About the same size as Wales, Kafue is Zambia’s largest national park. The park has historically received less attention than Zambia’s better-known areas, and while the game viewing experiences may not rival those of the South Luangwa or Lower Zambezi national parks, it can be very rewarding for those who are patient. With different environments to Zambia’s other national parks, and a wilderness experience greatly heightened by the low density of visitors to the park, Kafue makes a wonderfully off-beat section to a Zambian trip, or a new destination to explore for repeat visitors to the country.
The first and easiest way to get to Kafue is to fly in, and stay at one of the better camps or lodges; the team from the camp will then arrange walking safaris, game drives and boat safaris for you around the park. Secondly, you can arrange for a safari company from outside to drive you there, and drive you around. The third option is for you to drive yourself into and around the park in a 4WD.
Most of Authentic Safaris Zambia’s trips take the fly-in approach. Getting to Kafue by air is certainly one of the most relaxing, especially if your time is relatively limited, or you like the idea of a safari holiday here rather than an expedition. There are limited scheduled flights into the park, so private charter flights are an option for most of our clients.
There is also a well maintained tarmac road between Lusaka and the Kafue, which means road transfers to camps in the centre of the park (approximately 4 hours) are also a realistic option, which can be considerably cheaper than chartering a plane.
Established in 1924, the Kafue covers some 22,400km2 (about the size of Wales, or Massachusetts) of very varied terrain, and is one of the world’s largest parks. Naturally, its geography varies considerably. For those looking for a longer trip in the Kafue, it can be fascinating to journey from the north of the park to the south (or vice versa). You can see the landscape transform from flat open grasslands to miombo woodland interspersed with huge granite hills. The permanent Kafue River also transforms as it makes its way through the park, starting as a wide sluggish channel in the north, and changing to rapids crashing around hundreds of granite boulders in the south before emptying into the man-made Lake Itezhi-Tezhi.
The northern section of Kafue National Park is a slightly undulating plateau, much of which is a mosaic of miombo and mopane woodland, with the occasional grassy dambo. The area is veined by rivers, all of which are tributaries of the main Kafue River, meaning there are also corridors of hardwood riverine forest throughout the area.
In the far north of Kafue National Park, the Lufupa River flows into the Busanga Swamps. During the rains, this floods out over the adjacent Busanga Plains. Later, around May, when these waters recede, they leave behind a carpet of lush vegetation – which is irresistible to many herbivores. The Busanga Plains is certainly a highlight of the Kafue for the diversity and the quantity of its big game.
Here you find flat grassland plains dotted with photogenic ‘islands’ of wild date palms, sausage trees and fig trees; it’s a unique environment for Kafue. You’ll often also find huge herds of red lechwe and puku, as well as buffalo, zebra, wildebeest and other antelope. The prides of lion residing here are known for their tree-climbing antics; it’s Zambia’s best area for cheetah and one of its best for wild dogs – and certainly the best game area in Kafue National Park.
The northern Kafue receives a little more rain than the south, resulting in richer, taller vegetation, so it has historically received more attention. The reality in the south of the park is that the game can be quite patchy, clustered around areas where it has historically been protected. These areas have been expanding in recent years though, and with the Spinal Road, completed in 2014, improving access this situation is set to continue improving.
The southern half of the park is perfect for those who love exploring, and a little patience can be rewarded with some fantastic game viewing. With such a vast area to explore, and a low number of visitors, the southern Kafue offers a great safari experience for those who value a true feeling of wilderness as much as the game-sightings.
Kafue has a superb range of antelope, but you will have to travel throughout the park if you wish to see them all. It’s possible to visit and see large herds of red lechwe and puku, with smaller groups of zebra and blue wildebeest in the Busanga Plains around June, when it starts to dry out.
Across the northern half of the park, there’s a good range of mixed bush environments, and here kudu, bushbuck, eland, reedbuck, common duiker, grysbok and defassa waterbuck are all frequently seen.
Lion are relatively widespread all over the park, but the larger males are increasingly uncommon, with inevitable consequences for numbers as a whole. On the Busanga Plains, prides stalk through nervous herds of puku and lechwe nightly, using the natural drainage ditches for cover with deadly efficiency.
Leopards remain very common throughout the main forested areas of the park, though they are seldom seen on the open plains. Spotted hyenas are seen regularly, though not often, throughout the park. Cheetah are not common anywhere, but they’re most frequently seen in the north of the park, where they seem to be thriving. Occasional sightings of wild dog occur all over the park which is one of Zambia’s best strongholds for them
The birding in Kafue is very good. There have been about 495 species recorded here, suggesting that the park has probably the richest birdlife of any Zambian park. This reflects Kafue’s wide range of habitats- Kafue has plenty of rivers, extensive wetlands and – in the north – seasonal floodplains.
The wetlands and floodplains have the full range of herons (including the black heron), storks and ibises, plus crowned and wattled cranes, Denham’s (or Stanley’s) and kori bustards, secretary birds, and geese (spur-winged and Egyptian) by the thousand.
In the long, verdant stretches of riverine vegetation you’re likely to spot Ross’s turaco, Narina trogons, MacClounie’s (black-backed) barbet, olive woodpecker, brown-headed apalis and the yellow-throated leaflove. If you take a boat or canoe trip on the river itself then you may be treated to a sighting of the African finfoot, or a nesting colony of African skimmers. Kafue’s extensive miombo woodlands have endemics such as pale-billed hornbill, miombo pied barbet, grey tit, miombo rock thrush, Sousa’s shrike, chestnut-mantled sparrow-weaver, spotted creeper, and three species of eremomela. In the south, on the Nanzhila Plains, the black-cheeked lovebird – near-endemic to southern Zambia – is relatively common.