Kaingu Safari Lodge – A Jewel on the Kafue River

Kaingu Safari Lodge

My last visit to Zambia was some years ago, when I spent a fabulous week canoeing down the Zambezi river; Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park on one shore and Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National park on the other.
Much of our time was spent dodging the hippos that are so prevalent in that area. I remember well the moment we brushed through the reeds fringing a small sandy island that rose about a metre or so out of the water. I looked to my right and was surprised to see a hippo gazing down at us as we passed, our heads at about the same level as his feet.
For some reason the first thought that came into my head was “Please don’t jump on us.”

There is no particular reason why it has taken me so long to get back there but a return visit was certainly overdue.
It also gave me the opportunity to visit a lodge that I’d been wanting to visit for some time; one that I’d been hearing great things about.

Escaping Lusaka

Lusaka’s peak hour traffic is quite something to see; and being stuck in it for an hour and a half certainly gave me plenty of time to see it.
Despite Stephen’s (the wonderful driver arranged for me by Kaingu Lodge) best efforts at finding alternative routes around the congestion it took us almost 1.5 hours to get across Lusaka. There is no proper ring road and to cross from one side of the city to the other means driving through the CBD and the heart of the industrial area. Monday morning was not the smartest time to be doing this.
Stephen was a wonderful travelling companion, intelligent and articulate, and even though the journey took over 5 hours it was never boring.

Kaingu Safari Lodge

Kaingu Safari Lodge is situated on the banks of the Kafue River and is actually located just outside the park in what is called a Game Management Area.
For most guests, access to the camp is by boat and we were met at the ‘car park’ by John D who was to be my guide for the next few days.

As John D navigated us around the rocks and through the narrow channels I was taking in the gorgeous views.

I knew what I’d be doing this afternoon. After a whole morning in Stephen’s Land Cruiser I would be spending this afternoon out on the river. Before that though, a splendid lunch on the deck overlooking the river.

The dining deck

A little bit about Kaingu Safari Lodge

Kaingu can accommodate 16 people.
Set on raised individual private wooden decks, each overlooking the Kafue River, KaingU Safari Lodge comprises 6 double Meru-style tents with en-suite bathrooms, indoor showers and an open-air shower.

The “Honeymoon-tent” has an additional outside bath. Every tent is additionally roofed with thatch to provide additional cooling and further blend into nature.

The Finfoot family house consists of 2 bedrooms (one queen, one twin), 2 en-suite bathrooms plus outside shower and a central living area opening onto a private deck overlooking the river. It’s a perfect spot for a couple with children, or a small group of friends.

In addition to the chalets Kaingu also caters for self drivers with 3 lovely camping sites beside the river.
Separate to the lodge but within walking distance are three beautifully appointed grassy campsites by the rapids. Each site has its own ablution block with cold and hot running water, a kitchen sink, fire pits for cooking and a thatched sheltered area which provides protection against sun and rain.

Birds Galore

As John D and I set out on our afternoon boat safari I was still marvelling at the greenery all around me. In particular I was thinking how much the elephants of Zimbabwe’s drought ravaged Hwange NP would enjoy themselves here.

The stretch of river upstream from Kaingu Safari Lodge can only be described as stunning. Although in other places the Kafue is just a wide African river, around Kaingu rocks and small islands make for much more interesting scenery and also provide habitats for a wide variety of bird and animal life.
I’m not an avid birder, but I love boats and rivers and I really relish the challenge photographing birds presents.
I was not disappointed with what we saw, only my inability to do it justice.

As I was particularly keen to see Sable and Roan Antelope, I decided that I would try the Pools Loop for my first game drive. It was a bit closer to the camp and apparently offered better odds of seeing these magnificent antelope.

The Parrot Hide

But there was one stop we had to make before we began the game drive proper; the parrot hide, where flocks of up to 200 Meyer’s Parrots gathered each morning.

We set off early, so that we had time to reach the hide and conceal the game vehicle before the parrots made their entrance.

We had not been in the hide for long before we started to hear the sounds of the Meyer’s parrots in the trees above us. For about 20 minutes they flew back and forth, checking out the puddle to make sure the coast was clear. Occasionally one would land and we would hope that this was a sign for the rest to follow but it wasn’t, and these lone birds flew off again.

Gradually the reconnaissance parties grew in numbers until finally they decided it was safe to land and drink. Even then, they would drink for a few seconds and then something would spook them and they’d all fly up into the trees.

This went on for about half an hour and then we we noticed that each time they came back there were fewer of them until, quite suddenly they were gone. We could hear their squawking getting further and further away, and then it fell silent.

When John D had first spotted these parrots the pool had been a lot larger and around 200 parrots congregated every morning. The pool had shrunk considerably since then and today we counted almost 60 parrots. John told me that the parrots were actually eating the mud at the edge of the pool – it must contain some nutrient or mineral that they liked.

It was a great start to the day. The only slight negative was that – almost as if they knew I was sitting in the hide trying to take photographs – the parrots congregated at the far side of the puddle, behind a large rock.

In search of Antelope

Our morning drive was lovely, with decent sightings of Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest and Greater Kudu as well as some young Sable bulls.

As the heat started to build up so did the number of Tsetse flies. To combat this, John D collected dry elephant dung which he burned in a specially designed container on the back of the game vehicle. Very effective indeed.

Encouraged by what we’d seen this morning, I decided that I would come back out and drive the same circuit this afternoon, in the hope of catching antelope moving to and from the river.
After the vast numbers of elephants I’d seen in Hwange I was still adjusting to how different Kafue was. Here there was abundant food and water but we saw very few elephants.

The highlight of our afternoon drive was the sighting of a herd of Sable antelope, sadly not very close and not in the mood to pose for photos.

Then, when the light was almost gone we spotted a lone sable bull, the first one we had seen that was actually black.

Once again he was a bit camera shy and kept his distance. I had to crank up the ISO to 5000 and hope that I could hold the camera steady enough. The resulting image is a bit noisy and is cropped down to about 25% of the original frame.

By the time we got to the river the sun had well and truly set and it was dark. We set out for camp with John using his torch to spot hippo lurking in the water.
I’m not a nervous person and have no problem being in a boat or canoe with hippo around me. But I found trying to avoid hippo in the dark much more scary than any lion encounter.
I was very relieved when we were safely past them.

AND, we saw a Pels Fishing Owl. It had been sitting/standing by the riverside and took off as we approached. I only saw it from the rear but it was the first time I’ve seen one in flight and they have a very impressive wingspan.

The Shashamba Loop

One of the lovely things about game driving in Kafue is that you really do feel that you have the park to yourself; so rarely do you see another vehicle.

I was probably quite an unusual guest for John D to guide in Kafue. I wasn’t really fussed about seeing elephants as I’d just come from Hwange where I’d seen squillions of them. I also wasn’t too bothered about seeing lions either. What I was after were the animals that I would not see elsewhere; primarily Sable and Roan.
Of course if a pack of painted dogs strolled out of the trees I would wet myself but what I was really enjoying in Kafue was the bird life.

As I said to John, if you can hear me taking photographs then you know I’m happy.

Lazy Lions

We spotted a pair of good looking males relaxing in the shade after a heavy meal. They were on the other side of the creek so we had to follow quite a tortuous route to get anywhere near them. As is often the case with lions, they didn’t do much: rolled over, got up and had a drink, moved to a different piece of shade.
They were not very interested in us and because all they wanted to do was sleep we didn’t hang around for long.

The birds were terrific though. We saw kingfishers, bee eaters (lots of Bohm’s Bee Eaters but never close enough to capture), eagles, vultures and wattled cranes.

We didn’t see any Sable or Roan, but we did see lots of Puku.

and a couple of enchanting little slender mongooses

Earlier I said that there were two main circuits accessible from Kaingu Lodge. There is a third, a new forest loop, but we found it to be very unrewarding for game viewing. For some reason that no-one could explain; instead of being cut in the more productive area close to the river where you would have a good chance of encountering animals coming to and from the river; it had been cut some distance from the river; not touching it at any point.

I suggested to John that we cut short the drive and took to the river for an hour or so before sunset instead. Sheer magic.

John D

If I haven’t made it plain enough yet, John D is a wonderful guide: knowledgeable, authoritative and great company too. He’s someone who has great confidence in his own abilities but someone who doesn’t pretend to know it all.
His knowledge of birds was terrific but on one or two occasions, when the bird was quite distant and his identification was less than 100% certain, I would take a photograph and compare it with the bird guide. Then we’d go through the ID points together until we both agreed on what we’d seen. It was a great learning experience for me.

 Back on the Kafue River

The decision to take to the water was the right one. The river upstream from Kaingu Lodge is just stunning (I probably said that already) and made for a very relaxing end to the day.

We had an unusual sighting of a Bateleur picking at a catfish that it had almost certainly stolen from another bird

… and I got my first sighting of a Finfoot. It was swimming across in front of us and John told me it would start running on the water. I had my camera poised to capture the moment but I was completely unprepared for the incredible turn of speed the Finfoot put on.

Apparently they don’t like to fly and will sprint across the water instead.
Next time I’ll get it right.

Idyllic Camp Sites

We were back in camp well before sunset which gave me time to walk down to take a look at the three camping sites.
As with just about everything else at Kaingu Safari Lodge they were idyllic. Located close to the river with their own ablution block they looked to me like an amazing place to spend a few days.

If you want to experience Kafue National Park then a few days spent at Kaingu Safari Lodge is highly recommended; particularly in combination with the more northerly Busanga Plains.

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