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Blog #33 - LIUWA PLAINS!

Date: 16th - 21st October 2021

Liuwa Plains was one of those FAR AWAY places we often read about and yearned to visit. Liuwa lies to the very west of Zambia on the Angolan border and is a solid 2-day drive from the Caprivi Strip area, so a serious endeavour from SA. Distance just proved too far for a school holiday, plus the Plains are only accessible for a few months of the year – too many things were against us then. But now with time on our hands and miraculously landing in the area in the right season we added Kafue and Liuwa onto our 4ina4x4 journey.

Both Liuwa and Kafue are places which us South Africans cannot quite fathom….. they literally go underwater for about 4-7 months of the year. The rivers rise and the plains are flooded. Kafue as much as 7-10 meters under water….. IT is hard to imagine! Entire Lodges are submerged and when the rain subsides, cleaned and function again for the few dry months. Liuwa lying to the west of Kafue likewise is submerged but to a lesser degree but still completely inaccessible from Dec – April/May…

Getting here is a feat in itself. The roads from Kafue are shocking and short distances take hours with the potholed, gouged out roads.

We have this strange thing at the moment….. to keep pushing on…. Maybe sometimes pushing ourselves too much in one day…..?? We arrived at Mongu town where we were going to spend the night, but on looking at the hotel where we would have stayed, we decided our tent ANYWHERE would be a better option… plus the other option might have internet signal for us to do some quick catching up on work/blogs/uploads etc. So onwards we went. Our route took us over the Barotse Flood plains where the Zambezi River spreads out – a new road has been built over the floodplain saving us a 1-day detour. We lost count after 17 bridges…..

Our next stop was Kalebo town, the last town south of the park – it turned out to be just as dismal, so once again we pushed on… this time to find a remote camp just near the Parks gate. And so, the “Liuwa adventure” began………..

To get to Liuwa plains from Kalabo, one has to cross a human-pulled-pontoon when leaving Kalebo town. This, as you can imagine, was SUCH fun for both adults and kids. Dev was alerted to letting his tyres down as the sand the other side was treacherous, and many tourists had got stuck……. With tyres down, me filming, kids hooting with joy Dev roared off the pontoon and up the seriously sandy dune leaving the river…… but alas we got stuck. Sand ladders did not help, nothing to winch to, reversing and retrying, all to no avail…. But thankfully, with the sand ladders and many locals who had obviously seen this number before, we were pushed and revved out over the dune. BUT the next 5 kms was just as treacherous and we drove like cowboys after a night out!!!!! A sports bra would have been very welcome!!The kids were giggling like mad at being bounced around like popcorn! It was now 5:30pm, we had been on the road since 8am and the adrenalin rush was dwindling, so we found a wild camp on the side of the road. It was a gorgeous little spot under some trees with the best internet signal we had had in days!!!!!! But the miggies/insects took a liking to us sweaty filthy dirty Fogg family! But thankfully with sunset they disappeared. And with it came the most magnificent night sounds – various nightjars, Xmas beetles, bugs and owls. And with no other noise pollution it was awesome! After cereal and tea for dinner, and a Wet-Wipe “bath”, we all collapsed in a heap at 7:15pm, and had the best night’s sleep!

Either we skimmed past our research or else thought other travellers not as 4x4 bush savvy (sorry!), but we were NOT prepared for the thick sand of Liuwa. It is REALLY bad and even with our 7am start before the sand got heated up and harder to drive on, we got stuck again just before the gate. But PROPERLY stuck! But thankfully being 4x4 Mega World’s Brand Ambassadors, we are kitted out with all the right kind of recovery gear for tough situations when travelling alone. The sand ladders sadly did not help and thankfully this time we had trees to winch too. So, with 2 winch set ups we eventually got ourselves out and onto safer territory! All 4 of us now filthy dirty with the Liuwa sand – it looks white and gorgeous but trust me our feet were black for 5 days! YUCK!

It was at this stage that I, by complete mistake, deleted all our footage off the Go Pro from Kafue to crossing the pontoon to wild camping….. Was so bleak 

So finally, we arrive at Liuwa…..The sand thankfully eventually did become less aggressive but by this time I was not a happy camper. To be completely honest I was completely underwhelmed by Liuwa for the first 2 days. I had this sick furious feeling that we had paid for 4 nights, and it was this barren wasteland. A lot of money “wasted”. The MASSIVE storm that first evening which drenched us and inside our tent and soaked Dev’s and my mattresses and bedding just added to my grumpiness. The now wet sticky black sand was everywhere, the kids were always filthy dirty. I was dirty. Let’s just say I had 2 very “off” days…..The weather stayed miserable and nothing dried (my worst) and I was just a grumpy bag!!!!!!!! I even forget that I had SO wanted to see the first rainstorms over Liuwa….. such was my mood!!!!

BUT the sunshine as always comes out, and with our first sighting of lions and a cute male cub, watching storms brew on the horizon, and seeing the Pratincole birds in huge black flocks hawking in the evenings, my mood slowly started to lift. And then with real eyes I started to appreciate this place properly. The plains are massive. Like kilometres wide. One cannot see the other side of the plains. It is MAAAASIVE. Some areas have long yellow grass, other areas are burnt with green grass shooting through, some areas have small tiny shrubs. But all lying right besides each other. There are a few pans dotted in the plains and here we found Pelicans, Wattled cranes and Storks. The camp is in a cool tree area. The sand thankfully eases up as you go deeper into the park. We had witnessed the first rains after a long hot season. The sun setting with these massive dark storm clouds and the black flocks of birds flying around will be forever etched in my memory.

Being here for 5 days really allows one to completely submerge yourself into the flow of the reserve. You learn where the lion’s territory is and almost become “familiar” with the pride members (the cute fluffy male cub with a wound on his cheek, the female with the kindest face, the huge black-maned-male who looked like he had a toupee), you see the hyena cubs in their den, you get a real feel for the place.

BUT what I have probably loved seeing is the flocking together of the wildebeest…… WOW! After the Serengeti/Mara, Liuwa has the second largest Wildebeest migration (something we wanted to see). On our first few days the wildebeest were very spread out and in very small groups. But 4 days in and maybe after the first rains on our first 2 days, something changed and suddenly today we saw them in great numbers, herds and herds of them almost “coming together”…. Columns of them which look like an army of ants on the horizon, tiny beige babies and the constant almost pitiful bleating sound they make. It is amazing to see nature happening before our eyes.

PLUS added mega bonus was seeing another kill this morning…… An extract from Sophia’s journal today “The female (lion) went into stalk mode and in a flash she darted out the grass straight through the shallow water and chased a baby Wildebeest into the water and caught it halfway through the dam!! She only half killed it and then left the cub to kill it. When the cub killed it, he played with it, he was doing somersaults and wrestling with it (thankfully it was dead!) IT WAS AMAZING TO SEE. I HAVE WANTED TO SEE THAT FOREVER!!!”

We will leave here tomorrow having loved our time here. It is SO different from other Plains we have visited, so immense and vast, so different to what we expected, seriously testing at times but then equally rewarding and it has felt like a real “out there” adventure!

Now just pray we don’t get stuck again and again on our way out of here…….

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