Swamps & Wetlands

Bangweulu

Bangweulu Swamps

When one looks out over Lake Bangweulu, the grey blue waters disappear into the horizon, blending in completely with the colour of the sky. It is difficult to tell just where the horizon is. ‘Bangweulu’ means ‘The Place Where the Water Meets the Sky.’

The Lake is exploited more as a fish source than for its tourist potential. This is unfortunate, as it’s beauty is breathtaking. There are rumours of developing a tourist resort and having a luxury cruise boat for hire. But for the moment this is a an interesting stopover for the intrepid vehicle traveller or backpacker.

The main catches in the Lake are Cychlids (bream, tigerfish, yellow belly) and catfish. About 57 000 metric tons of fish are harvested from the Lake each year. Although fish stocks are not in danger, catchesare declining and the favoured species are becornii1gJhinner.

The fisheries of the Bangweulu are one of the largest in Zambia. This has lead to some of the highest pâpulation densities around the Lake where commercial fishermen have settled. Nevertheless the fishing industry is not economically well developed and inadequate controls and marketing facilities threaten both sustainability and profitability of the industry as a whole. Many of the fishermen trade their catches purely on a barter system for essential commodities.

Samfya is the largest town on the Lake, developed in the mid 1900s as a fishing village. You can get basic supplies as well as fresh fish. There is a post office, clinic and adequate fuel supplies.

Bangweulu Wetlands

The Great Bangweulu Basin, incorporating the vast Bangweulu Lake and a massive Wetland area, lies in a shallow depression in the centre of an ancient cratonic platform, the North Zambian Plateau. The basin is fed by 17 principle rivers from a catchment area of 190 000 kms2, but is drained by only one river, the Luapula.

The area floods in the wet season between November and March, and receives an average annual rainfall of about 1200mm, but 90% of the water entering the system is lost to evapo-transpiration. The resultant effect is that the water level in the centre of the basin varies between one and two meters, causing the floodline to advance and retreat by as much as 45 kilometres at the periphery. It is this seasonal rising and falling of the flood waters that dictates life in the swamps.

Man has inhabited the periphery of the swamp area for hundreds of years as it has always provided a rich source of food, but the area is so incredibly vast, it is largely left to the abundant wildlife that live off the rich resources.

The current inhabitants of the Northern Province are descendants from a series of emigrations from the Congo Basin. The earliest settlers were known as the Ba-twa or Wild Men by the more recent arrivals. Formerly they occupied the islands around the confluence of the Chambesi with the Luapula Rivers and lived by fishing and hunting from temporary shelters. Today they have become assimilated into the surrounding tribes building permanent villages and speaking the same Bemba language.

Kasanka National Park

This peaceful sanctuary, situated on the south western edge of the Lake Bangweulu basin, is one of Zambia’s smallest national parks. It’s 450 km2 however, are so well endowed with rivers, lakes, wetlands, forests, lagoons, meadows and dambos that it supports a uniquely wide range of animals and abundant birds and fish.

Do not expect to see large herds of animals round every corner, but it is surely one of the most picturesque parks in Zambia with superb birdlife.

About ten years ago Kasanka was in danger of becoming yet another defunct national park due to rampant poaching. David Lloyd, a British expatriate, who had lived in Zambia for many years, visited the Park in 1985 and heard the crack of gunshots. He concluded that if there was still poaching there must still be animals there and set out to save the Park from total depletion. He teamed up with a local farmer, sought funding and along with much of their own resources applied for official permission to rehabilitate the Park” They built tourist camps, roads and bridges and-set up the Kasankà Trust to raise funds for this community  based project. Slowly it began to earn a little money from tourists to help cover costs. Three years later the National Parks arid Wildlife Services Department were sufficiently impressed to sign a 10 year agreement with the Trust allowing full management of the Park in conjunction with National Parks & Wildlife Services and to develop it for tourism in partnership with the local community.

Today, although there is still none of the heart-stopping walking safaris amongst elephant herds, or any lions brushing past your open vehicle as in the larger parks, there are some of the rarest birds and animals in the country, found in the beautiful miombo woodlands, swamp forest, grasslands, floodplains and riverine bushveld, to be enjoyed on leisurely walks and drives. There are ample opportunities for fishing tigerfish, bream and barbel in the beautiful Luwombwa River. Boats are available for hire but you should bring your own tackle.

Recovering from depletion are hippo, sable antelope, and Liechtenstein’s hartebeest. The puku, once reduced to a few hundred, today exceed 1500. There are fairly big herds of the swamp-dwelling sitatunga, reedbuck, waterbuck, Sharpe’s grysbok and the rare blue monkey. Elephants also appear from time to time, and their numbers are expected to recover. Together with Kasanka’s noted birdlife, the animals can be seen on guided walks through the grassy plains, mushitu forests, large tracts of miombo woodland, and alongside riverine forest and papyrus swamps. Over 330 bird species have been recorded, including such rarities as Pel’s fishing owl, the Pygmy goose, Ross’s loerie, the osprey and the wattled crane. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of the rare shoebill stork

Shiwa Ng’andu

In 1911, a young British Officer, Stewart Gore-Brown, was appointed to the Anglo-Belgian Boundary Commission to determine the border between Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo. He developed a great fondness for the surrounding countryside and determined that when his work was finished he would return and settle in this part .of Africa. He was back in 1914 and set off on foot from Ndola on the Copperbelt with 30 carriers looking for a piece of land to buy.

“We suddenly came upon what I thought was the most beautiful lake I had ever seen. I was surrounded by hilly country, and along its shores were groves of rare trees, of kind sacred to Africans. Friendly folk inhabited the one big village on the lakeshore and there were a dozen herds of different wild game. The surrounding land seemed to be reasonably fertile judging by the crops that were ripening there. I knew at once that I had found what I was looking for.”

Legend has it that the local tribe, having arrived from the Congo onto the north eastern plateau, came across a dead crocodile. They thought this an excellent omen and since the name for crocodile was Ng’andu, they called themselves Bena Ng’andu — ‘The people of the Royal Crocodile’ and settled around the Lake. The Lake became known as Ishiba Ng’andu — ‘The Lake of the Royal Crocodile.’

Gore-Brown purchased 10 000 acres of land near the lake for 2 shillings an acre and called it Shiwa Ng’andu. The First World War necessitated a return to England but six years later he returned as a retired Lieutenant Colonel and set about building the estate with an army building manual, single minded determination and an indomitable energy. Using local materials, recruiting and training builders, carpenters and blacksmiths, he built cottages for his Workers, a school, a chapel, a hospital, a post office, a workshop complex and later an airstrip. Eventually, the elaborate manor house, overlooking the Lake was completed in 1932 and the appropriate furnishings, paintings, cutlery and crockery was shipped from England and transported on dirt tracks by ox wagon. His-wife Lorna took an active interest in the local culture and environment, encouraging researchard carrying out anthroporogical studies.

They experimented with various crops, essential oils, cattle and timber on the farm and at the same time, Gore Brown was very ‘active in politics contributing to the creation of an independent Zambia. He died at the age of 84 in 1967 and his elder daughter and her husband Major Harvey took over management. They began Shiwa Safaris, which was for many years the only safari company taking visitors to the estate into the wild North Luangwa National park. They also continued with the community development projects started by Gore-Brown. They were sadly murdered in their other home near Lusaka in 1992, but the estate still remains with the Harvey family. The farm as well as the safaris continue to operate. The estate maintains a central role in the development of local farming, providing the resources and expertise allowing local farmers to diversify their output.

Sightseeing

On the vast estate of Shiwa Ng’andu is Kapishya, an exquisite natural hot spring surrounded by lush tropical vegetation and tall raffia palms. The hot water bubbles out from the white sands of a crystal clear pool and flows into the Manshya River. The Harvey’s have built four small thatch chalets there and serve meals in the old farmhouse. A very beautiful setting and well worth a stopover.

Chusa Falls: Some l0kms downstream from where the Manshya runs past the hot springs. The falls are made up of a series of three steps, each three or four meters high. Rafting can be done here over the many rapids.

Nachipal Bareback Hill. This 3 hour walk to the summit gives a magnificent view of Lake Shiwa Ngandu. Dr David Livingstone took his bearings from here back in 1867.

Shiwa Lake Boat Trip: A full or half day boat trip on rubber rafts is offered, cruising around the lake, bird watching and taking in the spectacular sunrise or sunset. The full day trip takes guests from the lake down the Manshya river over some small rapids and back to Kapishya Camp. Fishing trips are also available on the Lake.

The Harvey’s also run Shiwa Safaris to the North Luangwa National Park leaving from Shiwa
Ng’andu and entering the park from the Western escarpment.

Where to stay

19kms away from the Manor House there are simple chalets at the Kapishya Hojprinqs. Self catering, full catering or camping is available here. The simple thatch chalets are set on the Manshya River next to an old farmhouse. Guests can wallow in the crystal clear hot waters of the Springs

Best time to go

Anytime of the year is good in this area. Rainy season is between November and March. A particularly pretty time of the year is late September, as the spring leaves arrive. A profusion of autumn colour prevails as the leaves of the ubiquitous brachystegia trees begin their life in a rich burgundy colour and gradually turn yellow then green as the season progresses.