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Final frontier: Zambia’s Royal Wildebeest Migration

Here they come. Wildebeest. Hundreds, then thousands of them, streaming across a golden grassland. But this is not the Serengeti. And there! The beat of drums, the colourful pageantry of royalty, the march of a King; but this is not Buckingham Palace.

This is the last secret corner of Southern Africa: the Liuwa Plain in Zambia, and after decades of inaccessibility, it is now possible to travel there on safari.

Zambia wildebeest migration

Liuwa’s wildebeest population has tripled in the last twenty years.

Lying in the extreme east of Zambia, Liuwa Plain National Park is a huge swathe of seasonally flooded grassland. It hosts Africa’s second biggest wildebeest migration (after the Serengeti/Masai Mara) and is home to lions, spotted hyena and cheetah, as well as antelope and zebra. African wild dogs and Cape buffalo were re-introduced a few years ago and the birding is excellent.

Predators of Zambia wildebeest migration

Lions are among several large predators here, especially active during the migration.

But the royal connection? Now we have to turn to history. The area was formerly known as Barotseland and it was a 19th century King – a Litunga – of Barotseland who declared his people as custodians of the grasslands. Liuwa has since passed into state ownership but the royal traditions remain: every year a great floating, singing procession makes its way across the flooded plains as the Litunga moves residence to higher, drier ground. The event is called the kuomboka – ‘coming out of the water’.

Zambia culture and history

Unique imagery of Liuwa’s annual royal procession – the kuomboka.

An interesting relationship exists between the local Lozi people and the Zambian conservation/tourism authorities: several thousand people live and farm within the national park, which in turn is the biggest employer in the region, offering scholarships to local schoolchildren as well as other benefits and training. A mutually beneficial relationship has resulted in a massive drop in both wildlife poaching and agricultural encroachment. As is becoming increasingly clear to Africa’s conservationists, it is by working with local communities that the greatest results are achieved.

Family safari in Zambia's Liuwa

Guides tailor their safari activities to whatever the age & interest of their clients!

Travel to Liuwa Plain is fly-in only and should be part of a larger safari itinerary. Yet despite its remote location, Liuwa lies within a comfortable 2.5-hour flight from Zambia’s capital Lusaka, and that means easy connections to the country’s more familiar safari destinations such as Victoria Falls, the Lower Zambezi National Park, and the South Luangwa. It used to be a camping experience at Liuwa but there is now a permanent lodge in the national park, delivering a level of comfort and service equal to safari accommodation across the region.

Classical luxury safari camp in wildebeest migration land

The classic look of King Lewanika lodge – Liuwa’s only safari accommodation.

Activities at Liuwa Plain span both land-based and – depending on season – water-based wildlife viewing. Guides conduct morning and afternoon game drives with the bonus of night drives to spot nocturnal creatures. There are guided walks on offer, canoe safaris when the water is high enough, and sleep-outs under the stars; the camp is family-friendly and gives you the chance to experience local Lozi culture.

Traditional fishing in Zambia

Traditional fishing on the Liuwa floodplains adds a flurry of Lozi colour to the scene.

As for when to go to Liuwa Plain, that depends on what you want to see most. Firstly, the area is flooded and inaccessible between mid-July and mid-October. But it’s the floods that drive Liuwa’s two biggest events: the kuomboka and the wildebeest migration. The rise of the floodwater in April is what prompts the procession of the Lozi king, while it is the receding flood in October that brings migrating wildebeest into Liuwa. Wildebeest numbers – and therefore the wildlife viewing in general – peaks in November and December when the seasonal rains begin and the brown grasses turn green. It’s also the best time for bird watching as migrating species arrive in large numbers to swell the already impressive number of resident species.

African pelicans in Zambia

African white pelicans are just one of the 350-plus bird species recorded at Liuwa Plain.

Whenever you go, Liuwa Plain is a photographer’s dream and will deliver a unique set of images to an African collection.

Lozi culture in Zambia's Liuwa

Clothing & colours fit for a king at the royal kuomboka!

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Gwen (AU)
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Our 28-day itinerary took us to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana. A magnificent and unforgettable adventure. Everything ran smoothly and efficiently from the flights, transfers, rides, connections, etc. Absolutely wonderful! Can’t thank them enough!

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From the very first contact we’re very happy about the respond time and quality of information from safari-online.com. Based on the received first tailor-made quote, which is a weblink with all the details about the flights, photos of the lodges etc. we knew that this is “our” partner for this trip. Our expectations were excelled!!!

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We have been to Africa for 24 of the last 27 years so know a bit about what is involved. Walter has arranged the details for the last couple of years, and has done a superb job. He is always quick to respond and comes up with answers immediately……..no evasive tactics, always head-on!

Roger (UK)
Best trip I have ever been on. Highly recommend.

Would highly recommend. Safari online asked questions when booking and were efficient and knew exactly what we were looking for in terms of accommodation and animals were wanted to see. Gave advice on a few little extras with no pressure, which we did and am very grateful which make trip even more exciting. Would definitely recommend booking with them.

Professional, patient, efficient and responsive. Met all our travel needs and requirements spot on

Communication was excellent – I asked A LOT of questions and did a ton of research myself and Walter was extremely patient with me and very responsive. he was straight forward and extremely professional. Tour itself was excellent – an incredible experience and one never to be forgotten. Everything was spot on.

Neena
Safari Online made our fantastic family holiday dream come true!!

Safari Online have been nothing but professional and incredible from the time we made our first enquiry to the last day of our stunning holiday. Nothing was too much trouble for Walter. We are now starting to plan our next family Safari for 2019. Guess who we will be booking with??? Safari Online we hope you are ready!!!!!

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It was a safari of a lifetime and exceeded all of our expectations!

Our mom grew up in Central and South Africa so we had visited the continent many times. My sister and I wanted to take our teens and husbands to Africa to experience the magic. We had a limited budget but big and specific expectations and by some miracle Walter was able to manage both.

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Our experience with Safari Online was excellent. After becoming very frustrated trying to search for a safari destination on our own, we turned to Karina for help and she was a lifesaver.  We had an amazing safari adventure at the lodge–the experience of a lifetime–and are so grateful for her help. We literally couldn’t have done it without her!

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