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BOSVELD toe! It’s been a long time (eight months to be exact) since I’ve had a good fix of African bush, and like any drug addict, the craving is strong. So in 22 days time – three weeks tomorrow – I’ll be sitting on the banks of the Zambezi sipping an ice cold Mosi-oa-tunya, or simply, a Mosi, Zambia’s national beer.
It will be the start of one of my bucket list safaris, a three-week journey to two of Africa’s most remote, unspoilt and least visited wildlife destinations, Liuwa Plain National Park, and the Busanga Plains in the Kafue National Park.
This was a bit of an impulse decision and sadly, I won’t, as usual, be driving up to Zambia in my trusty, 21-year-old Land Rover with my family, but will fly into Livingstone and be collected there and travel in (horrors!) a Toyota HiLux. That’s anathema to most Landy drivers, but my very first 4x4, back in 1983 when I was the Cape Times, Rand Daily Mail and Sunday Times correspondent in Namibia, was a Toyota HiLux, and I have enormous respect for them.
The way this trip came about is that a bunch of overlanding enthusiasts who are all members of the online 4x4 community Forum persuaded former English first class cricketer, Mike Garnham – who keeps a vehicle in Zambia and knows the country backwards – to lead a trip through the country. Mike in turn invited me to join him as co-driver, and after much umming and aahing, I booked my flights two weeks ago.
This will be an extraordinary journey through an extraordinary landscape. From Livingstone Mike and I drive to Sesheke, where we meet the rest of our party, and on to Piet du Toit’s Zambezi fishing lodge, Kabula, not far from the Ngonye Falls.
Then begins the tough drive to Kayala via Senanga and Mongu, crossing the Zambezi flood plains in Barotseland, and ferrying our vehicles across the Zambezi on the Lealui ferry and across the Luanginga River to Kalabo and Liuwa Plain.
Liuwa Plain is a bit of a tautology, because Liuwa means plain in Lozi, a bit like talking about Strand Beach or the Drakensberg Mountains. Chris McIntyre, author of the authoritative Bradt Guide to Zambia, says “Liuwa Plain is as wild and remote as virtually any park in Africa; at the right time of year, its game is also as good as most of the best. The cliché “best kept secret” is applied with nauseating frequency to many places in Africa by copywriters who can’t think of anything original; this is perhaps one of the few places that would deserve it.”
Like many of Zambia’s wild areas, Liuwa is only accessible by vehicle between June and November – once the rains come, vast areas are simply submerged. And because it is so remote, it only has a couple of hundred visitors a year. We should catch the beginning of what has been called Africa’s second biggest plains game migration after the Serengeti.
This is wild country, with no fancy lodges or indoor plumbing in sight, and that for me is quintessential Africa.
Then it’s the long haul down to Mongu, west to the Kafue and 11 days in that wonderful, totally underrated park. While there, I’ll be re-acquainting myself with old friends like Tom and Viv Heineken at their exquisite camp, Kaingu, on the banks of the Kafue, and Chris and Charlotte McBride, at their equally wonderful and slightly eccentric McBride’s Camp, further north on the river.
But we’ll also be exploring new ground, all on the banks of the river or Lake Itezhi Tezhi – Mukambi, Konkamayo and Mushingashi – and driving a track called the Spinal Route that runs along the east bank of the Kafue, and which was only recently reopened after being closed to public traffic for decades.
And then the cherry on the top – Mukambi’s camp deep in the Busanga Plains. Again only accessible in the dry season, Busanga has been described as a mini Okavango Delta, a wetland and seasonal floodplain that together cover over 750km². The plains are dotted about with tree islands covered in wild date palms, ficus, and hardwoods like jackalberries and leadwood.
Chris McIntyre again: “the area is perfect for huge herds of water-loving lechwe and puku, which are joined by large numbers of zebra, wildebeest and plains grazers as the waters recede at the end of the wet season... until recently, few people (even in the safari business) had heard about them, let alone visited them, and so this remarkable area continues to go largely unrecognised.”
I will be in paradise.