Busanga Plains Camp truly is one of the most magical places on Earth, tucked away in the Northern part of Kafue’s 720km² of unique wetland, it is home to Lion, Cheetah, African Buffalo, Hippo, Oribi, Roan, Lechwe, Zebra, Blue Wildebeest and herds of Elephants, and with over 500 recorded species it is a birder’s paradise! The camp’s isolation means that you won’t share your safari experience with herds of other vehicles, jostling and revving to share the same wildlife sightings.
To reach the Camp means a quick night’s stay at Mukambi Safaris main lodge first, known as ‘the gateway to Kafue National Park’, unlike Mukambi’s seasonal camps, the main lodge is accessible all year round from its ideal location on the banks of the Kafue River. A stay at Mukambi Safari Lodge is a treat in itself, and a precursor to the luxury safari experience that is in store for us. We arrive at a vibrant display of icy cocktails, presented to us by Mukambi’s friendly team, which, when coupled with a refreshing dip in the pool, offer the perfect way to cool off in the October heat.
Early morning starts are the name of the game on safari. Not only does it get us to the Plains as soon as possible, but it is also THE time to spot all that Kafue has to offer, and with Guide Aaron as our driver, this is exactly what we got.
As we rumble along the dusty track, the sun rises behind us and floods the dry grasslands with a crisp early morning light. Caught in the early morning hues, the nocturnal animals are winding down for the night, while the rest of the Park watches and waits until it’s safe to emerge from their hiding spots. We catch sightings of Sable, Hartebeest, Kudu and a couple of Southern Ground Hornbill across Kafue’s ever-evolving and shifting landscape.
Aaron finds the perfect spot overlooking a small waterhole to have our morning tea and refreshments. The animal kingdom version of a morning tea break – You haven’t had coffee until you’ve had it in the company of Hippos and a host of birds, whom are all enjoying their morning drink at the watering hole too. We catch sight of a shy Roan edging closer to the water from across the way, not quite sure if we are friend or foe.
Despite the flurry of activity at the waterhole, there is a beautiful stillness about this time of the day, and a calmness falls upon us all as we take in these magnificent morning scenes of nature.
Just before we emerge onto the Plains, the vehicle comes to a standstill, and we are treated to the most mesmerizing sight of a large male Leopard draped across a long and thick branch in the Mopane, clearly resting after a night of hunting, he’s completely uninhibited by our presence. We leave him here, where he will spend the remainder of his day, shaded by the leaves as he escapes the midday sun.
As we surface from below the tree lines and make our way onto the Plains, we are gifted with endless horizons of open grasslands, peppered with the odd tree, island, and thorn bush. It is a landscape so versatile and abstract that it takes your breath away. As we trundle closer, the distant figures of Roan, Wildebeest, and Puku come to life before us – effortlessly munching on the dry grass, and swatting the flies away.
But the grand finale of our view of the Plains is the Rosy Throated Long Claw, perched dainty on a blade of golden grass. With the distinctive blast of coral orange under his throat, he is such a stark contrast against the dry beige and straw-like browns the dry season casts upon the Plans, he is a true beauty!
Excitedly recounting this birding gem, we have arrived at Camp – so perfectly tucked in amongst the palm groves, that you never see it until we are upon it. We are greeted by the beaming Busanga team, who eagerly hand us warm towels to wipe our dust and sweat-stained faces (we are all on safari in the heat of dry season after all!). Thrilled to be at Camp, we take a tour, and the front deck never fails to draw gasps of awe, especially from the two Busanga first-timers, who are experiencing the panoramic scene of the expansive Plains and tree-studded islands for the first time; teaming with Lechwe, Puku, Hippos, and birds of all shapes and sizes, it is a sight to behold!
Having worked up quite an appetite, we gulp down a sublime lunch and delicious drinks, before retiring to our luxury tents to unpack and have a quick cat-nap to pass the sweltering midday heat. One thing is for sure, you could never go hungry with Mukambi! 3.30 is tea-time in this part of the World, and we are served a plate of baked goods and iced tea that hits the spot in all the right ways, before we embark on our first evening drive of the trip.
The evening drive does not disappoint, as we set off to the Plain’s legendary Papyrus Plantations, where the sheer volume and abundance of Lechwe and Puku have us all stunned. Dry season in the Kafue means that many of the waterways and channels have dried up, leaving far fewer water access points for the animals. Peak dry season like this offers the most amazing game viewing, with animals forced to congregate together.
Hippos jostle and snort for space in the remaining pools, causing quite the ruckus amongst territorial males who aren’t keen on sharing the dwindling space. The infamous Ox Pecker uses this time to jump from back to back as it helps keep the grumpy Hippos groomed.
While the Hippos may be grunting in exasperation, this is a Fish Eagle’s dream, with the reduced pools making for exceptionally easy fishing. We spotted 10 gathered in just one area – watchfully awaiting their turn to strike, counting over 20 in total on our safari!
It is a truly magical afternoon spent with the Hippos chortling against a chorus of Fish Eagles calling and circling overhead as we watch the Jacanas dart across the water’s surface, and Open-Billed Storks, Egrets and Lapwings sift along the narrow waterways.
Another early start to the day ensues, but made worth it with the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee, while we sit around the campfire, watching the sun rise and listening to nature calling out around us. As daylight breaks, and the hazy morning dew lifts, we spot two Lionesses…. With three Cubs in tow!
There’s no time to waste so we hop into the vehicle to get a closer look. What follows is the most unique and treasurable stretch spent watching the Cubs pouncing, wrestling, jumping and playing, while their mothers watch on.
A photographer’s dream, the rest of our morning, and evening is spent with the Lions – when you find the pinnacle of safari adventures, you stick with it. Taking just a short break in-between to lounge by the infinity pool to escape the heat of the day.
Thinking we couldn’t possibly top the Lions, it’s almost as if the team planned it this way and saved the ‘best’ for last on our final game drive, with the ultimate show-stopper making an appearance – the cheetah.
My ultimate takeaway from the trip is that you simply can’t spend enough time in the Plains. In fact, I’d be quite happy to move to this spectacular corner of Heaven on Earth, and call it my home. Alas, the real world won’t allow it, so the times that I do get to escape into Kafue’s pristine wilderness of untouched bliss are some of my most cherished.