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“At 23:56 on 23rd October 1963, Zambians rose in reverence of the Union Jack, the de facto national flag of the United Kingdom, for the last time as it lowered, signifying the end of British rule in Zambia.”

― Precious Mwansa-Chisa

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Kayaker's view of the Lukulu river
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Are you tough enough for Lavushi? It never occurred to me that this question would encapsulate the whole story behind the experience of venturing into unchartered territory. It only makes sense now after the close to 72-hour ordeal of venturing to Lavushi Manda National Park. Most times that we’ve written our Explore pieces, the focus has been on adventure. However, it feels so wrong to box the Lavushi Manda experience into this one adjective because it was so much more than adventure. Essentially this piece is about exploration and so much more.

We started off at 3:00am excited to try out the recently rejigged 4X4 freshly fitted with a new engine and equipped to conquer the wilderness of Lavushi. Just at the point of leaving the city of Lusaka, the engine overheated and the Land Cruiser broke down. At this point, the essence of having a sleepless night to depart the city at an ungodly hour was being ridiculed by the unreliability of machinery.

As avid members of Team No-sleep, we decided that it was pointless to postpone the journey. So another vehicle that wasn’t meant to go on the trip was loaded up and we set off on the road around 5:00am. “Don’t go with a vehicle you love,” regrettably recounts Walid. Seeing that the original travel plan had been rudely interrupted by the overheated engine, the second-chance drive to Lavushi Manda took place in high gear. All-in-all it took about eight hours to cover a 661 km stretch by road and with a reliable vehicle.

Lavushi Manda mountain range
Scenic look of mountain range at Lavushi Manda

Having literally zoomed from Lusaka to Serenje, the inevitable happened. The car had to be refuelled with the last gas station being 30 km away. As chance would have it, a guy by the name of Stop was selling fuel in Jerri cans at the last village before entering the park. Fortunately the fuel which juiced our car was legit enough to get us all the way to our destination.

Upon arrival, we were met by Richard and Geraldine who volunteer as caretakers of the park. In addition to the two volunteers are a park manager and some camp attendants who are there to assist with campers’ needs. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife also have a Ranger stationed there, with more than 10 Wildlife Police Officers who undertake anti-poaching operations in the Park.

Since it was already getting late, we didn’t get much choice nor much time to pick a camping site the night of our arrival. After all, the two camp sites are 20 km apart which is approximately a 1 hour 15 minute off-road drive through basically unchartered territory of long grass and over-extended branches clawing at your vehicle. So it was settled that the night would be spent at Linda camp which was generously offered by Richard and Geraldine but generally not open to visitors.

Hiking the vast Lavushi Manda expanse
Hiking the vast Manda expanse

Richard Peel and Geraldine Taylor are attached to the Lavushi Manda National Park under Kasanka Trust Limited. The duo both hold doctorate degrees in Ichthyology and Fisheries Science. Lavushi’s untouched woodlands and vast unexplored wilderness do not only offer adventure but also a prime location for ichthyological research, among other things.

Barely catching any sleep for the night, our entourage was up and ready to go hiking by 3:00am. It took approximately 2 hours to get to the base and a rock solid 45 minutes to conquer the 400m ascent to the 1821m mountain. The wind chill up there is something to be reckoned with while the mist renders the horizon practically invisible. Chances of the mountain climb being any quicker than 45 minutes were a pipe dream.  We had continuous stops to make sure our expedition photographer, Chosa, had not fallen prey to the rock rabbit.

There isn’t much wildlife to see at Lavushi Manda because poaching over the last few decades has grossly reduced the number of animals found within the Park’s boundaries. Although shy and largely depleted in numbers, the Park can still offer some exciting sightings. klipspringer, dassie and Smith’s red rock rabbit are sometimes seen when hiking the rocky outcrops and common duiker, bushbuck and warthog can be spotted around the camps and on the river. There has also been a lone leopard sighting when reviewing footage from the trap cameras dotted around the park. Lions, which move into Lavushi Manda from Luangwa Valley during the rainy season, usually February to April, are often heard, but rarely seen. According to the Zambia Tourism website, it is possible the last observation of a wild Black Rhinoceros in Zambia was made in Lavushi Manda National Park in the late eighties, suggesting the park is highly suitable for reintroduction of the species.

Lavushi Manda flora
Lavushi Manda flora

We got to the red-rock-spewed mountain top before sunrise and the mist and fog made it impossible to get any photos at that time which had clocked 6:00am. A camp situated at the mountain peak houses two guards manning a communication tower against poachers who are likely to destroy the infrastructure. The guards have a ten-day rotational shift taking turns to protect the only means of communication between the Park and the outside world.

At 8:00am, the fog finally clears and we go to town taking photographs of the breathtaking view. As the sky becomes clear and the mist dissipates, it might feel like you are at one with the stratosphere. It appears as though a post card has come alive brimming with life. The Lavushi Manda mountain range makes for pure photographic heaven. The picturesque scenery covers a large part of the Lukulu and Lulimala river catchments immediately above the richest ecological part of the Bangweulu floodplains/swamps.

Upon descent from the mountain peak, the Lukulu River, which is a tributary of the Congo River, awaited us for a Kayaking adventure. The river also holds true fishing potential for fly and lure anglers as very few people have explored the hidden water bodies. Some people have reported great catches of ‘Congo’ yellowfish locally known as Mpifu (up to 5 kg) and bream. Hippos stealthily wade through the river visibly avoiding any human contact perhaps due to the trauma left from poaching. Whether you choose to go kayaking, fishing or simply boating, the expedition leads to pristine Miombo woodlands as well as gallery forests along the headwaters of the Lukulu and Lulimala rivers.

One of the many natural poos found in the Park
One of the many natural poos found in the Park

In conclusion and to quote, “If you are looking for vast unexplored wilderness, adventure and exploration, Lavushi Manda National Park is the perfect place for you. It is so rare these days to find undiscovered, remote getaways and this offers the perfect opportunity to avoid commercial tourist traps. Be a pioneer and explore this incredible park.” You no longer have to wonder what it must be like to hike over the Muchinga mountainous range jutting into the sky. Imagine touching the sky, walking on clouds and inhaling the first breath of dusk.

Lavushi Manda National Park Overview

Lavushi Manda National Park is a wildlife reserve in the Muchinga Province of Zambia. It is situated in Mpika District and was declared a National Park in 1972. It is part of theCovering an area of 1,500 square kilometres, it is easily reached from the Great North Road. Lavushi offers visitors the chance to experience raw nature in its purest form.  It is located in a remote and unspoilt wilderness that is unlike any other. Wildlife in Lavushi, although largely depleted in numbers still offers some exciting sightings of sable, klipspringer, dassie, Smith’s red rock rabbit, common duiker, bushbuck, bushpig and warthog, which can be spotted around camp and on the river. Kinda baboons and vervet monkeys are often encountered when crossing the Lukulu with hippo and the occasional crocodile not far off.

Where To Stay

There are three campsites which offer accommodation: Mumbatuta Campsite, Kapandalupili Campsite and Peak Campsite. Campers must go prepared for a raw nature experience. Kapandalupili and Mumbatuta campsites have direct access to waterfalls along the river, while Peak Campsite has access to the Lavushi Manda Mountain Range.

How To Get There

Lavushi Manda National Park can be located using the GPRS Co-Ordinates: -12.333312, 30.833269

A few ways to get there include:

Coming from the east, turn to the Lavushi Manda entrance from the Mpika-Serenje road. It is about 60 km south of Mpika. The turning to Lavushi Manda from the main Mpika–Serenje road is about 141 km north east of the turning to Mansa and Kasanka National Park. There is another road across the TAZARA railway line, which enters the park after 12 km via a scout post, though at last check it was impassable due to a collapsed bridge.

From the west at Chiundaponde passing by a turn off to Bangweulu, travel for about 20 km from there you will reach the Lavushi Manda turn-off at the Lutimwe Scout Post, which is above the crossing of the Lutimwe River.

When To Visit

Lavushi Manda is open to visitors all year round. However, driving even in the dry season is a challenge with big muddy gullies and areas where the road has just been washed away. In the wet season some areas may be completely impassable.

One of the team  enjoying the kataking
One of the team enjoying the kataking

What To Do

The mountain range makes Lavushi Manda ideal for hiking, while the Lukulu River offers excellent fishing and kayaking, and great birding.

It is better known as part of the Greater Bangweulu Ecosystem complex of protected areas.

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