By Lyndon and Jason Duplessis, Fish Eagle Safaris
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I consider this our first real Zambia trip, seeing as a short stay on the Livingstone side Victoria Falls does not really count. Our first stop was the massive Kafue National Park, one of the largest national parks in all of Africa.
After a short flight from Lusaka we arrived in the Kafue ready to start our first portion of the Safari. Wilderness Safaris’ Kafue’s Rivers and Plains Exploration starts with three nights in Lufupa Bush Camp followed by 2 nights at Musanza Tented Camp and capped off with 2 nights at Busanga Plains Camp.
Lufupa Bush Camp
On arrival in Lusaka we were met by a Wilderness Safaris representative who escorted us to their offices in the airport. After a short while our plane was ready to take us into the Kafue on our way to Lufupa. On arrival at the airstrip we met our guide for the duration of the Exploration, Phil. We also met up with our 5 traveling companions, one of which was on our flight into the area and the other 4 on a flight that arrived shortly after ours. After some brief introductions we gathered our stuff and set out on a boat transfer to get into camp. The boat transfer, being our first real activity since arriving in Africa, wound up taking significantly longer than expected. A simple boat ride transformed into a maniacal hunt for every living creature within sight of our binoculars. Every fish eagle was meticulously inspected and any sunbathing croc was carefully and slowly approached to get an up close look. Eventually we had a buckle down and speed toward the camp in order to make it before sundown. It had been a good start.
We enjoyed our time at Lufupa, as usual the staff was excellent, we were well fed with good food and we got to see some nice game. The camp is setup into nice rounded chalets that were able to keep out the cold a bit better than the more standard luxury tent. From camp you can hear the nearby rapids in the background. Before those rapids the water flows slowly though, forming nice pools closer to the chalets. There are some resident hippos to watch for when being escorted back after dinner but I did not hear them during the early morning hours like you often do near water.
Although the morning game drives offered plenty of evidence of lions and elephant we didn’t have much luck for the duration of our stay. Antelope were plentiful and the birding was productive. The real highlight came with the night drives where we were able to see 5 leopards in 2 nights. We even managed to spot a porcupine. As well as this we spotted several genets and civets here and really throughout our entire time in Zambia.
A quick note on the Kafue in winter: It can get extremely cold in the early mornings and evenings. We were up at 5:30 every morning and it was in the 40s with some nice wind chill from an open traveling vehicle. Luckily on top of warm clothing we all received blankets and hot water bottles and it doesn’t take too long after sunrise for the area to warm up considerably. Winter also offers some protection against the notorious tsetse fly because they will have a shorter period of time where they are really active. Unfortunately, during that time they can be a real pest and you will need to be prepared with some thick socks and multiple layers of clothing as they can bite through single layers fairly easily. It is also wise to avoid dark blues/dark colors because they do seem to attract the flies.
We learned that many areas in the Kafue had been systematically burnt during the colder winter months to avoid having some more serious and unexpected fires occur during the dry summer when the ambient temperatures make a serious (and uncontrolled) fire much more likely. Overall it is something that you quickly become accustomed to and the animals don’t seem to be bothered. In fact, many of the antelope and zebras will only graze on the shorter stalks of grass that grow after the flames in an area die out. The other grass is too long and mature for their tastes.
On our final night the entire camp staff gave us a performance with some traditional singing and dancing. It was quite impressive and be warned; when they finish up they might just ask you as a group to perform a similar feat for them. After some debate we decided to sing a very lackluster rendition of Home on the Range. It couldn’t have ended quickly enough.
Musanza Tented Camp
The rooms at our second stop, Musanza Tented Camp, were not quite as nice as those at Lufupa. They are fairly basic tents, relatively small with running water and a bucket shower. Nice main area, however, just off the river.
Luckily for us our luck changed in regards to finding some lions when we got to Musanza. Our very first game drive we heard a couple males roaring in the distance and instantly took off after them. After a good while driving off road in their direction we stopped our vehicle and listened. Sure enough they picked up where they had left off and we realized we traveled a little too far and turned back around in their direction. Shortly afterwards our guide pointed them out. I honestly wonder if any of us would have been able to spot them without him they were so well camouflaged. Within a few minutes they managed a final roaring display for us and I have to say it doesn’t get much better than.
Later we picked a nice spot just off the road to have some afternoon tea and snacks. Little did we know that just down the road obscured by some brush were two enormous male lions. In fact, just minutes after hopping back in the vehicle and going down a turn in the road we spotted them. That would have been an interesting surprise to discover during a bathroom break indeed.
Lastly, in the evening we spotted the two younger males who had roared for us with a female. They had been mating for quite some time it appeared but did not stop on account of us.
We also had some very nice elephant sightings, including one particularly aggressive lone male that gave us a bit of attitude. Some of the antelope you see in the region include the deffasa waterbuck which do not have the standard ‘U’ shaped white on their backside but a white spot and the impala impersonating puku. Slightly different colors and a shaggier coat give them away. Watching young puku coax the milk from their mothers was quite a sight. As they drink they literally shove their heads up violently in a punching motion.
We had a nice Zambian walk in the morning that really gives you an opportunity to see some of the small things that you inevitably miss out on during game drives. Identifying the different droppings, being able to identify from those droppings the diets of the animals and then taking a look at some of the vegetation is a nice change up. Checking out the different animal tracks is always fun and, while the guides do this from the vehicle to get a feel for the area it is easier for guests to see them up close. It’s also a different experience to see animals while on foot. The walks in the Kafue are with Phil, our guide for the duration, another spotter/guide and a third armed park ranger.
We made a pit stop at Lufupa River Camp during our morning transfer and spent some time scouring the area for wild dog which had been recently spotted. Unfortunately we had no luck. Our final camp is located in the Busanga Plains and at this point of the year is actually still working through some water damage so we got upgraded from Busanga Bush Camp to Shumba camp. We did get to do an inspection on Busanga Bush Camp and were impressed. It has a really great location and the rooms looked very comfortable. There is definitely a difference though when you compare a classic level camp with a premiere such as Shumba. For starters, after a rather lengthy transfer from Musanza, we were able to take a short helicopter ride to get into camp. It was my first time in a helicopter and it would have been great fun regardless of where the ride took place but to have it in Zambia on safari made it really special.
The stark contrast between such an opulent and luxurious camp and the pure wilderness beyond is not for everyone but I enjoy it thoroughly. The camp overlooks a vast plain intersected with some waterways which makes it ideal for photographing the red lechwe as they jump. It is really a birder’s paradise here with cranes, kingfishers, herons galore. The game drives in early July are a bit limited because of the water level so despite seeing some lions in the distance we are unable to reach them. In fact, a little while later we actually get our vehicle stuck in some thick mud. As our guide radios in our situation we make the best of it and grab our morning tea and snacks and head for a nice picnic spot on a dry, elevated area. By the time we finish there is a crew working tirelessly to free our vehicle from the mud’s sticky clutches and we all thank them profusely when they manage to free the tires. One last note on the camp; I have had a lot of great food on safari (a lot!) but I can say without question that none of it was better than what I had for 2 nights in Shumba.
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