The Lower Zambezi National Park, the most recent of Zambia’s National Parks, was for many years a forgotten wilderness. But now the 2500 square miles of superb game country welcomes visitors from around the world. It lies along the northern bank of the Zambezi River, downstream from Victoria Falls. The sparkling waters of the Zambezi are a focal point for the abundant wildlife, which includes elephant, hippo, buffalo, zebra, lion, cheetah, leopard, various antelope species, baboon and vervet monkey, together with a great variety of birds. There is an escarpment along the northern end, which acts as a physical barrier to most of the park’s animal species.
The river’s edge is overhung with a thick riverine fringe, mostly diasporus, ficus and other riverine species. Further inland is a floodplain surrounded by mopane forest and interspersed with winterthorn trees and Acacia albida. The hills, which form the backdrop to the park, are covered in broadleaf woodland. Canoe safaris have become a popular way of exploring the Lower Zambezi, enabling visitors to get close to the wildlife in its natural habitat, although a lookout needs to be kept for the large crocodiles which live in its waters. Fishing is also good along the river, and most lodges offer fishing with rods and simple tackle is provided. Healthy tiger fish and bream catches are common as well as vundu, a member of the catfish family, weighing up to 25 pounds.
By Road: The existing lodges and canoeing operators provide the best access to the Park. They all offer pick-ups from either Lusaka or Chirundu (where there is a small motel) or Kariba in Zimbabwe. The Chongwe River demarcates the western boundary of the Park and can be accessed from Chirundu along a rough road (4x4 recommended), crossing the Kafue River by pontoon just beyond Gwabi Lodge. From April is a pontoon that crosses the Zambezi from Luangwa Town to Kanyemba in Zimbabwe and to Zumbo in Mozambique. All at the Zambezi/Luangwa confluence.
By Air: Lower Zambezi National Park is located 216km/134mi southeast of Lusaka. Most people fly-in to the park by charter flight to one of the airstrips in the Zambezi Valley.
Buffalo and elephant are abundant and spend time on the small islands and sandbanks in the river. The park is home to some impressive tuskers and big herds regularly cross the river. Lion and leopard are easily spotted and you might come across wild dog as well. For those paddling, most memorable are the thousands of hippo that inhabit the river channels and the enormous crocs lying on the banks.
More than 350 bird species have been recorded in the Zambezi Valley, making it a top destination for birders. The variety of activities offered, including boating, walking and night drives, are very favorable to building up a good bird list. The park is particularly rich in resident and migrant waders, which can be found on the riverbanks and sandbanks. The escarpment cliffs are a good place to look for raptors, including the impressive Verreaux’s eagle. One of Africa’s most sought-after birds, the Angola pitta, breeds here and can be found in the Wet season.
Best Time to Visit
January and February are good months to visit Aberdare, as are June to September.March to May is the heavy rainy season and should be avoided because the roads become impassable.There may also be some access problems from October to December.
Lower Zambezi has a clear-cut Wet season (November to April) when the temperatures are generally hot, and afternoon showers sweep in to temporarily take the edge off the heat. The park’s equally distinctive Dry season (May to October) is a mild period when vegetation starts thinning and losing its moisture. It gets colder as you climb up from the valley, though the park’s uppermost reaches aren’t accessible to visitors.