12.04.2014 - 20.05.2014 33 °C
We awoke with day break, and others nearby had obviously already started their day. We could hear voices, and a young man, who we later realized lived about a 100m down the road on which we we were camping, came by first with his wife and then later with his piglets that he was taking for a walk. They were so adorable. I tried to feed them old pears but I was too excited and frightened them away. We scattered the pears around our site, hoping they would come back. They did, but not close enough to eat the pears and we weren’t organized enough to get any photos. We spoke with him and he told us he lived nearby and farmed maize, the most common crop we’d seen in this region. We were on our way shortly thereafter. We bought some charcoal from a gaggle of kids on the road and pulled over so I could stand in the field of sunflowers- something I highly recommend. We arrived at the Dundumwenze gate of Kafue park an hour later at around 7:45.
No one was at the gate so we ventured over to the nearby buildings where we found kids, women and the gate attendant. It took about 45 minutes to sort out the paperwork, mainly because we had to get the office keys, open various rooms and cabinets, laboriously fill out the paperwork, do some math, and finally pay in exact change. They had a great map of the park, which we had been unable to find elsewhere, but they had none for sale. We were thus still going off the Zambian map we had picked up in Katima Lulilo, which wasn’t always accurate. It did have blown up sections of the parks in Zambia but again the roads didn't always match, or exist. Our park fees here were about 60USD per day, compared to 17USD per day at Etosha. Neither of these included the camp site fee, but Zambian parks charge you an additional fee to camp in their parks, which is separate from the campsite fee. The gate attendant was very nice and got us on our way as quickly as possible, but it was clear they weren’t placing their grade A rangers down at this gate. He also seemed to double as a sort of police authority because he had ‘weapons’ in his office, which were large sticks labeled with the crime they had been used to commit- the label Don read ‘..was attempting to beat his wife..’. This gate also doesn’t get a lot of traffic at this time of year as the last entry in the log book was 2 weeks prior.
We headed up the Spine road, which we later found out runs the entire length of the park. The roads to the east were still closed due to flooding. Don had booked us in for a campsite at Hippo Bay, Mankonkoya Lodge. The lodge wasn’t open for another month and none of the other big lodges on the Itezi Tezhi lake were open at this time of year. High season for Zambia starts in June and goes into September. The rains are December to March but it is still very wet and the vegetation is quite full in April and May. The Spine road was dense with low visibility.
Not overly surprising for this time of year, but compared to the drier climate of Namibia Zambia had much reduced visibility. Whereas most of the grass had already dried and fallen in Namibia it was still very thick and standing tall in Zambia. The absolute highlight of the morning, however, was a leopard that was running towards us on the road chasing a hare. It was so unexpected it took us some time to figure out what we were seeing and for the leopard to notice the vehicle.
Early afternoon we arrived at Ngoma, a town inside the park border. Throughout our time in Kafue we came across many park inhabitants, some of whom we saw fishing on Itezi Tezi lake. This is completely different than other parks we have visited in Namibia, Botswana an Tanzania where the parks are fly dedicated to conservation. It does give the area a different feel- passing by fishermen as you scan the water for birds and animals. It took us a bit of time to find Hippo Bay, mostly because we were coming at it from the less common direction, overshot it and ended up at the Musa gate.
We did pass through an incredible section of road where the water, because of the flooding, came right up to the road and had spilled over to the other side. Our first time through this section we saw antelope all over the place, including the new to us Puku. The Puku is similar to the Red Lechwe in being a water adapted antelope- making huge leaps through the water and reeds to get away from us and the road. We watched a very large monitor lizard swim through one of the flooded sections, also to get away from us, but he was in fact swimming alongside the road, allowing us a great and extended look. This place was filled with birds and hippos, making their amazing hippo grunting noises that travel long distances. Itezhi Tezi lake is quite large because there is a dam and power station to the North outside the town of Itezhi tezhi. The shallow areas, filled with hippos, are also full of dead trees and green bushes, the latter clearly not in the water year round. This section of the park was definitely making up for the thick southern section.
Backtracking we found our turn off and found a deserted campsite that had not yet been cleaned up for the upcoming season, although Don had contacted the lodge ahead of time with our reservation. We made a fire and listened to the hippos over dinner.