Busanga plains. The North West corner of Kafue National Park and an iconic area.
Three years ago we visited Busanga in May and it was lush green with water everywhere and we had to travel in to the plains by mokoro. It was a bit of a emotional trip as we were collecting belongings we had left there the year before. The end of three years working there and having some incredible experiences and leaving some real friends there was quite a tug. In fact canoeing out in the stunning scenery and birdlife was really like the end of an era for us and a bit of welling up might have been seen in Julia's eyes. So three years later here we are planning a Busanga trip. Julia's mother and a friend were out to visit us and we thought that it would be time to go back. Now if it was just us we would have headed up with the roof tent and roughed it at Kapinga with the guys from NamibSky (who stay for three months and do the ballooning for Wilderness Safaris). But camping is not really their thing in the heat of October so Mukambi very kindly came up with a good rate for the Plains Camp for three nights.
A quick bit of general Busanga background:
There are three permanent camps in Busanga (which generally is estimated to comprise 730sq kms). Shumba and Busanga Bush Camp are both Wilderness properties while Plains camp is owned by Mukambi. Plains camp is the furthest North of the three and in the beginning of the season is reached by a massively long boardwalk over the swamps. The Busanga season is a short one – 4 or 5 months maximum. The whole area is inundated with water from December through to June, and while it is absolutely stunning then it is impossible to operate. The area is deservedly referred to as the 'jewel of the Kafue' and to be honest it is. There is simply no question that the unique area offers something that the rest of the park (and the Luangwas and Lower Zambezi) just cannot match. It can be simply mind blowing. The sheer intensity of life there is incredible. Yes, early season if the lions disappear across the Lufupa channel then it can be 'quiet' for those seeking predator action, but the multitudes of birds and lechwe in the plains is amazing.
I digress a bit. Anyway, the ladies were fortunate in that they could jump on a flight up from Chunga while I was driving. I elected to take the Western Boundary road which is exactly that – a road used by DNPW to deploy scout teams, sometimes a hunting safari and as a logistical route to the plains. It is a much faster (but more boring) route than the conventional 'spinal' road from the hook bridge up. So I dropped them off at the strip to wait for the plane and headed off.
Four hours later I am now heading East, along the treeline and then turning North again into the plains. To be honest at this time of year the plains are a bit underwhelming when you arrive at the edge. In fact it resembles more the salt pans of Botswana than anything else!
I bimble across the plains and before long I am seeing roan and (of course) lechwe in the dozens and dozens and some roan. But to be honest by this point I just want to get to camp, rendezvous with everyone and get a shower... The mid day light is also really harsh.
I arrive at the camp to be greeted by Erko (apologies if I have spelled wrongly) and told that there is some mechanical drama with the plane so the ladies will not be arriving until much later. Erko is helping out for a few weeks with camp management (his real life consists of film making in Holland). So the rest of the afternoon is just spent wandering around. Edjan (Mukambi MD) has made some great changes to the camp since I last saw it - not least the spectacular elevated viewing lounge high up in the massive fig tree that the main area sits under. I have to confess I might have had a couple of Mosi up there while waiting for the rest of the party to arrive.
The camp itself is four tents which are generously sized meru style under big canvas awnings that provide plenty shade for seating out the front. There are outdoor bucket shower bathrooms reached down a small grass corridor outside each tent. Comfy beds, great linen (can't believe I am writing this!) and as much as you need but not getting into the realm of 'luxury'. Tasteful. Thankfully no solid copper baths or personal waiter service here! Just a proper safari bush camp.
The main area has lounge areas, is all up on an elevated deck and has a firepit down at the end of a boardwalk. It is everything that my dream Busanga bushcamp would be..... ;-) As careful readers of Caracal's Kafue trip report might know I like plumbing. I know that not all trip reports include bathrooms, but mine does.
The ladies roll in around 18:30 after a great slow drive up from the airfield. A couple of drinks around the fire, meet the other two guests in camp and then a great dinner and bed!
05:00 wakeup call. What a pleasure to be on the receiving end rather than the giving end! A quick slice of toast and some filter coffee and off. Well, not before the obligitory lechwe with the rising sun... To be honest this works a LOT better in the winter months with the mist. The haze now is smoke from the bush fires. I had forgotten how much cooler it is in the plains in the evenings, at night and the early mornings. It makes sleeping a pleasure! But a sweater is a must. Unless you are forgetful like me. Fortunately at this time of year the cold lasts for about 15 seconds.
We are driving with guide Powell (fairly new to Mukambi and the plains) and the other two guests in camp (a charming Kenyan/French couple who are into everything, just like us). First sighting (lechwe and hippo excluded) is a rosy-throated longclaw. This bird is tiny but spectacular and is a regular sighting in the plains.
A few minutes later an elephant. When we were in the plains to be honest the elephant sightings were not as common as what our impression is now. Speaking to the various guides at various camps over the next couple of days backs this feeling up. The big Kapinga herd are still a bit spooked, but there is no shortage of fairly relaxed bulls wandering around the plains – which is really encouraging. We head off around 'acacia island' looking for lions but quickly we figure out that the heat and the wind have driven them into the shade of the long grass so they won't be showing until maybe the afternoon.
We start heading slowly back North towards camp and encounter some fantastic pools packed with hippos. Hippos in Busanga break all the so called rules: it is not uncommon to see herds of them wandering around in daylight (yes, I know they are not really 'herds'). There are a fair old number of them around too. A fair number of side-striped jackals are seen as well.
We get back to camp around 10:30 (after setting of at 06:00) for a very good brunch with a great lasagna and fresh salad and rock shandies.
If my morning drive description seems brief and the sightings few, then this is the wrong impression! I am too busy soaking up just the atmosphere of being back to really photograph and note what I am seeing. To be honest the heat and haze is such that the camera was pretty much put away at 09:30 as anything not really close is just too soft.
As we are about to have our brunch I spot old friends out driving so walk out over the boardwalk to arrange a rendezvous for the afternoon....