Crossing Zambia’s Kafue National Park

Posted on 9 May 2012

The crescent sun gave an amber glow to the plumes of dust driven up by an approaching vehicle. We’d been waiting at the corner for over an hour now, listening to the wilderness welcoming nightfall and tolerating the tse-tse.  A passing family, headed for a weekend’s fishing on the Kafue, informed us that our arranged lift was just a little way back, repairing a puncture. Poor Charlotte! She’d meant to leave Lusaka early that morning, been delayed most of the day and now had a puncture too! So began our little adventure of crossing Zambia’s Kafue National Park.

We were totally without the sun’s gaze when Charlotte’s convoy arrived, a game-viewing vehicle heavily laden with supplies and camp labour followed by her equally overloaded Land-Cruiser. We squeezed our bikes on and entered the park in the pitch black calm before a silver storm. It was full moon.

The drive to McBride’s Camp wound through beautiful miombo woodland; towering trees and sprawling canopy dappled silver, grey and black. When we disembarked, the blue-black night hummed with the voices of nocturnal creatures and we knew we were in a magically wild place. Still, we wish we hadn’t needed to stop. We were stuck.

The miombo had opened up to the inundated grasslands of the Kafue flood plain. A slushy dip held the Land Cruiser so we all bailed out and began to dig out, removing thick, black mud and replacing it with sticks and logs. As we pushed our way to freedom, the night reverberated with the clear, CLOSE roar of two lions. We piled in swiftly and went on, only to shlurp to a halt after a few hundred metres!  A repeat performance ensued, our work urged on by the majestic calls of the resident pride males. On the third occasion we were within sight of the yellow lamps of camp, the Cruiser now really stuck. After 30 minutes of digging, jacking and stick-pushing, the plaintive roar came again – now even closer than before! Were they following us down the road?! Even the old-hand labourers looked edgy and work progressed quickly to get us to camp; wet, muddy and exhilarated!

We were greeted by a tall, thin figure, his soft husky voice an aural extension of his thin, grey-bearded face. Chris McBride is a reclusive veteran of lion research in southern Africa. His popular contributions to knowledge of the species are embodied in publications The White Lions of Timbavati and Lion Tide – accounts from his observations of lions in Botswana. Chris began his life of conservation with Natal Parks and after living in the Timbavati and Bots, he has now settled himself and his wife in a haven of lion activity in Zambia’s Kafue National park, running McBride’s Camp.

Being foreign charity cyclists, the Zambian Wildlife Authority were understandably reluctant to let us cycle through the 50-odd kilometres of public road which run through north eastern Kafue. Luckliy Chris agreed to come to our rescue and lift us across, allowing us a night in his camp on the way. Alas the popularity of McBride’s, with its comfortably rustic, semi-open rondavels and beautiful positioning on the Kafue river, meant Chris was far too busy to drop us off the next day… or the next. Before we knew it we’d spent four lovely nights in camp, enjoying bush buck and hippos metres from our door, great birding (Zambian barbet, Schalow’s Turaco, White-crowner night heron, African Finfoot, etc.) and informative bush walks with both Chris and Charlotte.

We arrived immediately after the rainy season, not the best time to see wildlife in Kafue. Late May through to September is best, avoiding the winds which pick up in August. McBride’s main camp consists of 7 rondavels and a lovely central relaxing/eating area where Charlotte serves beautifully prepared meals including freshly caught fish, home backed bread and amazing butternut soup! Chris and Charlotte offer very informative walks, drives (outside of wet season) and river cruises on a fun double-decker barge. Though we only saw impala, puku, bush buck and other antelope, we heard lion and/or leopard every night we were there, often very close to camp, and found fresh spoor less than 1km from camp on two morning walks. For the real “bush” enthusiast” who enjoys exclusivity, comfort and knowledgeable hosts, McBride’s Camp is perfect retreat.

See for more information.

yoast-primary -
tcat - Cycling
tcat_slug - cycling
tcat2 -
tcat2_slug -
tcat_final -