Small selection of images from Kaingu’s 2016 fly-in safaris to Liuwa Plain NP
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Driving West to Liuwa Plain National Park feels like you are heading to the edge of the world. Zambia almost ends, the Zambezi appears and suddenly the world seems to expand. Horizons stretch for miles and the sky suddenly seems huge. It is difficult to describe just how different this area is, arriving in Mongu you can look out over the 25kms of floodplains towards the other side: Kalabo, Liuwa and Angola. The destination has understandably become a bit of a cult one for safari cognoscenti and self drive adventurers alike. We (as in Julia and myself) have been there five times and for 2016 we decided that we would offer a joint Kaingu/Liuwa package, with the Liuwa part being a fly-in safari and fully catered and serviced. A maximum of six guests, a Kaingu guide and open vehicle and accommodation in comfortable large dome tents with food by Wina and Benny in the front of house. It all sounded like a plan! To do Liuwa there are not that many options. If you hire a (fully equipped) 4x4 and know what you are doing than that is an option. There are a couple of operators doing driving based trips and then there is one lodge option that is priced quite highly so we felt that a fly-in mobile option had potential. The interest (and the bookings) seemed to confirm our views. The area is certainly getting more known and seems to feature in every second magazine article. Visitor numbers have expanded over the last few years, but to be honest we are talking about a handful of people - the limited camping sites (and the control and running off them by African Parks) and the very limited lodging means that visitors are few.
For us the staff, the place is now getting a lot easier to get to. A causeway of 27 bridges has tamed the Zambezi floodplains. I have heard it said (by affluent outsiders) that this has changed a part of 'old Africa' for the worse. Easy to say if you don't actually live there and just holiday there... It is a stunning piece of engineering and makes life a lot easier. What took us once three and half hours churning through mud and sand in pouring rain now is a cream cheese smooth 20 minutes. I will take the smooth option any time thanks.
But not before stopping in the new Shoprite supermarket in Mongo after overnighting in the town.
Benny goes mad and starts taking selfies and asking to be snapped in front of the new shoprite. Oddly he is not the only one.
Once at Kalabo we go through what we have done many times before. Reducing tyre pressures to better cope with the thick sand and then checking in with the friendly, efficient Africa Parks tourism girls. Charity was always a star and Mimi seems to be cut from the same cloth. This time we are doing Liuwa with guests, so we have pre-paid everything so it is just a matter of checking in. Kaley has reached first so has left our avgas at the Kalabo airfield and sorted out the watchman. So all that remains is to get to camp. This means first the famous hand-drawn pontoon which is now even more bizarre as the ramps have been damaged by a truck so I have to reverse off with the trailer into sand. Luckily I don't mess it up as there is an audience! Kaley then crosses over with the game viewer and the real adventure begins.
Maybe it's just us but we don't seem to remember the sand being quite as thick as it is... After an hour we say that its not just us. The tracks leading to the park really are churned sand and making progress is not easy. Once into the park things smooth out and we reach Lyangu site and start the big unpack. Oh boy. We cannot get into the site that the guests will use until the next day so we set up as best we can and plan to move all the tents the following day. The offloading and packing seems to go on and on – with a quick sandwich break – but at least its not raining. We get as much done as we can and then call it a day.
Julia and myself jump in our vehicle and head off for a quick drive just up to the pools at the lone palm – one of Liuwa's landmarks.
Immediately we are struck by just how dry everything is. The pools are basically empty. Now wildebeest need to be by water, so the dry pools get us a bit alarmed. Without water the migration (or gathering) of the wildebeest is going to be later. Hmm. Ah well, this is the way of the wild. We get back and Wina cooks the five of us a fantastic kapenta and nshima meal. Early to bed and an early start for tomorrow.
Next day we are all up at 06:00. By safari standards this is a long lie. Kaley is off back to Kalabo to pick up the guests at the airstrip. Sadly the Islander is too heavy for the sandy strip inside the park at Matamanene. We all frantically move the guest tents and start making the beds (literally as the camping beds have to be assembled). Fridges are wired into solar panels and eventually we reckon its all about done. Just in time – a quick shower, into Kaingu clothes and Kaley is pulling in with the first group of 6 guests. Now we have to see if we can re-create the standards we st at Kaingu in an even more remote location. What have we forgotten? The nearest shops are a long, long way away. Kaley radios in (we remembered to bring radios so that we can still get the 'five minutes out' call. “Kaingu Lyangu come in”. We are in business.
The first group went really well and sightings were fantastic – a mother cheetah with cubs probably being the highlight. Our logistics and infrastructure is all working well – from the bucket showers that we brought (the campsites only have cold water showers) through to the solar panels and batteries to keep our fridge and freezer running.
All too soon the first group is gone and we are on the move again. While Kaley takes the guests to the plane sitting at Kalabo airstrip Julia, Benny and myself and Wina pack as much as we can physically fit on the trailer and our vehicle and then set off North to Katoyana camp site which is considerably further North. We get there and are about 90% setup when Kaley and Wina roll in. Another great Nshima and Kapenta meal and all too soon it's 0600 the next day and Kaley is off to get the next guests. They arrive in camp just after lunch and the second group is now under way.
Sightings again with this group are superb – more cheetah, lots and lots of hyena (and of course wildebeest).
It all worked out really, really well. The guests loved the whole experience, and several guests told us that we MUST keep doing it for 2017. Wina in particular received many compliments about the quality of the food that was prepared in our basic kitchen. While we call it a 'mobile' safari (and it is) it is extremely comfortable camping. Our tents are all roomy with stretcher beds and mattresses and the whole safaris is basically as comfortable as we can make it withought building a lodge! As I finish this we are pricing up next years packages and setting dates. We can't wait to get back there!
October news kicks off with the fact that Kaingu was featured in the October issue of Sawubona - South African Airways inflight magazine! Fantastic. A really great piece (mostly about the river here) that included a description of the journalist witnessing a croc take a puku while on a canoeing trip with Kaley. They also used all the imagery for the article from Anthony Grote. So great news for us and Anthony.
October is also the month when historically we get the best elephants in river/on rocks/in camp activity and this month has been no exception. 'one tusk' has been providing great viewing, leading a small group of bulls from island to island.
The best sighting though was saved for repeat guests Audrey and Rick. This was their third visit here and we were treated to multiple sightings of elephants crossing and standing on rocks!
Of course the activities have not been only confined to the river. We also got raided by an elite gardening squad.
The skimmers nested and then got raided by a harrier-hawk. Poor old Israel was heartbroken as he witnessed the raid and even an egg being carried off. Last year a crocodile got the one chick. No wonder they are rare and endangered birds. The good news was that a subsequent witnessed raid was driven off and fingers are crossed for another chick this year.
Kaley managed to find a cheetah. There is nothing particularly amazing about that as cheetah sights this year have been fantastic. But what was really amazing was that we subsequently learned from researchers that the last time this cat was seen was in Busanga in the far North. Incredible.
October is traditionally also one of (if not the) our busiest months. This means we have been doing uncountable rapids dinners. And taking uncountable pictures of them...
Another thing that is supposed to happen in October is the first rains falling on Independence Day (the 24th). Amazingly they did!
Independence day cake - by Lizzie (cake) and Julia (flag)!
So apart from our ‘back of house’ news we also wanted to share our regular pictorial news of what was happening in and around Kaingu lodge for the month of August 2016. We had our usual annual share of firefighting, both in the GMA and in the National Park. This (sadly) has become such an […]
So every month we try and post news. Generally this is pictures of scenery, birds animals and sometimes guests (and sometimes ourselves pretending to be guests). But anyone that follows our facebook page will know that we also are not shy to post what goes on behind the scenes. People are generally interested in how it all works. For the last month or so we have been embarking on a fairly major project to upgrade the staff village. Kaingu now employs 25 contract staff for ten months of the year. Last year we added 3 new houses, but more facilities are required.
We decided that another new double (flush) toilet was needed (ladies and gents) and a double shower block (four showers) was needed to supplement the existing ones. A staff kitchen (monkey-proofed) was also added to the list, as were re-thatching of Nkutas (outside shelters) and some new ones. So Mr Gibson (thatching grass) and Royd (contract builder) were engaged.
Of course part and parcel of bush life is breakdowns and repairing them! Out old Mitsubishi Canter is getting a bit tired, but it struggled vainly on moving thousands of bundles of grass, dozens of poles and all the rest...
Nkutas are found in all the village homes. They are areas where people can cook, sit around the fire and shelter from the rains and the sun. We have small ones and a massive communal one where all staff not on duty gather to eat and chat (and yes, sometimes party!). This small one below is for JohnD and Jenny:
The large one for the staff is matched by another one behind the kitchen. Eating and sitting area for the guides who cannot bear to be away from the wifi signal!
The staff kitchen is a major step forward. Up until now the cooking is done by the staff chef (Vincent) in the large Nkuta on an open fire. The staff kitchen below is having a gas range, shelves, cupboards and sinks for washing up. Our staff is what makes Kaingu, well, Kaingu. We firmly believe in trying to make their lives here as good as we really can. Wood smoke from open fires in Africa is a huge problem for people's health.
Royd was also asked to add to the contract a small outside seat and flower pot for each house. Small details, but at least the houses can be a bit more like home for everyone. Of course some of the "rugged" guys like Bo haven't actually planted anything. The ladies seem to be in the lead on this one. The house below is Chef Lizzie's house:
The thatching looks a bit like a bad hair moment, but after the first rains it all flattens down. Pictured below is the new shower block which is now finished except the tiles and plumbing. Mike is on that job as I type:
Now constructing a proper kitchen gave us another idea. In fact the idea came from Willard (camp hand, not the guide!) who jokingly told me that now there is no smoke inside the large Nkuta we could put a TV there. We started to think about it. Why not? So.... 4 solar panels, an inverter, 2 deep cycle batteries, a charge regulator, a dish and decoder and a HELL of a lot of alignment and we now have DSTV with dozens of channels as well as a charging station so everyone can charge mobile phones while watching shocking Nigerian movies (that seem to always be one of only two themes - infidelity or witchcraft. Some of the better ones combine both topics). To be fair I did find guides Kaley and Israel watching a Nat Geo programme about the Amazon.
And then we finish with an improvement that benefits everyone - a new solar pump. After our second submersible solar pump packed in (due to water ingress) we decided to install a surface pump where all moving parts are on the river bank and not submerged. This meant a few things - firstly a chicken house for the pump to go in and secondly a large extension to the panel array. So far so good. The pump is quiet and vibration free. Of course nothing is easy. People will sell you a pump, but to get fittings to plumb it in??? Our good friend Congo came to the rescue and fabricated some special flanges for us. Okay, I have to stop now because I can literally talk about pumps the whole day! We are really pleased with the staff village improvements and we are proud of the fact that we are really trying to make everyone feel that Kaingu is a good place to work.
Look at it! All shiny and sleek. Stainless steel and other bits. Sexy. I can sit for hours and just listen to the gentle whirring noises. Art in motion.
It was fascinating to watch 5 egrets all try and land at the top of the same tree. They continued wheeling around the tree for ages making for some great photo opportunities.
David and goliath
On the way up to do a staff transfer run Julia saw the rather unusual sighting of a goliath heron and a finfoot together.
One tusk in camp
We were visited in camp regularly over the course of the month by 'one tusk' who is the most regular elephant visitor here.
No GMA sightings this month, but no shortage of dogs in the National Park.
One tusk in the river
"One Tusk" again providing guest entertainment. In the river this time. The spectacle of elephants in a river is always amazing, what makes it more special here is if they then climb on top of rocks! We don't see it often, but when we do it is incredible!
Regular predator sightings. As temperatures hot up and the bush dries out sightings of lions, wild dogs. leopard get far more regular.
A massively cropped picture, but I was highly excited to see my first ever lesser Jacana (at Kaingu that is) and grab a picture of it. All while waiting for guests to arrive for an island sundowner.
The Kaingu Lodge logo is the pied kingfisher. Quite appropriate really as I don't think I have ever been on the river and not seen one. The pied kingfisher is apparently the only African kingfisher that is capable of a true hover. They have been clocked flying (not diving) at 50km/hr. Rapid little things!
Chalet improvements 1
We also rolled out some chalet improvements over the month of July. The first one is new luggage racks/wardrobe units. All work by Julia.
Chalet Improvements 2
We have replaced all the bedside rugs with new sisal rugs and every room now also has a Nguni cow skin rug too.
And then because we were taking pictures of chalets we couldn't help but take one of the view in the evening dusk.
Birdlife on the river
Its not just the mammal sightings that have started to really kick in. As the river levels continue to drop the bird numbers just keep on increasing almost daily. From the specials to the more everyday ones...
And once again the wonderful 'one tusk'. This time he was checking out the solar hot water and PV panels at Chalet 2.
American guests were celebrating a rather special event. Cake and decorations by Julia and Lizzy.
The most fantastic thing about July (for me anyway) is the morning mists on the river due to the cold temperatures. It is simply amazing and wll worth frozen fingers and an early start.
July mists 2
We can never get enough of these mists! Actually few guests elect very early morning cruises (for some reason it is usually an afternoon choice), but as you can see it is actually the best time.
Kill by the camp
A wild dog kill 1km from camp meant some great vulture sightings. Kaley and I went back after the guests had seen the dogs and spent an hour just watching the action.
River by night
Coming back after packing up an island sundowner.
I always associate our pools loop with golden evening light, golden grass and loads of hartebeest. The pools this year are really full with water and I am betting they will hold water right through to the rains. Should make for productive sightings the whole season.
We were taking guests upriver for a spot of canoeing and saw that our canoes had an admirer. Bear in mind our canoes are almost 4m long and are dwarfed by this massive crocodile. The biggest I have personally ever seen.
Kaingu rock art
And our final image from July is the rather interesting rock art that is found near the lodge. Fascinating. Most theories are that it is an ancient 'nsolo' game and that the place was probably a meeting point (market?).
Introduction We get a lot of questions about Fire in the KNP and the surrounding Game Management Areas and as we are now quite well into the dry season and a lot of early burning has been done we thought that we could talk a little bit about fires. We will see more of them […]
The month of May. I believe that here in the Southern hemisphere it is comparable to November in the North. Well, I have to see that it is way, way better here than what I remember of Scottish Novembers. For us May was the month of big groups. Well, big for us – up to […]