On the Road with Zambia Tourism VI: Liuwa Plains

With our trip into it’s final week, we made our way south-west towards Liuwa Plains.

Some locals we had got talking to in Mayukuyuku Camp back in Kafue had told us the trip would take us 4 hours or so. After the last month or so in Zambia, 4 hours had begun to seem like a quick trip to the local shops, so we set off in high spirits.

Not for the first time on this trip, our optimism would prove ill-founded. 4 hours after leaving Kafue we had only made it as far as Mongu and still had a long way to go. But with the end of our epic six week trip in sight, we did our best to enjoy every step of the way, and as the tar road vanished and we were on the dirt once more we marvelled at the beautiful flat plains that stretched away on either side of us, punctuated by occassional marshes and wetlands where local women washed their clothes and men fished with hand nets. In the rainy season, pretty much everything we saw would be underwater.

About an hour or so before dusk we finally made it to the entrance to the park and tentatively boarded the small hand-pulled ferry that would take us across the river and into the park proper.

After negotiating the soft sand on the other side of the crossing we made our way towards our camp site for the night. We found a beautiful spot beneath a thick canopy of trees and set up camp with the sun just beginning to set.

The next morning we were up at sunrise and set off to explore the park. The vast, open plains were unlike anything I had ever seen either in other parts of Zambia, or anywhere else in Africa for that matter. They seemed never-ending, the sky was enormous, and I was left feeling incredibly small.

Apart from the spectacular landscape, Liuwa is best known for the annual migration of blue wildebeest in late October and November, arriving in their thousands from Angola just before the onset of the rains. With the exception of the annual Serengeti migration, this is the biggest migration of wildebeest in Africa. As we drove through the plains there were hundreds in all directions, many with young calves. These strange creatures looked particularly striking with their long hair blowing in the wind whilst the long grass blew across the plains behind them.

We had already been told that hyena and wild dog were particularly active at this time of year, with all the new-born wildebeest on the menu, and it wasn’t long before we stumbled across a couple of very fat and lazy looking hyena cooling off in a waterhole.

Whilst the rest of us were sleeping later that night, one of our team members got up for a late night pee and while scanning his torch across the camp the light fell upon three hyena sniffing around the edge of our tents.

The next day we headed into the even more remote northern stretches of the park, which, if you were to keep going, go far beyond the Angolan border. ¬†We were looking for Lady Liuwa, the star of the documentary ‘The Last Lioness’. We had been told that she and her three cubs were somewhere in this area.

Though we had no luck finding Lady Liuwa, the landscape was ever more staggering the further north we went, and it was also a special experience to see the small local villages and their warm and welcoming inhabitants, both of whom continue to subsist within the boundaries of the national park. There can’t be many places anywhere in Africa where you can experience this.

After another day of exploring and another beautiful sunset across the plains, it was time to be on our way again. As we got back to the ferry crossing, we saw another car waiting to cross and realised it was the first vehicle apart from our own that we had seen for 3 days.

Back on the other side of the river we made our way towards Kazangula, from where we would cross into Botswana and begin the road home. We were soon on a brand new tar road — perhaps the best we had experienced in Zambia thus far — and making good ground along the banks of the Zambezi. Suddenly, I found myself longing for some of the slow and arduous dirt roads we had traversed up to this point, or for anything that might help delay saying goodbye to this incredible country.