South Luangwa, Where Elephants Crash Your Pool Party

Don’t run, whatever you do. I’d remembered those words from a book I’d read prior to my first trip to Africa. But when elephants crash the pool party…

I’d woken up early to wave off my friends on a morning game drive. Our group had arrived at Croc Valley Camp in South Luangwa National Park the day before and taken a sunset safari, but this morning I was taking advantage of having most of the campsite to myself. I nipped quickly into the shower block and got ready for the day.

South Luangwa National Park

It was beginning to get light as I strolled back to my tent, swinging my wash bag as I went. The morning was still hazy and the smell of woodsmoke lingered in the air. I stopped to talk to my friend Csilla who was walking towards me, obviously having the same idea about the showers. As we chatted, I spotted something moving out of the corner of my eye. There, in the near distance were a group of about ten elephants walking in a line. We crept closer for a better look, peeking out from around the shower block. They didn’t notice us, or if they did, they didn’t see us as a threat. It was a moment of pure beauty, watching the matriarch at the front, proudly leading her family to safety across the open plain.

I’d been in Africa for over four months now, and with my Absolute Africa overland group for around a month and a half. Whilst I’d loved every single minute, I was ready for a little quiet time by myself, so I borrowed my friend Moses’ laptop to write a long overdue email to my friends and family back home.

The breakfast tables were already set up in a shaded area next to the river, so I made some cereal and sat down and I began to write:

Hello Everyone,

The sun is rising over the Luangwa River, changing from a deep red to golden yellow. Life is good on this beautiful African morning. Africa is amazing.

The only sounds are the tapping of the keys, birdsong and a few grunting hippos submerged in the water in front of me, with just their eyes and ears poking out. Every so often they take a little break from their strenuous lolling to snort or have a yawn.

Africa is an assault on the senses ”“ the smells (some good, some really not so good), the heat and bustle of the local market, where music pumps out of the sound system of the record shop and you can buy anything and everything. Hearing drums on the beach at night in Malawi, seeing the great migration of wildebeest across the Serengeti, the anticipation of meeting a gorilla as you trek through mountains in Rwanda, the warm smiles of the people, the real life picture postcard of the big, red African sun setting in front of an Acacia tree, the crystal clear turquoise waters of Zanzibar, women wearing brightly coloured chitenge carrying babies on their backs and bundles on their heads, kids playing happily with toys made from an old coat hanger, a tyre and stick ”“ I could go on and on forever”¦

Each country I have visited has been a totally unique experience. I am so glad to be here, I feel so alive. It’s hard to put my feelings into words but I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.

I looked over the river and sighed a happy sigh. Csilla had wandered over to make herself some toast whilst I continued writing.

But the peace was short-lived. A couple of ververt monkeys made a sneak attack, grabbing the bag of cereal from the table, sending cups and bowls flying. Csilla and I laughed as we cleaned up the mess, whilst the monkeys sat in the tree, casually eating cereal from the bag. I think they were smirking. I always thought monkeys liked Coco Pops, but it seems they like Corn Flakes too. But there was more was to come. Csilla had left her piece of toast on the table and monkey number two took full advantage of the situation.

Later that day, the whole group were sat around the pool. I was lying on my sarong just at the edge, reading a book and trying to get a tiny bit of a tan, failing miserably with my very pale, English skin. Somewhere nearby an iPod was playing.

From the other side of the pool, a commotion broke out. I looked behind me to my left where people were pointing. Elephants were coming and they were moving in fast.

Elepants Crash Pool Party

Elephants Crash Pool Party

Everyone scattered, seeking shelter where they could. The camp had no fences so the animals could walk in an out as they pleased. The pool was even designed with sloping edges so that if an elephant or hippo decided to take a dip, they could get out again.

South Luangwa National Park

I moved quickly to the other side of pool nearer to the restaurant, without running as to not scare or alarm the elephants. I watched in awe as three elephants came right into the pool area before walking past, around a metre from where I’d just been sat. Though the elephants didn’t look agressive, wild animals are always unpredicatble and I certainly didn’t want to get in their way.

Elephants Crash Pool Party

Elephants Crash Pool Party

The elephants stopped to eat some trees which allowed us to get a few snaps, before they wandered off into the distance and we returned to our places by the pool.

Elephant Crashes Pool Party

From that day on, we would always talk about that time the elephants crashed our pool party.

I’ll repeat again. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.

Have you ever had a close encounter with a wild animal?

About Author

I'm a travel blogger and tour operator with a passion for Africa travel. I love the great outdoors, going on epic trips around the world and helping others travel!


  • Jac
    May 18, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    super awesome elephant encounter! 😀 my elephant encounter was scarier (big elephant deciding if it wanted to headbutt our car!) but this is pretty cool 🙂

    • Helen
      May 18, 2014 at 6:42 pm

      I’ve had a few elephant encounters, but none headbutting my car! This was a lot of fun! 🙂

  • Rachel of Hippie in Heels
    May 18, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    what a cute story! I love when I see elephants walking around in India covered in traditional decorations.

    • Helen
      May 18, 2014 at 9:21 pm

      Thanks Rachel! It was such an awesome day! If I could replay a day, this would probably be the one!

  • Flora || Flora the Explorer
    May 20, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Amazing! Africa hasn’t been too high up my list recently but this encounter has pushed the continent up hugely 🙂

    • Helen
      May 20, 2014 at 5:25 pm

      Ha ha Flora! This was definitely one of my favourite travel moments ever. Just like ‘hey, there are some elephants coming towards me, uh oh, they’re moving pretty fast’! 🙂 Hope you end up going soon! Would love to read your stories!

  • Victoria
    May 22, 2014 at 5:51 am

    Wow! That is so cool. From a safe distance LOL!
    Yeah, I’ve had awful experiences with monkeys. It started when one of them climbed up my back and started pulling my then-long hair. In Bali. I was scared to death and after that, pretty much every “exotic” country I went to, I kept meeting monkeys and they knew. They knew!
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Helen
      May 22, 2014 at 9:27 pm

      Ha ha! It was a very fun afternoon!

      Ooh, I don’t think I’d like a monkey pulling my hair! They definitely ‘know’! I think they smell fear! Baboons are the scariest though. I’ve never been mugged by one, but seen many an unsuspecting tourist have their food snatched!

  • Jessica (Barcelona Blonde)
    May 27, 2014 at 9:02 pm

    Wow, this is amazing! How cool to have an elephant just show up at your pool haha. I’ve never gotten up close and personal with an animal…but it sounds like a great experience.

    • Helen
      June 11, 2014 at 7:35 pm

      Thanks Jessica! It was really exciting! I hope it happens again someday!

  • Suki F
    June 1, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    How cool is that? I’m so jealous.

    • Helen
      June 1, 2014 at 3:17 pm

      I still can’t believe it happened! Although since then I’ve had encounters with more elephants, a hippo and a buffalo. Luckily they were all pretty docile! 🙂

  • Camels & Chocolate
    June 2, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    This is amazing! I’ve only ever been approached by monkeys and baboons (eeks!) but nothing this cool!

    • Helen
      June 2, 2014 at 10:25 pm

      Hey Kristin,

      Ha ha, monkeys and babboons are scarier! 🙂 I’ve never been mugged by an elephant. Monkeys though…

      I’ve also had close encounters with a hippo, a water buffalo and another elephant! But they were really tame so it wasn’t too bad! Usually happens when I need to pee in the middle of the night so I end up trapped in my tent! 🙂

  • Kelly
    June 4, 2014 at 12:43 am

    Wow, that’s not something you see everyday! I’ve only ever had an encounter with monkeys, so nothing this amazing! I would love to travel there someday! x

    • Helen
      June 4, 2014 at 5:36 pm

      I was a little bit surprised to say the least! Yay, go to Zambia, it’s amazing!! 🙂

  • Amanda
    June 8, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Well that’s definitely an afternoon you’ll remember!! I haven’t had any animal encounters quite this epic – just one cheeky monkey jumping into a mini bus in Cambodia who then didn’t want to leave!

    • Helen
      June 8, 2014 at 8:18 pm

      Yes for sure! Possibly my best travel day, or one of them at least! Monkeys are fun though. I think they scare me more than the big animals! You never know what they’re going to do! 🙂


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