Lower Zambezi National Park

Lower Zambezi National Park                     
This is Zambia’s newest Park and as such is still relatively undeveloped, but it’s beauty lies in it’s absolute wilderness state. The diversity of animals is not as wide as the other big parks, but the opportunities to get close to game wandering in and out of the Zambezi channels are spectacular. The Park lies opposite the famous Mana Pools Reserve in Zimbabwe, so the whole area on both sides of the river is a massive wildlife sanctuary.
The rivers edge is overhung with a thick riverine fringe, mostly diasporus, ficus and other riverine species. Further inland is a floodplain fringed with mopane forest and interspersed with winterthorn trees Acacia albida. The hills which form the backdrop to the park are covered in broadleaf woodland. Conservation Lower Zambezi -  a group of concerned operators in the park that work hard to ensure the area is a safe refuge for elephants and other wildlife.


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The Lower Zambezi National Park covers an area of 4,092 km2, but most of the game is concentrated along the valley floor. There is an escarpment along the northern end which acts as a physical barrier to most of the parks animal species. Enormous herds of elephant, some up to 100 strong, are often seen at the rivers edge. ‘Island hopping’ buffalo and waterbuck are common. The park also hosts good populations of lion and leopard and listen too for the ubiquitous cry of the fish eagle.

Getting there
One can drive into the National Park on one’s own but it is very underdeveloped and not really structured for vehicle visitors yet. The existing lodges and canoeing operators provide the best access to the park. They all offer pick-ups from either Lusaka or Chirundu (where there is a small motel) or Kariba in Zimbabwe. The Chongwe River demarcates the western boundary of the park and can be accessed from Chirundu along a rough road (4x4 recommended), crossing the Kafue River by pontoon just beyond Gwabi Lodge.From April there will be a pontoon that crosses the Zambezi from Luangwa Town to Kanyemba in Zimbabwe and to Zumbo in Mozambique. All at the Zambezi/Luangwa confluence. 

What to do
Fishing is good along the river, all three lodges offer fishing with rods and simple tackle provided. Healthy Tiger fish and bream catches are common as well as vundu, a member of the catfish family, weighing up to 50 kilograms. Strangely, cheap strong smelling soap is an excellent bait. Canoeing is a must. The lodges will provide day long canoeing trips. Float down the river at your leisure and they’ll pick you up in a speedboat at the end of the day to bring you back. Several operators run 3 - 5 day trips, overnighting at very comfortable bush camps on the banks of the river. These are highly recommended. The river has a strong enough current to take you easily down the river with little effort. The river guides will take you down remote channels between the islands where your opportunities to get close to game are very high. Hippos are always in sight, elephant, zebra, puku, impala, buffalo, kudu and baboons can be seen browsing on the banks from the laid back comfort of your canoe.  Safari Par Excellence also offer ‘participatory’ canoeing trips of any duration. All gear is carried in the canoes and camps are erected on islands in the river along the way. Everyone gets involved in setting up camp and cooking. These trips are obviously cheaper and a touch less comfortable, but the thrill of the wilderness is that much more intense.  Karibu Safaris  a canoeing safari with limited participation camping (no equipment carried in the canoes, excellent meals prepared by crew). Guests are met at Kariba and are transferred to exclusive campsites on the banks of the Zambezi.  Guests canoe their way down the river with their experienced and knowledgeable river guides, staying at a different camp site each night. 6 day and 4 day packages are offered. Game drives and walking safaris offered by the lodges and camps provide excellent game viewing opportunities. 

Sightseeing
The ecological unit of LZNP and the Chiawa Game Management Area support a relatively large population of mammals. The escarpment and plateau regions are largely inaccessible and have not been formally surveyed. The valley floor, although a small area is host to many of the bigger mammals, elephant, buffalo, hippo, waterbuck, kudu, zebra, and crocodiles, impala and warthog. Occasionally, roan, eland and the Samango monkey. Nocturnal animals here are hyaena, porcupine, civet, genet and honeybadger.

Birds
The birdlife along the riverbanks is exceptional. Many a fish eagle can be seen and heard for miles around. Nesting along the cliffs are white fronted and carmine bee eaters. Another unusual the red winged pratincole, the elegant crested guinea fowl, black eagle, and vast swarms of quelea. In summer the stunning narina trogon makes its home here. Other specialities are the trumpeter hornbill, Meyers parrot and Lilian’s lovebird.

Vegetation
The vegetation in the area is predominated by Acacia albida trees, a thorn species 10 - 30 m high with the classical shady umbrella canopy. It is able to tolerate sandier soils than other woodland species and serves to stabilise infertile sandbanks and reduce erosion. Winterthorn pods are also remarkably nutritious to elephants who digest it leaving about 40% intact, thereby contributing to its proliferation.

When to go ?
The best time is mid season from June to September, but all lodges and canoeing operators are open from April to November. Kayila lodge is open all year. Fishing is at its best in September / October.