Lower Zambezi National Park is Zambia’s newest Park and as such is still relatively undeveloped, but its beauty lies in its absolute wilderness state. The diversity of animals is not as wide as the other big parks, but the opportunities to get close to game wandering in and out of the Zambezi channels are spectacular. The Park lies opposite the famous Mana Pools Reserve in Zimbabwe, so the whole area on both sides of the river is a massive wildlife sanctuary.
The Zambezi River’s edge is overhung with a thick riverine fringe, mostly diasporus, ficus and other riverine species. Further inland is a floodplain fringed with mopane forest and interspersed with winterthorn trees, the Acacia albida. The hills which form the backdrop to the park are covered in broadleaf woodland.
The Lower Zambezi National Park covers an area of 4,092 square kilometers, but most of the game is concentrated along the valley floor. There is an escarpment along the northern end which acts as a physical barrier to most of the parks animal species. Enormous herds of elephant, some up to 100 strong, are often seen at the river’s edge. ‘Island hopping’ buffalo and waterbuck are quite common. The park also hosts good populations of lion and leopard and listen too for the ubiquitous cry of the fish eagle.
Fishing is good along the Zambezi River and healthy Tigerfish and bream catches are common as well as vundu, a member of the catfish family, weighing up to 50 kilograms. Strangely, cheap, strong smelling soap is an excellent bait.
Canoeing is a must. The lodges in the park provide day-long canoeing trips. Float down the river at your leisure and they’ll pick you up in a speedboat at the end of the day to bring you back.
Several operators run 3 to 5-day trips, overnighting at very comfortable bush camps on the banks of the river. These are highly recommended. The river has a strong enough current to take you easily down the river with little effort. The river guides will take you down remote channels between the islands where your opportunities to get close to the game are very high. Hippos are always in sight, and elephant, zebra, puku, impala, buffalo, kudu and baboons can be seen browsing on the banks from the laid-back comfort of your canoe.
The ecological unit of Lower Zambezi National Park and the Chiawa Game Management Area support a relatively large population of mammals. The escarpment and plateau regions are largely inaccessible and have not been formally surveyed. The valley floor, although a small area, is host to many of the bigger mammals, including elephant, buffalo, hippo, waterbuck, kudu, zebra, and crocodiles, impala and warthog. Occasionally, roan, eland and the Samango monkey are seen. Nocturnal animals here are hyaena, porcupine, civet, genet and honeybadger.
The birdlife along the riverbanks is exceptional. Many a fish eagle can be seen and heard for miles around. Nesting along the cliffs are white-fronted and carmine bee-eaters. Other species include the red-winged pratincole, the elegant crested guinea fowl, black eagle, and vast swarms of quelea. In summer the stunning Narina trogon makes its home here. Other specialties are the trumpeter hornbill, Meyer’s parrot and Lilian’s lovebird.
The best time is mid-season from June to September, but all lodges and canoeing operators are open from April to November. Fishing is at its best in September / October.