Sarah Kingdom Explores the Beautiful Wilderness Of Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park
When David Livingstone reached the Lower Zambezi Valley in December 1855, he recorded in his journal the wild beauty of the scene… “Hundreds of buffaloes and zebra grazed in the open space, and beneath the trees stood lordly elephants feeding majestically. The number of animals was quite astonishing. I wished I could have photographed a scene so seldom beheld…”
The Lower Zambezi valley, with its majestic escarpment sloping down to meet the river, protects a massive rift in the earth’s crust through which the Zambezi River flows. Over millennia, mineral-rich volcanic soils, deposited by the river, have given rise to lush vegetation, while the many channels and oxbow lakes attract an array of wildlife.
Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park is a relatively undeveloped park, the beauty of the Lower Zambezi lies in its wildness and the opportunities to get right up close to the wildlife. The diversity of animals is not as great as some parks, but there are opportunities to get right up close to the wildlife.
The Zambezi River, the fourth longest in Africa, forms the boundary between Zimbabwe and Zambia. On the northern bank of the Zambezi, in the southeast of Zambia, lies Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park. The 4,092km² park is a pristine wilderness and an area of abundant wildlife. Herds of elephants, soaring fish eagles and everything in between. A hunting ground for lions, leopards, and wild dogs. A timeless valley of giant towering Winterthorn trees, and the wildlife that finds sanctuary in their dappled shade. The river itself is home to hippos, crocodiles, and the coveted tiger fish.
Boat rides down the river are a great way to spot wildlife, especially birds. Taking a guided canoeing trip down the Zambezi is a highlight, though perhaps not for the faint-hearted as you are very likely to get up close and personal to hippos, crocodiles and elephants, all of which are found in large numbers. Fishing trips are another highlight as are guided walks which are a more intimate way to experience the natural beauty of this park. There are few other parks in Africa that offer this diversity of safari activities in a single location.
Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park itself is surrounded by large Game Management Areas, there are no fences between the two and animals are free to roam throughout the entire area. The Muchinga escarpment, to the north of the park, acts as a physical barrier, with the bulk of the park being in this hilly ground. As a result, the majority of the wildlife is concentrated on the valley floor, on the plains beside the deep, wide Zambezi River.
Most visitors arrive by boat or light aircraft. Tourist numbers are limited by the park’s relative inaccessibility, though if you have some off-road driving experience and come at the right time of year, a road trip is certainly possible. We had felt a bit of an adventure was in order and so had decided to drive… five hours from Lusaka and on some pretty terrible roads, we arrived at our destination.
Driving through Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park, a leopard sauntered down the sandy road in front of us, a family of elephants slipped almost silently through the undergrowth, and a herd of buffalo watched us mutely. Seven lions lay in the shade, their mouths smeared with blood from an earlier meal. Nearer to camp, waterbuck, warthog impala and kudu filled the Winterthorn forest.
Our attention is drawn to a troop of baboons, shrieking and shouting. Some climb to the top of anthills, others stand on their hind legs, all are trying to get a better vantage point. A large male baboon climbs a tree and, jumping up and down, shakes the branches vigorously. Driving closer we can see the distinctive mottled markings of an African wild dog’s coat.
Slightly hidden by the long grass, he’s killed a young impala. It’s unusual for wild dogs to hunt alone and after only gulping down a few mouthfuls of meat he stands up and, sniffing the breeze, heads off at a trot in the direction of some distant hills, presumably to find the rest of his pack.
We wait in vain to see if they will return. Either the rest of the pack elude him, or they’ve already had a successful hunt of their own; either way, they never return.
A myriad of birds abound in the park, 378 species have been recorded. Red-billed and Yellow-billed Hornbills swoop through the trees like clowns with their oversized beaks, Black Crakes flit on the river banks, Woolly-Necked storks preen in the shallows and Ground Hornbills stride across the landscape like they’re heading to an important meeting.
The park is home to lion, hippo and wild dog, who are all listed as ‘vulnerable’ or ‘endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and all are endangered by poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife products. To counteract this, Conservation Lower Zambezi, a non-profit NGO, was set up in 1994 to preserve the wildlife in the National Park and GMA (a total area of approximately 9,000 km2).
CLZ provide technical advice and support to the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, conduct regular patrol flights, run an environmental education programme targeting over 2,500 young scholars a year, and a Community Support Programme focusing on human-wildlife conflict mitigation in the neighbouring GMA. After 20 years of working with local wildlife authorities in the Lower Zambezi valley, CLZ is now one of the oldest, most well-established, and well-recognized conservation organisations in Zambia.
Tell Me More About Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park
You can find out more about Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park by visiting the Lower Zambezi website, or the Lower Zambezi page of the Zambian tourism website. Proflight offers flights to Lower Zambezi National Park and you can find their schedule here.
Where to stay
The lodges in the Lower Zambezi valley are found stretched out along the banks of the Zambezi River. Roughly speaking, they’re priced according to their distance from the park; those within Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park are at the top end in terms of price and here you will find some truly luxurious safari lodges. There are some high-end luxury lodges in the GMA, however, there are a number of camping and self-catering options here. For a luxurious adventure read my review of the fabulous Lolebezi Safari Camp