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.

Recycling at Kaingu Lodge

Claiming green credentials in the safari industry is almost as ubiquitous as khakis and gin and tonics.  Generally speaking most camps and lodges are pretty minimal impact.  It kind of comes with the territory as environmental standards in protected areas are usually quite strict.  Also being ‘off grid’ means that a lot of lodges rely on solar power generation or hybrid generation systems.  Water filtration is touted as being green (some camps will hand you a fancy water bottle with a nice story about helping the environment) but in reality it is just sensible; try carrying cases and cases of water and then having to deal with all the plastic waste.  It might be green but in reality it is just easier to manage!  But green credentials sell safaris and if we don’t all try to minimise our impact on our world then we are going to end up in big trouble.  So every little helps.  Now I am not cynical enough to try and tell you that us re-using a few wine bottles and steel barrels is because we believe it will save the world.  No.  It is rather a bit like my water bottle example; we do it because it works, we do it because there is satisfaction in creating something yourself and then seeing it used.  We do it because we want to at least try and reduce a little bit the circle of consumption and waste.  And we do it because it can save us a bit of money.  We do it because we do not want our lodge to be furnished from a catalogue and we want it to be unique and to feel like it was designed by a human being.  You won’t find that many geometric shapes in what we do here at Kaingu.  This reflects the fact that we are surrounded by nature where there are few hard edges and angles.  “Nestled into nature” is a phrase we have used repeatedly because it fits our lodge and our approach.

So in this post we want to show some examples.  Not of solar panels and batteries and toilets.  But of how we have taken items and incorporated them into our buildings and decor.  Now let’s also be clear; when I say “we” it is basically all Julia.  With a background (educationally as well as vocationally) in design she is the one who spearheads all of this.

Lets start with bottles.  We use a lot!  As much as possible we try and get our suppliers to send beer and soft drinks in returnable bottles.  This works for a lot of drinks.  But of course not all.  Wine springs to mind.  Now glass windows don’t work at Kaingu.  But what about recycling bottles to create a ‘window’ that allows light in?  And it can even be in the shower as nobody can see through it.  And it looks beautiful when the morning sun hits it.

Now we come to the humble mbaula.  This is the charcoal brazier used all over Zambia for cooking on.  They are everywhere and used by everyone.  The mbaula itself though is already a recycled item as they are made from steel drums that are used to supply oils and lubricants.  The 200L (55 gallon) ones make for quite a large brazier and smaller 50kg grease drums make for a ‘one pot’ cooker.  Initially an mbaula looks like there is very little to commend them in terms of arts and crafts:

But the finished items look fantastic once they are painted up and once we made mukwa (local hardwood) table tops for them.  We see them as practical, cheap and (being a bit fanciful here) a uniquely local item which is recognised by many and becomes a talking point where all sorts of conversations start: from cooking through to deforestation due to dependence on charcoal!

Next on our list is the humble mortar.  As in pestle and mortar.  In our house we have a couple of very old ones that we use as side tables.  We wanted to create the same for the lodge.  Now while we envisaged buying old broken down ones from the villages it actually turned out to be a lot harder than we expected.  The mortar and pestle in Africa is a seriously large implement.  The spread of small scale diesel powered hammer mills means that really the use of these is now confined to very rural areas where distances to the nearest mill are substantial.  To pound maize in these in order to produce a meal to make nshima is pretty hard work indeed.  The mortar is symbolically as well as practically a very important piece of household equipment.  It is difficult for people coming from say Europe to appreciate just how important the role of maize is here.  And in turn just how important the tool to turn maize into the staple starch dish of nshima is.  A bit of minimal painting and turned upside down they also make amazing side tables which really are truly Zambian.

Next up is the traditional canoe.  There is a good story here too.  We were approached by a nameless D.N.P.W. patrol team leader who informed us that a very trusted staff member had loaned out his canoe to people who were now using it for nefarious purposes in the villages (i.e. crossing the river to poach).  To avoid implication and trouble we sat the said staff member down and offered to buy the canoe to take it out of circulation.  Smiles all round and a great story:

The next one was yet another poacher’s vessel.  This one however was confiscated by a patrol team who had found a poacher’s camp on one of the islands south of us.  At first it was going to be burnt on the spot by the team but again we stepped in and the end result was that everyone was happy.  Except the poachers who on return to their camp would find that they were  short of a canoe!  Anyway it now resides on the deck and still carries people but in a slightly different way and for very different purposes.

Now we come to our final one and this is one which always makes me smile.  This is true recycling although not of an item that is a problem to dispose of.  Indeed rather the opposite.  Most safari goers are very familiar with the marula tree.  The fruit is much loved by elephants and indeed the elephants are a method of seed dispersal as the pulpy fruit is eaten and sometime later the seed is deposited.  In it’s very own patch of rich manure.  Studies have shown that marula seeds that have passed through an elephant’s digestive system are far more likely to germinate than those that have not.

So here is the original product:

And below is some of the contents after a fair bit of work!  Past visitors to Kaingu know that Julia as a hobby creates seed based jewelry.  I should point out that it is a hobby that pays as a lot of items are sold in the Kaingu curio shop!  The fact that people are wearing an item that has passed through an elephants digestive system is just too cool.

August News

As per the norm here at Kaingu we are doing a pictorial review of the month.  August is generally the month that winter leaves us and temperatures start to climb.  By the end of the month we were seeing temperatures in the low 30s so a big change there.  Birdlife on the river also really starts to pick up.  Anyway enough talking and we let the pictures (and captions!) tell the story.

Our motivation signs!   They are a bit ironic now (and this is why we posted this) as the road that they are on is now actually the fastest way to reach Kaingu.  The D769 (Itezhi Tezhi road) is now being tarred and is in amazing shape and then the last 40kms in through the GMA forest has been worked on by ourselves heavily over the last two years.  The net result of all this is that this is now the fastest way to reach Kaingu.  However the park side/boat arrival still has far more charm and “safari theater”!

School visit

A delightful family from the UK visited ‘our’ school.  They had brought footballs and other supplies and were absolutely amazed by the friendliness and enthusiasm at the school.

Pools loops reedbuck. The reedbuck for me is actually one of the most beautiful antelopes; perfectly proportioned and wonderful colour. Fortunately a fairly common sighting on our loops.

Another common pools loops sighting: Israel!

New life at chalet 1: JohnD spotted this tiny newborn bushbuck from the river and radioed in. A new addition to the numerous bushbuck that reside around the lodge.

New life in the river too! In the wild crocodiles are extremely slow growing though so this guy is probably a couple of years old. Check out that eye!

Safari staples: G&T has to be the most often requested sundowner drink. While others go for the botanicals and fancy gin tastings we keep it simple. As it should be.

As the river levels drop August is also the month that we start doing more sleepouts and different activities. A simple one-pot meal under the stars and reviewing the day with a glass of wine and good company. Doesn’t really get much better than this!

Half-collared kingfisher. on the river with a bit of natural framing.

Latest lodge details: A true story is that this bench was once a canoe and used in poaching activities. (we only tell the full story if you sit on it!). 100% recycling.

As water levels drop we start assessing our natural bathing/paddling pools. The late and heavy rains mean that they are not quite there yet. But any day now…

Tonga basket: during August we finished two additional ones. So we now can offer sleepouts for up to 6 people. We are totally biased of course but think they are totally stunning and totally unique.  Mike the mechanic (known for his rather sharp and eccentric observations) calls them “human nests”.

Of course in fine-tuning the guest experience testing is required. A hard job! Here is Julia contemplating sunrise from a Tonga basket (human nest).

And now for something completely different. Latest lodge details: We have decided to create our own handmade soaps for our guests. Turns out there is a fair bit of complexity to soap production…..

But the finished results look (and smell) amazing. Everything is curing at the moment so the final results will take a few weeks until they are in. But so far so good.

We did a fair bit of canoeing in August. Always such a fantastic activity.

I always enjoy Kaley’s safety briefs. He has truly developed them into a comedy art form which always puts sometimes nervous guests at ease.

Nyambanza. She is a bit of an unsung hero to be honest. Quiet, efficient and brilliant with family groups. We don’t post enough about her but will get that sorted!

Pic from JohnD: He called up on the radio to announce that once again we had lions in the carpark! Its becomming a bit of a regular thing.

Now when John called the lion sighting in I jumped in a boat and headed across. But what ended up happening was that the early morning light hitting a young puku actually made me leave the lion and photograph the puku. Sometimes it is the smaller things that make your day!

Wildfires. Sadly late season wildfires are a fact of life in the Kafue and surrounding GMAs. Actually historically the GMAs suffer late season fires less than the NP. Anyway we had quite a large one burning out to the East. Due to our regime of firebreaks and early burning we were not really concerned but I did go out to monitor it and ensure we were not going to get any nasty surprises. The opportunity to photograph it was taken for sure.

Moonrise while monitoring the fire.

July News

I can’t believe we are basically half way through our season.  Unbelievable how time passes.  July was a phenomenal month in so many ways, but we start with Benny.  We are actually planning an entire blog post about Mr Benson, but we will start with a quick picture of him in his chef’s whites.  Although Benny is front of house he is passionate about cooking as a hobby and to generally develop himself.

Benny (on the right) taking a break from waitering!

We also did a bit of updating our activity images.  Julia was pointing out that we keep using a 6 year old boating picture in our emailers and ads.  So we did a quick evening photo session with Julia and Alphonso.

The beauty of the river

Rocky river

Now we turn to a few lodge ‘touches’.  Using humble materials – recycled charcoal braziers (Mbaulas) to create coffee tables and using some Mukwa and copper pipe (and carved Zebras) to create a safari style cake stand.  We already have had social media messages from people wanting to buy these pieces!

The humble mbaula. A charcoal brazier used the length and breadth of Zambia

Which we then turned into these!

And our Mukwa and plumbing parts cake stand:

Mukwa, copper pipe and a raid on the curio shop produced this.

Then for something completely different.  Some background story: There is a fairly spectacular Baobab about 10km up the river road from us. I had on and off thought about trying for a typical African astro landscape shot many times but never actually done it. The last couple of weeks has seen really unseasonal cloud at night, no good at all for astro landscapes obviously. A few evenings ago after dinner with guests Julia and I went out to try and find the lion that had been calling behind the lodge. No go on the lions, but sitting in our old landrover in the middle of the dambo listening the stars were unreal. The cold front had cleared the skies of smoke and it was stunning. Julia was not so into a midnight astro mission (she was keen on bed) so we headed to the house and swapped the old series III for something more reliable. Of course as I drove a few kilometers up the river road here was the lion strolling up the track. He kindly made way (he was a bit skittish) so I ‘overtook’ him and headed for the boabab. I knew he would be continuing up the road towards me and sure enough I could hear his calls approaching. I REALLY quickly set up the tripod, locked down the camera, switched to MF, found infinity focus and started shooting. The calls were getting closer and the atmosphere was unreal. If only photos had sound!

Grass.  We use a lot of it.  Every year…   We rely on the local communities for our supply.  4500 bundles in total.  Now to be really honest there are easier ways to do this but we are proud of how much impact our lodge has on the very local economy and we like to keep things traditional.  Oberty is our local organiser and the cutting team generally comprises about 30 people – often older people or very young who have little other income sources.

The man himself: Mr Oberty.  He has taken over the role from his father (Mr Gibson) who is over 85 and was until last year out cutting grass himself.


And now for some game drives.  We also took the opportunity to get out in our old landrover.  Now many of you know that this old classic basically is used only to drive guests back from Mpamba rock in the evening after a walk and sundowners on the rock.  However we got all brave (risking mechanical catastrophe) and went out into the Game Mangement Area to get some footage and just enjoy our beautiful surroundings.

Seriies III 109″ Landrover. Born in SA from components from Birmingham. She is well over 40 years old!

In marked contrast here is Julia driving one of our slightly younger vehicles.  Absolutely wonderful to get out a bit on our loops and get some video and pictures.  All marketing but all fun…!

Julia driving the pools loops.

Beautiful evening light.

Now we come to sightings.  What a month.  We will start off gently with what are for us very common sights.  Hartebeest.  The winter colours of the bush blends beautifully with the coats of the hartebeest.

Likewise the ever present puku melting into the background.

Then we had a rather special day.  On a transfer down to lake Itezhi Tezhi JohnD had the most incredible sightings.  A pangolin and 21 wild dogs.  Unreal!

Pangolin and Kaingu lettering – fantastic!

The best thing was that the guests on the drive were all serious safari goers and so a pangolin was the icing on the cake.

Dogs and pangolin on one drive.  Sometimes the planets align perfectly…  (more on that later!):

Then on the same day Julia and I jumped on an evening game drive with guests.  We were so glad we did as we got to spend 30mins with an incredibly relaxed young male leopard.

And now for something completely different.  We have been very busy on school related work this month.  Now most of you probably know that Kaingu was instrumental in the construction of the Itumbi school and that we (together with generous donations from guests) do quite a lot in terms of trying to upgrade (and even just maintain) standards, equipment, facilities, teacher training etc.

As I say, we are fortunate to have very generous guests and in July we were lucky to receive some very generous donations towards our ongoing desk rehabilitation and replacement.

We have been very busy using some of these funds to rehabilitate old broken desks:

These broken desks have been lying for literally years. The school is desperately short of desks, so here we go….

Willard in action, grinding off old rusted bolts before Mike welds the broken frames.

And Mike.  Welding.  In slow motion!

Then we come to the RowZambezi expedition.  Two years ago they approached us asking if we would release Kaley to help them with guidance and assistance on the river.  We were happy to oblige and Kaley was very keen on this adventure.  After a year’s delay (to raise more sponsorship money) it finally was on.  In addition to Kaley helping guide we also received a bit of a last minute call for help which ended up us taking two boats up to Chunga and assisting to lead them down to Kaingu.

The rowers included olympic athletes and boat race competitors.  It was fascinating to hep out and watch it all unfold.

The three teams approaching Kaingu.

And then lastly we come to the lunar eclipse.  This was a highly anticipated event in so many safari lodges across Southern and central Africa.  We were a little bit unlucky here as in the late afternoon the cloud started building and eventually the coverage was almost total.  We decided to head up to Mpamba rock regardless and just hope for the best.  We packed up the old landrover with cushions, blankets, a pot of chili and drinks.  We sat on top of the rock with our guests and made stick bread and ate and drank and waited.

Waiting and waiting for a break in the clouds

And finally!  The clouds parted just as the ‘blood moon’ or eclipse totality happened.  The break in the clouds only gave us a few minutes view but we did manage to grab some quick pictures which brought us almost to the end of a wonderful month here at Kaingu Lodge.