Kafue National Park – September 2015

I was travelling with a friend, Venice, from Livingstone.  We were doing quite a long trip around Kafue National Park.  Instead of doing my normal route to Dundumwense and Nanzhila Plains Safari Lodge, we took the road to Namwala and then to Itezhi-Tezhi.

The map shows the route over the week we were travelling.

Day 1: Livingstone, Choma, Namwala, Itezhi-Tezhi (Musungwa)

Day 2: Itezhi-Tezhi, Mumbwa, Mushingashi

Day 4: Mushingashi, Busanga Plains (Busanga Bush Camp)

Day 6: Busanga Plains, Mayukuyuku

Day 7: Mayukuyuku, Livingstone (via Lusaka)

The road to Namwala is all tar from Livingstone, but I could see one or two potholes appearing between Choma and Namwala.  I knew that, without road maintenance, they would get much worse during each rainy season.  On arriving in Namwala, the tar road ended, dividing into two sandy tracks.  Which way?  We about turned to ask for advice.  Go right.

The right track led down to the river and along the southern edge of the Kafue River and onto a dry clay floodplain with tracks meandering here and there.  We knew they would all end up at the same place (there wasn’t anywhere else to go) so we just kept on the most-used track.  After 40 minutes we arrived at the ferry crossing.  The ferryman’s cottage was a straw shack with Dolly Parton songs booming out of it.  We watched the ferry bringing across a load and then it was our turn to board.  Getting on was easy but the getting off was a bit more problematic.  I had to back off the pontoon up a steep incline.  I managed but almost collided with a pile of sacks full of maize.

It was then off up a dirt road to Itezhi-Tezhi.  The signs told us that it had been funded by Germany.  It was in good condition.  We trundled along happily until I met with the first drift which I didn’t expect.  It is common on dirt roads to install drifts instead of bridges.  The rivers run only occasionally and is not necessary to go to the expense of bridge construction.  But drivers do have to be aware …

We arrived safely into Itezhi-Tezhi and took the road to the dam.  The bridge over the Kafue channel from the lake is patrolled by, I assume, the military.  Venice and I got out to take some photos of the lake but were stopped by the officer on duty because he told us it was not allowed.  He demanded that we delete the photos …  He gave us a lecture, so we gave him one back.  This old law in Zambia about not taking photographs of ‘sensitive’ infrastructure is long outdated but is still in place.   It was not the officer’s fault; he was just doing his job and we departed on friendly terms.

We drove along below the dam wall and past the new power station, then up the hill to the lodges along the lake.  We arrived at Musungwa Safari Lodge after a 7-hour trip from Livingstone.  Time for a beer.

I really like Musungwa.  It must have been built in the 1970s after the construction of the dam wall and the filling of Lake Itezhi-Tezhi.  The lake instantly became a weekend getaway for keen fishermen … the road from Lusaka was good in those days.  Musungwa has some amazing plants in the gardens which have aged along with the lodge.  There are enormous bougainvilleas and pandanas.  The staff, headed by Luke and Joyce, have probably been there for many years too and gave us a warm welcome.

After our refreshing beer we took a quick trip to New Kalala – just to have a look.  New Kalala has all their chalets strewn around the site in between huge rocks; the rock hyraxes ran around the footpaths in between.  New Kalala has a campsite too so we went down to the lakeside to see.  It seemed still in very good condition.

Between New Kalala and Musungwa is the Wildlife Conservation Society of Zambia accommodation called Chibila.  I have stayed there before and it is a very cosy self-catering camp.

Returning to Musungwa we settled down for another beer or two and supper.  As we were the only guests that night we had very attentive service.  The food was excellent.  After sitting by a log fire for a while we headed to bed – it had been a long day.

This was the year when Zambia was short of power so the power went off at 10pm to return at 6am.  I woke early but had to lie in bed until the power came on and then sat on the veranda enjoying the morning noises of francolins chirping down the hill and monkeys scampering over the roofs.  Joyce brought me a pot of filter coffee – the perfect start to any day.

Breakfast was as good as supper – sausages, bacon, eggs, pancakes.  Who could ask for more.

We didn’t have time to linger as we had another long day ahead to Mushingashi Conservancy.  The first leg was along a partly-repaired road north.  After about 20 km the road was all diversions, first one side of the new road and then the other.  It was OK but it wasn’t a pretty drive because of all the construction work.  The road passes through two Game Management Areas – Namwala and Mumbwa – but we saw no wildlife, of course.

Arriving at the T-Junction we took the east road towards Mumbwa town.  This is a beautiful drive on good tar – National Park to the north, Mumbwa Game Management area to the south.  There is often a chance to see wildlife along the road – impala, puku, kudu – and the scenery is lovely to drive through.  Arriving at Mumbwa we found that the petrol station had no fuel so we had to buy from the street traders.  I never like doing this but we had no option as we had a long way to travel before the next chance for fuel.  In fact, we were driving in a big loop and would return to Mumbwa for the next top-up.

Taking the Kasempa road we were on our way to the east of Kafue National Park and Mushingashi Conservancy just outside the park.  The Kasempa road is not easy to find in Mumbwa – take a left turn at the first roundabout and look for the Amatheon sign on the right – this is the road.

The Kasempa road is dirt and can be bad.  I had driven along this road a few years previously and had to turn back because it was so awful and my nerves were in tatters.  This time, though, the road had been graded and, although not brilliant, it was manageable.

We arrived at the entrance to Mushingashi and drove through the conservancy to the lodge.  Darrell was the manager and took us to a chalet with its own cooking area.  This was a self-catering lodge.  We were not to cook, though, as Darrell said we could eat with him and his visitors.  We off-loaded our cool box into his fridge so that his cook could use anything he needed for our meals.

Darrell had lots of visitors including a film crew so it was a hectic whirl of talking all things conservation.  And then Darrell put the cat among the pigeons by telling us that a lion had been hanging around the lodge and we should take care.  After supper we thought that we would sit on our veranda for a while but every rustle in the nearby undergrowth made us nervous so we went inside and closed the door.

The following day was again a lot of talking and relaxing.  I had wanted to do a drive around the conservancy but I was not carrying a spare jerrycan of fuel and knew that I couldn’t risk an excursion – we still had a long way to go.  (Mushingashi is now closed.  It has new owners who are revamping the conservancy).

The next day was to Busanga Plains.  The road was a big loop and over two rivers by ferry – Kafue and then Lunga.  A fun day ahead.

Taking the road north from Mushingashi we arrived at the Kafue River and the first ferry.  The road then travels north with the Kafue National Park on the west and Lunga-Luswishi Game Management Area on the east.  Very little traffic and the road was fine.  After another 60 km we reached the Lunga River and another ferry.  We continued north and although I had put the coordinates into the GPS for the turning into the park I missed it.  I had expected a sign!  Turning around after checking the GPS we headed back along the road and then we noticed the sign … we must have been too busy chatting …

After about 20 km we came to the Kabanga entrance to Kafue National Park.  It took us a while to fill out all the forms and pay our dues into the park, but I had expected that and was patient with the ranger who struggled to calculate the amounts on his cellphone.  I don’t expect he gets much practice.

The road south through the park from Kabanga runs along the Ntemwa River.  The Ntemwa is a seasonal river but it leaves large pools along its length during the dry season, the pools often covered in waterlilies.

After some time we reached the Tree Tops sign; Tree Tops is a school camp and is on the road to Busanga Plains.  The road runs along the Lufupa River, another seasonal river which floods out over the plains during the rainy season.  The Lufupa then dries up leaving pools.  We could see signs of traditional fishermen who had been there previously.  Zambia continues the legacy of allowing traditional fishermen to enter the parks, under licence, to fish in the rivers and floodplains at certain times of the year.  For me this is now outdated.  In the past the people living around the parks fished for food but nowadays they fish for food and to sell.  Times have changed.

We also met up with some elephants.  I certainly did not stop to stare as elephants in Kafue have been heavily poached in the past and elephants are very wary of people and vehicles.  Watching the news over the past few years I notice that the elephants are getting more used to human ‘intruders’ onto their land and are less aggressive.  This is testament to the work done by the ZamParks rangers, lodge management and conservation organisations like Game Rangers International and Zambia Carnivore Programme.

Finally we were onto the plain and the vast expanse of the grassy plain was all around us.  There are tracks all over the plain but, using the GPS and meeting up with safari guides, we arrived that Busanga Bush Camp easily.  We were greeted by Ondyne and Newton who offered us a welcoming drink and gave us and introductory talk.  After taking us to our room to freshen up we were off on a drive with Newton.

Busanga Plains is famous for its wildlife and we did see plenty.  Lion, cheetah, sable, roan, puku, lechwe, warthog and lots and lots of birds.  I had visited Busanga many, many years ago and could remember vast herds of buffalo and wildebeest.  This time, though, on our drives we saw one buffalo and one wildebeest.  I know that Busanga has suffered from high levels of poaching and wondered whether the poachers had really cleaned up or whether it was just one of those times when the buffalo and wildebeest were just being camera-shy.  It is probably a bit of both.

From recent reports and work done by Game Rangers International in partnership with ZamParks, the area is now well protected.  The elephants are becoming more friendly and the wildlife is increasing each year.

Busanga Bush Camp is a Wilderness Safari Camp.  Wilderness Safaris has an excellent reputation for style and service.  They have camps in many countries in Africa, having started their life in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.  Ondyne, Newton and their staff lived up to the Wilderness reputation and Venice and I were spoilt rotten.

On the day we were to leave we were taken off for an early morning balloon ride.  Sadly although the balloon operators tried their best to get the balloon airborne, the wind was too much so the trip was aborted.  Next time …

We left Busanga after a couple of nights and took the road back along the Lufupa River and then south to the Hook Bridge.  Again we met up with elephants and again we did not stop to stare.  After leaving the plain the road passes through fairly thick woodland and although we did not see much wildlife, the drive is really pretty.

From The Hook we took the road east to Mayukuyuku Camp, not far away.  We had one night at Mayukuyuku and, having been safari-ed out at Busanga we did not go for a drive.  We spent the evening chatting with Pippa and enjoying the peaceful view of the Kafue River, listening to the birds and the hippos guffawing and enjoying the scuttling hyrax on the rocks.