Liuwa plains, Kafue, Kasanka December 2017 trip report

Liuwa plains, Kafue, Kasanka December 2017 trip report

This was an African Adventure of a lifetime, we did and saw so much over a 20 day period and covering some 8000 kilometers.

We entered Namibia by crossing the Chobe River over the Ngoma Bridge not far from Kasane in northern Botswana. From there it was a scenic drive along the Caprivi Strip (now renamed to Zambezi) to Katima Mulilo and into Zambia. Getting into Zambia, although well-organized border formalities, it will set you back in the region of R1500, some payable in $US and the remainder in Kwacha. The border costs are around R1500 and the loss due to the low rand and the tout’s exchange rate will cost you around another R1000. You cannot get Kwacha in SA and are therefore forced to use either their touts or the Bureau which seemed to have a never ending que outside its entrance.

Our first night stop over was a short dash of 80 kms on the M10 from Katima to a place called Kabula lodge on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River. Kabula Lodge was a welcome sight with lush green lawns on which to set up camp under large shady trees and of course within 30 meters of the Zambezi. We were welcomed with what was to become the virtual norm on the trip, a true mid -afternoon to early evening

Central African thunder storm. Once the storm had passed we were greeted by a breeze of the freshest smelling air imaginable, all the signs of a good trip coming up. We were now all together as a group, six 4 wheel drives towing and one not with a total of 12 of us. Two couples had been at Kabula for a few days already waiting for us to arrive.

Departure time was set for 07h00 the following morning, we had a long way to go and we would be camping in central Liuwa Plains that night, a trip of around 375kms straight up the M10 to Mongu and then the last village of Kalobo before crossing the ferry over the

Luanginga River into Liuwa Plains. The M10 follows the Zambezi River most of the way with the spectacular Barotse Flood plains always in sight. The Barotse flood plains are flooded each year when the Zambezi bursts its banks during the wet summer rainfall season. Crossing the ferry at Kalobo was quite an experience, vehicles are transported one at a time over the 100 meter wide river and everything is done by hand, no machinery in these parts, it took a while for us all to cross but were on our way again just after lunch time. The exit from the ferry is up a reasonably steep sandy river bed and with trailers in tow proved to be quite challenging for a few of us. We were here for the Wildebeest migration, it happens each year during the month of November. Strictly speaking, the animals are not in an actual migration, but rather have arrived at the end of their migration from Angola. Liuwa Plains, which is the grazing grounds for the herds is a vast and wild plains covering an enormous area. Because the plains are dotted with numerous small pans or what we would normally call water holes, there is an absolute abundance of birdlife, especially of the larger species such as Wattled Crane, Saddle Billed Stork, and yes, even Pelican. At one stage we thought we were looking at huge numbers of Red Billed Quelea flying in their usual spectacular formations. On closer inspection, we were amazed to see that they were not the Quelea, but rather Pratancoles. The Pratancole is s few times the size of the Quelea so it was an amazing site to see these birds in their thousand, flying in their various formations, then all landing on the ground next to us for a short breather before taking off again and repeating the exercise over and over again.

 

It was interesting to see how the Wildebeest split up their herd. The main herd because of its sheer size in numbers gets spread out over a large area, and then you get the nursery herds that are fairly small herds and made up of the females with their calves, some herds being mixed with small numbers of Zebra. My guess would be, that before migrating back to Angola, the smaller herds would once again join the main herd for the long march home. We undertook a few interesting game drives, saw the plenty of Hyena and from time to time the side Striped Jackal.

The campsite we stayed in, Katoyona, was a community one and there were always a few community members close by to keep the showers hot and the water tanks full. They also supply the firewood on demand.

After spending three night in Liuwa, it as an early departure for the return crossing on the ferry before driving a long haul of around 440 kms to Kasabushi camp in Kafue National Park. We arrived with daylight hours to spare after setting up camp on the banks of the Kafue River. What the owners, Andy and Milly have done with their piece of paradise in the middle of nowhere is nothing short of amazing. A fantastic and innovative open air ablution facility with large bi-sexual showers with plenty of space. The toilet and wash basins are all covered and well set out, what a pleasure after the very rustic community conditions at Liuwa. Andy took us on a very interesting and informative boat ride down the river, giving the Hippo’s a pleasantly wide berth followed by some expert navigation through the numerous rocks. We were due to remain here for two days before moving on but due to a few things beyond our control, the group elected to remain here for 4 days and skip the next venue. This also gave me a chance to make a dash down to Lusaka for possibly one or two days, which was close to 350 kilometers away. What necessitated the dash to Lusaka was the following, after crossing the ferry after leaving Liuwa, one of our group collapsed in the dirt. I was now keen to meet with a Doctor and confirm that his health was back on track and back to normal, he was subsequently declared fit and good to go. It was also a necessary opportunity to make sure that it was nothing serious which could possibly jeopardize the remainder of the trip for the others. There was another reason too, the night before we were due to drive to Lusaka, we had the mother of all storms that were on offer. The rapid onslaught of the storm and everyone diving for cover, and yes, even the bugs and beetles. It was a case for one of our group having his right ear in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the mad dash for cover, a large Xmas beetle size bug sought refuge inside this right ear, deep inside and up against the ear drum. This was the second reason for paying the doctor a visit the next day. The Doc struggled to dislodge the bug and after doing so had it in a bottle of water for us to inspect. He said that after removing many strange object from people’s ears, this was by far the biggest object ever removed. Needless to say it was instant relief for the ear and its owner after going through absolute hell for more than 14 hours.

The Kafue is wild, untamed and largely un-spoilt. The game viewing was pretty good with excellent sightings of lions and their cubs, Rhone Antelope, Water Buck, and lots more. An unfortunate side to the Kafue, as well as other parts of Zambia is the Tsetse Fly population. There were lots of them and it was not always possible to drive with the windows open, which also makes it difficult for good photography.

 

The next day proved to be the longest, in time and distance, around 700kms, we left at first light and finally arrived at our campsite in Kasanka National Park at around 8.30pm, fortunately we were going to be here for 3 days and would have a bit of recovery time.

During the months of November and December each year, Kasanka is home to an estimated 10 million straw / fruit bats. They Migrate from somewhere in the Congo to come and feed off of the White Plumbs in Kasanka. Witnessing these bats leaving their roost each evening and then returning in the early hours after their night out is really one of nature’s great marvels. The bats, having a wing span of up to 800mm do not rely on sonar navigation but do in fact have vision, necessary for finding their fruit each night. It takes in the region of an hour and a half for the bats to leave each evening and probably the same in the morning upon their return to roost and there is no noise other than perhaps a bit of wind noise caused by their flapping wings..

We had paid for a guide and hired a “Hide” for the second morning that we were there. After meeting at 04h30 we followed our guide, on foot, through the forest to our hide to witness the bats from close range.

The hide is not a hide like we know, sitting on a cushion watching through a slit at the animals on the other side. No this is a platform way up in a tall forest tree that you get to the top of by climbing a rather primitive ladder. The top platform is around 20 meters up and the first one around 10 meters, climbing this in the dark with wet shoes requires a certain amount of caution. Once up, it’s really very rewarding, from the top platform, you are now looking straight at the bats as they fly past and looking down at them when they come in to roost. It’s an awesome experience and certainly not one that I could soon forget.

The rest of the trip took us via Lusaka, where another mother of a storm hit us, for the night and then Livingstone the following day as we made for the ferry crossing at

Kazungula and then to Kasane for the night.

From Kasane, the group split up, two couples went straight back to SA as planned whilst the remainder of us went off to Masuma and Deteema Dam Picnic sites in Hwange for two nights each. By prior booking, we were able to set up camp in the remote picnic sites which each had a hide overlooking their respective dams.

We were late in the season and after heavy rains in the area, we did not get to see the big game numbers that we thought we may have, but we none the less had a splendid time at the sites, we had some good bird viewing from Deteema.

 

Entering and exiting Zimbabwe through Pandamatenga border crossing is quick and painless, other than paying out many $US for the privilege of visiting the country. I must say, the feeling in Zimbabwe after the takeover by the military is nothing short of positive. As for the wellbeing of the citizens of Zimbabwe, I guess that time will tell.

This was a fantastic trip into Africa to a few really special places with sightings that will be remembered for years to come. We had a special group of friends who took it all in their stride, and at times when the going got tough they just got on with it. This is what makes the trip so special.