Zambia part 1: Kafue National Park

The day after we picked up my mom and sister it was time to switch our minibus for a 4×4. This was because our next destination was Kafue National Park, where a 4×4 is highly recommended. Because we had to arrange a car on short notice, and we didn’t want to spend thousands of euros on a car for just a few days, we got an older Toyota Prado.

With this car we should be able to arrive at the campsite near Ithezi-thezi, a town near one of the park entrances of Kafue NP. It turned out that the campsite was in a completely different place from what I expected, because Google showed the pin inside the national park. When we arrived on site (with directions of the manager) we saw that there was absolutely nothing there except a run-down green tent, however I did really like the view!

In this place – which had no facilities whatsoever – we unpacked our gas stove for the first time, which was not working (later we realized that the gas canister we had with us was empty). The idea was to make a nice and simple macaroni bolognaise, however after struggling with the stove for so long none of us felt like actually cooking on the fire, so we grilled ham and cheese sandwiches over the fire.

The following day we had already packed our tents early in the morning and went on our way to the park. We couldn’t go straight to the entrance as we first had to get some petrol on the black market (again), because neither this gate, nor the main gate was close to a petrol station (why is it so difficult to get fuel in Zambia!?). Once in the park we would take the ‘spinal road’ which would lead us from south to north through the park. The next campsite was namely in the north of the park, as close as we could afford to the famous Busanga plains (which is known for the lions and other carnivores that roam this part). Kafue National Park is only accessible by 4×4 and doesn’t have many tourists. In the south its especially very quiet and the animals are therefore easily scared off, opposed to animals in Kruger for example. The spinal road was horrible because of the very deep corrugations, which even at low speeds caused the car to get out of control. Because the animals in this part of the park were so skittish, the people we’ve seen driving behind us the whole way, probably haven’t seen any animals at all; every antilope of baboon quickly took off as soon as they saw us.

When we were getting close to the tar road, which intersects the park from east to west, we decided to take one of the few ‘loops’ in order to see if there was more wildlife away from the main road. The roads in this loop were not very clear and easy to distinguish, and it was visible that many people chose their own way or that people had cut the loop short. This loop supposedly followed the river bank on both sides, but since we were there only at the end of the dry season, the river had almost completely dried up; except for some small pools in a long cleft in the ground. At one of those pools we saw many crocodiles, so we decided to shut off the engine and wait for a little bit to see if more animals would show up. When it seemed that nothing was going to show up, we couldn’t get the car to start! There was a moment of panic, because we were stranded of the main road (which was already not busy), literally next to a pool filled with crocodile. Fortunately we quickly found out what was wrong: one of the clamps on the car battery had come off. Rik then put it back in place after which we could immediately start the car and continue our journey north.

Once we crossed the tar road, we entered the ‘touristy’ part of the park, even though the whole park isn’t really to be called touristy at all. Nonetheless the animals here slowly seemed to get less skittish, even though we still didn’t see so much. Right before the camp there was one turnoff at which we decided to try one more detour, and that detour eventually became the highlight of our long day driving. From this road, we spotted the first elephant of our trip to Kafue; it was a solitary male which calmly roamed the bushes. Although, that was until he decided that he didn’t really appreciate our presence, after which he suddenly charged at us, ears wide and a loud trumpet sound. Slightly panicked we drove a bit away from him, but it actually was very nice to photograph!

The next morning again we drove off early in the morning, because also on this day we had a certain destination in mind: the Busanga plains. Everywhere we looked online, a self drive going here was discouraged, but where your mom has a will, there is a way, and so we drove off around sunrise on our way to the north. The drive wasn’t short, but we didn’t encounter any problens, and so we arrived at the wide open plains in 3 hours and 15 minutes. The road were visibly not used very often, but after having read about all the warnings online about how its very easy to get lost, I thought the advice to not go to the plains was highly exaggerated. That said, we were very late at the end of the dry season, and the plains are not accessible (by car) for a couple of months every year because the plains are flooded, so perhaps any time shorter after the rainy season could provide more problems. In a few places there was still a bit of water, and those places attracted very big groups of red lechwe, which were occasionally accompanied with some warthog that were running among the antilopes (and startled them several times), but unfortunately there was no sign of the famous lions of this area

Oh well, we would get more chances to see lions and other preditors, because our next destination was South Luangwa National Park!

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