Lower Zambezi
September 2014

Josh and I were travelling from Siavonga on Lake Kariba where we had had a couple of days at Eagles Rest. We were to spend 7 days in Lower Zambezi – such a treat.  Our journey took us to Old Mondoro, Anabezi, Chongwe, Chiawa, Royal Zambezi and Kanyemba.

Chirundu is about an hour’s drive from Siavonga and is a major border post into Zimbabwe.  As usual we found it clogged up with trucks carrying all sorts of loads.  To make matters worse we needed to go to the bank and, for some strange design feature, it was necessary to pass through the Zambian side of the border to get to the commercial complex where the banks are housed.

Chirundu had no petrol station but Gwabi Lodge does sell fuel, so we took the dirt road towards Lower Zambezi and, on the way, called in at Gwabi to buy petrol.

Gwabi Lodge is along the Kafue River, just upstream from its confluence with the Zambezi River.  It is a lodge with some history, having been constructed several decades ago.  It also has a campsite.  It is a popular place for a weekend where visitors do not need a 4×4 to reach and, from there, drives into the park or boat trips along the rivers can be organised.

Having filled up with fuel we returned to the main road, crossed the new bridge over the Kafue River and into Chiawa Game Management Area.  Game Management Areas are usually mixed use, so there will be areas of village, farmland as well as wildlife.  Passing Kiambi and Kanyemba Lodges we reached a massive banana plantation, after which there were farms and villages for about 30 km.  Finally we reached the Zambezia sign which I knew meant that we were going into the wildlife area.

The road through the Game Management Area had been upgraded a few years previously but already some of the bridges were collapsing.  When the rains arrive in November/December the rivers rage down from the Zambezi Escarpment to the Zambezi River.  Bridges need to be extremely strong to withstand this force of nature.  However, it was September for our trip and rain had not fallen for 5 months, so the rivers were dry and the roads had been well-used.

We had to drive through Chiawa, over the Chongwe River and into Lower Zambezi National Park.  Along the road we saw elephant, impala and kudu and then following the road towards the park we reached the Chongwe River.  The river had to be forded but we couldn’t see the route so we had to backtrack to Chongwe River Lodge to ask for some help.  One of their safari guides, Joseph, got in his vehicle to get us on the right road.  There are several crossing points through the river and it depends upon the height of the water.  Throughout the year, the height varies depending on the release of water from the Kariba Dam, flows down the Zambezi River and then backs up the Chongwe River channel.

Safely across, we drove up the bank and to the park entrance where we were met by Richard, the Game Ranger, to pay our fees.  Having paid our dues, we headed off into the park towards Old Mondoro.  Although there are often diverging tracks through the park, we just kept to the most-used track and kept an eye on the GPS, reaching the lodge with ease.

Old Mondoro is Chiawa Safari’s bush camp.  The main area is a deck, roofed with thatch but all the sides completely open.  Elephants and other wildlife are free to meander all around.  The rooms are tented chalets along the river’s edge, a short walk away.  Like all good lodges in Lower Zambezi, all the staff are constantly on the lookout for wild animals around the camp and guests are warned if anything is nearby.  Of course, too, guests are escorted to the rooms after dark and told not to venture out until it is light the following morning.

Tess and David were our hosts and Victor our guide. After a short break from our drive to camp, Victor took us on a tour which went on into the night.  Chiawa Safaris has adopted the use of red lights in the night.  It has been found that spot-lighting with red lights is less intrusive for the wildlife and that it does not detract from viewing.  We saw genet, serval and leopard.  One unusual ‘activity’ that Victor treated us to was to stop the vehicle in a clearing and switch off the engine.  We sat in the silent darkness for some minutes listening to the night noises.  What an eerie experience.

After dinner with the other guests we were taken to our room.  I really like tented chalets because all the night noises are heard in the room.  We heard hyena, lion and lots of rustling in the surrounding bush, but felt completely safe in our room.

The following morning we were taken on a river cruise.  Although visitors do see many animals along the bank, the best part about a river cruise is seeing all the birds.  We saw herons, storks, ducks, geese.  For the first time an osprey was pointed out to me.  An osprey is a migratory bird from northern Europe which spends the European winter in Africa.  It is a fish-eating bird and looks similar to a fish eagle.

 

After breakfast Josh and I took to the road again to travel further into the park to Anabezi, a newly renovated lodge on the confluence of the Mushika and Zambezi Rivers.  The rooms and main area were all overlooking the floodplain along the Mushika where there was a constant flow of impala, warthog and elephant.

Our hosts were Anna and Matt and it was Matt who took us for an early morning drive into the park.  Lower Zambezi has lots rivers running down from the escarpment and, during the dry season, the rivers leave pools along their length in the lowlands along the Zambezi River.  We toured the park from waterhole to waterhole looking for animals which had come down for an early drink.

The lodge was constructed above ground and there were walkways between all the rooms.  Later that evening when walking to our room, the elephant were close by shaking the trees to knock down the fruit.  We had to wait for them to finish their meal before we could pass.

At one we found a herd of buffalo, about 80 strong.  Other animals included zebra, kudu, impala, side-striped jackal, baboons and monkeys.  We also saw crested guineafowl which are not commonly seen.

After looking at the wildlife Matt took us to see KKs Ruins.  These are named after our first president, Kenneth Kaunda and were used for his hunting trips into the area before it became a park.

 

Later that day we were off again back into Chiawa Game Management Area and Chongwe River Safari Lodge.  It took us about 3 hours of a leisurely drive through the park, over the Chongwe ford and to the camp.  Chongwe Safari Lodge is right on the corner of the Chongwe and Zambezi Rivers.  There we met Flossie, the manager, and had a long chat.  All the while elephants were walking in and around camp mopping up the winter thorn fruit which they love.  Flossie told us about two of their favourite elephants.  One was called Honda; he had once chased Flossie, hence his name.  The other was called Bananas.  Bananas had a passion for bananas and would wait for the cruise boats to come back from a river trip just to see if he could steal a few.

We didn’t do any activities at Chongwe.  It was enough just to sit and watch as the wildlife came to us.  The scenery too is stunning just to look at and admire.

The following morning we went for a look at Conservation Lower Zambezi headquarters.  It is quite a set up which is the centre for operations of all their anti-poaching activities.  It is also the base for their children’s programmes with children from 50 schools attending a 4-day ‘out-of-bounds’ course where they learn about their natural heritage.

 

Next day, off we went again to Chiawa Camp.  On the way to Chongwe ford we found lions asleep on the road.  We watched and waited.  Although the lions were aware of us, they seemed intent on continuing their snooze.  In order to pass I edged the car forward a bit, then back a bit, then forwards again.  Eventually they moved off and we could continue.

There was a dead elephant in the Chongwe River, not far from the ford.  We had been told that it had died of natural causes.  The egrets were using it as a perch and the crocodiles were congregating.

It only took us about 30 minutes to reach Chiawa Camp which is in a thick grove of trees, hidden until we rounded the final bend in the track.  There we met Peter and Anita, our hosts.  The afternoon was spent chatting but then, towards the evening the guides, Bright and Spenser, took us off for a drive.

Using the red spotlights, we saw genet, civet, porcupine and white-tailed mongoose.  A real treat.  Thinking that we were heading back for a dinner in the main area, we were surprised to be taken to a boat.  Our meal was on an island which had been bedecked with tables, chairs and paraffin lamps.  It was full moon and a special treat for guests at this time.  Wonderful.

Early morning, after coffee and muffins, we were off on the river again for a cruise in and out of the inlets spying on the birdlife.  Then it was back for breakfast.

As we were chatting on the main deck an elephant came to eat the winter thorn fruit seeming to particularly want those on the deck.  Peter got out a broom to sweep the fruit to the edge of the deck.

We packed our bags and got ready to leave but Anita had other plans and had put a table onto a boat and sent us off to eat lunch on the river … with a bottle of champagne …

 

After saying our goodbyes we were off on the road again, back into the Game Management Area and Royal Zambezi Lodge.

Royal Zambezi Lodge is popular.  It is a more robust construction and so, for those who do not like to feel exposed to the elements and the wildlife, it is the perfect place.  It is also near to the airstrip which is owned by Royal Zambezi.

Our hosts were Natalie and Kolo who took care of us beautifully.  We went out on a boat cruise onto the river, along with other guests, some with a fishing rod in hand to try their luck.  Evening was dinner on the deck along the river, after which we were escorted to our rooms.

In the morning I was woken up by baboons squealing in the trees above.  Goodness knows what their problem was but often it could be because of a leopard lurking.  And then breakfast was keenly watched by vervet monkeys eyeing the sugar bowls but the waiters were alert to their nonsense and kept them away.

 

Sadly we didn’t have time to linger as we had the length of Chiawa Game Management Area to drive to reach Kanyemba Lodge.

Kanyemba Lodge is on the confluence of the Kafue River and the Zambezi River.  They also have a bush camp on an island.  Kanyemba Lodge gets its name from the island and the island gets its name from a slave trader who used it as a base in the 1800s.

Kanyemba is a totally different lodge from those in the wildlife area.  It is surrounded by lush and pretty gardens which have been lovingly developed over many years.  A young hippo spends a lot of time in the gardens mowing the lawns.

The lodge too is accessible by visitors without a 4-wheel drive.  It can also be reached by bus from Lusaka to Chirundu and then a taxi from Chirundu.

After chatting with Megan, our host, we went out on a boat cruise that afternoon.

The birdlife was absolutely stunning.  So many ducks and geese on sandbars and carmine bee-eaters nesting in the banks.

Evening was a candlelit supper on an open deck in the gardens.