Zambia, Part 1

We haven’t written anything about our time in Zambia yet and we have come to the end of our second stint in the country having spent a month in Malawi in the middle. We are in Zimbabwe now for about three weeks and we don’t expect to have much time with access to the Internet so it’s high time we caught up on our blog posts.

After leaving Namibia through the busy border post at Katima Malilo, which took us about two hours and where we had someone scrape past the side of our trailer with their car and bending a bolt in the process which means we can’t use one of the support legs any more, we tracked north alongside the Zambezi River. The nature of the villages and roadside stalls in Zambia was noticeably different to Nambia.

We stopped for five nights at Ngonye River Camp. It’s a lovely quiet spot with a grassy camp site under shady trees on a slight slope above the Zambezi River. Jack and his wife who own the property do a lot of work with church missionaries and they have built a couple of chalets and a camp site to generate some income to fund their work. I flew the drone out over the river from our camp and captured these images.

While we were there we visited the little nature park up the road and paid a guide (good idea!) and walked out to the Ngonye Falls. Impressive! The series of falls are over a kilometre wide and you have to walk to a few spots to get a view of them. I was able to fly the drone and get some video as well as some still shots. The aerial perspective really showed off the extent of the falls. Our guide pointed out one of the falls and told us that it was called Jo’burg Falls because a local fisherman caught fish there to feed his family instead of traveling to Johannesburg in South Africa for work. Good plan!

We asked Jack about the beautiful and large tree trunks we were seeing stockpiled in various places along the road. He told us that the Chinese are paying the villagers $3 for each Rosewood Tree and that they are quickly disappearing from the countryside.

When we left there we drove north, still alongside the Zambezi River floodplain. We eventually turned east towards Kafue National Park, although we tried to go north from Mongu towards the source of the Zambezi River in the far north west corner of Zambia but ran out of useful road not far north of Mongu.

We settled for staying two nights at Ikithe Resort on Lake Makakaela about thirty kilometres north of Mongu. It’s a very pretty place at sunset and sunrise when there is very little wind and the glassy lake reflects the gorgeous colours while fishermen glide across the water, with barely a ripple, in their dugout canoes. While we were there we met a couple from Columbia in a Landcruiser doing a loop from Nairobi down through Zambia to Namibia then back up through Malawi and Tanzania to Nairobi again. They are avid bird watchers and we exchanged notes on where we planned to go in Zambia.

The Zambezi river does a bit of a loop from the source out west into Angola before heading east and south back into Zambia. We will try to get to the source of the Zambezi next year when we travel across Zambia through to Angola. There are huge teak forests up there which we are keen to see. Roger and Jenni, a couple of South Africans we met in Namibia, did manage to get up to the source of the Zambezi by driving through the Liuwa Plains National Park but it was still early in the dry season and we didn’t like our chances with the trailer as it gets very boggy out there and we didn’t have any information on the crossings over the Zambezi River in that area.

We came across this cart on our way back to Mongu where we headed east on the main road to Lusaka via Kafue National Park.

We didn’t go into the park itself but drove through it on the transit road from the west. The Columbian couple stayed in Kafue and they said it was great but they didn’t see a lot of animals. After staying one night beside the river on the eastern boundary of Kafue National Park, we drove down to a small town called Ithezi Thezi on the eastern side of the big lake, also called Ithezi Thezi, that borders the Kafue National Park. We stayed five nights at Chibila, one of David Shepherd’s old camps where he used to go and paint, and we absolutely loved it!!! It was so reasonable we stayed in one of the chalets which are set amongst the boulders high above the lake. Tree hyrax run around all over the place. So peaceful! We can’t recommend it highly enough.

We had an interesting journey east across the Kafue River plains from there. The road was slow going but reasonable through numerous villages until we got to the pontoon across the Kafue River. Since the pontoon, which is only one car wide, couldn’t turn around we had to reverse the car and trailer onto it. We managed it fine but it could have been pretty tricky! Once we were on the pontoon we had to wait while a cow with a broken leg was dragged off the back of a cart onto the pontoon. After driving off the other side we had ten kilometres of very rough, but mostly dry black cotton soil which would have been impossible after any sort of rain. We reached Choma late-ish that night, found a rough and ready place for one night which I thought was probably a brothel, and then the next day we drove up the main road to Eureka camp just south of Lusaka. We were on tar but there were lots of nasty potholes, especially north of Mazabuka. It would be easy to break the car if we traveled too fast on these kinds of roads.

Lusaka is useful for shopping, otherwise I would avoid it completely. The traffic is terrible and it’s difficult to get around. We stayed at Eureka on the southern outskirts of the city (nice) and, after shopping in town, We camped at Fringilla Farm 50km north of Lusaka. Very friendly people and a good butcher there who makes biltong and boerewors as well as some home-made chilli relish! We ended up having a few beers with some of the locals at their sports club and picked up lots of tips on various destinations in Zambia.

It was a fair distance to our next destination so we broke our trip with an overnight stop at a place called Kalwa. We headed north until we reached a turnoff which took us to an old homestead which has been taken over by the local village and is now used as accommodation for the odd visitor. We camped on the front lawn and had a regular flow of the villagers walking past and kids stopping to check us out all afternoon. The evening and the night were very cool as we were still on the plateau at about 1,500 metres above sea level. As we went to sleep we could hear the villagers singing. Then incredibly, at four thirty in the morning we heard a large group chanting and singing in unison. The very loud noise got closer and closer, singing as they marched past our camp. We found out later that it was a group of youngsters getting their ‘early’ morning exercise as they learn how to be ‘Good Christian Youths’. The stamping of feet and the rhythmic bass voices and shrill ululations at that time of the night were totally unexpected and quite thrilling!

We elected not to visit many of the national parks in Zambia as they are quite expensive. Going north from Lusaka we did visit Kasanka NP though to see the Sitatunga buck which are adapted to living in marshes. They have really long feet! We stopped at Pontoon Camp for coffee and got a really good sighting of several Sitatunga around the waterhole. That was a really nice place under some huge, very shady indigenous trees. We elected to camp at the Kasanka Conservation Centre just outside the park to save a bit of money. Worked very well for us as they let you drive into the park before sunrise and come out after sunset. We did a fair bit of driving and in the north west corner we were driving on an overgrown track where the grass was quite a bit taller than the car. We navigated by looking for the most likely gap between the trees and trying to spot the shadow of the track underneath the grass. Eventually we had to backtrack when we reached a very boggy river crossing. When you get stuck in that black cotton soil you stay stuck!!

At another spot we climbed a ladder up to a viewpoint about twenty metres up a tree which looked out over the flood plains. Nearby was a spot where millions of bats can be seen at a certain time of the year … not when we were there though!

The chap looking after the Kasanka Conservation Centre turned out to be the head school teacher (three teachers in total) at the school which operates from there and caters for about one hundred children. Although it was the weekend he gave us a tour of the place which is funded by a private trust. We saw the tree seedlings which they were preparing to hand out to the nearby villages as part of a deal whereby they planted three trees for every one they cut down. In another part we saw the centre’s vegetable garden which is surrounded by an ‘elephant fence’ consisting of a series of very tall chilli bushes over a metre wide and a metre high. Apparently it works pretty well to keep elephants away from the crops around the villages. Pretty nifty we thought!

When we left Kasanka NP we were planning to camp at Lake Waka Waka and spend a day in Bangweulu national park north of there to see the Shoebill Storks. We had our doubts about driving those roads with the trailer and when we heard that Lake Waka Waka was not very inviting we decided to give both a miss.

Our next destination was Mutinondo, a private lodge which is further north and east of the main road. It’s a bit expensive but a very nice spot set high amongst the rocky inselbergs above a river which has many small waterfalls along its course as it winds its way between the hills. The camp sites don’t get much sun though so they stay quite cool. We stayed three nights and I took some shots of one waterfall and flew the drone out across the river to a group of inselbergs to the east.

The last place we stayed in Zambia was Kupishya hot springs, which is about thirty kilometres west of the main road. The camping is next to a fast flowing river and the hot springs are fantastic! Well worth it, especially in the morning when the air is cool and the steam rises off the water. We met Bob and Cheryl there, a couple of Aussies from South Australia, who have made around twenty trips to Africa and are funding the education and some medical bills for a couple of families in East Africa.

After leaving Kupishya we knew we had a big days drive to get to the Malawi border at Chitipa. We phoned a contact at the Zambian Immigration Services who confirmed that the border post would be attended that day and it would close at 5pm. The drive up the main road to Isoka went fine apart from some bad potholes, but we knew the next part would be more interesting on a gravel road running through lots of villages as it wound its way across country to Malawi. This turned out to be somewhat of an understatement as, for much of the way, the track didn’t follow any of our maps and where it got too eroded it took side trips through the middle of the nearby villages. We resorted to asking for directions at each intersection. It was slow going and as it got later we knew we weren’t going to get to the border by 5pm. We pushed on and eventually reached a few buildings on the outskirts of a village which looked vaguely official. A well-dressed chap sitting outside the first one told us that he was the resident Zambian Immigration Officer and that the border closed at 6pm. It was five thirty, so we had made it after all! The Zambian formalities were straightforward and then we drove a little further to a large old house where we found several Malawi at adjacent desks in a few of the rooms. One room was the immigration department and the other was the customs and revenue office. We got everything done except the third party insurance which we would have to get in Karonga, the next town down the road.

We got directions to a local motel which was not too far away but in the dark it was quite tricky too find. There wasn’t much open in town so we had a meal of snacks and a couple of beers. Welcome to Malawi. We were looking forward to seeing Lake Malawi the next day when we reached Karonga.