26-28th August – Kafue National Park (Mayukuyuku)
26th August – Kafue National Park – Nanzhila to Mayukuyuku
We are up early, get dressed and reorganized and leave at sunrise for a small game drive where we have breakfast by a small pool near Kalenje and then drive towards Itezhi Tezhi.
At this point we are getting a bit disappointed at the lack of game around, and the game that we do see is very, very skittish. Plenty of opportunities for pics of blurry backsides but not much else. We do get the opportunity to spot one of Kafue Park’s specialities though: the Lichtenstein’s Hartbeest. One nice thing though is that there seems to be no one else around, so if you value the feeling of solitude and being in complete wilderness then this is a good place.
We drive to Hippo Bay and enjoy our first glimpse of the Itezhi Tezhi lake with its gnarled skeletons of the dead trees reaching out to the sky, trembling in the heathaze. The lake was formed artificially when the Kafue River was dammed for a hydroelectric project, causing significant impact to Kafue’s wildlife. Nevertheless it is still an impressive sight, and this is the height of the dry season!
Now it’s decision time – shall we do the spinal road or not? The spinal road is a route in Kafue that has been closed for 30 years and rumour has it that it has reopened. It winds its way up on the western side of the Itezhi Tezhi lake. But it is not on our GPS or on any map. We have never strayed away from our trusty gps in our african travels but we do want to explore new options so we go for it.
We do not know the condition of the road, so we deflate our tires just in case there is any soft sand along the way – there wasn’t.
It is a very good decision as the road is very straightforward and in excellent condition. The only problem is the temptation to do more than the allowed 40km/h!
The first half when driving from the south is practically finished but the second half is still under construction so we have to zig zag around the construction areas. Lots of heavy machinery around and they are working on a Sunday which we find quite surprising. Some of the workers beg for food and drink.
This is a very good transit road – it only took us about 3.5 hours from Hippo Bay to Hook Bridge. At some points it is also quite pretty especially the “autumn colours” of the mopane forests, but there is no game to speak of – just clouds of vile tsetses.
We finally arrive at Hook Bridge where there is a police stop – which is quite painless except for the fact that every time we passed they wanted drinks. We are quite ok with that but after crossing to and fro 4 times a day for the next 3 days it gets a bit irritating – thankfully as usual we have overstocked on everything.
We arrive at our planned destination, Mukambi, at around 5pm but their campsite is a construction site for a new tented camp with lots of noise and workers around so we decide to move off and stay at Mayukuyuku instead, which is about 10 km away. Mayukuyuku has a very pretty setting right beside the Kafue river, which is still impressive well into the dry season. Mayukuyuku is considered as being inside the park so we incur the extra bed levy and park charges. Its also further away from the game viewing areas compared to Mukambi. The ablutions are spotlessly clean and tastefully designed and have warm water provided by donkey boilers that are diligently kept going all day and well into the night. Firewood was provided for free and also lit for us. We could hear the lions roar at night and of course lots of hippo noises too, perfect background soundtrack to another scrumptious meal by the campfire. We manage to have a mishap with the popcorn that we were preparing as game drive munchies for the next day though … thankfully it does not attract the hippo’s attention.
27th August – Kafue – Mayukuyuku
We wake up very early to make it to hook bridge by 6am. We are a bit surprised to see a young man in civilian clothes casually walking around with an AK47 strapped to his back in the vicinity of the bridge where there seems to be a small village. But hey we just shrug and say TIA (this is Africa!)! We use our better judgement and don’t try to sneak a picture of this, though I am tempted! From Hook Bridge, we head south and try to look for some animals, we see puku, impala and some waterbuck. They seem to be more habituated to cars in this area compared to the south of the park, but are still skittish. We have breakfast by the Kafue River and after that continue with our exploration of the area.
We also have our first encounter with the Kafue elephants. These are the most agressive elephants I have ever seen. Some even mock-charge us at 200m and even the ones who didn’t were clearly very displeased with our presence, and made sure to let us know. We didn’t see any other cars at all.
We spend the hottest hours of the day relaxing back in camp, enjoying the shade of the trees and the hippos in the river. The campsite is mercifully free of tsetses which are a constant companions during our drives.
In the afternoon we decide to game drive towards Lufupa. For the first 20km or so after the gate it was very quiet. Then we started to see some animals such as impala, puku, waterbuck, elephants and birds. Then we spot a lone lioness in some tall grass, her face smeared with fresh blood. Unfortunately the area was infested with tsetses but a lioness is a good enough reason to open the window for a picture. We are bombarded by them and the effectiveness of the skin so soft was shown when a desperate tsetse bit me on the sole of my foot! Of course I hadn’t thought of putting any there! Very painful bite so lesson learned and that was the only tsetse bite of the trip. Try as we might we cannot locate the banquet which the lioness was coming from, nor the rest of her pride and it becomes quite late so we reluctantly have to turn back, as it is more than an hour to the gate. We again realise we haven’t seen a single other car.
Instead of heading back to camp, we have dinner at Mukambi Lodge which we had prebooked along with our campsite. The views over the Kafue are spectacular at Mukambi and the food is a feast for both the eyes as well as our taste buds. A real treat! Back in camp we settle to sleep enjoying the sounds of the roaring lions in the distance.
28th August – Kafue – Mayukuyuku
Today when we woke up we heard some weird noises but didn’t think too much about them, probably a hoarse hippo. But no, later we are told there were lions right in camp. According to the plan, we are supposed to head up to the Kabanga gate to spend a night there before spending the last 2 nights in Kafue at Mc Brides, but we realised our TIP was about to expire – still not sure why we were only given very few days. We go to enquire about this at the lodge reception and someone suggests we go to Mumbwa, the nearest village a couple of hours away, and try to get it extended. So we decide to stay at Mayukuyuku one day longer and explore Lufupa again on a daytrip and then go to Mc Bride’s via Mumbwa on the next day, hopefully with an extended TIP.
So we set out on a full day game drive to Lufupa, hoping to catch up with the lioness we had seen the previous day. We pass the spot and there are fresh lion tracks. Many of them. Soon we see a pride of lions with cubs and spend some time watching them, though only two of the adults are really visible for most of the time. The only other cars we ever saw in Kafue while game driving showed up all at once at this sighting, three of them, and all trailing boats. After some time the lions disappear in the tall grass moving away from the road so we give up and move on too.
The scenery around Lufupa is really nice and there is quite good game around including elephants.
At some point we are delighted when we spot a young leopard in some tall grass. We stop the car and wind down the windows, a leopard clearly merits an open window for pictures despite the swarming tsetses. Then the leopard finds a nice spot to relax in … obstructed by as many branches and shrubbery as possible. It keeps an eye on us but is quite relaxed. We spend about half an hour with it before it moves on into thick bush and disappears.
We have our lunch by a nice hippo pool, and when we resume our game drive we do not see anything special apart from the usual suspects.