Liuwa Plains in Zambia; a hidden gem

Liuwa Plains, Zambia, is a true hidden gem of a national park where those who have visited feel privileged to have done so. The vast expanse of open plains stretch for as far as the eye can see, and at times it feels like you can see the curvature of the earth.

Conservation in Liuwa Plains
Liuwa Plains is a little visited park located in the Western Province of Zambia in the Upper Zambezi flood plains. Bounded by two rivers, the Luambimba and Luanginga, the park covers an area of approx. 3,600km2. The plain itself is some 70km long and 30km wide. Liuwa Plains National Park is one of the earliest examples of conservation in Africa; the King of Barotseland appointed his people the guardians of the land in 1880 and it became a formal national park in 1972.

Over 10,000 people live in Liuwa Plains National Park and this represents a success story for wildlife and humans living alongside each other. The population still consider themselves guardians of the land and play a vital role in the ongoing conservation, whilst also sustainably using the land as they always have.

The ongoing conservation of this wonderful park, which has been managed in partnership with African Parks since 2003, has ensured the wildlife populations continue to grow, with species such as eland, buffalo and lion being reintroduced to the park in the last 20 years.

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Kuomboka Ceremony
The plains flood each year and are a vital part of the Zambezi ecosystem. The 100 metre wide Zambezi River becomes a 40km stretch of water, islands, reeds and swamp; it is an extraordinary amount of water. The Kuomboka ceremony is an annual, traditional event celebrated at the end of the rainy season when these plains flood and the people living in the area move to higher ground. It is especially centred around the King moving from the floodplains to the palace on higher ground.

It is an extraordinary sight; the King’s barge is easily seen; a large replica elephant is carried at its centre and it is painted black and white, mirroring Zambia’s coat of arms. The barge requires 100 paddlers to move and the journey takes around six to eight hours.

The Queen has her own barge, following behind, and hers features a huge replica bird which tops the barge. Both the wings of the bird and the ears of the elephant can be moved by pulleys inside.

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A stay in Liuwa Plains National Park offers the chance to see plenty of wildlife, including species less common in Zambia’s other parks. These include the common tsessebe, oribi, red lechwe and roan antelope. It is also home to the second largest wildebeest migration in Africa. At the start of the rains in November the plains are transformed and 40,000 – 50,000 blue wildebeest migrate to the higher ground in the south.

The hyena, unusually, is the apex predator here, with clans of up to 50 individuals hunting wildebeest and other prey. It is also home to cheetah, lion and wild dog as well.

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The floodplains of Liuwa provide a rich habitat for birdlife with over 300 different species recorded here. Various birds of prey can be seen alongside crowned cranes, the endangered wattled cranes and plenty of water birds including storks, pelicans, herons, pygmy and spur-winged geese and egrets.

Lady Liuwa
This lioness was the sole lion in the park for many years and was the subject of a National Geographic documentary, ‘The Last Lioness’. This tale documents her survival when the rest of her pride were lost or moved on from the park in the 1990s. First recorded in 2002 she was famous for making humans her companions. Often she would sleep outside the kitchen of the only camp in the park at the time, or lie just metres away from the camp fire. It is believed she was an amazing 17 years old when she died of natural causes in 2017, an extraordinary age for a wild lion.

Today, with careful re-introduction by African Parks, there is a growing lion population on Liuwa Plains again, though still not enough to take on the title of apex predator from the hyena.

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Where to stay
This remote and beautiful park is home to the stunningly luxurious King Lewanika lodge which only has six rooms, including one family room. Located on the edge of a belt of trees, it has been designed so every room gets a wonderful view of the surrounding Liuwa Plains. A stay here offers you the chance to explore this area by vehicle on day and night game drives, and also on walking and canoeing safaris. It’s also possible to spend a night sleeping under the stars in a simple fly camp.

Overall, Liuwa Plains is an incredibly special park in Zambia, little visited with a huge amount to offer wildlife enthusiasts, birders and photographers alike. When I visited I came away feeling it had an aura to it that is truly magical and part of this, I am sure, is that it is so remote, unspoilt and wild that you feel as if you really are part of nature. It is still how much of this part of the world would have been many years ago.

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If you would like more information about Liuwa Plains, holidays to Zambia or would like to discuss other destinations and options please give us a call or email Lucinda to discuss your wishes.  We would be delighted to help you put together a fabulous holiday.