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42 Travel Zambia November 2007 Nanzhila Plains, at the southern extremity of Kafue, is not one place but two. Under the rains it is a shallow-water world, dotted with island copses and fringed with densely packed trees. Then, when the sun sucks the land dry, it becomes a patchwork of open grassland and deeply gouged streambeds that meander through the carpet of miombo and Kalahari woodland. More than 200km to the north lies its twin, Busanga Plains, where the vast savannah is pinned flat beneath massive skies. When those same skies empty rain in endless torrents, Busanga also floods, turning land into lake. The stark seasonal switch gives both Nanzhila and Busanga their beauty and character, but it also makes Kafue incredibly difficult terrain in which to build lodges. These locations are extremely Ever thought of running your own game lodge? It’s a dream that has lured many first-timers, drawn by a spirit of enterprise and the call of the wild. But getting started just might not be as easy as you imagine – especially with floods, droughts and other forces of nature lining up against you. Huw Williams visited Kafue, Zambia’s largest national park, where he spoke to two very different operators about the trials and tribulations of setting up. OPENING UP

November 2007 Travel Zambia 43remote: the tracks that do exist challenge a 4WD even during the dry season and become impassible in the wet. And that’s just the transport challenge. Even with all the materials in place, clearing the site and constructing the lodge, guest rooms, kitchens and staff quarters is backbreaking work. Despite these challenges, two companies have recently built lodges in Kafue: Wilderness Safaris has constructed three bush camps in Busanga, while the much smaller and privately owned Nanzhila Lodge has opened in the heart of the southern plains. Both are now running successfully, and each has its own story to tell. Wilderness Safaris is an experienced international operator, with lodges throughout southern Africa and significant resources to throw at them. But building in Busanga remained a monumental challenge. With the short visitor season, the camps needed to be up and running as fast as possible to start recouping their costs. This meant building during the rains. ‘We were quite lucky that we didn’t really know Kafue,’ admits Wilderness operations manager Charles Van Rensburg. ‘Had we realised what it was like we probably wouldn’t have tried to do it during the rainy season and in so short a time.’ The project, bare site to finished lodge in just three months, was a military-style operation. Over 1,000 tonnes of building materials were brought in; first on articulated lorries to the end of the tarred road at the park’s boundary, then onto specialised 4WD trucks, and finally, when the trucks started to get stuck, off-loaded onto Unimogs and imported in shuttle runs. When even the go-anywhere Unimogs bogged down, the only option was to balance the materials on mekoros and paddle or pull them across the last five kilometres of water. ‘It actually worked quite well in the beginning, when there was a lot of water,’ recalls Van Rensburg, ‘but as it dried out and turned to mud, that’s when things got really difficult.’ The only answer was muscle power. More than 180 people from villages bordering the park were employed to help the Wilderness staff lug the materials through the mire. ‘The guys were physically dragging planks and poles through the squelching mud. Night and day we were moving stuff. But even that wasn’t enough. At one point we had to use a helicopter. It was the only way to get some of the heavier items in.’ Wilderness had set themselves a seemingly impossible task. But by the three month deadline, they were welcoming their first guests to the sparkling new Shumba bush “As it dried out and turned to mud, that’s when things got really difficult.” Lodge life Bringing in the building materials for Shumba Bush Camp was a monumental task (left), but within the three months the lodge was up and running (below). HUW WILLIAMS WILDERNESS SAFARIS