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Liuwa Plain National Park/Zambia

Introducing Liuwa Plain National Park

About 100km northwest of Mongu, Liuwa Plain National Park is 3600 sq km of true wilderness on the Angolan border. A remote and rarely visited wild grassland area (one distinctive landmark, the 'lone palm,' can be seen from 40km away), it’s where vast numbers of wildebeests and other grazing species such as lechwes, zebras, tsessebes and buffaloes gather at the beginning of the wet season (November). Although their gathering is often called a migration, it’s more of a meander, but the wall-to-wall herds are nonetheless spectacular. Roan antelope, wild dogs, cheetahs and especially large and well-fed hyenas in particularly high numbers can be found in the park. Birdwatching is also a highlight with water birds such as wattled and crowned cranes, marabou, saddle-billed storks, herons, pelicans and egrets, among others, making an appearance when the pans fill with water. In 2009, two male lions from Kafue were introduced in order to mate with Liuwa's lone female. Although unsuccessful, two Kafue lionesses were then brought to Liuwa to mate with the two males; while one of the lionesses was killed in September 2010, efforts continue.

Although it became a national park in 1972, for years the park was in decline with no government funds to rehabilitate it. How­ever, an organisation called African Parks (www.african-parks.org), which assists African governments in funding conservation projects, signed a lease agreement in 2004, and now manages the welfare and facilities of the park.

Liuwa Plain is accessible from June to December but the best time to go is November, just after the rains start (the later the better). Make sure you leave before the flood waters rise, however, or you’ll be stuck for months.

Getting here independently, via the park headquarters at Kalabo, is restricted to well-equipped and completely self-contained vehicles and is a real expedition, hence the small visitor numbers (only 25 vehicles are allowed in at any one time; and a GPS is advisable). One of the only companies to offer all-inclusive organised trips is the highly recommended Robin Pope Safaris (www.robinpopesafaris.net); a trip out to Liuwa Plains will cost about ZMW17,200 for four nights.