After a night of their low husky growls echoing throughout camp, it took me a while to realize just how close these growls were coming from until I caught sight of the lioness through the netting of my tent. On a slow and sauntering prowl just 2 meters in front of where I was now silently captivated in a semi-upright position in bed, came not 1, not 2…but 3 lions. The last one to round up the early morning jaunt through camp, a male, stopped on my verandah and started calling out to the dawn. His roars were so close that I could feel them vibrating up the bed. Every hair on my body stood to attention and I was frozen while Africa’s most powerful large cat took guard outside my tent!
As the sun rises over the plains, so do I. An early morning start I do NOT mind making in order to make our 6.30am departure from Mukambi Safari Lodge in time to meet the other guests at Hoek Bridge Gate for our 7am start time to the elusive Busanga Plains Bush Camp. This was not my first visit to Busanga (so I knew what lay ahead!) but sitting amongst my fellow safari goers, who are experiencing this unique and powerful journey into one of Kafue’s most remote areas of the Busanga Plains, I couldn’t help be swept up in the first-time excitement and anticipation of the adventure before us! With the hum of the land cruiser, and the sweet song of the Sunbird against the backdrop of the bush coming to life all around us, we have all taken a collective sigh in unison– renouncing our ‘real life’ worries, giving in to the magic and luxury that Mukambi Safaris creates as part of the Kafue experience.
There is nothing quite so surreal as enjoying something so regular as breakfast… but in the veld, with impala grazing in the horizon, and the barks of rivaling baboon troops marking out their terrain. It is our first stop on our travels; a welcomed spot of tea and bite to eat, the chance to stretch our legs, and take the opportunity to get the most breath-taking photos using the best possible lighting at our disposal – that of mother natures, before we all jump back into the open top vehicle.
Busanga Plains Camp is known for its remoteness, which means that the road to reach it is one ‘less traveled’ and somewhat off the beaten track, just as all the best kept secrets are! Not far from where we had only just stopped for breakfast we come to a sudden halt, where the most stunning male leopard is perfectly posed on the side of the road. While there are leopards in Kafue Park, they are not as commonly sighted as they are in other parts of Zambia. Making a sighting this close of this majestic creature a rarity. He allows us a small window to get our photos in, and marvel at his beauty before he silently slinks into the long grass without leaving a single trace of having ever been there.
In my experience, a trip to Kafue isn’t one without experiencing a little mock-charge or two from an elephant. This trip is no exception as we drive past a lone bull elephant, who doesn’t take kindly to our trespassing through his territory, and puts on an impressive display of wagging his ears, stomping the earth and lunging at us – head down, tusks up, with trunk raised and bellowing. We aren’t taking any chances and as soon as it is safe to sneak past him we do. The calming effect of the rhythmic bumps and trundles of the road up until this point firmly forgotten, we are all wide awake with the adrenaline pumping now! And all of this before 10am!
Hidden and nestled in the palm groves, we arrive at camp. Greeted by Busanga’s friendly team of staff, they are eager to hear about our sightings so far as they hand us signature welcome cocktails and warm towels to freshen up with. As we are taken on a welcome tour of camp the awe just keeps on coming as we are shown the dining entrance out into the extended boma area, overlooking panoramic views of the Busanga ecosystem all around us. We have officially arrived!
We are shown to our luxurious tented suites, before we settle down to a delicious freshly made lunch by the camp’s exceptional on-site Chef. After all of the excitement of the morning we retire to our rooms to unpack and catch a quick afternoon snooze before it’s time for the first of many evening game drives on our stay here
First up, thanks to the expert eye of our guide, and its crimson orange and cool blue feathers, we spend some time with a tiny bright malachite kingfisher. It doesn’t take long before we have our first encounter with a pride of lions, who completely unfazed by our presence – barely even give us a second glance as they lazily lie in the bush before us… and all just a few kms from camp! We move a safe distance further along before settling on the perfect sundowner spot to experience our first sunset on the plains. As the sun dips below the tree lines the sky turns from a bright orange to deep red, with glimmers of electric pink, before it descends down below the plains. It is pure magic. Opting for the shorter game drive that evening to head back to camp to relax around the camp fire, we have only been back at camp for about 20 minutes before the second vehicle on the longer drive comes hurtling down the track into camp to inform us that the lazy pride of lions from earlier are on the move… and in camp! What followed next was like something out of a David Attenborough nature documentary! With torches flooded across the plains right before our very eyes we watched as two lionesses stalked and attempted to hunt down a lechwe. As strong and powerful as they were, the lechwe got the better of them that evening and they eventually gave up on the hunt, but not on making camp home for the evening. What followed was a dreamlike night of deep growls, hippos munching and owls tooting… before I got another early morning wake up call.
I don’t actually think what followed next could epitomize an African safari experience any better. A 5:30 am wakeup call from the resident pride of lions in camp! After a night of their low husky growls echoing throughout camp, it took me a while to realize just how close these growls were coming from until I caught sight of the lioness through the netting of my tent. On a slow and sauntering prowl just 2 meters in front of where I was now silently captivated in a semi-upright position in bed, came not 1, not 2, but 3 lions. The last one to round up the early morning jaunt through camp, a male, stopped on my verandah and started calling out to the dawn. His roars were so close that I could feel them vibrating up the bed. Every hair on my body stood to attention and I was frozen while Africa’s most powerful large cat took guard outside my tent! While any other wildlife encounter pales in comparison to that very moment, I can’t say I wasn’t just a bit relieved when they decided camp wasn’t for them anymore and they probably had a better chance of catching breakfast out on the plains. Seated around the open fire to warm away the morning chill on the extended boma area, watching the sunrise, we all sipped on our coffee and retold stories of our first night in camp before heading out on our morning game drive.
Our morning drive didn’t disappoint, but it never does at Busanga! Crowned cranes, lapwings, lechwe, an osprey and a cold lilac breasted roller all came out to give us a warm Busanga welcome, before we encountered another pride of lions. This is lion country and they rule these plains. This pride was determined to bring us our second up close and personal experience with lions for the day. Eyeing up the shade cast by the vehicle, a lioness padded over to us, taking her time to patrol the vehicle and have a good sniff, she stops to look up at us, so close if I reached out I could touch her, and in a heart-fleeting moment of “will she, won’t she”, she chooses the latter and flops down beside the vehicle to relax. She is so close that we can admire her intricate beauty in minute detail. As we move away, the two male lions are atop a mound with the breeze blowing through their manes, they are Kings of this jungle!
After a busy start to the day we settle on a peaceful lily-covered lagoon to enjoy our morning tea and listen to and watch the pods of hippos snorting, bubbling and making their signature sound “Mv-vu-vuv-vu” (Hippos are called Mvuu throughout this region of the world based on the sound they make). Mighty in both sound and body, hippos are huge, and watching as they lift their massive, thick bodies up onto the shallow banks within the lagoon leaves one in bewilderment as to how it is physically possible for something so mammoth to be so agile and fast on land when they need to be!
We head back to camp to tuck into another delicious lunch, a quick nap, followed by a slice of heavenly cake washed down with a cup of tea before heading out on our next evening drive. A steady flow of food and refreshments is always on offer at camp – producing the most tantalizing of goodies straight out of its little bush kitchen. Which just goes to show anything is possible when you have a culinary genius on staff!
This evenings excursion was to the Papayrus Islands, named after an area enshrined in what looks like a sugarcane plantation but is actually natural papyrus growth. Thanks to its large marshy undergrowth this area is made up of much bigger water channels, allowing the papyrus to flourish. Providing the perfect home to the elusive situtunga antelopes, who are extremely shy by nature and try to fade into the reeds to camouflage themselves, and if that fails they have evolved webbed feet and have the ability to swim through the water, submerged up to their noses, to escape any unwanted attention.
Back at camp, with no lions to put on an evening show, we sit beneath the stars around the campfire and swap stories and tales about our lives. Being at such in such an intimate and secluded setting creates an immediate bond between guests, one which unites you and stays with you forever.
Our third day in this untouched paradise was just as charmed as the rest, with sightings of more water birds, hippo, antelope, lion, wildebeest. Our final evening at camp brought with it yet another epic and nocturnal visitor. A leopard prowled across the plains, illuminated beneath a blood red moon. With final sightings of two more leopards at dawn on our drive back to Mukambia Safari Lodge on our final day!
Each new day at Busanga brings with it a whole new set of sightings, adventure and experiences. I will never tire of this spectacular journey into the wild, with each trip bringing with it a new and distinctive adventure.