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May 2007 Travel Zambia 27 Zambia undiscovered Kasanka and Bangweulu Kasanka National Park, at a mere 420km2, is a fraction of the size of Luangwa or Kafue. Yet this gem of a reserve hosts perhaps the greatest concentration of mammal biomass on earth. Every October almost eight million straw-coloured fruit bats arrive overnight to spend two months gorging themselves on the abundant fruit that grows in the reserve. The colony’s combined weight of 2,500 tonnes is the equivalent of 500 elephants strung across 15 football pitches of forest. The straw-coloured fruit bat (Eidolon helvum) is a migratory species that lives in large colonies on the edge of forests and towns across Africa. The Kasanka colony lies at the southern extreme of its range and is the largest known. It is no surprise the bats come so far and in such numbers. Lastone Mwagaila was a nine-year-old when his family was one of many removed from Kasanka as it became a game reserve in 1945. “Kasanka means place where people come to harvest,” he explained, recalling how Zambians would travel the entire region for its meat, fish and fruit. Wasa Lodge, on the shore of Lake Wasa, is the park headquarters and lies about 20 minutes from the main road. Here you can enjoy a hearty meal after an evening spent witnessing bats dispersing to every horizon. Reassuringly, although fruit bat is served in hotels in Nigeria, it is off the menu here. The chefs refused to cook one of these “dirty animals”. The bats are not Kasanka’s only wildlife attraction. Among an abundance of antelope species is the shy sitatunga, with dawn views of this semi-aquatic species from a tree hide being another unique highlight. Crocodiles and hippos frequent the various rivers that flow through the reserve, while among 412 recorded bird species are such sought-after specials as Pel’s fishing owl, wattled crane and Ross’s lourie. Kasanka is Zambia’s flagship reserve in the World Tourism handbook on conservation, with manager Edmund Farmer and his wife Kim expanding the not-for-profit work with evangelistic zeal, and happy to share their experiences late into the night. Clean and comfortable rondavels are available with full catering, and there are campsites for the more intrepid, with all profits going into the running of the park. Wetland wonders The Farmers’ other venture is Shoebill Island, 50km or so to the north, which offers the best access point to the enormous Bangweulu Swamps. This wetland wilderness, formed by the lake of the same name, offers treasures to rival the Okavango Delta. Every year Lake Bangweulu quadruples in size, peaking around April at about 15,000 km2. As with Kasanka, its rich avifauna leaves birdwatchers reeling, with pride of place going to the rare and charismatic shoebill. The camp, as its name suggests, affords perhaps Africa’s most reliable views of this bizarre, heavy-beaked water bird. Although shoebills can be elusive, it is not unknown for individuals to wander across the island – much to the delight of campers. Equally impressive are the massive herds of the endemic black lechwe, which pass close by in their tens of thousands. A dugout canoe directed by a local guide will take you through the watery terrain, flushing out tsessebe, reedbuck and even occasional fishermen. Bangweulu is a not a national park, and local people subsist from So you’ve gasped at the falls, canoed the Zambezi, tracked game in Luangwa and Kafue, and now you’re wondering what else Zambia has to offer. You could do worse than head northeast out of Lusaka on the T2, or – as locals know it – the Great North Road. Zambia’s northern reaches hold some of the country’s most intriguing destinations. Three enterprising travellers told Travel Zambia about their favourite haunts. The primeval wilderness of Kasanka (opposite) is home to Africa’s largest roost of straw-coloured fruit bats (below). KIERAN DODDS “Reassuringly, although fruit bat is served in hotels in Nigeria, it is off the menu here.” >>

28 Travel Zambia May 2007 Zambia undiscovered the swamp. The sight of a dugout floating eerily through the early morning mist on glassy waters gives the area a memorable primeval feel. Finding shoebills is easiest at the end of the wet season, around May to June. In the dry season, from September to November, game drives navigate the expansive plains to view antelope and the plentiful birdlife concentrated around pools and river channels. Night drives might also encounter such nocturnal residents as civets, genets and side-striped jackals. Bangweulu is where David Livingstone met his end, succumbing to blood loss and fever during a fruitless search for the source of the Nile (this wetland actually drains into the Congo basin). A large monument to the great explorer stands in forest at the edge of the swamp, about an hour’s drive from the gate of Kasanka. Kieran Dodds Mutinondo and Shiwa Ng’andu Ever felt frustrated on safari at not being able to wander off and explore the wilderness around you? The very wildlife you’ve come to see can cut you off from its equally impressive habitat. Northern Zambia’s Mutinondo Wilderness offers a solution: 10,000 hectares of private miombo woodland, teeming with wildlife – but none of it dangerous, so you can hike, horse-ride, swim and canoe at your whim. Set on a plateau west of the Luangwa Valley, Mutinondo’s woodlands are interrupted only by massive granite whalebacks and a river so clean you can drink it. Passionate conservationists Mike and Lari Merrett acquired Mutinondo in 1995, and have built their intimate lodge on eco-tourism principles, supporting the community while protecting its natural heritage. The thatched en suite granite chalets have open sides overlooking wooded hills, while a campsite borders a rocky wooded outcrop. Guests feast royally on local produce, with vegetables grown by villagers. Peace in every guise is on offer, from riverside tranquillity to hilltop elation. Here is Africa shorn of the 21st century, beyond the confines of camp or Land Rover. There are over 60km of tracks on which to discover butterflies, birds, antelope and exquisite plants – from prehistoric cycads, to fat pink proteas, hot red aloes and, during the rains, umbrella-sized mushrooms. You can also enjoy art or jewellery-making lessons, learn crafts with neighbouring villagers or take a gentle horse-ride for sundowners, before struggling to take in the hordes of stars. Or simply stroll out and touch Africa as it’s been for centuries. Elegant eccentricities The Merretts were not the first to be inspired by a personal vision of Zambia’s wild north. In 1921 the Shiwa Ng’andu estate was carved from the bush by Edwardian eccentric Sir Stewart Gore-Browne, who had a utopian dream of creating his own benevolent fiefdom. Though the farm thrived during Gore-Browne’s lifetime, it was crumbling by 2002 – which is when grandson Charlie and his wife Jo took over and began its restoration. Today they oversee a flourishing community, farming livestock and game, and welcoming guests to the original Tuscan-style manor house. Approached down imposing avenues of trees, this is the place to indulge every aristocratic fantasy. History is tangible among the stone staircases and wood-panelled corridors. Take tea in the drawing room hung with original portraits, or on the terrace above sculpted gardens; browse the library’s ceiling-high shelves of leather-bound books; or explore the family chapel before sundowners beside the lake after which Shiwa Ng’andu is named. After traditional English dinner in the dining room, adorned with exquisite rugs, silver candelabra and game trophies, sleep it all off in a vast four-poster bed. Around the grounds there are guided game and birding walks, boat rides and fishing trips, or you can soak in nearby Kapishya hot springs. Staying here offers an intimate glimpse into one family’s fascinating history and, like Mutinondo, another rich alternative to ‘safari Africa’. Stephanie Debere Sumbu National Park This may not be the middle of nowhere, but you can certainly see it from here. And for those in search of wildlife off the beaten track, Kasanka: charter flights from Lusaka/Mfuwe; self-drive (4WD) via Kapiri Mposhi; all-inclusive or self-catering accommodation at Wasa Lodge or Luwombwa Fishing Lodge; camping; bookings through Kasanka Trust (www.kasanka.com) Bangweulu: charter flights from Kasanka/Lusaka; self-drive (4WD) from Kasanka; tented chalets at Shoebill Camp; advance bookings essential (www.kasanka.com). Mutinondo: 25km off Great North Road; accessible year-round by 2WD; chalets, camping and activities at Mutinondo Wilderness Lodge (www.mutinondozambia.com). Shiwa Ng’andu: reached via Mpika-Isoka road; full board and activities at Shiwa Ng’andu Manor House (www.shiwangandu.com); chalets and camping at nearby Kapishya Hot Springs (email2mark@bushmail.net.). Sumbu: charter flights to Kasaba Bay Lodge; by road (4WD) from Kaputa or Mporokoso; by boat from Mpulungu (book through lodges); all-inclusive accommodation at Kasaba Bay Lodge (naturelink@mweb.co.za) or Ndole Bay Lodge (ndolebay@coppernet.zm). For tours and other destinations in northern Zambia try Thorn Tree Safaris (www.thorntreesafaris.com). Practicalities THORNTREE SAFARIS ZNTB