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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

44 Travel Zambia November 2007 Lodge life camp, with the finishing touches being completed just hours before they arrived. Miles to the south, Steve Smith, co-owner of Nanzhila Lodge, was meanwhile facing a different challenge. Wilderness spent US$2.5 million on financing their Kafue camps. Steve had nowhere near that amount of cash. Nanzhila was thus obliged to be a tortoise to the Wilderness hare. The camp took nearly two years to build, with work starting as soon as it became dry enough and then stopping when the rains fell. With only five staff, 25 local labourers and a couple of 4WDs, building in the wet season was clearly not an option. A gruelling round of eight-hour round trips over punishing terrain became the only way to carry everything in, little by little. At the start this meant even water: before the site’s own source was up and running, the camp’s supply had to be sourced from thirty miles away. Life soon became an endless succession of arduous journeys and hard labour under a African sun. Constant concerns about cash flow didn’t help, with nights of lamp-lit calculation after recalculation to ensure the funds would stretch to fulfill the dream. Yet for Steve and his business partner there are no regrets. ‘It was lovely being out at the lodge when we were building it and the challenge of the whole project I have thoroughly enjoyed. There were the background stresses and pressures of juggling budgets. At times it was a month-to-month situation, but we are here, we are open and we are operating.’ But the stress didn’t stop when the construction did. The next mountain to climb was marketing. Wilderness has a huge client-base and a 24-year reputation for safari excellence. For them, attracting guests to Busanga would be comparatively easy. Not so for Nanzhila, a private operation and new venture in an area of Africa that has until recently been well off the beaten track. ‘Now the challenge is to get people to visit Kafue and to stay with us,’ says Steve. ‘We’re doing our sales and marketing from scratch and it’s been an uphill battle. But finally we have convinced some of the larger agents to send us guests. Now we just have to ensure that they have a fantastic experience, which in Kafue shouldn’t be too difficult.’ All this endeavour is good news for the park. Concerns have been expressed about the unchecked proliferation of lodges in other parts of Africa – including Zambia’s own Luangwa Valley – but there is no doubt that Kafue stood to benefit from an influx of development. It may be the country’s largest – and potentially its richest – but for years it had been neglected, left largely to fate and the slow, painful erosion of poaching. Each new lodge here is thus a significant force for conservation, breathing new life into the park. The signs are already looking good: local people are now being employed in tourism and can see a reason for conservation rather than poaching, while visitor numbers are increasing and the wildlife is recovering. The efforts of these enterprising lodge owners should thus help ensure that Kafue soon regains its position as one of Africa’s greatest natural jewels. ‘Life soon became an endless succession of arduous journeys and hard labour under a African sun. Constant concerns about cash flow didn’t help.’LUSAKALUSAKABlue LagoonNat ParkMumbwaNangomaSiavongaChirunduKafueMagoyeMazabukaMonzePembaBatokaChomaLivingstoneChongoLochinvarNat ParkLakeItezhi-TezhiKafue National Park This page: Nanzhila Lodge offers tempting views, both inside and out. Opposite: Building during the rainy season on Busanga Plains became a battle of muscle power against the elements. NANZHILA PLAINS NANZHILA PLAINS 1 Busanga Bush Camp 2 Kapinga Camp 3 Shumba Camp 4 Lunga River Lodge 5 Lufupa Lodge 6 Hippo Camp 7 McBrides Camp 8 Mukambi Safari Lodge 9 Puku Pans Camp 10 Kaingu Lodge 11 Nanzhila Lodge 1 3 2 8 10 11 6 9 7 5 4 30 km 015 Miles0