A new dawn breaks over Kafue National Park. The early morning bird chorus and fading whoop of a hyena signal the new day as the sun creeps up over the horizon, washing the landscape in a warm hue. This is Africa. 

Kafue National Park is one of the largest on the continent, spanning over 22,000km². This makes Kafue an explorer’s delight, with the various topographies and wildlife habitats showcasing a myriad of fauna and flora. There are over 150 mammal species and an impressive 478 bird species. Being one of the oldest parks in Zambia it has an established and healthy population of animal and bird life and has a fast-growing reputation for offering some of the finest safaris in Africa. 

There’s no better way to explore Kafue than with Mukambi Safaris. With camps strategically located in the various unique wilderness areas, you’re guaranteed to experience everything the park has to offer. 

We begin our adventure at Mukambi Safari Lodge. A 4-hour drive from Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, or a quick air transfer and it’s not long before we’re traversing the dusty roads of Kafue National Park. Arriving at the lodge, we’re greeted with warm smiles and eager staff ready to make our stay a memorable one. We can either take some rest at the lodge or ease into the safari with an afternoon game drive or relaxing sunset boat cruise down the magnificent Kafue River.

There is nothing quite like experiencing an African river at the end of a long and hot day. The tranquil flow of water seems to absorb any stress as time gratefully slows down. The heat of the day dissipates and the elephant herd we meet on the riverbank enjoy a final drink before lazily retreating to the bush for the night. We head back to the lodge, all the while admiring the African sunset sky awash with resplendent shades of orange and pink, the silhouettes of the Spurwing Geese cutting through the artist’s palette. Dinner is served al fresco where we make acquaintance with the local resident wild cat Mauw!

Feeling refreshed and rejuvenated after a blissful sleep in the divine four-poster bed it’s time to greet the day with a coffee and a stretch as the hippos chortle their good mornings from the river below. After a hearty breakfast on the deck overlooking the glistening Kafue River, we climb into the game vehicle for our transfer to Fig Tree Bush Camp, taking in the sights and sounds along the way. 

We pass a herd of elephant with two little calves in tow. The matriarch, ever watchful, continues to forage nonchalantly allowing us to capture the playful youngsters as they negotiate their growing trunks and wobbly legs. Various types of antelope, including impala, puku, and kudu graze peacefully in the open grassy pockets amongst the forest, while the yellow-billed hornbills chatter noisily as they swoop from branch to branch.   

We arrive at Fig Tree Camp for a light lunch before settling into our elevated luxury tented suites with beautiful views over the Shishamba River. We cool off in the inviting infinity pool and savour the scenery, the lagoon below quenching the thirst of a small elephant herd during the midday heat. We gather under the iconic Fig Tree for tea and cake before heading out on a late afternoon game drive.

Our wonderful guide imparts his extensive knowledge on the fauna and flora as we wind our way through the Miomba woodlands in one of the most remote areas of the park. As the evening draws in, we spot the flick of a tail high up in an ancient Miombo tree. The unmistakable coat of black and gold rosettes comes into view, and there she is, a female leopard in all her glory. She stands up on her branch, gives a long gratifying stretch and springs down and off into the darkness, a hunt on the cards. What a way to end another incredible day in Kafue.

Next morning we’re up before the sun as we prepare for a walking safari with our expert guide. After a short briefing we head off with boots on terra firma unsure of what lies ahead. Soon we come across one of the most endangered yet harmless and gentle creatures, the pangolin. Our guide shares his knowledge about her foraging techniques, how their long tongues flick in and out of the tunnels of anthills mound. We watch from a distance so as not to disturb her.

A day later, after much relaxation and game spotting from the deck under the large Fig Tree, we depart for our next destination – the infamous Busanga Plains in the northern part of the park. It’s no surprise to see why this area is often referred to as the jewel of Kafue National Park. It is a verdant paradise of rolling flood plains and flourishing animal and birdlife. After making acquaintance with the breathtaking Busanga Plains Camp and a quick forty winks we’re off on an afternoon game drive. We are greeted with an abundance of life on the plains. Huge herds of less common antelope such as red lechwe graze contentedly on the marshy landscape and we even manage to spot the resident herd of rare roan antelope.

As an avid birding enthusiast, the birdlife is out of this world. Large flocks of crowned and wattled cranes pick their way through the grass and reeds, and the Chaplins barbets chatter in the date palm thickets beyond. The saddle-billed stork, grey heron, southern-ground hornbill, and coucal are a common sight, and we are lucky enough to capture a Pel’s fishing owl perched high up in a sycamore fig. 

We return to camp for an extraordinary night under the stars. The Busanga Plains Camp ‘star bed’ is a must, for there is nothing less beautiful than staring up at an African night’s sky enwrapped in the comfort of crisp cotton sheets. Drift off to the sounds of nature, a distant lion call, the chirrup of a jackal, and the nightjars’ lullaby, while the Milky Way makes its way overhead. 

After another spectacular few days of game viewing on the plains and ultimate relaxation at camp, we make the return journey back to Mukambi Safari Lodge. As luck would have it, we come across a pack of wild dog, lazily lying in the shade as the morning sun reaches its peak. It’s a large pack of about twenty dogs, with nine playful pups. They are relaxed and allow us to approach slowly. We spend a good hour watching their antics, admiring the parenting skills and feeling totally connected with nature.

We savour our last night on the shores of the mighty Kafue River at Mukambi Safari Lodge. Recounting the stories and sightings from the past few days, we recognize what a privilege it has been to explore the incredible Kafue National Park. And it’s not over yet as the staff quietly inform us of lions in camp. We shine the spotlight from a safe distance as two females stroll past the reception area and into the darkness of the night. We’ll be needing that armed escort back to our rooms later! It goes without saying, we’ll be back to rediscover this wild and beautiful place once again for our lives have been changed and our spirits renewed.