This is an account of our 3 week journey through Zambia from 24 August through to 13 September 2013. We’ve limited the amount of narrative, letting photos do most of the talking. We travelled from Livingstone through Kafue National Park and onto South Lunagwa National Park in a self-drive Hilux hired from Hemingways. Advice on the trip was kindly given by Bertie (Mfuwefarmer), Robbie (Luangwablondes), Mike (Mike AG), Tony Weaver, Alison (Cheetah80), Peter Moss, Darrel Watt and Tom Heinecken. To acclimatise and overcome jet lag from our long flight from Scotland, we spent a leisurely weekend in Livingstone, the highlight of which was a visit to Victoria Falls. Given the water levels were low, we were advised to see the falls from the Zimbabwe side. The United Nations International Tourism Organisation (UNITO) conference was in full swing, with calvalcades of VIPs to-ing and fro-ing between the various UNITO venues on both sides of the border. Signs of the Zimbabwean Presidential election were everywhere on the road up to Victoria Falls town. Before visiting the Falls we had our photo taken with our fellow countryman Dr Livingstone. The circular path around the Falls uses viewpoints to allow you to see at close hand the grandeur and beauty of the falls. The only annoyance was the raiding vervet monkeys and Chacma baboons. The large Chacma males were very aggressive if you had food or drink in view and we saw an incident where a person crossing the Vic. Falls bridge was singled out because he was drinking from a bottle of Coke. The man quickly gave up the plastic bottle which the baboon drank by unscrewing the top & decanting the Coke onto the ground! We tried to have lunch at the Victoria Falls hotel but it was given over entirely to UNITO so we made do with a lunch at at a neighbouring hotel which itself was entertaining visiting delegates. That evening we went on a leisurely sunset (booze) cruise on the Lady Livingstone. The air was warm and we enjoyed the riverine wildlife which included lots of hippos, Ellie’s, crocs, impala, cormorants, darters, fish eagles etc. and of course the fantastic sunset. Next day we were off to Kafue National Park (NP) but before we did so we visited Twabuka primary school near Livingstone where we donated a set of Celtic Football club jerseys. From there we travelled on the main Lusaka road as far as Kalomo where we cut across country to the Dundumwezi entrance gate to Kafue NP. Morag had an impromptu game of netball with the families of ZAWA staff and then we set off along the Nanzhila river route to Nanzhilla camp. What surprised us was the large scale burning of vegetation which left extensive swathes of mopani woodland without any ground cover and the skittishness of the little game that was present. Having said that we saw 2 small herds of roan antelope and two beautiful sable bulls. Closer to Nanzhilla camp wildlife numbers increased with reedbuck, zebra and waterbuck being the commonest antelopes but the herds were small, usually between 10-20 animals. We arrived at Nanzhila in the late afternoon at the very well appointed and serviced campsite. Next morning we went on a walk with David the camp manager and observed a pair honey badgers cavorting in the grassland beside a dambo. No big cats or wild dogs but we knew they had been seen the week before! Bird life was abundant with birds of prey/vultures a constant in the landscape. Next stop was Kaingu Lodge via Itezhi-Tezhi where we received a warm welcome from Directors Gil and Julia who we’d met previously while shopping at Shoprite in Livingstone (we were both buying cans of Doom for battle against the dreaded Kafue tsetses!). The facilities available at the self catering camp site were the most luxurious on our entire 3 week trip. However, what makes Kaingu so special is its location beside the beautiful Kafue river. The boat trips are a must-do, not only to see the wildlife but to experience the ever changing vistas and subtle hues in the riverscapes as the Kafue river meanders its way south. We joined Lodge owners Tom and Vivienne Heinecken, on an early morning walk within Kafue NP where they are establishing a new business venture to cater for visitors experiencing Kafue by canoe. While we were there a new bushcamp was under construction on the west side of the river (within the National Park) and it looked as if the same high standard of accommodation was being maintained. The principal benefit of the new camp is that you are within the National Park with more accessible game yet you’re only a 10 minute boat or canoe ride from the main camp on the east side of the river. After 2 full days at Kaingu we set off for Mushingashi which turned out to be an adventure all by itself. Stopping off in Mumbwa for supplies, we gave a lift to a local who claimed he could take us on a shortcut. As it turned out he was giving himself a free ride to his home village and taking us way out of our way. We ended up straveighing (good Scottish word for wandering all about the place!) across several Game Management Areas (GMAs), along ever smaller tracks and eventually getting a game guard from one of the neighbouring GMAs to show us the way to the main camp at Mushingashi. We arrived at nightfall just as the Mushingashi staff at their abattoir were taking the head off a bull sable that had been shot earlier in the day. That was the last straw for my daughter and she let me know her feelings about how the day had panned out!
The staff at Mushingashi were incredibly helpful and put us up in a nearby lodge within the main camp which looked over the Kafue river across to the NP . We were supposed to be accommodated at a more distant campsite but Adam Buske and Darrell Watt allowed us to stay the 3 days in the lodge where we were looked after by their staff. I cannot speak highly enough about the hospitality shown to us at Mushingashi.
During our 3 days we saw lots of game including large numbers of puku, hartebeest, kudu and distant views of female sable which illustrates the potential of Kafue NP if poaching and inappropriate vegetation burning is controlled, the 2 principal factors which we think are preventing the Park from reaching it’s potential for game.
The highlights were seeing our first lions (a mother and her 2 half grown cubs and seeing the secretive situangwa (mother and calf) but alas it was too distant to capture in a photogragh so you’ll have to take my word!
During one night we had the most amazing thunderstorm and the next morning the vegetation had responded with lots of new fresh grass shoots. According to the staff, rain in August is extremely rare and for most this was the first time they had experienced it.
We sadly took our leave of Mushingashi and headed to South Luangwa via Lusaka and a stop over at Pioneer camp where we met Paul Barnes, the owner and his dogs. From Lusaka we drove to Petauke and then took the old Mfuwe road which had recently been regraded. It’s a far more interesting and shorter journey (5+ hours) than taking the longer and mostly tarred Great East Road (photos). We passed through several small villages and at one we stopped after seeing a wee boy playing with a football made of grass and reeds. We gave him a Celtic FC strip and a football!.
We arrived at The Wildlife Camp in time to see the beautiful sunset over the Lunagwa river and to compete with the thieving yellow baboons over our supper. We won minus a couple of onions but it took the shine off our stay so next day we moved to Zikomo camp in the northern Nsefu sector of South Luangwa National Park. However on our way we had a day in the southern sector of South Luangwa NP where we saw lots of game. Of all the camps we stayed at Zikomo was the best value and most friendly. The owners, Demien and Victoria Wallace and their staff led by managers Zick and Beauty welcome self drivers like us with fantastic camp sites overlooking the Luangwa river at a very reasonable cost which for us Scots is a major thumbs-up! The facilities at the lodge includes a swimming pool, an open air fitness centre and lounge/dining areas are available to all, whether you are staying in one of their 5 their chalets or at the campsite. The Wallace’s have a passion to do what’s best for safeguarding wildlife and have endured a long and ultimately successful campaign to establish their camp, against stiff competition from previous leaseholders in the neighbouring GMA. Over the next 3 days we made daily visits into the Nsefu sector including the mineral springs to the north of Nsefu. where we encountered a very full male lion , a further sighting of a mixed pride of females with fully grown young, a large herd of buffalo and various bird species, including lots of lilac breasted rollers and many flocks of crowned cranes. On one night we went lamping with Zick, following a pride of lions hunting puku. The Nsefu sector is much quieter than the area around Mfuwe but we returned here for our last 3 days in South Luangwa, staying at Flatdogs in their luxury riverside tents! We called it glamping as it was definitely upmarket after spending the best part of 3 weeks in our Hilux roof top tents. The customer service was fantastic, led by Jess, Ade and Paolo and the guiding was first rate (thanks Geoffrey!). The highlight of our game drives was sighting a pack of wild dogs and a leopard at the same waterhole and this and other photos are included below. Without Geoffrey we would not have located a fraction of the game we managed to enjoy so I do think it’s worth spending the money to go on guided game drives. If your wallet survives the onslaught of so much spending, it’s also worth visiting Tribal Textiles in Mfuwe. Our return trip took us back to Lusaka via Chipata and the Great East Road, overnighting at Eureka camp, Lusaka before heading to Livingstone where we stayed 1 night at Taita falcon campsite. In the afternoon of our last full day our Calum did his bungi jump off Vic Falls bridge and lived to tell the tale! The highlights of our Zambia adventure were:
– the smiling faces of the Zambian people which radiated happiness even though most were poor
– the beauty of the Kafue river – the diversity of wildlife, particularly in South Luangwa NP
– the service and support provided at the camps we visited
– the brand new Hemingways Hilux which was entirely reliabl
The downsides were few:
– long road journeys on some very pot-holed gravel tracks. Those in the back bore the worst of being thrown about.
– giving a lift to the shister from Mumbwa
– arguing with Air France who tried to tell me that I hadn’t paid for extra leg room on the Paris return trip. They relented after I refused to sit down in the cheap seats
– eating too much freeze dried food!
We’re already planning our next African adventure in 2015 which will be longer and take in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Macdonald Clan of Ron, Morag and Calum. 9 January 2014