How to get off the beaten track in Zambia

Posted on 29 May 2012

For many South Africans, Zambia has always been the place where real exotic Africa begins. All our bird, mammal and tree books are usually  … of Southern Africa and so it is beyond the Zambezi where the miombo becomes taller and the unknown beckons. Unfortunately, it’s also where the price tag swells.

My family have wanted to visit Zambia for ages and, in particular, see some of its renowned national parks. But the high costs of flights, park entrance fees and accommodation has meant that travelling to Zanzibar and even India proved more affordable! Now, as part of my trans-continental charity bicycle ride, I’ve had the opportunity to travel overland beyond the Zambezi and what I discovered was a world of affordable alternatives.

Fifteen kilometres north of Choma in southern Zambia, there is a little green sign denoting the entrance to the Bruce-Miller farm. Ian Bruce-Miller is a character who embodies the renown his family name holds around this part of the world. Ian has travelled and hunted much of Zambia over his life and has a impressive knowledge of the country’s animal and plant life as well as her cultural and linguistic history. At any given moment Ian’s home seems to host any assortment of local and foreign guests, including evolutionary biologists from Cambridge who are studying cuckoo finches and local farmers and shop keepers, just “passing through”. Ian welcomes all into his home, though his farm does have a separate private chalet available and an isolated campsite. The farm is part of a local conservancy formed by a group of local farmers and harbours sable, roan, puku, impala, bushbuck as well as some interesting birds; trumpeter hornbills are common and Zambia’s only endemic – the Zambian barbet – can be seen almost religiously each morning in their favourite Ficus tree.

Fifty kilometres south of Zambia’s second largest town, Ndola, lies a small game ranch taking an interesting approach to community driven conservation. Nsobe Lodge belongs to Mark and Fiona, who have provided many locals with the land and capital to begin micro-farming projects. The idea is that their produce of vegetables, pork, beef and fish, will supply the lodge restaurant and shop as well as other local markets. The lodge consists of several chalets and a larger, 3-room fishing hut, all tucked away in lush, dam side bush. There is a very comfortable campsite too and a day there gives one plenty of time to search the small farm for sable, eland, puku and black lechwe. Birds seen included black harrier, coppery-tailed coucal and half-collared kingfisher.

Rates cover a large range, from  ZK 35 000 (around  R45) to camp, to R1 650 for a six-sleeping self catering cabin and around R1 250 a person a night for the all inclusive luxury Mukuyu Camp. Go to for more information.

South-east of Nsobe, the mighty Kafue River (one of Zambia’s largest) flows past the town of Luanshya, several kilometres beyond which lies Kafue River Lodge. This is a semi-luxurious self or fully catered lodge, beautifully laid out amongst green lawns along the banks of the Kafue. Casual canoe trips along the river provide opportunities to see Pel’s fishing owl, white-crowned night heron, various kingfishers and African broadbill. The large estate is home to Roan, Sable, Giraffe is also a great place to spot the secretive and incredibly aquatic sitatunga antelope. Pricing ranges from around R550.00 for accommodation, through B&B options to R1087.00 for full board and lodging. Contact [email protected] to book your stay.

To access Zambia’s north-eastern regions one travels up the Great North Road along which, 70km short of Mpika, there is a sign to Mutinondo Wilderness. After snaking through uniform miombo for 25 km, the road abruptly ends at a small granite dome, surrounded by its towering brethren on almost all sides. Mutinondo lodge is perfectly laid out for privacy, with large, well separated campsites and 5 isolated semi-open chalets, all planned around a central dining/library room and a separate bar area which has a beautiful view of a dambo (vlei) below. A crystal clear rivulet flows amongst the massive granite domes which appear like an island from the miles of uniform miombo woodland around them. From the top of these domes one can see over 25 km eastward to the Luangwa escarpment. Activities on Mutinondo’s 20 000 hectre property (and beyond!) include canoeing down the river, hiking up outcrops or to waterfalls and swimming pools, horse riding and even a 5 day hike down the escarpment, where one can arrange to enter North or South Luangwa National Parks. Mutinondo is a must for birders or families with young children. Their restaurant works on fixed meals but produces some amazing, if slightly pricey food. Again prices cater for all sorts, from around R100 a person a night to camp (slightly more if you’re like to use their camping kit) to the all-meals-included chalets which range from R880 a person a night for a double to around R990 a person for the extra comfortable single chalets. intermediate options, of self-catering chalets and tented camps, can also be arranged. Go to for more information.

One of the more recent stars on Zambia’s tourist track is Shiba N’gandu – the lake of the King crocodile! The reputation of this English manor house in the middle of Africa was widely bolstered by the success of Christina Lamb’s book Africa House, which tells the rich, romantic tale of Sir Stewart Gore-Browne, who, in 1919, began building his elegant estate 400 km from the closest rail or road access point. His tale was fraught with drama, from his doomed infatuation with his aunt Ethel to the endless struggle to keep his dream financially viable. Though there have been some questions raised as to totality of truth in the book, reading it adds much value to a visit to this beautiful home. For a grand US$300 per night you can enjoy an all activities all meals stay in the house itself, though, after receiving a rather cold reception from the hostess, we found a far more fun and affordable spot just 19 km down the road.

Kapisha hot springs is owned by one of Stewart Gore-Browne’s grandsons and consists of a lodge and campsite alongside the energetic river which flows from the lake. The hot springs themselves are remarkable in that their water is totally fresh, without any noxious sulphates or things that are usually present in geothermal heated waters. Available activities again range from horse-back rides on the Shiba estate, to game drives, walks and white river rafting! Birding here is great too, with Ross’ Touraco, little leaf-love, black-backed barbet, red-capped crombec and Laura’s wood-warlbler all being seen within 50m of camp! Accommodation pricing at Kapishya  again ranges from around R80.00 pppn camping to R1200.00 pppn for full board and some activities included. Other packages, like dinner, bed and breakfast are also available. Bookings at Shibwa House or Kapishya can be organised through

So, if you’re going to spend all those hours in the car crossing Zim or Botswana to reach Zambia, don’t let your wallet put too much of a dent in your schedule. Of course a peak into Kafue, South Luangwa or Kasanka should be on the cards, but don’t head home too soon when there is so much more to see!


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