Trip Report Zambia (2005)


Ours was a carefully and well in advance planned trip to Western Zambia , starting and ending in Lusaka , 16 days. We four participants flew in from different continents. Meeting point was Lusaka Intercontinental Hotel for one good night rest after the long flights and before the camping trip.

Day 1 - 4

For 8 am we had arranged delivery of the two rented vehicles. One of them a fully equipped Landrover Defender 110 with all the camping and recovery equipment from Livingstone 4x4Hire (Foleys). The other vehicle a non equipped 4x4 from Zambian Safari Company for 60% less money than the equipped one with the purpose of being our second vehicle for the remote areas we were going to and for the sanity of the two couples. One first look at the automatic Toyota Landcruiser a very old model, with two obvious oil leaks, a shattered windscreen but still in place, a suspicous looking rear suspension as well as totally worn tyres made our faces go sour. The delivery guy agreed to go with us to the Livingstone’s yard so we could have another look at the vehicle from the pit and we then knew that this car would be only problems, so we refused it. An even worse replacement was brought 2 hours later to the yard. We cancelled this operation alltogether and agreed with the guy in charge that we would be refundend our prepayment at a later moment. In the meantime the mecanics at Livingstone’s were replacing a broken reardoor from a LR 110 in record time, since the owners swiftly offered us that car as last minute solution. The car had just been returned by other clients, (bloody americans we were told) and was still dirty. We took it gladly just as it was. Kirsten from Livingstone’s had done all our shopping as per previous agreement and shoppinglist, and we loaded the prefrozen meat and the tons of other goodies into the vehicles and were off at 12 noon . Had 5 to 6 hours drive ahead of us to reach pitstop number one at Kafue National Park North, Mc Brides Camp .

Total driving time to Mc Brides from Lusaka is 5 hours incl. a short petrol/diesel stop in Mumbwa, the last 3 hours are on regular gravel road and about 2 hours are thru a heavily infested Tse Tse belt where we had to close our windows and where we found out that the last- minute Defender had a broken A/C. It got very hot inside our car. Got biten about 4 times despite special potion of Dettol in water solution applied every 30 minutes to exposed skin.

The last sunray fell as we turned into the path leading from Hippo airstrip to McBrides camp, a huge elephant bull was not given proper attention since we wanted to set up camp before nightfall. The Tse Tse disappeared only a few kms before camp.

There are only two sites, each with own lovely bushablutions, a camphelp showed us the way and we settled in. There was nobody else in sight. Sometime after dinner a man in his pijamas and a jacket and armed with a huge rifle arrived on foot in company of a night watchman and startled us all. Chris Mc Bride was over happy to get a Cola, as we later learned this is his very addiction. We arranged to meet at a quarter to seven next morning to go for a game walk with him. The night was filled with the sounds of two roaring lions and plenty of hippos.

We extendend our stay at Mc Brides and still did not get enough of the place. We never actually saw the lions, but following the new tracks the lions left the night before every morning for a couple of hours with Chris was a thrill. We also went on a boatcruise on a large doubledeckerboat with a sunroof. We saw a leopard mum with 2 cubs and plenty of birds and hippos.

From the campsite itself one does not see the Kafue River , so doing the cruise was a nice change. There were no guests at the lodge and Chris’ wife had left for a few days, he seemed a bit lonely and he offered us to use the open livingroom at the lodge and even to cook in the camps kitchen. We really had a wonderful time with him and learned firsthand about his time at Timbavati and Savuti.


Day 5 and 6

Now we faced two problems, 1 there was no diesel available in Mumbwa, but we had already checked out the black market on our way up. 2 the really bad news was that the Lubungu Ferry was broken. Our initial plan was to exit Kafue up north, along the old Kasempa road and do a loop vía Kabompo and Zambezi and enter Liuwa from the north, but with the ferry broken we had to return to Mumbwa and from there travel on the paved Lusaka-Mongu road to the West where we had to enter the Liuwa Plains National Park from the south, the more commonly used access from Kalabo. Negociations with the diesel guy went so so and we bought only 20 Litres each from the black market, both vehicles had about 100 liters in their double tanks and we also had 3 full jerry cans. We chose to spend one night at Mukambi Safari Lodge conveniently located only 2km off the M9 near Kafue Hook Bridge and outside the park so no parkfees would apply. The campsite overlooked the Kafue , there were few other visitors and we had a quiet evening. The following day was easy along the paved road with repairs almost completed, there are only a few km still with potholes, average 90km per hour is ok. Along this road we were lucky to get another 20 litres of Diesel from the BP in Kaoma, I think out of pity. We reached the laid back Mongu early afternoon and got a few more veggies and bread at the Shoprite. There was no diesel anywhere not BP, not Caltex, not Total. So we found some guys and went with them into a back alley and did the monkey business for another 40 litres each. We really needed to have enough fuel for Liuwa, since consumption would be entirely different on deep sand. The colourfull fishmarket on the banks of town and the beginning of the Barotseflatlands was the starting point of the 67km of deep sand track to Kalabo. We had to wait endlessly at the Zambezi ferry and daylight was getting less. We did not want to travel by night and pulled into a small village, merely a cluster of huts, shortly after the ferry and a bit off the road. Several elder women and men exchanged a few words and we then were granted permission to camp near the village, but in a reasonable distance as not to interfere. We were given firewood and left alone. As soon as the night was pitchdark many female voices joined in a chanting and many hands were beating different drums. We guessed they had a party of some sort. The spectacle did not stop for one minute and lasted the whole long night. I had to put earplugs in my ears or I wouldn’ t have slept at all. Comes morning and the sun rises we knew that there was something else going on than a party since the singing and drumming went on and on. As we started to break up camp an elder with entourage stood in respectful distance and after a while we engaged in a talk about the drumming. We learned that the witchdoctors had organised the ritual for a certain sick lady of the community. He first defended the action fiercly but as we continued to talk he let slip own doubts thru, perhaps the white mans medicine would be better for her.

The remaining stretch to Kalabo was a bit over an hour, the monster trucks from the construction company of the new dam road do never stop and we had to dodge out of the deep single sand track with shaking tails in order not to be run over.


Days 6 – 9

The Luanginga crossing at Kalabo is by handpulled ferry, but first we had to pay our admission fees for Liuwa. The single officer at the AP (African Parks) office near the ferry was obviously nervous about our arrival on a Sunday and suggested we go get Bwana David who is in charge of collecting the entrance fees as he leaves churchservice. The worst sandtracks are those inside the village of Kalabo , but we reached the church where service was just over and Bwana David came out. Since we needed some mats (to sleep siesta in the shade during the hot midday hours) and bread, he himself escorted us first to the market. Then we returned to the AP office to do the paperwork. Onehundred dollars poorer each we now could enter Liuwa Plains National Park for two days. The ferry guy was anxouis to finally get his customers at 40’000 Kwachas each vehicle. As soon as we pulled out the rope broke and the 2 floating Defenders and 4 white people with big eyes started to drift downstream the Luanginga. Immediate reflex from the dozen pedestrians on shore saved us from a lenghty river cruise, we were somehow hauled back and had to get off the raft in rearshift at the steep slope, a canoe then rowed with the end of the rope to the other shore and a knot was made and the rope newly attached to the pole. After almost two hours we got to the other side of the river safely. David had given us the GPS coordenates for the brandnew 2 official campsites inside Liuwa. One was 20km and the other 50km away. We headed for the second, it took us 3 and a half hours to get there. AP informs 2h30. Katoyana Camp has 5 well seperated sites each one under some large trees situated around a basic ablution block. We again were the only visitors. Camp attendants Nyambe and Kameme were very happy to receive us, and even happier for the cigarettes and cola we gave them.

Next day we took a game drive with only one vehicle, since the other one had the Roof Top Tent open and headed to 9km distant Matamanene scout camp area where we found plenty of different waterholes within a short distance and observed lots of game. Even if the main migration of wildebeest had not started yet we managed to see quite a large number of animals, lots of birds, mainly cranes and plenty of spotted hyenas. We were very confident and left the tracks to find the cheetahs the three out-of-nowhere- motorcycle-riding anti poaching rangers had told us about earlier. And we did the one thing one should never do, go into deep grass. We got stuck. Hi Lift was back in camp some 15km away inside the other vehicle, also the shovel. Handwork and 40 miuntes later we had managed to place the two sandblades under each rearwheel and got the vehicle out, but only for 10 meters and then we were really stuck, both wheels on the left side were deep in water and mud. So Max and Paul went off by foot with the GPS in hand to get back to camp to get the second vehicle and eventually find us again. In a distance they could see the antenna at Matamanene, perhaps there was somebody at the scoutcamp. We two ladies started to get comfy in the car away from the melting midday sun with empty stomachs since we only had early morning tea…this was supposed to be our gamedrive before breakfast. The guys brought help in the form of a very young AP employee in a Landcruiser with winch, but as he approached the rim of the swamp he also got stuck. A little while later we all sat under a shady tree laughing about our stupidity.

The total flatness of the Liuwa Plains was a soultouching event, I have spent the next day sitting on the roof gamespotting enjoying the warm wind and the sounds of nature. We had a GPS track from a german couple that leads from Matamanene towards the West and then up north along the limit of Liuwa park and ending at Lukulu ferry. This was the route we wanted to do initially but the other way round. We now realised that it would take us 2 days with at least one overnight along the route to complete and our timeframe did not allow it, although we had enough diesel to go for it. So we backtracked the same way we came in and did Katoyana – Mongu in one easy day. In Kalabo we made a lunch brake to eat our sandwiches under the shady straw-umbrellas at the “beachbar• and bought some cold drinks. Bwana David in full uniform came to greet us off. We had seen some scars on his arm and asked him if they were a bite mark. No, he said it’s a bullet from a AK-47. Realising he now had our full attention he took his shirt off and showed us some more AK-47 bullet holes, in 2003 he had survived a poacher ambush while patroling inside Liuwa, one of his collegues had died on the spot. He now works in the office, no more patrols.

In Mongu there is no decent accomodation let alone safe camping. Apparently there is quite a lot of cartheft in Mongu. So we went to one of the mediocre hotels and promptly there was no water in the showers, how we missed our bushcamping facilities! The Zambezi bream for dinner was quite good, specially washed down with an ice cold Mosi. We celebrated having gotten a full tank of Diesel at the BP station at a regular price.


Days 9 – 11

We had made reservations for one of the 2 rapids campsites at Kaingu Safari Lodge in the GMA next to Kafue South National Park for the next two nights. If it would not have been for a puncture on the tarroad we would have had lots of time to spare for this day’s leg from Mongu to Kaingu incl the stop at Shoprite. From the turnoff from the M9 to the ZAWA checkpoint on the road to the Ithezi Thezi dam it’s a 45 minute’s drive, and it’s about there where the Tse Tse start again. For the last 37 km to the camp we needed a good 2 hours. We were received by camp help Willard and once again were told to be the only guests both for camping and at the lodge. The two sites are the most beautyful sites we have ever been at, right on the bank of Kafue River under lush vegetation including palmtrees and in front of huge round rocks where one can swimm in natural jacuzzis at the rapids, safe from crocs. The ablutions are simply perfect, very nice carpenter work combined with good taste and love for details. We soon learned that owners and managers Tom and Vivienne Heineken are personally in charge of all the details. The Tse Tse made it into camp and the owners are thinking of building cloth traps since the flies have become a nuisance in the past few months. Biologist Tom took us on a boatride and a walk into the bush, we learned lots about plants and trees and fruits. We also got to know the carpenter’s workshop where all the furniture for the lodge was made with a pitsaw. The couple truly reflects the spirit of pioneers. For those who wish to get really pampered I can highly recommend the 6 very well appointed tented safari chalets with private verandahs onto the river that go for usd190 per person all inclusive.


Days 11 and 12

It’s a 5 hour ride from Kaingu to Lusaka, we started early since we had to pass the Tse Tse belt with closed windows and no A/C again and did’t want to get roasted. The ride to Lusaka was eventless and we went straight to the busy mainroad, the Cairo Road to find Zambian Safaris office to get our refund. In the modern Farmer’s house the inviting itialian coffeeshop on the groundfloor was ignored and later regretted. We were professionally received by an employee at Zamsaf and a refund Visa slip had already been prepared and was waiting for us, the 350 dollars were hopefully returning to our arches. Our hubbies had a handful with street venders and by-passers at the roadside parking spot. We left Cairo road and made our way to the Manda Hill shopping centre with no delay in order to stock up supplies, change money and get diesel. And even some time for shopping at the craft shop. All set we left Lusaka on the Great North Road heading south, for our next pitstop at the Lilayi Lodge about 14km outside town. Kirsten and John came to collect the equipped Defender and joined us for a nice dinner at the lodge. We enjoyed the large bungalows and the large beds.


Days 12 – 16

We had made reservations for 3 nights at Mvuu Lodge, Lower Zambezi for two selfcatering tents in pursuit of doing a nice chill-out after all the camping and driving. That’s why we didn’t need the equipped vehicle anymore and packed all into one Defender. Late morning we were off towards Chirundu after a substanciuos farm breakfast. We reached the turnoff in Chirundu 2 hours later. The escarpment road is adorned by broken, burnt out, crashed and rolled over trucks, but traffic was scarse (diesel shortage) and we had a nice ride. The landscape was as brown and yellow as elsewhere, everything dry dry dry. Zambians are waiting anxiuosly to get the first rains in October. The sandroad from the Chirundu Jct to the park entrance is 77km, but Mvuu Lodge, as many others, is located outside the park in the Game Management Area at km 60. We needed 3 hours to reach the camp including the handpulled ferry ride over the Kafue , this time smoothly and without waiting time. We soon realised that the Lower Zambezi is a much more visited park, since for the first time the children ran up to the passing car shouting sweety sweety. Just as in Mozambique when driving off the EN1 to Guinjata. Please do not hand out candies to those children unless you can also provide them with the necessary dental care afterwards! If you want to hand out something then consider balloons, pens, drawingbooks, they all even last longer.

The first 50km were lined by one small cluster of huts after another, yet it’s a GMA. Only about 8km before Mvuu is a gate and beyond it no more settlements. Those last 8km were also the worst to drive and took us 40 minutes. Mvuu Lodge is located on the banks of the Zambezi , on the left of the restaurant and bar building are 4 selfcatering tents and the camping area, on the right there are 4 tents reserved for all inclusive guests. Managers Marcelle and John are both very rude, but they manage to do it with a smile. Although the camp is owened by South Africans, the managers are from Harare and don’t conceal their dislike for SA citizens, and customers in general I found. The booked boatride was a wet event due to the fact that it was overloaded with 8 people and in fact a fishing boat. We were offered softdrinks along the cruise and later charged for them.

If you open any Getaway magazine you will always see their advertisment for “the best camping along the Zambezi •, well they do have shade yes, but no view on the river since the sites are behind the selfcatering tents. The tents for usd100 per night each turned out to be a really nice choice, very good beds and nice bathrooms with pletny of water and a good view on the river and over to Mana Pools. All the cuttlery and crockery was provided and we also could buy ice from the bar and leave food in the main freezer.

On our last day we all spoke very little during the ride back to Lusaka , each one submerged in own thoughts and flashbacks of this incredible journey. I will miss Zamiba.