The Kafue National Park, we are always being told, is unknown and not on people’s radar. Agents and destination management companies tell us that it is far easier to sell South Luangwa and that Kafue is just “too hard”.
We are all hoping that in 2015 to a certain extent that will change with Proflight running a scheduled service to Chunga airstrip. Hopefully this will make it an easier sell for agents and guests booking direct and the profile of the park will rise.
So why should a visitor choose the Kafue over another safari destination? Indeed why do we as operators choose to be here in the Kafue? Or is it all just “too hard”..?
It is not a simple question to answer. The Kafue is diverse and varied, but out of all the features of the Park, the one standout fact always mentioned is its sheer size. At 22,500 square kilometres it is larger than some countries! Wales is always the one compared (at about 20,000). But size alone is not relevant unless we try and describe the other facets of the Park that go along with its size. Size and numbers are also difficult to comprehend without something to compare to.
Kruger and Kafue – both start with a K and are broadly similar in size (Kruger is a a shade under 3,000 square kilometres smaller). Kruger receives around 1,400,000 visitors per year while the Kafue gets around 10,000. This means that while you are on safari in the Kruger you are sharing the Park with an average of 3,835 people each day. Come on safari in the Kafue and you are sharing the park with an average of 27 people!
Now for most people an African safari should be about wilderness areas and the fauna that inhabit these areas. I have never met a guest yet here in the Kafue that complained about not seeing enough fellow tourists! One definition of ‘wilderness’ that I found is:
“An unsettled, uncultivated region, especially a large tract of land that has not been significantly affected by human activities”.
Now a place like Kruger boasting those sorts of visitor numbers as well as massive rest camps equipped with Wimpy fast food restaurants is (for me at least) just not what I want from a safari.
Of course we are looking at extremes here, but I think this gets my point across. There are very, very few places left where the feeling of untouched solitude and nature are felt as strongly as the Kafue. In fact the only other place I have been to where I have had the same sort of feeling is the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana.
“Of course the Kafue doesn’t have the game numbers”. True. We don’t have the big five (Rhino is missing) or the elephant herds of Chobe. Sometimes we have to work hard at sightings. But neither do we have to have self-imposed rules about the maximum number of vehicles on sightings and neither do we have the terrible sights of desolate landscapes with hardly any vegetation left and animals literally dropping dead from food and water stress at the end of the dry season. I know what I would rather see. Sure Chobe is mind-boggling in terms of elephant numbers, but so is the lack of feed and the imbalance in the whole ecosystem. Not to mention the number of Land Cruisers going there every day from Kasane!
I could go on and on and list species to justify ‘why the Kafue’, but I wont. I will just paraphrase a journalist this year who wrote:
“It is not just the animals. OK, Kafue is not yet fully back to where it used to be and you will see a higher volume of animals in somewhere like South Luangwa. But the animals are there and somehow when you see them in the Kafue National Park, they are wilder and you are more rewarded.
If there are no animals in the immediate vicinity, there will still be the birds. You do not have to be a twitcher to simply wonder at the birds of the Kafue, from the hugely colourful bee-eaters to the majestic hawks and eagles”.
Then there is the sheer variety of the Kafue National Park and its immediate surroundings. More antelope species than any other place in Africa, 515 bird species and habitats ranging from unique teak forests in the south through to the year-round papyrus swamps of Busanga. Pristine Miombo woodland, Mopane woodland in the south and then of course there is the Kafue River itself and its major tributaries, feeding into Lake Itezhi Tezhi. Water is not generally an issue in the park!
What definitely is also changing in the Kafue is the quality of the experiences offered by operators. This ranges from the standard of camps through to an increased focus on guiding standards and training (to bring the Kafue in line with South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi). Like those other parks we also now have an organisation (Game Rangers International in our case) that is working alongside ZAWA to support and help in the fight against poaching. To be honest the Kafue has been playing catch up for far too long, but this is now definitely changed. The overall quality of operators is rising and so therefore is the tourist experience. But again, lets look at numbers….
I have no idea what the number of visitors to South Lungwa are per annum, but a quick skim of Trip Advisor shows that there are 41 active “speciality lodgings”. The Kafue in comparison has only 19 active properties – of which two sites are only offering camping. So once again the point here is the low visitor numbers and the less developed nature of the park.
Kafue also offers something for everyone in terms of budget. You can choose to stay at budget facilities and campsites or you can spend over a thousand dollars per night. You can drive in or fly in or even get the bus and be met at the bridge on the M9! There are not many places where the flexibility and range of options are as diverse as here. And this is how it should be – an equal chance for all to experience this wonderful place.
Increasingly we feel that the safari experience in the Kafue is what people are looking for. Perhaps they have done the (in my mind, over the top in many places) opulence of the Delta or the private concessions around Kruger. They might well have seen the spectacle of East Africa’s migration. But they are looking for a degree of what I would call ‘reconnection’. Being out in a true wilderness hardly touched by man and with passionate guides and managers and owners who have chosen to be in this place. Not because it is easy, but because of everything I have talked about. Even in the most luxurious camp in the Kafue you will not find electric gym equipment or private butlers. Why would you want it in the bush? You will not find people coming here for the bragging rights, as who will they brag too? Will anyone know what they are on about…? For something the size of Wales, Kafue is a remarkable secret.
And the Kafue is not the only place like this in Zambia. Liuwa Plains National Park, North Luangwa and the Bangweulu swamps are other very much lesser known but truly special places.
So to sum up, well, selling Kafue is not “too hard”. In fact it is one of the easiest true wilderness areas to get to that I know. Certainly easier and faster to access from Lusaka than Lower Zambezi or South Luangwa. The standards are rising all the time and to cut it all short, in fact there has never been a better time to visit. Come and see it now!