The north-western parts of Zambia are decidedly off the beaten track. But you’ll find serenity in one of the country’s lesser-known national park and marvellous wilderness in its oldest. A pilgrimage to the source of the Zambezi is also well worth the effort. By Mark Bland
Sometimes the most memorable places are not always the easiest to reach. The next leg of our three-month journey took us up the Great North Road before heading west through Zambia’s Copperbelt region. We were making our way to the source of the Zambezi River and West Lunga National Park.
The long journey to the source
Although the distance from the Lower Zambezi to the West Lunga region was only around 950km, it took three nights to cover it. You soon learn that in Zambia you can get nowhere in any form of hurry. Between the traffic of Lusaka, the trucks on the Great North Road and the potholes of the T5, we had our work cut out. The solution? Some good tunes, a stash of padkos and staying in the low gears. Lusaka has a growing network of shopping centres and neighbourhood strip malls so you don’t need to venture too far into town to find a good cup of coffee and a meal. Better yet, push on to Fringilla Lodge and stock up on their farm supplies.
Most traffic usually heads north-east up to Tanzania at Kapiri Mposhi. However, turning north-west you soon find yourself in the Copperbelt region of Zambia. Here the magnificent Miombo woodlands and in particular Brachystegia reign supreme and provide welcome shade for campsites. One such lucky find was a private campsite just outside of Kitwe.
One of the main goals was to reach Chimfunshi (and a restock in Solwezi) before heading into the more unknown West Lunga National Park. Chimfunshi has been rescuing and caring for chimpanzees for almost 40 years. After seeing wild chimpanzees in Uganda, it can feel a little bitter-sweet to see these incredible animals here. But the team is incredibly committed and the work they are doing is undoubtedly positive. Be sure to stop-by and support them if you find yourself en route to the west. Chimfunsi has both campsites and simple accommodation on the farm.
Also read: Chimfunshi, a sanctuary for chimps in need
A hidden gem
Try and research Kabompo River or West Lunga National Park and you will find tourist information few and far between. This was exactly what drew us to this corner of Zambia. To be safe, be sure to restock in Solwezi with both fuel and food supplies before heading off. There are two general areas to explore here: the north-east section of the park centred around the Kabompo River and the slightly more explored areas surrounding the Lunga River in the south.
Various organisations and individuals are hard at work trying to re-establish the natural order after years of bush-meat hunting has left animals in only the densest of thickets. The real reason to be here, however, is to enjoy the solitude of the space, the warm waves of the villagers and the incredible birdlife (and apparently brilliant fishing)! We were not to see another tourist for over a week and split time between wild campsites as well as brilliant community sites. It is important in these areas to support the communities and their initiatives. Here it includes fishing camps, honey and incredible fresh produce.
Mwinilunga and the source of the Zambezi
The Zambezi River gets its name from the local Lunda name of Yambezhi, which can roughly be translated as ‘the heart of everything’. For any one that has driven along sections of the Zambezi River it is easy to see how this river is the heartbeat of Zambia. You can’t help but feel that visiting the source of the Zambezi should be a rite of passage for any modern-day explorer. To stand, shrouded in forests and birdcall in a small and remote location, straddled between Angola and the DRC at what is quite literally a tiny spring seeping through the earth is both humbling and inspiring. The area is also becoming increasingly popular for birders looking to tick off some lifers.
Zambia’s oldest national park
From the source we made our way to Zambia’s oldest national park, Kafue. To go south once more, you have a few options. You can head straight south towards the town of Zambezi and at Mongu turn east to Kafue. You can retrace your steps to Lusaka and approach Kafue from the capital. Or the third option, to head back along the T5 and south to Kabanga Gate, the northern entry of Kafue National Park. Be warned, however, that as bad as the T5 and Sesheke–Kazungula Road are, the Kasempa–Kabanga Route easily rivals them. Expect large drifts of red sand, bone-crunching corrugation and large trucks whose drivers suffer from extreme cases of tunnel vision. But the reward is well worth it.
The Busanga Plains are legendary and for good reason. The seasonal plains are alive with wildlife, the rivers full of fish hungry for the fisherman’s lure. The wilderness is wild enough to make you appreciate that you are in one of largest wildlife reserves. If the Garden of Eden was to be found anywhere in today’s modern world it could arguably be said to be here. With campsite options limited and the plains only accessible during the dry winter months be sure to book your campsite ahead of time. Zambian park fees are also known to be unfriendly to cash-strapped overlanders. However, with African Parks now getting involved In Kafue, it is a small price to pay for conservation.
Kasabushi’s famous ablutions
Heading south through the Hook Bridge area, there are many more options. With lodges and campsites both within the park and the Game Management Area, you are almost spoiled for choice. Our destination was Kasabushi. Owned by Andy and Libby, Kasabushi is possibly the best-known accommodation option in the whole of Zambia. The unique location of the lodge and campsites along the rocky watercourse makes this camp a standout. Not to mention the attention to detail in the building of this dream by the dynamic duo and their famous ablutions. The brilliant wildlife and Andy’s popular river safari result in it being a memorable stay every time.
To complete the circuit, you can head south through the park to the Itezhi-Tezhi Dam and onwards to Livingstone and Kazungula. Or you can head east for a few hours in Lusaka. We did the latter, for work and personal reasons. If you plan to go south from Lusaka via the T2 and T1, I strongly suggest that you leave at first light to beat the traffic. This will also ensure that you can comfortably make it into Botswana with enough time to spare.
To book an expedition through Zambia or to read a more detailed account of Mark’s trip through Zambia go to routesrediscovered.co.za
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