Jump to content
Blue Bird

Bangweulu Wetlands, Lake Tanganyika and Katavi

Recommended Posts

Blue Bird

A Road Trip Through Northern Zambia and Southern Tanzania: Bangweulu Wetlands, Lake Tanganyika and Katavi National Park

 

I thought I would make my trip to Northern Zambia and Southern Tanzania in May 2014 the subject of my first trip report and virgin Safari Talk contribution. Having read the many excellent posts already on the forum I’m hesitant that my writing and photographic skills have a lot to live up to, but this exciting and adventurous trip taking in Bangweulu Wetlands and Lake Tanganyika and Katavi National Park seemed worthy of reporting, so here goes ……….

 

This epic road trip began in Lusaka where I met up with my guide Doug Macdonald. The first night was spent at Pioneer Camp, just east of Lusaka and easily accessible from the airport. We packed the Land Rover ready for an early start the following day. Our first port of call was to be the Bangweulu Wetlands a drive of around 620km. A 4am start meant we could clear Lusaka unimpeded by the notorious commuter traffic jams which plague the city. At this time in the morning we were soon ‘speeding’ up the Great North Road.

 

The Great North Road is actually in fantastic condition, well tarmacked with barely a pot hole in sight. Long straight sections meant that the occasional lorry, bus or local vehicle could be passed without too much trauma. The easiest way into the Wetlands was to take the turnoff through the Lavushi Manda National Park a distance of around 500km from Lusaka. Progress was good and we reached this point after a drive of around 8 hours with short stops for snacks and fuel.

The Lavushi Manda National Park is composed of a very extensive and impressive forest, but from an animal and bird perspective seemed pretty sterile. The unpaved road was in reasonable shape and there was evidence that some sort of tourist infrastructure was being developed with signs for several campsites and trails along the way. On leaving the park the road conditions for the final 60km to the Wetlands were somewhat more challenging. Progress was slow with numerous large potholes, but the drive was interesting through an almost continuous string of tiny villages. This is very much traditional Africa with mud-brick walls and straw roofs and hordes of curious kids running after our vehicle. Finally you leave the forest and the view opens up across a huge grassy plain and what a sight, black Lechwe all the way to the horizon. There must have been at least 100,000 just in the relatively small area we could see.

 

Lechwe

Bangweulu Wetlands

 

 

The water had receded sufficiently so we could drive across the plain to reach a small airstrip and ranger hut where we would leave our vehicle. The final journey across to Shoebill Island was to be by boat. We arrived at around 4pm, 12 hours after leaving Lusaka and the contrast between the bustling African city and this remote backwater could not have been more dramatic.

 

Boat to Shoebill Island

 

The plan had been to camp on Shoebill Island but we discovered the camp site was not open and instead we had been allocated a large fixed tent with en-suite facilities which was an unexpected treat. There were only two other visitors on the island and so we had a real feeling of remoteness. After cooking dinner we sat with a few beers listening to the sounds of the African night, the usual chorus of insects and frogs was punctuated by the sounds of herds of Lechwe splashing through the swamp.

 

Lechwe at Sunrise

 

The following day we set out to explore. The water levels were still quite high and we went initially by boat in our quest to find a shoebill. It was a magical experience drifting silently past the banks of papyrus and through carpets of water lilies.

 

Bangweulu Wetlands

Birdlife was plentiful from the myriad of small waders to a large number of wattled cranes and raptors.

 

Wattled Cranes

Crested Eagle

 

We passed fishermen’s huts and tiny villages. Some fishermen still used traditional methods creating small dams in the wetlands punctuated by channels containing homemade fish traps. Sadly unsustainable fishing practices were also in evidence with donated mosquito nets stitched together to make huge nets which were then pegged out amongst the vegetation. Our quest was successful and a shoebill was sighted initially from the boat. We were able to ‘land’, walking and bouncing on the springy mass of floating weed and papyrus to get a better view. Unfortunately my ‘point and press’ camera was only able to record our sighting as a few grey blurry blobs, not worthy of publication – the view through the binoculars was rather better!

 

In the afternoon it was shoes off and mud between the toes as we paddled and waded through the swamp back to the grassy plains to have another look at the spectacular herds of lechwe.

 

Bangweulu Wetlands

More Lechwe!

 

 

Our two nights on Shoebill Island were over all too quickly and after a morning game drive through the herds of Lechwe (and a few zebra) we continued our journey north, retracing our steps through the Lavushi Manda National Park re-joining the Great North Road. At Mpika the road forks, we were taking the quieter left hand branch, towards our next destination Lake Tanganyika. We broke our journey with a night at the Kapishya Hot Springs where we camped on the edge of the river which gently steams from the hot water bubbling up a short walk away from our tents. The restorative powers of soaking in the warm water after a hard day’s drive were much appreciated!

 

Kapishya Hot Springs

Camping at Kapishya

 

From Mpika the road starts to climb and you pass through some of Zambia’s highest villages and towns before turning off at Mbale for a 1000m descent to Mpulungu, the lowest town in the country on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Here we left our Land Rover and took a boat to Isanga Bay Lodge. Ever since I was a child I had always dreamed of visiting Lake Tanganyika, the stories of David Livingstone and childhood stamp collecting have made the name familiar to me and in my mind it had become a mythical and mysterious oasis in the heart of darkest Africa! It did not disappoint. Isanga Bay is stunning with golden sand and palm trees, everything a tropical beach should be and the bonus is warm, fresh water and not a crocodile in sight, so the first thing to do was plunge straight in for a swim.

 

Isanga Bay, Lake Tanganyika

 

Our accommodation was fantastic, consisting of a couple of beach huts on stilts a few yards from the sea, perfect for our 3 night stay. Tempting as it was, this was not just to be a beach holiday and we had plenty of activities planned.

Our first day’s expedition was to the Kalambo Falls, said to be Africa’s second highest with a 221m vertical drop off the rift valley escarpment. A boat dropped us off at a local village where a path led steeply upwards for just over an hour to reach the falls. We peered over the edge mesmerised by the Kalambo River plunging off the escarpment into a deep, green forested valley before winding its way to the lake.

 

Kalambo Falls

We got back to the lodge for a late lunch and the afternoon was spent viewing some of the underwater inhabitants of the lake. The snorkelling here is amazing, there are numerous colourful cichlids. It was like swimming through an aquarium. During our stay we spent many hours snorkelling along the rocky shore line. This section of the lake is largely crocodile free and so the swimming is considered safe. The lake crocodiles apparently stay around the river mouths that feed the lake rarely entering the open waters, although there were reports of a pale coloured croc ‘affectionately’ known as Mr Mustard who is occasionally sighted swimming past the lodge!

There was also chill out time too and it was very relaxing to sit on the terrace or under a shady palm tree with a beer watching the otters fishing and playing in the bay. There was the opportunity to go sailing and it was great fun zipping across the lake in a small catamaran. Off shore breezes tend to die down late afternoon and so this was the perfect time to take kayaks out onto the lake for a beautiful sunset. At this time of day the local fishermen come out. Small boats are used to spot shoals of fish before large boats are called in to cast the nets. We felt very privileged kayaking amongst the fishing boats watching this centuries old daily fishing ritual.

 

Fishermen Isanga Bay, Lake Tanganyika

 

All too soon it was time to leave Lake Tanganyika and cross the border into Tanzania for the final leg of the trip to Katavi National Park. We stocked up with food in the market before leaving Mpulungu. From here it is a 3 hour drive to the border.

 

Mpulungu Market

From Mbala the dirt road to the border is rough in parts and finally leads to a remote border crossing. This must be one of the least used border crossings out of Zambia consisting of little more than a locked gate on the dirt road. We had to find the local official with the key to let us across. Things were a little more developed on the Tanzanian side, but with only minimal delay we were on our way to Katavi.

Zambian Border Crossing

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
twaffle

Welcome to Safaritalk, Blue Bird.

 

A very interesting first post, what a different sort of trio. Looking forward to more.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sangeeta

Wow, Bluebird, what an adventure! Made all the better with Doug's guiding and humor, I am sure. Looking forward to Katavi, but the Bangweulu lechwe look superb! And oh no, oh no - You're giving me ideas for yet more trips :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
SafariChick

@@Blue Bird welcome to Safaritalk and what a great first post! It sounds like a wonderful trip from what you've posted so far and I look forward to the rest. Is there any way to see the photos larger? They look so lovely that it would be great to see them bigger. I tried clicking on them which sometimes enlarges photos on here but it told me I didn't have permission to see it when I did that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
michael-ibk

I´ll echo Safarichick - we need bigger pics. :)

 

Fantastic adventure, I saw some pics of this trip on Doug´s Facebook site. Those Lechwe must have been a sight to behold. Shoebill pics?

 

"Largely crocodile-free" - yeah, that would make me feel safe, too. ;)

 

Looking forward to more, and welcome to Safaritalk!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Tdgraves

Welcome

 

The photo issue is probably that you have copied the location of the thumbnail. If you click on a photo in the gallery first so that it launches a large version and then copy it's location into your tr (there is a thread about it)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
wilddog

Congratulations on your first trip report @@Blue Bird. Good to see you finally in print on ST with a very different adventure to tell us about.

 

Really looking forward to reading more.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Zim Girl

Welcome @@Blue Bird

 

Great first post and an interesting combination of destinations, looking forward to reading more.

Another vote for bigger pictures please.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Safaridude

Wow, that is an epic overland journey. I was in Bangweulu in September. How different it looks in May. Love the photo with the Land Rover and all that open landscape. Looking forward to more.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Soukous

I'm enjoying your report @@Blue Bird, but like everyone else I'd love the photos to be bigger - then I'll be even more envious of your adventure.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
TonyQ

@@Blue Bird

Very enjoyable and interesting report of what sounds like a great trip(I would welcome bigger photos also :) )

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Blue Bird

I'm enjoying your report @@Blue Bird, but like everyone else I'd love the photos to be bigger - then I'll be even more envious of your adventure.

 

Thanks for the positive comments. I have to confess the inserting of the photos drove me potty - I'm sure it can't be as difficult as I made it L . I shall seek a personal tutorial from a more experience user prior to my next installment and then you can view the Katavi wildlife in all it's glory!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Blue Bird

I'm enjoying your report @@Blue Bird, but like everyone else I'd love the photos to be bigger - then I'll be even more envious of your adventure.

 

I've changed the permission settings on the photo gallery so I think the images should open in a seperate window if you click on them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
twaffle

That works.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
SafariChick

 

I'm enjoying your report @@Blue Bird, but like everyone else I'd love the photos to be bigger - then I'll be even more envious of your adventure.

 

Thanks for the positive comments. I have to confess the inserting of the photos drove me potty - I'm sure it can't be as difficult as I made it L . I shall seek a personal tutorial from a more experience user prior to my next installment and then you can view the Katavi wildlife in all it's glory!

 

@@Blue Bird a lot of us have had a really difficult time figuring out how the posting photos in the text works so don't feel bad! And it does work for me now to make them bigger by clicking but if you figure out how to post them bigger in the report itself for the Katavi portion, even better! Really looking forward to hearing more!

Edited by SafariChick

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Kitsafari

@@Blue Bird a very promising start. the pictures of the lechwe at sunrise, the lilies, the boat and the markets are beautiful, especially after they are enlarged!

 

As @@Tdgraves said, go back to your photos, open up the photo you picked, copy the url of that enlarged picture and paste in your report. that should make the picture bigger.

 

Look forward to more exciting reports from you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Treepol

@@Blue Bird thanks for sharing your TR. Such an interesting itinerary and combination which had never occurred to me - looking forward to hearing about Katavi.

 

I've heard that Kapishya is a birding hotspot, did it seem like this to you and Doug?

 

How many days was your safari?

Edited by Treepol

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Marks

This promises to be a unique and exciting thread. As everyone else has said, the lechwe in particular are very handsome.

Also, that is a nice choice of avatar.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Blue Bird

Such an interesting itinerary and combination which had never occurred to me - looking forward to hearing about Katavi.

 

How many days was your safari?

 

The trip evolved over a few emails. I was keen to do a road trip as from a personal perspective my Africa trips are as much about the whole journey and travel experience as the wildlife sightings. I tend to feel by flying from one luxury lodge to the next you tend to loose a sense of perspective and fail to get a feel of a country's character. I really enjoy having my tent, sleeping bag and a few beers in the back of the Land Rover, roughing it a bit and seeing what happens! Fortunately I have found a guide who enjoys this too (or at least appears to!). Orginally we intended to do Katavi and Mahale, but doing both by road did not appear possible. I was still keen to see Lake Tanganyika and spend a few days on the lake shore. The rest just fitted in by what was accessable and realistically do-able over a 14 day period. On this trip we ended up spending an extra night in Katavi, but then this was at the expense of a very long drive back to Lusaka with only a one night stop at Mpika on the return leg. That was fine by me, but then I wasn't doing the driving.

 

 

 

 

I've heard that Kapishya is a birding hotspot, did it seem like this to you and Doug?

 

 

 

I don't think I was there long enough to make a proper assessment of the birding potential of Kapishya (but I'm not a great expert). We just overnighted at the campsite, made use of the hotsprings and took a break from the self catering by having dinner at the lodge. However, it's certainly a beautiful spot to spend a night or two if you are in the vicinity. I believe there are Purple-crested Turaco's in the trees around the hotsprings, but I I confess I didn't see them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
SafariChick

@@Blue Bird when you say you were not the one doing the driving - was Doug doing it or was there a separate driver. You say you were mostly self-catering - who did the cooking? Just interested to hear how the logistics of this kind of trip work as I've not done one (yet!)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Blue Bird

@@Blue Bird when you say you were not the one doing the driving - was Doug doing it or was there a separate driver. You say you were mostly self-catering - who did the cooking? Just interested to hear how the logistics of this kind of trip work as I've not done one (yet!)

 

I was well looked after. Doug did all the driving and cooking. I assisted with camp chores - washing up, fetching water, collecting fire wood, erecting tents and most importantly mixing G&T's!

 

Chef at work, Katavi

Edited by Blue Bird

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Blue Bird

Here is the rest of the report on the Katavi leg of my road trip. Thanks to @@wilddog for the personal tutorial on how to insert the images properly!...........

 

Tanzanian border formalities completed we were on our way to Katavi. Despite having only driven a few miles into Tanzania the contrast with the Zambian countryside we had left behind was dramatic. Villages were much larger and the inhabitants had upgraded the grass roof ubiquitous in Northern Zambia for shiny corrugated metal. Even the village football pitches, whilst not premier league, were at least flat, had two goal posts and lacked the ankle breaking potholes of their Zambian counterparts. With this ‘relative’ affluence came greater evidence of negative environmental impacts, the hillsides completed forested in northern Zambia were now bare. Road building was also proceeding at a great pace assisted by the ever present China man. Unfortunately for most of our journey we look on enviously at the nearly completed tarred roads while we bounced around on the potholed tracks off to one side. Anyone planning to drive around this part of Tanzania in 2015/16 is likely to be in for a treat with journey times cut dramatically. Katavi will become much more accessible by road from Zambia and the rest of Tanzania.

 

We were aiming for Park Headquarters at Sitalike at the Northern end of the park where we knew there was a public camp site, so we effectively had to drive all the way through the Park. This road was being re-laid and conditions were dire. We also suffered our only equipment failure of the whole trip. We were carrying around 100 litres of diesel on the roof of the Land Rover and the top came off one of the Jerry cans covering the vehicle and some of our kit, adding to our problems a couple of supports clamping the roof rack in place broke so everything had to be unloaded and space made for some of the heavier items inside the vehicle. We finally limped into the public campsite near Park HQ in the dark, 8 hours after crossing the border. We were knackered and covered in diesel and so the thought of putting up tents was too much so we did the bare minimum and slept under mosquito nets.

 

Things always seem much better after a good night’s sleep and we made our way to Park HQ first thing in the morning to check in. Our white Land Rover was in a bit of a state, caked in dirt and diesel so I think the staff took pity on us. They allowed us to use their workshop to fashion some new supports for the roof rack and weld the broken bits back together. We also scrubbed the vehicle so by the end of the morning everything was shipshape once more. The warden suggested that the best place to base ourselves would be in the centre of the park around the Katisunga Plain with camping available at the Old Ikuu Ranger Post situated on the edge of the Katuma River, so that was where we headed, around a 50km drive from Sitalike. The road was in far better shape than the main thoroughfare we had used the night before so after around one hour we arrived. The parks staff who occupied Old Ikuu had no idea about any public campsite but were happy for us to pick a spot and use their borehole for water so we pitched camp around 400 yards upstream on the banks of the Katuma River.

 

gallery_24187_1053_63844.jpg

 

Accommodation sorted for the next four nights, there was time for an afternoon game drive. We headed off away from the river and after about a mile the trees and shrubs thinned and we emerged onto the vast Katisunga Plain. This grass land area is enormous and you could just make out the forest through the haze on the far side as well as more distant mountains. There were large herds of elephants out amongst the vegetation. The plain is actually waterlogged at this time of year (last week in May) and so the elephants were probably standing in about a foot of water.

 

gallery_24187_1053_65533.jpg

 

gallery_24187_1053_221619.jpg

 

We could see at least one large herd of buffalo, water buck and sitatunga. On the shorter grasses around the age of the plain were impala, bushbuck, reedbuck, zebra and giraffe.

 

gallery_24187_1053_176670.jpg

 

gallery_24187_1053_411841.jpg

 

A track runs alongside the eastern edge of the plain and this is where two of the Katavi lodges are located - Katavi Wilderness Camp and Katuma Bush Camp. The lodges had not yet opened for the season and so it quickly became apparent that we would have the park to ourselves. We got back to our camp at 6pm. There was still plenty of daylight to collect wood and prepare our evening meal of chicken cooked on the open fire. There was a plentiful supply of cold beers from the Land Rover’s fridge and there was even the opportunity for a shower with a bucket of warm water and a nifty shower pump run off the car battery. This was fly camping in style!

 

The following day we explored more of the Katisunga Plain and also both banks of the Katuma River. Pictures you frequently see of Katavi show large groups of hippos jam packed into the mud at the end of the dry season. I’ve always felt sorry for these poor creatures forced together at times of great adversity as the water dries up. In May the Katuma River flows fast and wide, but incredibly just by our campsite the same phenomenon could be observed with at least 30 hippos crammed into thick black rancid mud with barely an inch to move. I cannot imagine what possesses a group of animals to behave in this way when there was plenty of clean fresh water just 10 yards away. Each morning they would descend into the mud and each evening around 6.30pm they would clamber back out again. You could tell when they were on the move because our noses caught the stink from the festering combination of mud, shit and hippo as they emerged from their black lagoon.

 

gallery_24187_1053_61176.jpg

 

gallery_24187_1053_462625.jpg

 

The Giraffes were one of the stars of Katavi. They were plentiful and I was amazed as to how vehicle tolerant they were and so there were plenty of great giraffe shots.

 

gallery_24187_1053_15473.jpg

gallery_24187_1053_103856.jpg

 

 

I am always keen to see the feline residents of any park. The signs were looking good with tracks on the roads, calling in the night and a plentiful supply of cat food. I was not disappointed. We soon came across a group of six male lions – a fully grown male and adolescents of different ages, presumably a father and a couple of sets of brothers. We spotted them mid-afternoon lounging under the trees along the Katuma River, probably about half a mile from our camp. They were really fat with the remains of a buffalo kill just visible by the water. The following morning they had barely moved an inch and some of the younger members of the group were sitting on the road catching the first rays of the morning sun.

 

gallery_24187_1053_106060.jpg

gallery_24187_1053_393284.jpg

On our second full day we ventured further afield, driving east to Lake Chada and then on to another grassland area known as Paradise. Both provided big vistas, similar to Katisunga - large open plains and also partially flooded. A large herd of Buffalo was present on the Lake Chada plain so we spent time watching their progress.

gallery_24187_1053_357666.jpg

We drove around the edge of Lake Chada and continued past the back of the Lake Chada lodge, again not yet open. Beyond Lake Chada the road became rough, passing through palm forest before rejoining the river and emerging into Paradise. According to the map the road should continue through Paradise, but we could go no further our way being barred by water, mud and long grass.

 

gallery_24187_1053_119584.jpg

Although there were views to admire there was much less animal activity in this part of the park. There was a lot of burning going on which may have resulted in the normal resident populations moving elsewhere. The area around the Katisunga Plain and Katuma River was largely spared the scorched earth policy which the park seems to have adopted, and as we already knew the game viewing was excellent we decided to concentrate our efforts back there for the rest of our stay.

 

We spent many hours exploring both banks of the Katuma River. Birdlife was plentiful and there were always lots of elephant, hippos and crocodiles. There were several old buffalo lurking amongst the tall grasses on the river’s edge. The many little promontories along the river bank became favourite lunch and sundowner spots and it was fantastic to find a shady spot for a siesta or to watch the world go by.

 

gallery_24187_1053_242523.jpg

gallery_24187_1053_202278.jpg

For our final day we were back on the Katisunga Plain. There were several large herds of buffalo and so we followed one for a while and soon came across a pride of lions with the same idea. There were two males, seven females and four cubs. This pride was fat and well fed and so after a while they just found a shady spot for a sleep – unfortunately for us it was obvious that there was going to be no more hunting that day.

 

gallery_24187_1053_429291.jpg

Our time in Katavi was over all too soon. Considering this was end of May and low season, sightings had been great, the scenery was stunning and best of all there was no one else there.

 

Our return journey south was uneventful – 5 hours back to the Zambian border and a further 6 hour drive took us to Mpika where we spent the night at Bayama Lodge just off the main road and enjoyed a few beers in the lively local bar. The following day a nine hour drive got us back to Pioneer Camp on the outskirts of Lusaka, in plenty of time for my overnight flight home.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
wilddog

Hi @@Blue Bird.

 

Great Job on the photographs ;).and the rest of the trip report. Very interesting about those hippos preferring mud to fresher water in Katavi. I wonder if it helps with ticks or something like that?

 

I think you have down played the travel, and your assistance to Doug. A lot of people would find the long road journeys hard going but there is no doubt it gives a broader view of Africa and makes it more of an adventure particularly off tarmac. As for the assistance side I know you washed all the diesel off the vehicle as well as making the G & T's. All part of the fun. Having said that there is no doubt Doug is a great host on a road trip.

 

Thanks for telling us about it.

 

Have you got a route map you could share with us?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
wilddog

Just noticed the box of red at the campsite. Nice way to finish the day after a long road trip. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
michael-ibk

Thanks for sharing this, a great adventure!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This topic is quite old. Unless updating a photographic thread with new images, please consider starting a new discussion. Thank you.

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

Safaritalk uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By using Safaritalk you agree to our use of cookies. If you wish to refuse the setting of cookies you can change settings on your browser to clear and block cookies. However, by doing so, Safaritalk may not work properly and you may not be able to access all areas. If you are happy to accept cookies and haven't adjusted browser settings to refuse cookies, Safaritalk will issue cookies when you log on to our site. Please also take a moment to read the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy: Terms of Use l Privacy Policy