02 Jun LRA’s Road to Dar – Part 2
There’s just something romantic about a Land Rover in Africa. In an effort to inspire overland tourism in Africa (and to banish the notion that Africa is only for adventure-ready Defenders), we embarked on a culinary expedition with MasterChef judge (and Landy fan) Reuben Riffel to visit five African countries in three weeks. To really get a sense of what Africa is like for the self-driving overlander, we varied our accommodation between real-safari-experience lodges, comfy campsites and even the odd rough-it-out night by sleeping under the stars on Lakes Kariba and Malawi. Three factory-standard Freelanders (and one sexy sibling – a Range Rover Evoque) showed that you don’t always need to be a Camel Trophy competitor to experience the magnificent African continent.
I’m grateful for having a pretty cool job here at Land Rover AFRICA Magazine. During our epic Cape to Dar es Salaam Expedition in July, I was presented the opportunity to travel our great continent and write about it. I really can’t recall a journey I loved as much as this one, and Zambia was high up on my ‘favourite country list’. Since returning from our three-week, 8 000 km trip, I haven’t been able to shut up about how fantastic Zambia is. It was hard to come home from an amazing trip like that.
There are some who describe Zambia as ‘the future of African safari’ or ‘African Safari 2.0’ because of its status as a relatively undiscovered destination for self-drive safaris, especially for experienced African overlanders who have grown weary of other, more commercial destinations. But it’s equally ideal for the rookie overlander too.
In Zambia, wildlife and human infrastructure is harmoniously integrated, and you’ll find some of the best game sights in all of sub-Saharan Africa. And you don’t need to bushwhack your way through the jungle to do so. Game can be viewed even while driving on one of Zambia’s tarmac highways.
The culture of the Zambian people is also incredible to witness and noticeably different from the others places we visited.While unemployment is still a big social problem, consensus was that Zambians are hard-working folk who live peacefully in tradition-rich communities.
Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city, is a hive of activity and one of the fastest-developing cities in Southern Africa. It has become something of a boom town with new buildings, shopping malls and chain stores popping up all over its straggling suburbs. Despite the modernised urban hubs, traditional values are still very much a part of Zambian culture.
While Zambia might be a landlocked country, it has several natural attractions that will oust any of its continental competitors. Apart from the many walking and driving safaris, Zambia is also home to the mighty Zambezi River (steeped in ancient folklore) and the world-renowned Victoria Falls.
The vast scope and remoteness of Zambia’s network of national parks (19 in total) means that those on a self-drive family safari needn’t fret about game-viewer traffic jams and vehicle pile-ups. There are loads of opportunities to get up close and personal with wild animals.
In truth, Zambia is one of the continent’s least travelled and most rewarding wildlife and cultural destinations. It consists of the wildlife-rich plains of the Kafue, the Zambezi and its river valleys, Lake Tanganyika’s tropical climate and a vast plateau 3 000 m above sea-level. Livingstone is Zambia’s adventure capital, offering adrenaline-fuelled activities in and around Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River.
About 90 per cent of Zambians belong to the nine primary ethno-linguistic groups, namely the Bemba, Kaonde, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Nkoya, Nyaja-Chewa, Tonga and Tumbuka. Incredibly, the total number of languages spoken in Zambia is 73.
Walking on sunshine
When you are tired of driving, stretch those legs with a guided safari walk which can do wonders for your soul before heading out on the road again. It was in Zambia that the concept of walking safaris originated, and is still a unique way of enjoying the rich wildlife and natural surroundings in the country’s multiple national parks.
Hoofing through the bush has become a popular tourist attraction, especially in parts of eastern Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, amongst others. Strolling through bush or sandbanks in search of lions, elephants, rhinos or painted dogs is part of an age-old legacy established many years ago by some of Zambia’s founding conservationists. Rifle-carrying scouts explain what an animal’s trails and prints can reveal about them.
Rock the river
Although June to October marks the dry season in Zambia, it is always a wet and wild time to visit. Visitors can simply hop aboard a barge for a rewarding safari experience on the mighty Zambezi River, teeming with exquisite wildlife and bird species.
The Zambezi is the fourth biggest river in Africa and is an amazing 3 540 km long, stemming from the wetlands of the Mwinilunga District of north-western Zambia, near the border where Zambia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo meet.
On one particular river safari, we managed to see an elephant and her calf frolicking in the shallow waters, crocodiles basking on the banks and hippopotami lurking in the depths. At one stage, we could see all those animals in each direction with a crimson red sun slowly setting over the horizon as we cruised down the river – one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.
For the more adventurous at heart, several canoe safaris are established along the river where tourists can take a leisurely paddle along the lower Zambezi River. With Zimbabwe’s sandy shores on one side, a 1 200 m-high escarpment creating a rift valley on the other, and a continually shifting landscape of midstream islands, there’s hardly a direction to turn that is not idyllic.
A trip to Zambia would not be complete without a visit to Victoria Falls – the largest waterfall on the planet and one of the natural wonders of the world. It is also known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya (Tonga for ‘the smoke that thunders’). One million litres of water plunge down the Zambezi gorge every second, creating a thunderous roar and a massive mist spray that soaks you from head to toe, especially on the bridge, roughly a kilometre away from the actual falls. During full moon, visitors can view the mystical magic of a lunar rainbow (‘moon-bow’) – one of the few places in the world where this natural phenomenon occurs.
Livingstone, on the Zambian side of the Falls, is a tourist mecca that caters to backpackers as well as the more lavish at heart and is considered the adventure capital of Africa. Adventure-junkies can choose from a long list of options to get their pulses racing including a bridge bungee jump, ‘swing and slide’, abseiling, river boarding, helicopter and microlight trips and the ultimate adventure activity, white-water river rafting.
With such a diverse menu of adventure activities, the choice was difficult and due to our hectic schedule, there was only time for one. To maximise our adventure output, some of us opted for the white-water river rafting in the magnificent Batoka gorge. Passing through massive canyons stretching into the heavens, it looked like another river safari, but that was until we heard the roar of the rapids approaching in the distance. That’s when things started getting serious.
This four-hour trip consisted of a total of 25 rapids, many of them classifieds as Grade 5 torrents featuring extremely difficult, long and violent rapids, steep gradients, big drops and pressure areas. It wasn’t long before the rapids capsized our inflatable and dumped us into the wild waters. Luckily, we emerged unscathed, but the experience is scary and exciting at the same time and we quickly gained a new respect for the mighty Zambezi. What’s more, the operators are highly professional with support crew (on land and water) always on-hand and ready to assist.