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The Heat and Dust of Kafue & the Busanga Plains

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I've got 10 days in October'16 .Arriving on Ethiopian a little past mid-night. Lusaka over/n , drive next morning .Working on a schedule of 3 nights Kafue 2 nights Busanga camping.Peak of dry weather just before it rains in November.Hope to get lucky with game.Kepp you folks posted.

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    Alright! I'm excited.Its all set. I leave in month's.time.Arriving Lusaka on Kenyan Airways. Overnight in Pioneer Camp,leave leisurely after breakfast,4.5 hrs drive to Kafue River Lodge.Cruise on the river
    (or whatever is left of it).Spend the evening around the fire,listening....

    "...But can't you hear the Wild? — it's calling you.
    Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
    Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
    There's a whisper on the night-wind, there's a star agleam to guide us,
    And the Wild is calling, calling . . . let us go."

    - The Spell of the Yukon.

    Early next morning head off to Busanga Plains. Camp 3 nights,fully serviced ( professional guide,help and chef), dome tents,bush showers( there is going to be hot water),long drop loos. Three fulls day game drive,to be back by 18:00 hrs each day.

    Return from Busanga through the Kabanga gate and will be dropped off at Pinnon Lodge.A brand spanking new camp presently being built,will probably have only 2 chalets ready when we reach,guess we are the only guests around.3 nights.
    I'll let you in on this little secret hideout started by the enterprising couple Ruth & Lyndon Pinches

    Now that my dream ( Kafue & Busanga Plains) is realised, drive straight out to Chirundu via Lusaka. Still working on Chitake Springs,if that does not come through,plan B would be Chongwe River House,Lower Zambezi NP.3 Nights.

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    Wilderness Safaris used to do a mobile called Kafue's Rivers and Plains. It was on the top of my bucket list but they discontinued it. Very disappointed. Please let us know how it goes - Busanga Plains looks wonderful.

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    Most certainly Uhoh,will be glad to give a detailed account.Its the thought of the heat which is bothering me.Believe its 40+ deg C,in October,the peak of summer.Even though I'm told it great time for game viewing around water bodies,the going is going to be tough.

    Christabir,Wilderness Safaris still do operate the Busanga Bush Camp ( June-October ),its seasonal as the flood plains fill up during the rainy season, making it impassable.Since its a small window of time,each year, most operators have, to setup and dismantle camps, often there are only limited beds on offer,which gets full up well in advance.This make the logistics complex and costs prohibitive.

    Mukambi Lodge also operates small bush-camp in the northern part of the Busanga Plains.So is the Shumba Camp,with its fantastic location.

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    The WS Kafue trip was a mobile and pretty affordable. I am priced out of Busanga Plains. Please share when you return - not a lot of people go there. WS had a couple of camps for a short time in the south of the park. Sounds like poaching was too big a problem to fight for just two camps.

    Peak of summer? Nope, October is spring. January would be much worse. Lots of seasonal camps in Zim, Zam and Botswana.

    This is the itinerary. Most of the camps no longer exist. It was about $4500 pp for 8 days.

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    Kafue NP – The many moods of a blessed land

    Arriving weary and dog-tired, in the wee hours of the morning at the Kenneth Kaunda airport in Lusaka, we were soon met by the representative, who took us to the Lodge. Check in was quick as most formalities were already done. A hot shower and unto a cosy bed & 5 hrs of sleep was good. Waking up fresh and a sumptuous breakfast, we were rearing to go. Paul greeted us at the breakfast table & briefed us about the plans as we packed and stocked up rations, and set off driving west. Soon out of town we were hurtling towards Mumbwa, a small town, the last pit stop before we broke off towards the north westward direction into Lunga-Luswishi Game Management Area. As we drove through small settlements and Miombo woodland infested with Tse Tse. The Landcruiser’s aircon system broke down and we had to keep the windows open inviting the wrath of these persistent, pricking pests. No amount of sprays helped. Bitten black and blue through the clothing as painful red-hot needles punctured flesh, we persisted with constant swatting accompanied by liberal use of cuss words. They were here to stay. Right throughout the trip. We were not prepared to let them ruin our holiday. Come what may !!! Which they unfortunately did. That didn’t stop us.
    Soon came across the pontoon, crossed the river and arrived at the Kafue River lodge. Lovely place. Just in time for the sundowner. A welcome drink at the sun deck with a splendid view overlooking the river listening to the resident hippos grunt, a croc basking on the far banks among myriad birds around, unfortunately it was meant to be an overnight stop.
    The chalets were well appointed, two queen size beds, a fire place, a bathroom to the rear had a bathtub with an option of an open-air out door shower, very tastefully done. As dusk descended we gathered around the fire, on the banks, overlooking the chalets, listening to the interesting stories, Mike, the man in charge, narrated. The very hospitable staff had cooked up delicious, juicy and tender steak served with a choice of wine. It was an enhanced dining experience on the teak wood deck overlooking the river, flowing like a ribbon in moonlight.
    The weather was very pleasant towards nightfall. Off to bed, in anticipation of the journey towards the Busanga plains, we had to set off early next morning…..

    Driving towards Kafue National park’s most iconic region, the Busanga Plains, was a long painstaking journey .Its Remote. Very remote. Miles and miles of woodland, literally bone dry, charred landscape & parts of it burnt soot .The mid-day sun beating down mercilessly hard, game was hard to come by, a few herds of impala and occasional herds of Puku. Past the Kabanga Gate and a good 2hrs driving in the bush, suddenly,lo and behold. There was actually ’light’ at the end of the tunnel in between the dense canopy of trees.Like a wave from a magic wand, in an abrupt moment, the woodland stopped and right there in front of your eyes, as far as one can see, it was the Busanga Plains. Our camp, overlooking the vast openness, was set up on the fringes of the plains under few shady trees. The camp itself consisted of 3 dome tents. There are two beds in each tent with solar lamps for lighting. A little further away under another shady tree was an enclosure that had a bucket shower that was filled with hot water request. A long drop a little further away. The Kitchen was set up at the rear end of the camp. The central area was the ‘dining’, practically a canvas overhead .Hurricane lanterns around the camp defined the boundaries at night.

    It was late afternoon when we arrived. A refreshing cup of tea and biscuits and packs sundowners we were off on the game drive. Less then an hour later we bumped into one of the ‘ Swamp Brothers ‘ lying in the shade, in absolute contentment with a swollen belly after a great meal. A huge male, with a scruffy mane was least bothered about us, occasionally woke up to shoo away flies . Photo ops aplenty. Suddenly a low growl a hundred meters away. It was ‘Mr. Busanga ‘. Raced towards him. Magnificent. As he had woken up from slumber. Gave us a nonchalant look and continued with his low, reverberating moans. A characteristic cut on his nose and a blow dried mane. A handsome specimen looked like a veteran of many a battle. Spent the rest of the daylight hours with him. He is said to be the dominant male and an uncrowned ‘King’ in the area. Its unclear( rather not made clear) as to who belongs to which pride,among the Papyrus Pride , the Treeline Pride and the Busanga Pride.In all we saw 10 different lions including a teen. Also around are the Musanza males in the thick of things as the drama is played out on these plains.
    Moved on to find a good place for the sundowner. Reaching camp a little past 7pm. Freshened up to Sup. The table was set on the plains in front of the camp, under the moonlit sky besides a blazing fire .A fruitful and hectic day had come to an end. Three more days on the plains and plenty of game.

    These rich floodplains attract an incredible variety of wildlife. Its told that the Park totals 22,000 sq kms of unparalleled game viewing. A vast wilderness that is home to a myriad landscapes and an astonishing range of wildlife. We ventured deep into the wilderness of this captivating park each day, spotting plenty of plains game, lions and a cheetah and an incredible variety of birds, around 480 recorded species, few places in this world could ever boast nor host .
    A palette of pastels, multiple shades of green, the earthy browns and the largest swathe of grassland, where flowers bloom in the brilliant sun making even the dullest shades of brown come alive. These colours are stacked against the deep blue of the endless sky. Very much off the beaten track with a timeless sense of remoteness .It’s desolate beauty and a sense of freedom will surely fill your soul.
    There are only two fundamental emotions that you experience here – Love & Fear....

    Driving south towards the central Kafue NP...

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    Early the following morning we set off before dawn with packed breakfast. We had a 6 to 7 hrs of driving, from the north of the park to the central region exiting near the Hook bridge. As we left camp in the plains, the staff stayed back to wind up as we back tracked towards the Kabanga gate. Soon we were driving south on Moshi road, all gravel along the Lufupa river which eventually joins the Kafue near the Lufupa Lodge. The entire drive was uneventful except a large Sable antelope, Impala and herds of Puku and plenty of Tse Tse. Crossed the Hook bridge on to tarred road across the bridge, and another half an hour, reached Pinnon Lodge.
    Operating in one of the Game management area on the banks of the Kafue river. The large gazebo/restaurant area was sparsely furnished. The location was beautiful just 25mtrs to the water’s edge. Greeted by Lyndon, the owner, welcome drinks followed by some burgers for lunch, we were shown the chalets, only 2 of them .Ensuite tent , built into the ‘A’ frame, had a queen size bed, a shower with a w/c and small windows all around for uninterrupted view. Both chalets had a sundeck with chairs overlooking the river and the view was beautiful. The chalets themselves were isolated and the guests are escorted back and forth after dark. There was a resident leopard, in the thicket, right behind our chalet. We could hear him(sawing) all night. Never got to see him during our stay. The nights came alive around us. The lions would roar, the noisy herd of elephants came to feed in the thicket splashing around in the small lagoon, alarm calls of the Bushbuck, the cackle of the Hyenas on the prowl while the Hippos would grunt all night – it’s said that they would crack joke under water and come up to laugh.
    Crossing the Hook bridge and a km or two further was a turn off into the Kafue NP. Not much more to describe the NP than that’s already done above, engulfed in a tinder dry spell , game was plentiful. So were the birds. The elephants here were skittish, mistrustful of humans, they would either charge the vehicle or give a wide berth and shy away . Primarily because of rampant poaching. This is the truth. Years of plunder has left a permanent scar on these animals. I was a witness to this distressing cruelty & devastation. On one of the game drives we saw some movement under a fig tree about 50 mts away. Our guide, Martin , with over 25 yrs of experience, drove us closer to investigate. Found a spotted Hyena in the some what tallish grass. Its soon got up upon seeing us limped away , a few yards further. On close examination with the binocs we could see that it was the wire from a poachers trap had dug into its flesh and the front legs were practically hanging on skin. This was a sad reality .Heart wrenching. Doubt the poor beast would have survived another day.

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    Whoa. Magnificent report so far! I assume you really got to feel like you were pretty much alone in these surroundings, save for those at your camps. Clearly, that's alone as in human contact, not animal :-)

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    Absolutely uhoh...we did not see or come across another vehicle nor people ( apart from our support staff) in the 3 days we were there, though we were told that there were 4 guests in the Plains Camp.Miles and miles of pristine wilderness devoid of humans and plenty of game.
    Thank you for encouraging me....all the while it looked like I was talking to myself :). Thought it was my duty to put it down here so,some day, it would be of help to someone wanting to experience and explore the raw beauty, Kafue and the Busanga has to offer.

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    My Nikon took a nose dive : Its was a true sun ‘downer’. Rarely do I leave my camera unattended, its often on my lap or beside me on the safari, one hand constantly guarding it, except on occasion its safe in the hands of my fellow companions. It was a stray, one off incident . As we alighted the safari vehicle, I placed the camera with the telephoto on the exact place I occupied. Time to move on after some refreshments , just as I reached for it, it was simultaneous,as my fellow passenger sat on the far end. The seat bellowed as the camera popped off its perch. The nano seconds seemed like eternity as it hit the hard bottom. A prayer on my lip , turned it ‘on’ to check .It worked. Still unsure of the precision alignment of the lenses. A service report soon, back home, will reveal the facts.Seems ok to me, as the test shots looked fine. Fingers crossed......

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    The evenings at Pinnon was spent around the fire, as we watched the blood red, southern sun set over the shimmering waters of the Kafue river.Large flocks of birds made their way across the river to roost for the night. The full moon rose over the horizon as we fuelled the fire with more wood. Wine flowed, as the day’s encounters were discussed. Dinner followed. Back to the sun deck at the chalet listening to the jungle at night till the eyelids grow heavy ,laden with extended use after long hours of focusing in the bush& the heat of the mid-day sun.Soon another day would dawn.

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    Our next destination was Chongwe River camp in the Lower Zambezi NP.As part of the deal, Lyndon drove us to Lusaka about 3 hours. Arriving at around lunch time, he had booked a taxi to take us to Gwabi river Lodge near Chirundu. Did some shopping, grabbed some meat pies, some fresh juice and we were on our way. The boat transfer was at Gwabi. The speed boat ride was a good 2 hrs on the river, with Zimbabwe to the right and Zambia to the left. Elephants were frolicking on the banks, pods of hippos wallowing oblivious of which nationality they belong to, either side of the border.

    As the boat docked at the pier of the Chongwe River camp, we were welcomed with lavender laced napkins which freshen up my frazzled friends and me. A drink under the Winterthorn tree and some quick briefing by the hostess, we were led to us chalets, before being told to be ready by 7.30pm, for dinner in the bush. The chalets were absolute luxury , twin beds with super comfortable mattresses guaranteed blissful sleep. The en-suite toilet was ablution luxury redefined. Bespoke in the bush. After all it’s a Time & Tide property. Heard the newest addition would be Liuwa Plains Camp, set to open next year.
    At 7.30 pm sharp, we were driven a short distance into the bush, small hillock where the tables were laid out, Shiraz and Chardonnay paired with grilled meat and fish was served under the starlit sky. The cuisine was crafted by a food specialist and consultant,an interesting lady I met. Service was impeccable. Entertainment by the staff was song and dance, polyrhythmic and articulate, with dancers switching back and forth between beats and claps, much to the appreciation of us diners. As the evening wore on the babble and chatter got louder as many forgot we were amidst the wild. Back to our chalet went to bed listening to the symphony of the night in the wilds.

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    There were three 'resident' bull elephants which had made the camp their home or rather it was their home which was turned into the camp. Stroll around the chalets and the central gazebo, tenderly and deftly picking the delicious pods of the Winter Thorn trees.It was amazing how close they would get to us humans and still calmly going about feeding. The staff of course would give them a wide berth.One afternoon,while lying flat on the couch by the corner checking mail on the phone, I had this weird feeling of being watched. My premonition was true, just as I looked up, I see this huge ele a few feet away staring down at me. This was absolutely terrifying and the immediate flight response was countered with complete paralysis. Never had I been this close to a wild pachyderm,let alone looking at an upturned one.

    Three night at this camp in the lap of luxury was coming to end.Back to Lusaka time to fly home to roost. Africa bewitches, repeatedly as each time I tell myself its enough, another enchanting country bobs up,well till then....lets see how long I'm able to resist.

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    Wow. We had a similarly close elephant encounter in Hwange. Breathless moments like that are unworldly and wildly wonderful to relive when you are back home. I keep coming back to this forum, although I'm trying to plan a trip to Eastern Europe next Spring. But then I think about how fantastic life "in the bush" is....

    Thanks for your wonderful report.

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