Busanga Plains have been on my mind to visit for years, and in 2017 I managed to visit. This place is largely inaccessible for about six months in a year, and it is located in a very remote area. It is not to the advantage of the tourist that ZAWA has monopolized the entire Northern part of the Kafue NP to one luxury safari operator. Thus, the opportunities for adventure travelers not willing to spend a fortune on visiting this wildlife gem are rare.
Busanga Plains is a vast wilderness in northern Kafue National Park, one of the largest national parks in Africa and globally. Kafue National Parks is a fantastic wilderness of diverse habitats ranging from forests, woodlands, swamps, and grasslands – intersected from North to South by untrammeled Kafue river. Unlike most of the middle and south of the park dominated by woodlands and forest cover, Busanga Plains offers a wide-open landscape in unambiguous contrast. As the name suggests, the area is dominated by vast open plains, which formed primarily due to annual seasonal flooding that keeps the tree vegetation in check. This landscape thus offers one of the few opportunities in Zambia to observe wildlife in such open settings.
Arriving to Busanga Plains includes staying overnight at Kafue River Lodge, which runs one of the best equipped and scenic campsites. The lodge has set up a seasonal camp on the boundary of the Busanga Plain in the Game Management Area. After leaving early from the campsite preceded by the previous evening’s wonderful river cruise and fishing, it takes 5 hours of drive in an open roof safari vehicle, chances are you may get soaked if traveling in early Dec or late Nov. We were the last group visiting the camp during the season, and the weather surely made us aware that the rainy season had started.
The bush camp has a fantastic atmosphere, the best part about it is that you are the only residents at the camp. The days are spent with getting up at 5 am to some hot tea and then heading out to the vast plains. As the ground was pretty wet, one morning we even managed to get stuck in mud, pushing a car out of the mud at 6 am in the morning is indeed a good way to pump up the blood! We were not the only ones with such troubles as one safari vehicle from a nearby lodge got stuck on a makeshift bridge and took some hours to be rescued. As the plains are full of many small river channels, those are often passable only through self-made bridges made out of simple wooden poles. This makes for an adventurous crossing as the driver must hit those poles exactly or sliding down….
The wildlife viewing on the plains is outstanding due to visibility. One can see large herds of Lechwes grazing around the water streams, mixed with a variety of birds and other ungulates. Buffaloes, kudus, reedbuck, wildebeest, oribis were all seen. Busanga birdlife is prolific and the birds congregate around the remaining waterholes in the dry season, Come rainy season the array of birds just explodes.
Busanga of course is home to several large prides of lions, which are relatively easy to find and see due to the open terrain. It still took us almost 2 days to find one but the sight was spectacular , one of the best sightings I’ve seen. After finishing our afternoon tea/drink break, we drove through the plain where we saw some dark spots in the shade under a particular tree, a beautiful and healthy pack of lions. They were all resting and observing the plains in the afternoon soft light, waiting for the evening to come. We returned to the spot twice, and it was a very peaceful experience as there was no other car around. We especially enjoyed watching the vultures taking their chances snooping around the lions. Why were they there?
Returning to Kafue River Lodge, we all felt rejuvenated by being in deep nature and ended our trip with a delicious dinner and some fishing in the morning. Fishing this part of the river is something very unusual – in 1 hour we caught perhaps 10-15 fish. Barble fish (catfish) and breams. It feels as if anyone can just throw the line in the water and go home with plentiful bounty.
When returning to Lusaka, one has 2 options – drive on a normal murram/gravel road about 30 min and then wait for the ferry to cross the river, and then continue through the park. Another option is to drive straight across the Kafue River from the lodge to the other side and continue driving on scenic loops until the main road.
Of course, we opted for the latter adventurous option, the lodge manager, was adamant that it was easy and they do it all the time when the water is low. Walking the talk, he rolled up his pants and started walking though the river with a healthy population of crocodiles around to show us the path. The short-axle Landcruiser did not disappoint, driving through the river was easy but the bank on the other side went straight up for about 4 meters and it was muddy.
Watch our river crossing here:
The shortcut was a great idea seasoned with the spectacular sight of an old elephant bull peacefully grazing in the middle of the fresh grass field. The trip to Busanga is one of my best wildlife experiences in Africa, without any doubt.