Liuwa Plains: a place of endless beauty

Ngonye to Liuwa Plains National Park

28 June to 3 July 2018

Up early next morning, pack up camp, and convoyed off to Mongu en route to Lyanga Community Campsite in Liuwa Plains National Park, run by African Peace Parks. The road all the way to Mongu is excellent.

In Mongu we stocked up on some groceries at the incredibly well stocked Shoprite (even had quail in the deep freeze!), refueled, caught up with some admin with reasonable internet connectivity, and tried to find some hardware bits to repair the reel that broke with the fight from Pete’s Tiger Fish. No luck finding the necessary items at the hardware.

Leaving Mongu, the road was somewhat potholed initially, and then we hit the new road, completed about two years ago by the Chinese, across the Barotse flood plains. What a road, and wow, those flood plains are just endless.

Barotse flood plains near Mongu – 2 years ago we would have been traveling on a serious 4×4 track to get to Liuwa
The incredible road that spans the myriad of rivers that make up the Barotse floodplains

Many rivers flow through this area, and small villages and hamlets are dotted over the slightly higher lying bits, the long-horned cattle are up to their tummies in water and lush grass grazing, and people and goods are transported up and down via mokoros.

Living on the floodplains has its challenges

In Kalabo at the “harbour”, one checks in at the African Parks Office. I bought a bird checklist of Zambia, as well as two absolutely stunning cotton printed cloths – 2m long – only K70 each! Tyres were deflated to around 1.6 Bar, and the adventure to Liuwa began.

Deflating the tyres in preparation for the sandy Liuwa plains

Two ferries/ponts were in use – one was hand pulled across the river, while the other was operated with a dodgy outboard engine with no cover. The De Villiers clan are towing a trailer, and boarding the motorized pont turned into a near disaster as the trailer to car connection turned into a v-shape, with the trailer hitch going into the sand.


With digging and advice from many, Digby managed to reverse out of the predicament, and safely boarded the hand drawn pont.

We boarded the motorized pont – 2 double-cab, heavily laden vehicles chugging precariously across the river, but got safely to the other side.

Driving onto the ferry

Safely on board – our trusty ferrymen holding the motor in the water while reversing, and a huge stick holding the brake for the ramps in place!

Once we were all safely across, we headed directly into thick sand for and hour trip to Lyanga.

Wow, straight into thick sand from the ferry – so reducing tyre pressure is essential

It is difficult to describe the beauty of Liuwa as you see it for the first time heading into the late afternoon. Swathes of yellow-orange tall grass, then a wooded island, then back into open plains, bits of it smoldering from a grass fire gently eating its way across kilometres of flatness.

The Shaws …. there is a road somewhere in that grass
The row of trees is the “island” where Lyanga Community Campsite is located.

Lyanga Community Campsite is situated on one of the wooded “islands” in Liuwa. The sites are arranged around a central ablution facility that has bucket showers or cold-water showers, 2 flush loos, and a washing up area. Water is pumped from a borehole using a step pump, into a big tank. Firewood is supplied by the camp attendant, but we supplemented with wood we had brought as well. The campsites are large. The camp attendant, Loanga, a gentle, happy and proud Lozi Zambian, greeted us. He got the campfire going while we set up camp.

Richard and I decided to have a long sleep, while the others went exploring early. I didn’t even hear the vehicles leave; I had such a nice sleep! But I was up at about 7h30 – nice cup of tea, while chasing the monkeys. The monkeys on being chased didn’t bug the campsite anymore. It was my turn to cook, so after breakfast I got the goulash going and cooked the Sauerkraut – so we could go on a game drive in the afternoon.


Wow, the birds!!! Seriously carpets of cranes – grey crowned cranes and wattled cranes, pelicans, lapwings, teals, egrets, pygmy geese, larks….and the sunset over the plains. No words.

Grey Crowned Cranes – mostly we saw them in flocks
Wattled Cranes
Lappet-faced Vulture on the remnants of a kill
Kittlitz’s Plover

We had 5 nights at Lyanga – we tended to do a morning and an afternoon drive, or just one drive, depending on our moods. A treat to have time to relax, read, and enjoy being where we were.

Sunset game drives were always spectacular

Every night we had our banquet under the stars, and then relax around the campfire before heading to bed.

Our evening banquets, bush style

We had set up Klippie properly – we used the Recovery Tracks to stop her sinking into the sand this time – worked very well. Set up the tent, as well as a boma around our cooking area – the top predator in Liuwa are Spotted Hyaena, and having a midnight wee could be problematic, so at least I felt a little safer – had my hole in the sand for the midnight comfort breaks within our boma. Camp living for 5 days also means we have to burn our rubbish – we dug a hole for the disposal of veggie peelings and such, burnt bones, paper, plastic etc, and took all our cans and glass out of Liuwa when we left.

Brunch stop
Having time in one camp means time to do some chores…like the laundry
and have a shave…using my make-up mirror
…having time to repair the broken reel … two engineers – playing with all the gadgets
Lekka bush breakfast. The green jerry cans are used to heat water for washing up! A new trick for us.
Repairs to Klippie

We got to see a few of Liuwa’s hyaenas, including a den where a female was guarding her two cubs. Richard and I didn’t get to see the cubs though. We also were lucky to see two of the approximately 8 lion of Liuwa – lion have had to be reintroduced into the area, hence the abundance of hyaena – the clans reach sizes of up to 70 individuals here! The cheetah we did not see as they prefer the north west plains, which were difficult to access because of boggy roads – away from the majority of the hyaena.

We are having problems with our 300mm lens, so many of the photos on this blog are not in focus.  Very frustrating, but we will manage with our other lenses – won’t get such great close ups anymore for the rest of the trip though.

Loanga taught me a little Lozi: Muzuile cwani = Good morning – or rather how is your morning. Thankyou is Nitumezi (singular) or Luitumezi (plural). At the end of a day one asks Mutozi cwani (How is the day?) – and if it was good or you are okay, one replies Lutozi hande – i.e. good thankyou.

We also met up with a couple of young Zambian students working for the Carnivore Research Project, which works in South Luangwa, Kafue and Liuwa. The one young man, named Kings, aged 20, is a 2nd year Animal Sciences student, and is being sponsored by this project and other conservation initiatives for his studies as he did really well at school. The community parks allow communities to continue living in the park, and the benefits they get is for one or two of the children to have their education sponsored, so that they can be in a position to help their families by gaining employment once educated. There is not enough funding to sponsor everyone, so this seems to be working. Kings is one of these lucky students, but he says the competition is tough and you need to prove yourself. So it is not just a hand out. Anyway, data is gathered on a daily basis on the hyaena and other predators in the park – from faecal samples to behavior, hunting methods, prey choices etc.

Liuwa is another of Africa’s gems. It is only accessible with a 4×4 during the dry season, and at the beginning of the rains in November around the time of the wildebeest migration, or one can fly in and stay at the lodge. We loved our stay, and I would definitely like to visit Liuwa again.