Secret Zambia: experience its wild waters

The land of rivers and waterfalls, Zambia is magic for lovers of water. Best of all, you won’t have to fight other visitors for the experience. By Sam Pinnell

Zambia has many beautiful and iconic places to visit – all of which feature on the maps. But we try to hunt out experiences off the beaten track wherever we go. On a recent trip, we certainly found a few.

One of Africa’s tallest waterfalls

While camping at Flower and Fern Cottage outside Mbala, we heard about Kalambo Falls. Located some 40km north of Mbala, on the border of Zambia and Tanzania at the southeast end of Lake Tanganyika, the falls is an easy day trip. As a 235m single-drop, Kalambo Falls is among the highest uninterrupted falls in Africa, and yet is one of the lesser-known tourist spots in Zambia.

The beauty of Kalambo Falls can be experienced from the top and down in the gorge. Pictures by Sam Pinnell

Packing water bottles and walking shoes, we set off. The main road out of Mbala is currently under construction, and will be a good road when it’s finished but the last section is rough and rocky and gives our Hilux 4×4 a quick workout. We get a sneak preview of Lake Tanganyika on our way. The full view has to wait for Tanzania as we then drop down to the valley. We pay our $15 entry fee as non-Zambian residents and head along the walkways. There are numerous viewpoints of the falls – from the top right down to the gorge. From the bottom you look back at the height of the falls, but hmmm, be prepared to climb many steps down and many steps back up!

For visiting purposes, the falls are at their best in the rainy season early in the year. While you can’t compare these falls to the likes of Victoria Falls, they definitely hold a place of their own and are worth the trip.

A ‘secret’ hot springs

The Kapishya hot springs are a closely guarded secret – best known by Zambians and unshared by tourists. Some five hours’ drive from Mbala, Kapishya makes an ideal stopping point when traversing the country. The springs are part of the Shiwa Ng’andu farm and there is a lot of history here.

The manor house was completed in 1932 by Sir Stewart Gore-Brown, and it’s an absolute anomaly to find an English country house in rural Zambia. It must have been spectacular in its heyday, but time, weather and funds are taking their toll. As we walk away, we wonder if it will either still be standing in 20 years’ time or – if fate is on their side – whether someone will have lovingly, and at enormous cost, restored it.

The atmospheric manor house of Shiwa Ng’andu

Shiwa Ng’andu is a birding hotspot so we spend the afternoon walking down the riverbank and on the farm, and then in the hot springs itself. It’s like climbing into a perfect bath, and while I wouldn’t want to get in the water during summer, in the cool of today, it’s just perfect and I may have to be shoehorned out! The birding is incredible and we add some beautiful birds to our list: yellow-throated leaflove, green-backed honeybird, variable sunbird among others.

Soak your cares away at Kapishya hot springs.

We end the afternoon with decadent high tea on the deck, homemade chocolate cake was too good an offer to refuse. I am snuggled in my chair around the fire after dinner, when James suggests we have a last swim in the springs. I reluctantly pull myself away from the heat and take my warm layers off, but once we are in the water, he was so right – the best way to end our stay here.

Birding by boat

Livingstone is generally used by overlanders as a quick stopover either on the way in or out of Zambia, and we too arrived at Camp Nkwazi for a night. Three nights later we had to peel ourselves away as we still had things to do there.

One of the highlights was undoubtedly our sunset river cruise. Gawie and Salome run boat cruises from the camp. The Zambezi is huge, but only when you sit in the middle of it do you appreciate the magnitude. It’s about a metre off its high level when we visit, but the volume of water and speed at which it flows is incredible. We skirt the hippos with their new baby and head upstream. There is a herd of zebra grazing on the Zim banks, and then we stop for a raptor. After some discussion, the boys agree on a western banded snake eagle – very cool addition to our list!

Not only scenic, a sunset cruise on the Zambezi is a great way to add birding ticks

We spend two hours birding, adding the elusive African finfoot, an iridescent half-collared kingfisher, and a very busy tropical boubou to our trip list, among others. A cold Mosi, a beautiful sunset and some special birds – it’s another off-the-beaten-track treasure and soul food at its best.

Explore Zambia with the Tracks4Africa Zambia Self-Drive Guide, which combines travel information, accommodation listings and detailed maps. You’ll find descriptions and eye-catching photos of the country’s destinations that are of interest to overlanders. To help you plan your trip, there are suggested itineraries as well as summaries of transit routes between major destinations.

5 thoughts on “Secret Zambia: experience its wild waters”

  1. Refreshing to hear an honest opinion and interesting to hear about “off-the-beaten-track” places. I enjoy your writing and beautiful pics Sam. Hope to read a lot more about your adventures in the future.

  2. amazing. on my way. save one beer for me. plaese send me location of that elusive beer

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