LIUWA PLAIN NATIONAL PARK
Liuwa Plain National Park is famous for its wildebeest migration. The hyena, too, are a special attraction as they hunt together, not scavenge.
Based to the west of the Zambezi River, this park was once neglected. In 2003 African Parks Foundation arrived to help with the management of the park in partnership with ZamParks and the Barotse Royal Establishment. With the assistance of African Parks, the park has gone from unknown to world renowned. It is famous for the second largest wildebeest migration and for its vast numbers of hyena which hunt together, not scavenge.
The area used to be the private hunting ground of the Litunga (King of the local Lozi people); in the late 1800s he decided to set the area aside for conservation.
The Lozi people continue to live in small villages in and around the edge of the park but they are conscious of their responsibilities for the wildlife in the park. They are allowed to fish, under licence, at certain times of the year in some of the pools.
Liuwa Plain National Park is 3,660 sq km in size, making it just slightly smaller than Lower Zambezi National Park. This wilderness is mostly a sandy floodplain edged by rivers and woodland. Within the floodplain are islands of trees affording shady refuges for people and wildlife.
Liuwa is open most of the year but will close when water levels are too high between the months of January and May. Even during the rainy season when parts of the roads are inundated with water, many of them are still passable. When the rains end the floods recede leaving permanent waterholes which attract the birds and animals on the plain. Some of the wildebeest and zebra leave the plains and return to their dry-season grazing.
Trees you will notice are the Ilala palms, one of which stands alone by one of the major waterholes. Being Kalahari sand, you will find Zambezi teak (Baikiaea plurijuga), Rosewood (Guibourtia Coleosperma), Silver clusterleaf (Terminalia sericea) and African wattle (Peltophorum africanum).
But the most stunning element of the flora in the park is the bulbs and herbs which pop out of the ground when the rains start. The land is covered in pinks, whites, blues and yellows. A book, Flowers of the Liuwa Plain, is a must for plant lovers.
Animals include wildebeest, zebra, hyena, eland, buffalo, lion, cheetah, tsessebe, side-striped jackals and lechwe.
With the rains come large herds of wildebeest and zebra from their dry-season grazing in the north and west. They are followed in their migration by hyena, their main predator. There are thought to be over 500 hyena, with 200 in the main area of the park.
The hyena can be found lazing on the plain, often near or in waterholes, during the day. Lady Liuwa, the famous lone lioness, died in 2017 after a long life of, it is thought, 17 years. Other lions have been introduced with mixed successes and failures but there are now the beginnings of a new pride living in the park.
The park lies on the boundaries of the Ramsar Site (Wetland of International Importance) of the Zambezi Floodplains. It is an important Bird Area with over 300 bird species. The birdlife includes cranes, storks, pelicans, ibis and avocets. They are found in large numbers at the waterholes full of fish. For a Bird List compiled by Pete Leonard for BirdWatch Zambia CLICK HERE
This is a park to drive around. There are many pools which attract the animals and the thousands of waterbirds. The roads are sign-posted, so drivers are asked not to go off-road in order to maintain the integrity of the environment.
Citizens and Residents K30 per person per day
SADC Nationals and residents US$20 per person per day
International US$30 per person per day
Vehicle (Under 3 tonnes)
Local K30 per vehicle per day
International US$15 per vehicle per day
The plain can be very sandy so driving is often slow and the vehicle will use more fuel than normal. Special places to go are Lone Palm Pool and King’s Pool but there are many other waterholes where hyena can often be seen lazing in the water. It is best to take an early drive, rest in the middle of the day and then go out for another sortie later in the afternoon.
Although you may visit a particular waterhole several times, the scene will be different each time.
It is important that you have a GPS so that you can find your way around … and back to camp! Although it is flat and you can see for miles, it is amazing how difficult it can be to get your bearings and know which way to go.
Luxury: Norman Carr Safaris has a luxury camp, King Lewanika.
Mid-Market: African Parks offers a tented camp during November and December.
Camping: For the self-drive campers, there are four campsites. Each site has its own ablution block made of reed matting. Camp attendants pump the water into the overhead tank for the shower (cold) and toilets. The campsites are strategically placed under shady trees. To book a campsite in the park it is essential to pre-book through African Parks on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guests at King Lewanika fly into the park.
Lusaka to Mongu
Lusaka to Liuwa is a very long day’s drive or two enjoyable ones. The road is good tar all the way. Take care when travelling between Nalusenga and Tatayoyo, the edges of Kafue National Park – wildlife is often found crossing the road. The best place to stop en route is around the Hook Bridge, Kafue National Park, which is about 280 km from Lusaka and complete the journey the following day.
Livingstone to Mongu
To reach Liuwa from Livingstone is one long day or two leisurely ones. The road between Kazungula and Sesheke is in a terrible state, so it will probably take 3 hours driving. From then onwards the road is good. There are some camps with campsites and chalets on the road between Katima Mulilo and Ngonye Falls. Ngonye Falls are sign-posted at the turning to the new bridge over the Zambezi. The community has set up a campsite by the falls. It is secure with basic facilities.
Mongu to Kalabo is 70 km on a good tar road which crosses the Barotse Floodplain. Once in Kalabo, follow the tar road and it will take you to the Luanginga River and the Parks office for paying fees.
Kalabo is a small town; there is no fuel so fill up in Mongu. You will need enough fuel to reach the park, tour the park and return to Mongu. Extra jerry cans are recommended.
We found that the process of booking into the park, followed by the hand-pulled pontoon, took rather a long time. After the pontoon the road is very sandy, passes through numerous hamlets and then into the park. Signs make sure you take the correct track.
If you are running late, there is a campsite just outside the park. Ask the scouts in the office if you need to use it.