Zambia’s oldest and largest protected area is well worth a visit, says Sam Pinnell. After a recent trip to Kafue National Park, she shares where to go for views, prolific birdlife and the best ablutions in Zambia.
Proclaimed in 1954, Kafue National Park is just three hours from Livingstone. The road up the eastern side from Dundumwezi Gate has been remade and graded by Africa Parks so it’s an easy drive up to Musungwa Lodge.
The lodge sits on top of the hill overlooking the Itezhi-Tezhi Dam on the Kafue River, and the pool area is the best place to watch the sunset. The dam was built between 1974 and 1977 at the Itezhi-Tezhi Gap, in a range of hills through which the river had eroded a narrow valley, leading to the broad expanse of the wetlands known as the Kafue Flats.
Being technically outside the park, Musungwa is a good stopover as no park fees are payable. What’s more, it’s one of the few campsites where you can see the lake from above. At 390km2 it’s seriously impressive and being on the hill gives us a good vantage point to take in the size and scale of the project.
Along the lake and into the park
In the morning, we take the road into the park around the bottom of the lake, through the wetland. Park fees at time of writing are payable in USD cash for non-residents. Be aware, the staff never have change! They also do not accept bank notes older than 2013 and no denominations below $5.
Photos cannot do justice to the lake, the bird life is prolific and there are so many pretty places to stop for coffee and enjoy the views. It takes us about two hours to travel 20km along the southern edge.
The road turns hard right, away from the lake, and this is as far as the rebuilt road goes. It’s now a track up the western edge. Since our visit is at the end of the wet season, the grass is well over the height of our Toyota. Even the giraffe would be able to play hide and seek here (not that they are found in Kafue).
Bridges have been washed away over time, so we clamber over packed rocks and logs in some places. Then we get attacked by tsetse flies, unrelenting and biting through clothing – let alone bare legs and arms. We eventually admit defeat and close the windows.
A shower under the stars
It’s a huge relief when we arrive at Kasabushi to find that the tsetse flies do not come to the water’s edge. Each campsite has a table and chairs made from tree stumps, a bench on the riverbank, a braai area and a stack of firewood. Andy and Libby offer river cruises which are the perfect way to see the magnificent granite rocks and experience the Kafue River, without the tsetse flies.
Kasabushi has the best ablutions in Zambia! The buildings curve and shape as they are made with branches and blocks. The shower pipe is cleverly placed above a hole in the wall so you feel like you are standing under a waterfall. The shower itself is open air so we stood in the moonlight, showering and looking at the stars.
Camping at the water’s edge
From Kasabushi, we headed north to Mayukuyuku Campsite. Again, once you are at the river, the tsetse flies disappear. All the campsites have clear hippo paths in and out of them, and later we hear them climbing out downstream. Aware that they are there, we are careful when we move away from the fire – a hippo out of water is not to be taken lightly.
We head out for a game drive in the morning, and then opt for a camp afternoon on the Kafue. It’s quiet and peaceful. The red-chested twinspot flits about in the bush, a Schalow’s turaco eats berries at the top of the tree, and to our astonishment a finfoot run-flies across the water in front of us. It’s a still, clear evening as we set the dinner table. Sundowners on the banks of the Kafue River are a perfect end to our day…
It’s a busy night as Mr Lion walks around camp roaring during the early hours of the morning. No sooner had we settled back to sleep than the hippos started their return. They splash around and snort as if to say, “We’re back, don’t mess with us.” The clear evening before makes for a chilly start as the inversion leaves a misty layer on the water. But as the sun comes through, it burns off and it’s another warm Zambian day in the bush.
Kafue is definitely worth a visit. For variety, go up to Musungwa to appreciate the lake. We also recommend sitting back and relaxing on a boat cruise down the river at Kasabushi. In the northern section, look for game. Whatever you do, just enjoy this wild reserve.
See Zambia for yourself
Discover all Zambia has to offer with the help of our Zambia Traveller’s Map and Zambia Self-Drive Guide Book . The paper map is comprehensive, offering travel times for the entire road network. It indicates protected areas as well as tourist attractions – it even includes adjacent areas like Chobe and Mana Pools. The guide covers places to visit, where to stay, eat and refuel, and how to prepare for an overlanding trip. Suggested itineraries and transit routes will make planning a cinch. Get both the map and book in our Zambia travel bundle and save.