Whats Happening at KaingU Safari Lodge in Zambia

Stay updated with news and information from KaingU Safari Lodge situated in the Namwala Game Management Area (GMA) on a spectacular and remote stretch of the Kafue River in Zambia.

How a little girl flooded the bar! (AKA camp opening 2017)

So 2017.  Thanks to a wind in the pacific our main area got flooded!  Joking apart, the end of 2016 and early part of 2017 were forecast to be “La Nina” (Spanish for little girl) conditions.  These are conditions that follow the more known “El Nino” (little boy) conditions.  How does that flood the bar?  Well, La Nina conditions are stronger than usual easterly trade winds in the pacific.  These winds move warmer water to the west (shallower water near the west coast of South America is warmer) allowing the warmer water to be replaced with cooler water.  A couple of degrees change in temperature of a large area of the pacific then has a huge effect on the global atmospheric circulation (which you may as well just call weather!).  This basically means you then have different than normal distribution of thermal energy to the earths surface.  La Nina conditions means higher than normal rainfall patterns in Southern Africa and that was for sure this year.  El Nino is the exact opposite in cause and effect.

So it rained and rained and rained… Now lets be honest, Zambia needs a decent raining season to fill up the dams and provide relief what what has been 3 fairly dry rainy seasons.  The river just kept rising up though.  Now normally this is not that big a deal – the Luansanza and Shishamba rivers often rise over the bridges and make access impossible, but generally it is over in 24hrs and they have subsided below the bridges.  Not this time!  We were left with no choice but to boat guests down from Chunga all the way to the lodge.  Its either that or four hours around the GMA/ITT road and I know which I would prefer.

Once in camp the guests had the unique experience of seeing the waters slowly rise through the deck, over the deck and eventually into the main thatched area and up to the bar.

Interesting times indeed.  We made a plan and used the Finfoot house deck for lunch and then for dinner we used the guides nkuta – fortunately last year we built a new one and the special curved cooler box storage area could do duty as a bar.  It actually looked really good we thought.

Fortunately the waters stopped just below the guest tents.  Although most of the tents we had to place mukwa planks on breeze blocks to allow guests to keep their feet dry.

Game drives were definitely not on the menu, the car park in the National Park was completely under water.  In fact our game drive vehicles were marooned on the only bit of high ground.  JohnD, Kaley and myself took a boat through the car park and halfway down the track to the spinal road – totally surreal experience.

Almost as surreal was taking a boat up the river, up the Luansanza and over the bridge.   To give you an idea here is two pictures, one with the river at its peak and then one last November when we were clearing and burning the storm debris that builds up at the bridge.

When it came to departure time for the ‘flood group’ we elected to drive the guests around – there was not too much enthusiasm for punching upstream into the heavy current and up the Chunga rapids!  We then had about a weeks dry weather and the main area dried out and we were finally able to get a vehicle out of the car park.  Fortunately we did that day as German guests then had a fantastic sighting of a huge Pangolin as we were heading down to the Kaindabaila hills.

The very welcome week of dry came to an end though with more rains.  Just as we were gearing up for the arrival of some big groups.  This led to some very sleepless nights – these group numbers were such that driving them around was just not an option.  The river started to rise again and it was a real deja vu moment.  Fortunately the bridges stayed clear and we were able to get our groups in an out.

While the river is still really high (most rocks and islands are still totally submerged, as is our jetty) it is finally receding fast.  No doubt that the rainy season is over now and we are all breathing a sigh of relief.  We were really chuffed to still be getting good guest feedback even at the peak of the flood.  But we are really glad that not every camp opening is like this one was!

Great stay despite the unseasonal “High Tide”. Everyone did their utmost to keep the show on the road and our walking trips through the velt learning about the “smaller things” like butterflies, snakes, scorpions, spiders and trees was FANTASTIC. The knowledge of the guides was outstanding and the friendliness of the owners – staff was magic.

although the river Kafue had risen and the camp was flooded, the staff were very good and looked after you very well in the circumstances.
there was other activities to do like walking,canoeing, fishing etc. all told a different but enjoyable experience.  

We got away lightly.  A lot of other camps were badly affected.  Its a bit of a distant memory now and with a good clean up things are totally back to normal and everything is lush and green.  Getting a bit chilly in the mornings too.  Roll on winter!

The Kafue River

Rivers are often written about as being arteries of lifeblood.  For us the analogy is an apt one; the Kafue river is our lifeblood. We drink it, we live next to it and we base our whole lodge and it’s activities on it. Most of our guests arrive on it and all our freight does too.    Our guides show its character, nature, inhabitants and routes to our guests by boat and by canoe and by foot on the banks and islands.  The section here around Kaingu is a stunning stretch of river.  The Bradt guide to Zambia talks eloquently about this stretch of river;

“..the river beside the lodge is most unusual, and as lovely as any stretch of any African river I know: it’s worth coming here just to spend a few days afloat. Kaingu stands beside an area where the river broadens to accommodate a scattering of small islands, each onsisting of vegetated sandy banks and huge granite rocks interspersed with rapids. Imagine someone throwing half of Zimbabwe’s Matobo Hills into a wide, shallow river and you’ll get the picture. So to potter round here with a canoe, or a motor boat, or even just to go fishing, is a real journey of discovery – endless side-channels and islands to explore. There’s something different around every corner, plenty of vegetation everywhere – and birds all around. It’s a real gem of an area.”

Its a very good description.  Now I am no explorer but I have been on the Volta rivers, the Niger, the Tano, the Orange river, the Zambezi, the Luangwa and a good few other African rivers.  All are obviously unique, but only this stretch of the Kafue has this hard-to-describe almost surreal and cinematic feel to it.  Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, whatever your choice.  The comparisons are inevitable with the rocks, hundreds of chanels and mists and light.  There is a distinct almost tropical feel to it which we use for inspiration.  Fresh fruit salads on a lush island after canoeing?

Or it can scare and awe.  Not on a daily basis, but if you go looking for it you can find it.  I recall Kaley and myself in a tiny channel, hippos everywhere and the day getting later and later.  We knew we weren’t going to make our destination so had to admit defeat and face a long, long paddle home against the current.  Or that slightly tingly feeling when you are approaching some rapids.  It’s not shooting the Zambezi or the Colorado, but a frisson of adrenaline can still be tapped into. Not just the roaring water ahead but the remoteness, the feeling of other humans being a long, long way away and the knowledge of other inhabitants if the canoe tips over.  Tiny risks but still they are there if you insist or want to look for them.

But for most of the time it’s much, much more serene.  It’s watching birds or elephants with the engine off and drifting gently with the slow current or standing on a rock watching the spectacle of yet another glorious sunset and knowing that a dusk cruise home and dinner awaits.  Of course living on the river we monitor not just the levels but the changes from season to season.  Every year we compare dates when the skimmers arrive and when the first rock pratincoles are seen.  The changes in height of the river are almost as dramatic as the changes in vegetation of the surroundings between the dry and green seasons.  A three meter height difference is not unheard of here, this year it was 4m which sees us able to park the boats by the main area or even step off the end of the deck into the boats.  These changes give totally different feels to the river, in the peak of the dry season, just before the rains, the riverscape is all rocks and grassy islands, but come March and it is all submerged with only the biggest islands still dry.  Most of the islands are then only the tops of the dozens and dozens of waterberry trees marking where to go, if that is, you can remember them after the two month shutdown period!  When the waters are at their peak the river is quieter in fauna if not water.  Most of the waders and water birds move out to flooded dambos and lagoons where the feeding is easier.  With the cold months life picks up on the river and come the lowest levels in October/November the birdlife is teeming.

The stretch around Kaingu is hard to describe well enough.  The only thing is to emphasize that it needs to be personally experienced.  Preferably twice – once at peak water and then once at the end of the dry season.

Unsurprisingly the area around here has naturally led to many local legends.  Kebby talks endlessly about the ‘Donna fish’ (basically a mermaid) luring men into the depths of the Nzhibakamwale pool.  I plucked up courage one night to go down and take photos of the pools under the stars.  I didn’t hear or see the creature, but alone there at night I could well imagine how:

The Ila recognize the bapuka, a “wide-ranging category of insects, reptiles and fabulous animals” which inhabit the trees, pools, and forests (Smith & Dale 1920,i:224, 389). Chief among these is the great Kafue River monster called Itoshi, a 50-foot creature with a crocodile’s body, a man’s head, and the fins of a fish. Invisible to all who lack the proper medicine, it seizes people and take them into its burrow beneath the river bed (ii:128-29). An illustrated hut drawing, however, depicts it as a flat-headed snake with anterior fins (i:120). “What concerns us here is the fact that many people, especially chiefs, enter the water after death and become these monsters” (ii:129). Most of the Ila water beings, then, take reptilian forms, and are often associated with ancestors or spirits of the dead.

Liuwa 2016 Slideshow

Small selection of images from Kaingu’s 2016 fly-in safaris to Liuwa Plain NP