Appeal rating 5/5
A safari to Liuwa Plains in Western Zambia is probably one of the more adventurous safaris that Explore Africa Adventures have on offer. Liuwa Plain National Park is situated in Barotseland on the Upper Zambezi Flood Plains, Western Province, Zambia. Co-Ords 40°10’ & 14°48’South and 27°07’& 23°00’ East. The Park covers an area of 3660 sq km’s of vast grasslands and wooded islands. It is regarded as unique, because it harbors both human and animal populations, which have been sharing the same natural resources for many years.
It has one of the oldest wildlife protection histories in Africa, as it was declared a “game reserve” in the 19th century, by the then king of Barotseland, King Lubosi Lewanika. It was officially administered by the Litunga (the Paramount Chief of the Lozi people) until 1972 when management was taken over by central government.
Liuwa Plain NP is endowed with rich wildlife, birdlife and plant life, all set within a fascinating landscape. One area of note is the Plain from which the National Park takes its name. It is completely treeless and stretches 70km’s in length and 30kms in width. There are two main phenomena that Liuwa Plain experiences; the first being the vast population of wildebeest during their annual migration from Angola, and the second being the flooding of the Park during the rainy season, which occurs from December to May. During this time people and their livestock move into more wooded uplands and accessibility by vehicle into the Park is hindered. However by June the floods subside and accessibility returns.
Day Route Approximate Driving
1 Pretoria to KwaNokeng 370 Km 5 Hrs
2 KwaNokeng to Nata 422 Km 5 Hrs
3 Nata to Kasane 300 Km 4 Hrs
4 Game drive in Chobe 100 Km Half day
5 Kasane to Kabula Lodge 175 Km 9 Hrs
6 Day at leisure at Kabula Lodge
7 Kabula Lodge to Barotse Flood Plains 150 Km 8 Hrs
8 Flood Plains to Katoyana Camp (Liuwa) 150 Km 10 Hrs
9 Game drive in Liuwa 100 Km
10 Game drive in Liuwa 100 Km
11 Katoyana camp to Senanga 228 Km 9 Hrs
12 Senanga to Kabula Lodge 155 Km 7 Hrs
13 Day at leisure at Kabula Lodge
14 Kabula lodge to Nata Lodge 475 Km 8 Hrs
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL TO LIUWA PLAINS
Although less known than the Wildebeest migration of the Serengeti, the Wildebeest migration of Liuwa Plain National Park is by no means less spectacular. Little research has been carried out into their exact movements but the herds are thought to move north-west into Angola in June, concentrating in the southern region of Liuwa by November. African Parks together with Peace Parks Foundation is currently running a pilot study satellite tracking four Wildebeest to find out more about this phenomenon.
In addition to the Blue Wildebeest, Liuwa Plain NP has a diversity of animal species including: Tsessebe, Zebra, Red Lechwe, Oribi, Reedbuck, Lion, Spotted Hyena, Wild-dog, Leopard and Cheetah.
The diversity of grass and plant species form an integral part of the Park’s ecosystem for example: Echinocloa stagnina and Vossia cuspidate are grasses vital for herbivorous grazing. Copalwood (Guibourtia coleosperma), Silver cluster-leaf (Terminalia sericea), Zambezi teak (Baikiaea plurijuga) and Weeping wattle (Peltophorum africanum) are species which make up most of the wooded islands found in the Park.
The Park boasts an abundance of bird species, particularly in the flooding season, including the Crowned and Wattled Crane, Marabou Stork, Pelican, and Brown parrot as well as migratory birds such as the Horus Swift. The presence of endangered species, such as the Wattled Crane and vulnerable species like the Ground Hornbill and Martial Eagle makes this an important conservation area for birds.
The Park is accessible by vehicle from June to December. For the adventurous it is possible to access the Park by canoe and foot from February to May. People wishing to do this should contact the Park beforehand to arrange boats and local guides.
FAMILY FRIENDLY RATING – 3/5
We have done this safari before with children as young as eight years without any problems. There are days of long hours driving but if the parents stimulate the kids in the car they will be fine. There is enough to do and to experience for kids to also give them a memorable trip.
- Elderly people do also fine on this specific safari. We quite often have guests on this safari in the age bracket 70 -75.
SELF-SUFFICIENCY RATING – 3/5
- Fuel (diesel, leaded and unleaded petrol) is available all along the route up to Katima Mulilo. You can pay for fuel in Botswana with a Master/VISA credit card and the filling stations in Katima accept Petro/Garage cards as in South Africa. Once in Zambia the only fuel will be available in Mongo and sometimes in Senanga. They only accept Zambia kwacha which can be drawn at the ATM in Mongo by using a VISA credit card. The distance from Katima to Mongo is +/- 700 kilos and from Katima back to Katima 1000 km. A long range fuel tank (or Jerry cans) is advisable as fuel can be very expensive in Western Zambia.
- We take some pre-cooked dinners and meat from South Africa but no fresh meat as some times they will confiscate raw meat on the Namibian side at the Ngoma border post. One can buy good quality meat in Katima Mulilo, and fresh supplies like bread, fruit and veggies, dairy products etc. can be obtain in Kasane, Katima and Mongo. Bottled water is also freely available in these bigger towns.
- Prepare for one nights wild camping in the Teak forest on the fringe of the Barotse Flood Plains. Most of the other campsites have hot water showers and flushing toilets.
TRAILER/OFF-ROAD CARAVAN RATING – 3/5
To tow or not to tow is normally quite a personal as well as a debatable issue. It is possible to tow on this specific safari to Liuwa Plains and we have had off road trailers as well as caravans before. Travelers have to take the following into account:
- We will go through three different African countries (Botswana, Namibia and Zambia) and the cost of towing can add quite a lot to your total safari bill in terms of extra fuel and border crossing fees (third party insurance).
- The driving conditions in November (according to us, the best time to visit Liuwa Plains), will vary from very deep and soft sand to mud and cotton soil on the Kalabu to Mongo stretch.
- Do not travel without a set of spare wheel bearings as well as the tools and knowledge to replace them next to the road.
- It is advisable to use a 4WD vehicle with a low range transfer case. The sand is just too soft and deep for a 4X2 vehicle. If one had rain before traversing the flood plains a 4X2 vehicle will not be able to cross between Senanga and Mongo.
- Proper All Terrain tyres.
- A well organized packing system is advisable as it is not pleasant to pack and unpack every thing that you carry.
- We will recommend a built-in safe somewhere hidden in the vehicle.
WHAT SPECIFIC KIT IS REQUIRED ON THIS SAFARI?
- It is a self sufficient camping trip and you’ll have to take full camping gear. Be careful not to take all kinds of gimmicks that you can do without.
- A dome tent or rooftop tent will do.
- Camp table, chairs, kitchen and cooking utensils.
- 12 Volt compressor operated Deep Freeze (a dual battery system is not a necessity)
- Water container with at least a 40 l capacity.
- When you go with us on one of our safaris, a GPS is a nice to have but if you go on your own it is definitely a necessity.
- On our safaris we provide each vehicle in the convoy with a 2-Way radio.
- We will be camping wild for one night in the Teak forest on the fringe of the Barotse Flood Plains and for that it can be a good idea to pack a hot water camp shower or similar device as well as a fold up toilet chair. That can also be of use in Kwale Camp as they only have cold water showers.
- When traveling alone, we will recommend that you take along a full recovery kit – a winch is not necessary. On our safaris it is not necessary as the guide vehicle is fitted with all recovery equipment, winch and a solid tow bar.
WHAT SHOULD MY PACKING LIST FOR THIS TRIP DEFINITELY INCLUDE?
- Fire extinguisher
- 12V Air compressor and tyre pressure gauge
- 12 V lighting
- Basic tool kit and spare parts
- Tyre repair kit
- Minimum of 10 meter extension cord with a British plug adaptor
- Basic First Aid Kit and personal prescription medication together with the prescription
- Basic repair kit consisting of Duct Tape, cable ties, glues, wire, gas cylinder seals etc.
- Tabard, Odorless Doom and Malaria prophylactics.
GENERAL WARNINGS FOR THIS ROUTE.
- It is Malaria area. Visit your Doctor or Travel Clinic and find out about Malaria prophylactics
- When going on your own, take extreme care at border posts not to be ripped off by officials, insurance brokers and money changers. We only deal with certain people that we know.
- Research accommodation and campsites properly as one can easily have a bad experience
- Stay calm and friendly at road blocks and border posts
- Obey all Park rules in Liuwa Plains.
- Keep to speed limits in Botswana. Trespassers have to pay heavy spot fines or bribes.
- Take enough foreign currency. One can get Botswana Pula at your bank in South Africa or at the Bureau de Change at KwaNokeng Lodge at the Maartinsdrift border post. You can change Zambian Kwacha with the Customs and Immigration officials at the Sesheke border we you enter Zambia. It is also preferable to pay the ferries with local currency.
TOP TEN ATTRACTIONS OF THIS TRIP
- Chobe National Park in Botswana
- Kabula Tiger Lodge
- The one nights wild camping between Kabula and Kalabo
- Crossing the Lualinga River by hand driven pontoon
- The calving season of the wildebeest in Liuwa Plains
- A visit to Kings Pool in Liuwa Plains
- The ponds and the birdlife in the vicinity of Liuwa Palm
- The ferry crossing at Mongo
- A cold Mosi Lager (Zambian beer) in the shabeen at Kalangola after your third and final primitive ferry crossing.
- Parting dinner at Nata Lodge
But to many people, the main attraction does not lie in the above, but rather to see “Lady Liuwa”.
This is the extraordinary and moving true story of how one lone lioness turned to humans for companionship, and who in turn, tried to find her a family of her own.
It began in 2004, when Namibian filmmaker Herbert Brauer arrived in Liuwa National Park, Zambia to make a wildlife documentary. He noticed a single lioness in the distance, watching his every move and over the subsequent weeks she began to follow him during his daily filming; she even slept next to his tent at night, purring. He realized humans had become her only comfort.
I found it remarkable that she would attempt to seek company with other humans especially as her own pride had been slaughtered by poachers five years earlier – hence her enforced solitude.
The story goes on to tell of how Brauer set about the task of re-introducing male lions into the park as her only chance of companionship and motherhood.
As he began filming animals from his open-topped truck, he noticed a single lioness in the distance, watching his every move. Local rangers told Herbert that her entire pride had been slaughtered by poachers. Lady had somehow managed to survive, and was now the last lion left in the National Park.
From then on, the lioness appeared to be waiting for him as went about his work. She began to tentatively follow the filming truck, sitting at a distance and watching as they focused their cameras on the wildlife. Then, one day, she made an extraordinary move. Bounding up towards the truck, she suddenly dropped down onto her back and rolled over, purring deeply. ‘I was so shocked,’ says Herbert, ‘that it took me a couple of seconds to realize what I was seeing. Here was a wild animal who was greeting us with an unheralded display of friendship.’
But Herbert quickly realized that there was more to this behavior than a simple show of affection. Lady was lonely – and the film crew was her only company. ‘She began to follow us each day,’ he says, ‘and would sit happily nearby watching us complete our filming. You could sense her contentment that she had found company at last.
‘It’s the most unnatural thing in the world for a lion to be relaxed with humans around. Her only experience of humans had most certainly been a violent and destructive one – with memories of the poachers who had killed her pride. But, despite this, she was willing to trust us, and accept us.’
Then one night, as Herbert and his crew relaxed outside the tents in their camp, they heard a noise in the bushes. Slowly, but surely, Lady walked towards them. To a man, everyone froze. But Lady appeared oblivious to the tension. She simply stopped ten yards away from Herbert, dropped down on her vast stomach, and purred deeply.
‘As soon as I saw her, I was strangely unafraid,’ he says. ‘I somehow sensed that Lady had come into camp just to find me. When she dropped down and relaxed, we all realized that she just wanted to be near us.’
And so an extraordinary ritual began. By day, Lady would roam the wilds, always on the lookout for the film crew. At night, once they had returned to camp, she would creep in and settle down to sleep just yards from their tent. Humans had become her only comfort – and, despite every wild instinct in her body, loneliness was driving her closer and closer to the only friends she knew.
Finding Lady Liuwa and her two new male companions is really not an easy task. There are 4000 lions in the Serengeti and almost a “thousand” game drive vehicles patrolling the plains. If you want to see predators in the Serengeti, you simply look for a concentration of vehicles and…..bingo. In Liuwa there are now only three lions, no game drive vehicles and a “thousand” tree islands that can provide shelter.
How to get there.
It is 4, 000 kilometer return trip from Gauteng and the journey that will take you through Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. With lots of research and experience you can do it on your own but we recommend that you use an experienced safari company and tour guide. The guide fee forms a relative small percentage of the total cost of a safari of this nature and by using a guide you will definitely enhance the experience and add value. The learning fee when doing this safari on your own will be very close to what the guide fee would be.
Explore Africa Adventures offers safaris to Liuwa Plains for the past ten years and as previous owners of Kabula Tiger Lodge, the know the area, it’s people and their culture extremely well.
Who to contact.
Explore Africa Adventures is a reputable safari company with the experience, amongst others, of numerous overland safaris to Liuwa Plains National Park in the Western Province of Zambia. All their guides are registered with Field Guides of Southern Africa as well as The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. Visit their website www.explore-africa.co.za or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Booking is essential. The Park Office telephone number is +260 97 240013 or email to email@example.com