LIUWA PLAIN NATIONAL PARK
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.
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 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.
- The Wild Stuff
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
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.
Norman Carr Safaris has a luxury camp, King Lewanika.
African Parks offers a tented camp during November and December.
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.
Norman Carr flies guests in to 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 Lusaska and complete the journey the following day.
Livingstone to Mongu
To reach Liuwa from Livingstone is one long day or two leisurely ones. There are a few bad patches between Livingstone and Sesheke, 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.
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. It is requested that visitors do not drive offroad, so keep to the marked roads.
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.
- History of Western Zambia
The history of this area of Zambia is very rich but here we can only show some milestones of the culture and the people who live there.
The first Bantu immigrants in the west were the Luyi people. It is thought that they came from the Congo basin in the 1600s, although their legend states that they were descended from God (Nyambe). They settled around the Barotse floodplains and became the dominant people, overseeing any other smaller groups which entered the area.
The region, being in the very centre of the continent, was isolated from most outside influences for a long time, with the Luyi developing their own kingdom in their own way. The land was fertile; the river had abundant fish. The rivers also provided easy access via canoes to outlying villagers who gave tribute in the form of iron tools and other essentials. Mboo was their first king.
External influences started to arrive from the west in the early 1800s, with the Mbundu people who were allowed to settle on the land. The Mbundu brought with them new technologies and new plants, like cassava and millet. They were also expert at magic and medicine and were (and still are) great entertainers with the Makishi.
Another group, the Mbari, also tried to infiltrate the Luyi kingdom from the west but were rebuffed. The Mbari were traders in elephant tusks and slaves.
With the death of their king, Mulumbwa, in 1830 a succession dispute arose and it was at this time that the Kololo people arrived. The Kololo people had fled from the Zulu wars in the south and had wandered around for some years but finally came to settle on the Barotse floodplains, taking control of the empire built up by the Luyi.
During the dominance of the Kololo there were two kings. First was Sebitwane who was succeeded by his son, Sekeletu. Sebitwane moved his palace from the floodplains to Linyanti on the border of present-day Namibia and Botswana. (Linyanti is the river which becomes the Chobe). This move was prompted for security reasons, because of the continual incursions by the Matabele, a warrior group, based in now-Zimbabwe at Bulawayo.
It was at Linyanti that David Livingstone met with Sebitwane in 1851. On David Livingstone’s next visit in 1855 he met with the son, Sekeletu, who escorted David Livingstone to see the great Falls, known as Mosi-oa-Tunya.
The Kololo rule came to and end after about 30 years in 1864. Unlike his father, Sekeletu was a bad ruler and much hated. This was probably caused by the fact that Sekeletu suffered from leprosy and feared everyone around thinking they had bewitched him.
The Luyi, now called Lozi, came back into power, but with a new language, the one from the Kololo people, hence the similarities between the Lozi and Sotho languages. After much internal wrangling among the ruling family, Lubosi became king in 1878 and was known as Lewanika, the Conqueror. He would rule the empire until his death in 1916.
It was during the reign of Lewanika that the land now known as Liuwa Plain was set aside for conservation with the people protecting the wildlife as a hunting ground for the king.
Over the years the Luyi/Lozi people, under the direction of their king, developed a system of canals through the floodplain so that boats could navigate easily. The earth removed was used to build mounds in the floodplain for homes and burial sites. These canals and ‘islands’ are still seen today.
Lewanika saw many changes to his land during his reign. The Europeans started to arrive firstly with missionaries and then by representatives of the British seeking treaties to mine. The most famous missionary to visit, and stay, in Barotseland was Francois Coillard from the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society who arrived in 1886. Francois Coillard was married to a Scottish woman, Christina Mackintosh. Francois Coillard had learned the Sotho language when based in the Cape Colony. With the Kololo (Sotho) language now spoken by the Lozi it made communication easy. It is also thought that the Lozi attire – the musisi, worn by women, and the siziba, worn by men, may have originated from the Scottish kilt.
This time was during the Scramble for Africa by European powers, when Germans, British, Belgium and Portuguese were all vying to control the inland areas of Africa. Lewanika was urged by Khama, a king in now-Botswana, to allow the British to give protection as they had done for him.
In 1899 Lewanika’s kingdom came under the formal control of the British but because he was so respected, he kept much of his authority. He came to England for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 and was presented with an admiral’s uniform which he loved and would wear on ceremonial occasions. Successive kings continue to wear a similar uniform.
During the administration of the British all laws were instigated with consultation with the king and his advisors. There was rarely dispute and Barotseland developed steadily and peacefully with regard to the needs of the British and the wishes of the people.
At Independence there was not such harmony as the new Zambian government were wary of the power of the Lozi people. It came to be that both sides decided that it was best that the Lozi people were left to get on with their own affairs as they had always done and yet still be part of Zambia. In the short term this kept peace between all the people of Zambia but in the long run it meant that the west of Zambia saw little development compared to other areas.
It has only been in the past decade or so that much-needed development has come to the west. Infrastructure has been built including one of the most expensive pieces of road in the world across the Barotse floodplain between Mongu and the opposite bank of the river – a distance of 34 km requiring 26 bridges.
There are still rumblings of discontent among the Lozi people, a result of their history, but it is hoped that through dialogue, and over time, differences will be resolved.