woodland rolling out to the horizon. Getting off the beaten path was a fitting way to end our four days at Mutinondo. This remote slice of nature – named after a local river – occupies 100 square kilometres of Zambia's northern Province and is far from your average Zambian wilderness. Instead of open plains, there are rolling foothills. And instead of game drives and sunset cruises there is plain walking. In many ways, Mutinondo fills something of a void in the outdoors scene. For hiking and biking enthusiasts, Zambia's options can sometimes feel limited. Safaris in South Luangwa, Kafue or Lower Zambezi, while breathtaking, generally offer little by way of strenuous activity. At Mutinondo, by contrast, there are mile upon mile of well- maintained hiking and mountain bike trails, just waiting to be explored, while crystal- clear, crocodile- free rivers and waterfalls invite you to cool off after your exertions. A stay here is refreshingly low- key. You can do your own thing all day – hiking, birdwatching, cycling, canoeing, swimming, horse riding or simply relaxing with a book – and then drop by later for drinks around the fire. Breakfast is served overlooking the woods, and dinner is in a cosy, candlelit dining house. The food, all made from local produce and ingredients, is simple and excellent. MIOMBO MAGIC 34 Travel Zambia November 2008 What goes up must come down. Mutinondo's whalebacks offer a challenge to hikers. PHOTO: Jososeph Schatz

The chalets, which nestle discreetly into a rocky hillside, are also a delight. Accommodation comes in Spacious and Standard, but there was nothing ' standard' about our chalet – it had no front wall, for a start: just a couple of chairs in which to sit and admire the river snaking quietly through the valley below. This idyllic retreat is the work of Lari and Mike Merrett, who hail from Kenya and Zambia's Copperbelt respectively. The pair fell in love with the Mutinondo area in 1994 while exploring Zambia in search of somewhere to site a new conservation and tourism project. With encouragement from Chief Mpumba, the local leader, they forged ahead, employing local craftsmen to build the chalets from local materials. Today the Merretts live on the property and stay close to nature. Having spent considerable time exploring the area by foot and bicycle, they want visitors to experience the wilderness in exactly the same way. Their staff live near the lodge, too, and return regularly to visit their families in the nearby village, about 20km away. Ironically, in a nation famed for safaris, one of Mutinondo's main draws is the absence of dangerous big game, since it is this that makes hiking and horse- riding possible. That's not to say, however, that there is no wildlife: elephant and buffalo may have been driven out of the region long ago by poachers, but you might come across the odd kudu or klipspringer, while the area offers numerous gems for birdwatchers, with such specials as bar- winged weaver, red- and- blue sunbird and Lady Ross's turaco. It is also home to the world's largest edible mushroom, Termitomyces titanicus, which may span a metre across. The Merretts are working to minimise their impact on the environment: electricity is provided by a variety of solar- powered devices, as well as a wind generator, and the lodge provides solar- powered lanterns to help you find your way in the dark. They are also helping to create business in the local community. Lari, a jeweller, trains local villagers – who hail from the Bisa tribe – to make jewellery from locally- found gemstones; these are sold at the lodge. On our last afternoon at Mutinondo a friend and I jumped into a pair of inner tubes and drifted down the river. All was silent except for the rustle of the leaves. This, I reflected, was wilderness at its purest and most simple. Getting there Mutinondo Wilderness is located about 600km from Lusaka. Drive north to Kapiri Mposhi. Turn right at the Continental Oil fuel station 5km beyond Kapiri Town and continue for 364km, past Mkushi and Serenje, until you see Mutinondo signed on your right about 164km past Serenje ( just after a Kingdom Hall on your left). Continue down a dirt road for about 25km. Accommodation ( US$ prices indicative only) Standard chalets are K380,000 ($ 119) total for a single and K300,000 ($ 94) p/ p for a double; Spacious chalets are K500,000 ($ 156) total for a single and K380,000 ($ 119) p/ p for a double; rates include all meals, morning tea or coffee, canoes and horse- riding. Tents with beds and bedding Full board: K320,000 ($ 100) p/ p per night for a single; K260,000 ($ 81) for a double. Self- catering: K65,000 ($ 20) for a single; K50,000 ($ 16) p/ p for a double ( self- catering) Campsite: K 40,000 ($ 14) p/ p per night self- catering; bring your own tent. Details at www. mutinondozambia. com; email the Merretts at 2MWL@ bushmail. net. Cell for sms: ++ 260 979 862545 or ++ 260 978 198198 Mutinondo essentials November 2008 Travel Zambia 35 Zambia undiscovered Above right: Enjoy nature at your own pace, bathing in the waterfalls or hiking the woodland trails. Crystal- clear, crocodile- free rivers and waterfalls invite you to cool off after your exertions Pete Leoneonard ( 3) NTZ LUSAKA Kapiri Mposhi Mkushi Mpika Mutinondo Wilderness