Besides “lockdown” and “social distancing” one word we will strongly associate with the year 2020 is: “staycation”. I think many have discovered places that were around the corner all along. One such place for us is Mulungushi boat club, though we’ve known this place long before it was a thing not to travel far. It’s a place we used to visit frequently before life got hectic. We used to spend the days on the water, fishing on the good spots, unfortunately the water levels have been far below normal for the last few years and the fish has been netted heavily. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a relaxing weekend here. I started our first day with a run, as I’m used to flat ground the change of scenery also serves up a good challenge a long the dam. The boys climbed down the dam wall, a workout in itself, to fish. As it was my daughters birthday we made time for cake, and managed to visit a friend (though that was a long drive…!). Day two we all hiked down the dam wall and the fishing was a lot more successful than the previous day. I love the rocky terrain in this area, you can if you’re lucky spot baboons in the rocky hills as well as the rather shy rock dassy.
The road has recently been graded, and it now takes about an hour from the great north road to the club. Many club members have built beautiful chalets that are available to rent, you can also pitch a tent as there are ablution blocks. This year’s Mountain bike challenge was cancelled thanks to good old Corona, but that is otherwise a great event for the adventurous that takes place every August. If you’re on a budget or looking for a simple effortless getaway then put Mulungushi boat club on your list.
Last weekend we managed to get ourselves out on a three nights stay in the Kafue National Park, Zambia’s largest reserve and one of the largest in Africa. We had booked in at Mayukuyuku Camp site which sits right on the Kafue river about 8 km off the main road. The camp site is very basic and in need of a little TLC. You pay 20$ pppn (plus park fees) to have access to a flushing toilet and hot water in a grass walled ablution block. The site however is very beautifully situated on a rocky bend in the river. Once the tent was up the boys were quick to set their rods to have a go with fishing, we walked just a stone throw from the tent where my youngest spotted a crock a few metres away, sun basking on a rock. And at the spot the boys wanted to fish we found foot prints of lion! We sure were reminded that we are not on top of the food chain.
Day two we crossed over the river in to the main body of the park, we spent over three hours spotting the odd bush pig and warthog, water buck and too many impalas to count and elephants either in the distance or in the thicket. As we were starting to feel hungry and a little bored we made a few random turns and ended up facing a massive herd of buffaloes, possibly a thousand all waiting to get to the water (Shishamba river). Wedged between the buffalo and the water hole was a pride of lions lying in the shade, their mouths watering. This was such a treat to watch. We parked sort of between the buffaloes and the lions for almost an hour, the lions first kept in the shade but soon the two young male lions came out to stretch and warm up in the sun.
Much time was spent fishing from the side of the river (while watching out for crocs and hippos) and by the camp fire. On our last evening we had a close encounter with a mother hippo and her calf. The campsite next to us was now empty and so she saw the gap for her to pass. We heard a big splashing sound and as we shone the torch we saw that she had come up onto the bank below our tent. She proceeded to walk up towards our fire, calf in tow, through the narrow passage, max 5 m from our tent, the children quickly climbed the back of the car and when she gave a warning “snort” my husband and Albin also bolted. I was left under the grass thatch kitchen giving myself a couple of minutes to decide to either run och carry on cooking my flat bread on the gas cooker, I decided for the former and so we spent some time on the back of the car! After she had passed we came down to our fire again, except the two youngest, Emil and Nils, they had their supper on the back of the car!
On the day of packing and leaving we decided to visit some family that have a private camp site near the main road, they had come out just to pack up after having spent almost the whole term there homeschooling by the river. We were just popping by but ended up staying for brunch and the kids had so much fun fishing from the deck, Albin, my oldest, pulled out a big barbel (that he released again). And as elephants were spotted in the distance we were treated to a boat ride to get up close. We saw at least three or four groups of elephants and numerous pods of hippos, both on land and in water all in under an hour. Such a bonus and a great ending to a lovely getaway.
And just like that the Christmas Holiday came to an end! I must admit, it will take a few days to get back in to routines… We had my parents here over the entire school break, and at least they had the energy to add a little Christmas feeling to things as mum both baked and made decorations with the children. But before all that we squeezed in a road trip to the Kasanka National Park, and I mean literary squeezed – all of us in a Toyota Hilux! In May we had reached Samfya, so keeping in mind that Kasanka is “only” half the distance somehow made the trip easier. We stayed at the Luwombwa self catering lodge, perfect for us amateur campers. It sits in a very beautiful part of the park, no cellphone reception, only the sounds birds, no neighbors. The down side is that it is an hours drive down to the main attraction of the season, the bat migration, as a result we only did one bat viewing trip. You can pay 20 usd per person to climb the bat viewing towers, but we decided against that and settled for the public viewing spot. That meant however, that we had to wade through water and deep mud, and about half way to the spot did we realize that the big holes in the mud was in fact footprints from hippos! We were using their path that they use when coming up to graze after sunset! The viewing area is simply an open patch in the swampy area just outside the bat forest (the towers are more on the edge of the forest and you will have the bats swooshing passed you!) We were initially abandoned by our guide which added to the adrenaline kick caused by walking in hippo footprints. He returned 10 min later with an armed guard as apparently “this place is very dangerous”! We were very grateful for his presence and for the fact that no hippo had come barging through the thicket during the 10 min we were on our own! Eventually it was time for the bats to come out and feed, just before sunset the forest comes alive, a dark cloud lifting above the treetops, the sound of wings, it is hard to explain the spectacle. There seem to be no end as millions of fruit bats depart from the trees where they spent the day upside down. When it finally seemed to calm down and the light was quickly turning to darkness we made our way back to the car, hoping we were still ahead of the hippos. The next day we spent mostly at the lodge, it was on of those days with a gentle but steady drizzle. A short trip in the canoe, card games, and mud cakes… the boys had so much fun playing in the mud, making mud balls and throwing at each other. I did spend much time keeping the children from fighting and teasing each other, which in the end just had me fighting with all of them instead of enjoying the tranquil surroundings! Unfortunately the wildlife in Kasanka National Park has been reduced by illegal poaching and as we tried to do a little game drive on our last day we mainly saw Puku and Hippos. They say there are elephants and even a few Buffalo, maybe they can be seen in the dry season. Overall I think Kasanka should be on your list of places in Zambia to visit, it is family friendly, affordable and the bat migration is an amazing event to witness. The bats are in the bat forest between October and December so I’d recommend you go a little earlier than we did (before the rain sets in).
In the month of may we managed to squeeze in a little mini get-away to Samfya beach that lay on the shores of lake Bangweulu. I’ve got to admit, it was a rather long drive from Kabwe for a two nights stay, but that was all we had time for. As we arrived at night, waking up to see the sunrise over the horizon seemed extra special. Our kids were so excited and amazed and for me, born and raised on an island, it brought a certain feeling that’s hard to describe. You feel like you’ve left Zambia, this landlocked country, and landed by the shores of the Indian Ocean.
Most of our time was spent time just on the sandy beach, we had to be careful though as there was lots of litter, including broken beer bottles in the sand. As it was very windy we didn’t go on a boat tour, that’ll be for another time. Instead the kids enjoyed playing in the waves and sand.
As accommodation options are few and we were not organized for camping we ended up booking in at Chita lodge. It lay on a hill with a beautiful view over the lake. Unfortunately I had read a few negative reviews about Chita lodge and some points are still true, like that you have to wait over an hour for your food and some maintenance is needed despite the fact that it’s fairly new. The staff was however very friendly and it was a good place overall. My children enjoyed the pool and playground area.
Samfya is well worth a visit, there are some new lodges coming up and there’s camping sites offering a cheaper alternative. Just remember that Samfya town has limited options for shopping, think market and little market shops.
This trip really reminded us that there is so much to see and so many remarkable places to visit in Zambia.