Zambia, Lower Zambezi National Park 2016

    • Elephant graze in front of our tent
    • View from Mvuu Lodge
    • Game aplenty in the park
    • Lunch in style on the Lower Zambezi River
    • Game drive inside Lower Zambezi National Park
    • White-fronted bee-eater
    • Lodge life in Lower Zambezi
    • Anglers returning from a day on the water
    • Evening braai with elephants for company
    • Elephant by our campsite
    • Zambezia Wildlife Sanctuary
    • Always travel with a second spare tyre
    • Bad roads, good people
    • Camping with two National Luna weekenders, one used as a fridge and the other as a freezer
  • At Ease in Zambia

    Many overlanders overlook Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park. Having driven the long way round in a Toyota Land Cruiser, we found it’s as beautiful as Mana Pools on the other side of the river – and a lot more laid back.

    Yellow lights flicker on the far side of the Zambezi. Campers at Mana Pools in Zimbabwe gather around their evening braais. Ditto our side of the river. All that separates us, is a gleaming watery expanse. Just as sleek and shiny as I remember it from five years ago, when we were on the other side, wondering about the Zambian shore.

    We’ve pitched our tent in the Zambezia Sanctuary, at Mvuu Lodge, for lack of campsites inside the national park. Long overdue camping facilities are scheduled to open in September 2016. Meanwhile Mvuu, about 30 km from the gate, is the nearest option for overlanders on a budget. And what a grand alternative this proves to be!

    It wasn’t plain sailing to get here. The most direct route from South Africa is through Zimbabwe and the Chirundu border post. But then Chirundu, chaotic to the extreme, is a word I’d rather banish from my thoughts forever. Fellow travellers who told tales of being fined in Zimbabwe “because the windscreen isn’t clean” did nothing to encourage an itinerary that included Bob’s crazy country.

    The alternative route is through Botswana and the Kazungula border post. This entails crossing the Zambezi by ferry, where 50-odd trucks are lined up on either side, waiting their turn, who knows for how long. Mercifully passenger vehicles get bumped to the front of the queue. While the crossing is quick and efficient, the anarchy of the Zambian border on the far side demands a thick skin and all the patience you can muster.

    After clearing first immigration, then customs, the agony starts. You have to find the office where you pay carbon tax and wait, admist the disorder of truckers with wads of waybills, to be served. The system is haphazard, to say the very least, but with relief you’re told its OK to pay in US dollars. Then you proceed to the cubicle where you pay local council tax, which is where you come unstuck. This has to be paid in kwacha, and if you have none, you have to find an ATM amidst thousands of milling people. Queue number five is to pay road toll, and this has to be paid in dollar. The queue hardly moves for 45 minutes. In utter desperation you engage the services of a persistent fixer to go and pay your vehicle insurance meanwhile. After two hours and about R1000 poorer, you’re free to enter Zambia.

    From Kazungula it is a short drive to Livingstone, the country’s tourist capital. Campers usually make their way to Maramba which offers a prime riverside spot with a swimming pool and watering hole where you can chill with Mosi beer. For company, you’ll have a colossal croc on a sand bank and a few hippos groaning and snorting. Your holiday has begun.

    From Lusaka it is a long day’s drive to Lower Zambezi. The last stony stretch is rough going and the gravel surface requires high clearance, preferably in a 4×4. Once again we were grateful for the Land Cruiser’s comfortable ride, and with complete faith in its technical capabilities, we had no concerns about being solo travellers. Thanks to the Gwabi bridge which opened in August 2014, it is no longer necessary to cross the Kafue River by pontoon. What a relief!

    It was late afternoon when we arrived at Mvuu Lodge (“place of the hippo”), which has a number of safari tents on the river as well as spacious stands with everything a camper could dream of. The creature comforts are bliss. Our delivery of firewood arrived first. Then all-weather cushions for the patio furniture on our private riverside terrace. Followed by a pretty tablecloth and 20 litres of filtered water. Finally bath mats and amenities for our private ablutions.

    In no time, our bonfire was ablaze, sundowners as smooth as the gentle Zambezi in front of us. Not long after four elephants sauntered past to the river’s edge. The giants were cropping tender stalks of pasture three arms’ length from us – a bit too close for comfort. Wildlife roam freely through the camp and soon we heard the breaking of branches. Five more ellies had joined us. The Chiawa area is reputed to be game rich and it was hard to believe that we weren’t even in the park yet.

    Just before nightfall, the sounds of fish eagle bravura and hippo contempt were interrupted by the drone of speedboats returning with half a dozen dedicated fishermen from South Africa and Namibia. After 12 hours on the water, and despite the modesty of their catch and release success, the fishermen were in high spirits. Trophy tiger fish of up to 9kg have been landed on this fabled stretch of the river and Mvuu is a popular base for anglers. These guys would be at it all day for a week; not for them leisurely river cruises on a pontoon boat, drifting past small islands and inlets, G&T in hand.

    Entry to the national park is at Chongwe gate, about an hour’s drive from Mvuu. Lower Zambezi is not about great diversity of species, yet our morning ticklist had kudu, impala, waterbuck, ellies, monkeys, baboons, buffalo, zebras, steenbok, southern ground hornbill, crocs, hippos, eland.

    Relatively undeveloped, the park’s charm lies in its wilderness experience, with 120km of river frontage. While the silty floodplain landscape is so expansive that it eventually gets monotonous, the lush riverine vegetation compensates with imposing fig and ebony trees. Tourism is still new and you won’t be seeing many vehicles, apart from the odd open gameviewer from one of the lodges inside the park. Ours was the only private vehicle. This in itself makes for a fine safari destination.

    Should you visit Lower Zambezi National Park? While you might not want to spend a week, the setting is gorgeous and there’s plenty of game. Just make sure your road trip has more flesh on the bone.


    Vehicles essentials – drivers face heavy fines for non-compliance:

    • Two emergency triangles
    • White reflective stickers on the front and red reflective stickers on the back


    Exchange rates at the time of writing

    1 Zambian Kwacha = R1,38

    1 Botswana Pula = R1,31


    Cross-border costs

    RSA – Botswana

    Road permit P90

    Insurance P50

    Road fund P50

    Botswana – Zambia

    Kazungula District Council K60 (Payable in local currency)

    Motor Insurance K103

    Carbon tax K200

    Toll US$ 20


    National Park Entry Permits

    Chongwe Gate, Lower Zambezi

    Park entry $30 pppd

    Vehicle fee $15 pd


    Where to stay

    Maramba River Lodge, Livingstone $20 pppn

    Mvuu Lodge, Zambezia Sanctuary $28 pppn