In the first of three blogs on beating the safari crowds in Southern Africa, Cape Town-based guest blogger David Bristow reveals some lesser-known destinations that you'll want to add to your safari bucket list. He begins with Kafue National Park in south-central Zambia.
Q: What do Yosemite Valley and the Okavango Delta have in common?
A: They are both among the world’s great natural wonders, and they become clogged with visitors in peak season.
Like Yosemite, the Okavango might be the most spectacular of its kind, but there are other natural wonders where you can actually find a room at the inn in peak season that will not break the piggy bank (what I call the 'scatter cushion index': generally you can gauge the price tag of a lodge by the number of scatter cushions on beds and couches).You have no doubt heard of the Okavango and are longing to visit. But what about Luangwa, Lower Zambezi, and Kafue? In the first of three blogs on beating the safari crowds in Southern Africa we consider Kafue National Park in south-central Zambia. For starters Zambia is, like Botswana, an extremely laid-back and politically stable country. No travel issues here other than the usual anti-malarial measures.
The park (the oldest in Zambia) covers around 15,000 square miles and consists mainly of open grass plains and wetlands extending out from and fed by the Kafue River, the main tributary of the Zambezi. Most camps and lodges have to close for half the year due to seasonal flooding, and at some you will enjoy your first game drive from air strip to lodge by boat – either a small motor boat or in some cases a mokoro dugout canoe piloted by an expert poler-guide. Welcome to the real Africa!
“You just have time to settle into your room then meet me back at the vehicle to see if we can find the cheetah,” pronounces our guide. “They have been spotted at Kapinga so don’t be long!” We attempt to take in "the eye-watering expanse of grassland plains populated edge to edge with roan antelope, lechwe and puku while bouncing our way from the airstrip in to camp...” So recalls a first-time guest who is familiar with most of the other major game areas of the region.
Kafue has its fair share of big game including lions, leopards, elephants and buffalo but more than its fair share of some less familiar species such as the aforementioned lechwe, puku and sable antelope. Also those rarest of large carnivores, cheetah and African wild dog. Keen birders will delight in seeing rare spectacles including large flocks of wattled and crowned cranes, as well as local “specials” such as – among the 500-plus species recorded – Pel’s fishing owl, African finfoot and Böhm’s bee-eater.
Safari innovator and co-founder of Wilderness Safaris, Great Plains Conservation and Natural Selection, Colin Bell says: “Hot spots such as the Okavango and Serengeti/Masai Mara experience 'overtourism,' but only at certain times of the year. The tourism load can be spread geographically throughout Southern Africa and to the smaller reserves, which in turn creates jobs that, all in all, boost the economy.”
And then there is the cost thing. Kafue does have at least one five scatter-cushion lodge, but also some charmingly rustic ones. Anyway, who needs cushions when you have the comforts of real, uncluttered Africa wilderness to savor.
Cheers! One block of ice or two?