In 1297 the Gordon family arrived at Lochinvar from Berwickshire. They established a castle on an island in the lake – or loch, as this was in Scotland. Lochinvar.
In 1908 another Scot, Mr Horne, a cattle farmer from Botswana, arrived on the banks of the Kafue river in Northern Rhodesia long before it became Zambia. The local chief, Hamusonde, gave? sold? him some land – or did Horne simply claim it? – or did the colonial government give it to him? He registered it on behalf of the British South Africa Company.
Known locally as ‘the Major,’ Horne built a big old red brick farmhouse. He called it Lochinvar and it is now known as the old Lochinvar Ranch homestead.
Previously little of this land had been used for farming because of the wild game here, including lion and leopard. To convert the land into a cattle ranch, ‘Major’ Horne set about exterminating the local wildlife in a ruthless program of annihilation. Populations of sable, roan, eland, warthog and wildebeest were wiped out, as well as all the predators he could find. The last lion in the area is thought to have been killed in 1947.
In 1966 the Zambian government claimed the land back and declared it a nature reserve.
In 2003 our little Swanie family drove past a sign that said Lochinvar National Park. As we’d never heard of it, we decided to go and explore this place. What say, Aitch? I asked. Go for it, she said, as she almost always did. Around 40km of rough road later we arrived at the gate as darkness fell.
‘Sorry, but you can’t go in,’ said the friendly soldier with a gun. ‘Sorry, but we have to,’ said I. ‘You see, I can’t let these little kids sleep out here and nor can you, so please hop onto your radio and explain that to your main man.’ Back he came – ‘Sorry, but the main man says the gate is closed.’ ‘You just didn’t explain it to him nicely enough,’ I said – ‘Please tell him I can’t, you can’t and he can’t leave a 22 month old sleeping rough next to a village.’ Off he went and back he came: ‘The main man will meet you at the camp inside,’ he said.
‘You’re a marvel, well done, thank you!’ we shouted and drove in on a 4km free night drive in Lochinvar. No animals, but some nightjars in the headlights.
Lochinvar National Park
Later, we found out more about the park: In 1966 Lochinvar Ranch, as it was then called, was bought by the Zambian government with the help of a grant from the World Wildlife Fund, and converted into a Game Managed Area; The extra protection afforded to the wildlife by this designation was not enough to prevent its numbers from diminishing further, and so in 1972 Lochinvar was upgraded to a National Park. Subsequently the park has been designated by the WWF as a ‘Wetland of International Importance’, and a WWF team has been working with the local people on a project to manage the park on a sustainable basis for the benefit of both the people and the wildlife. There are a lot of settlements around Lochinvar, and local people still come into the park – as they have done for centuries. Many were unhappy with Lochinvar Ranch – and have always felt that this is their land. They still come to gather wild foods and catch fish, and drive their cattle from one side to the other; so although major conservation efforts are being made in Lochinvar, building up the diversity and number of game species here is not an easy task.
We approached Lochinvar from Monze, on the Livingstone–Lusaka Road – about 287km from Livingstone and 186km from Lusaka. Directions: The road that heads northwest from Monze, signposted for Namwala, is just north of the grain silos on the Lusaka side of town. It passes Chongo village and forks about 8km afterwards. Ask local advice to find this junction if necessary. Take the right fork, or you will end up in Kafue. Follow this road for about 10km and then turn left at another sign. It is then about 14km to the park gate. This last section of the track twists and turns, but all the tracks that split off eventually rejoin each other and lead to the park. There are also a few more signs so, if you become unsure, ask a local person and they’ll show you the way. The gate to Lochinvar is about 48km from Monze. Most of the camps depicted on the old maps are now disused, and ‘some of the roads now seem as if they were figments of a cartographer’s imagination.’
The original state-run, red-brick Lochinvar Lodge, built in the colonial style of 1912, lies abandoned. There are always ‘plans to renovate’ this dilapidated, crumbling old building, but it would take a lot of work and money. Until enough people come to Lochinvar to make a second lodge economically viable, it’s likely to remain an evocative old ruin. As the state of the park gradually deteriorated, the lodge was put up for tender to private safari operators in 1996. Star of Africa agreed to take the lodge, as part of a ‘package’ of old government properties around the country. They first planned to build a floating lodge, but settled on a luxury tented camp which they called Lechwe Plains.
Camping rough in 2003, the campsite handpump had water, but the long-drop toilet and cold shower were out of action. We were happy to be inside the park, though and were equipped to be fully self-supporting.
Although the large herds of Kafue lechwe can be spectacular, the birds are the main attraction at Lochinvar – 428 species have been recorded there! The best birding is generally close to the water, on the floodplain. We drove everywhere in our kombi, but we since read: ‘It’s probably best to walk. It’s vital to avoid driving anywhere that’s even vaguely damp on the floodplain as your vehicle will just slip through the crust and into the black cotton soil – which will probably spoil and extend your stay in equal measure.’ Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique via Botswana. We only had a month, so not as leisurely as we would have liked. Can hardly believe it was fourteen years ago! The kids are now 19 and 15!
Mostly we drove at a leisurely pace and didn’t do great distances. We did put in a long day of driving on four stretches, which allowed us to chill most other days: Lusaka to Chipata in Zambia; Blantyre in Malawi to Tete in Mocambique; Tete to Vilanculos in Mocambique, and lastly Zavora to Nelspruit back in South Africa were all long-hauls. On those days we left early with the kids strapped in and sleeping. We’d drive for hours before breakfast. Aitch always had food or entertainment for them.
For the rest our days were unhurried. Slowly with the windows usually down, as we didn’t use the aircon. Anyway, speeding and potholes are not a good combination. At places we liked we’d stay up to three nights. Each of our five three-night stays felt like a complete holiday on its own. The Bushman off-road trailer proved its worth at every stop.
Waterberg, South Africa
On through Botswana and to the Zambian border at Kasane where a ferry carries you over the Zambesi. One of the ferries had dropped a big truck overboard and got damaged, so only one was in operation, which slowed things down. Took about four hours and we were safely across the Zambezi river in Zambia. Tommy took to the “fewwy” in a big way and called all boats fewwies for a while. The battered and half-drowned second ferry and truck and trailer were visible looking sad at the side of the river. The border post was pleasant enough. They charged us more for our “minibus” and tut-tutted sympathetically at my exaggerated protests that this was not a fee-earning taxi, but just our vehicle! Laughingly insisted “Well, sir, it’s the rules”. Had a good chuckle and they wished us well in their country.
In Livingstone we camped on the grounds of the Maramba River Lodge. It was full, so we squeezed in near the gate – not the best site, but quite OK. Lovely pool again. Drove to the falls at daybreak where a vervet monkey snatched Jess’ breakfast apple out of her hand. Our first sight of the falls from the Zambian side. Spectacular even though low.
Drove to Taita Lodge on the very lip of the Batoka Gorge downstream of the falls overlooking where we had rafted years before. A warm welcome and a great lunch on the deck hanging over the river. Ice-cold beer, great sarmies. Looked for Taita Falcons, saw Verreaux’s (Black) eagles soaring below. Tom & Jess banging on the dinner drum and xylophone was un-musical, but no other guests around, so no one minded – in fact the staff loved the brats and spoilt them with attention. I thought I’d better step up and perform as Aitch had been doing all the lessons and homework, so I taught them Cheers! Salut! and Prost!
On the way out of Livingstone we hit the best section of road we saw on the whole trip – brand new wide black tar with centre white stripe and side yellow lines! Amazing!
BUT: Just as we hit the smooth, the ole kombi died. Stat. Not a shudder or a hiccup first. Just suddenly nothing. That much-dreaded “CAR TROUBLE” thing! Well, after 197 000km I spose it’s OK. Unpacked the back and lifted the lid to stare at the engine. That’s my mechanical trick: I stare at engines.
Some school kids walked up and said ‘Don’t worry, they know a mechanic at the nearby village’, and the toothy one on the battered bicycle offered to go and call him. Sure, I said, not hopefully. “JP” from Gauteng, on his way to service some big crane, stopped his rented car and kindly offered his assistance. Soon he was joined (I was amazed) by Carl the mechanic, who arrived with a metal toolbox on his shoulder, and between the two of them they peered, prodded, unscrewed – and broke the distributor cap! Using mostly my tools and swallowing the ice-cold drinks I passed them, they eventually gave up. ‘Must be something computerised in one of these little black boxes’ was their verdict. Right!
‘There’s a VW agent in Lusaka’ says Carl cheerfully. Right! 200km away. As they’re about to leave, Carl spots a loose wire under near the sump. Finds another loose end of a wire and joins the two. VROOOM!! Apparently the wire was from a cutout switch to a heat sensor in the block. The kombi roared to life to tremendous applause! Well, four of us cheered. JP said ‘My pleasure’, Carl said ‘R200’, I said ‘Bargain’, Trish and the kids said ‘Thank you!’ and we were on the road again!
Next stop Lochinvar National Park at the south end of the Kafue National Park. We’d never heard of it but saw it on the map. Quite a bumpy road got us to the gate after dark. ‘Sorry, but you can’t go in’, said the soldier with a gun. ‘Sorry, but I have to’, said me. ‘You see, I can’t let these little kids sleep out here and nor can you, so hop onto your radio and explain that to your main man’. Back he came – ‘Sorry. The main man says the gate is closed’. ‘You just didn’t explain it to him nicely enough’ I said – ‘Please tell him I can’t, you can’t and he can’t leave a 22 month old sleeping in the sticks’. Off he went and back he came. ‘The main man will meet you at the camp inside’. ‘You’re a marvel, well done, thank you!’ we shouted and drove in on a 4km free night drive in Lochinvar. No animals, but some nightjars. A primitive camp, so we rigged up our own shower. Nice big trees.
It has beautiful flood plain lakes in the middle of dry surroundings.
South Luangwa National Park in Zambia was my main destination – I had read about it for decades. It was everything and more I imagined. Flatdogs Camp just outside the park was a blast, too. Big shady trees, a hearty meal available if you didn’t want to cook, and a swimming pool with a slide. Jess loved it so much she wore a big hole right through the bumular zone of her cozzie.
We met an American Mom with three kids. She’d married a Zambian man in the USA and had shipped over a converted school bus to tour around Zambia.
Then into the park – South Luangwa!! – a long-awaited dream. It was terrific. Saw puku antelope for the first time.
To get there we had to drive from Chipata town – that dreaded road we’d been warned against! Well, the grader had been a few days ahead of us and it turned out to be one of the smoothest stretches of the whole trip!
On to Malawi
Chembe village on the shores of Lake Malawi, and freshwater snorkelling off Mumbo island in Lake Malawi, cichlid fishes, and bats and swifts in a water cave.
Chembe village beach fig tree, Lake Malawi
We stayed at Emmanuel’s. Fair-minded people will agree with my assessment of it as ‘luxury’ but Aitch veto’d that and stuck it firmly under ‘basic with roof’, even though the shower was almost en-suite.
Outside the room, Aitch was in heaven:
Leaving Malawi we crossed the wide Zambesi at Tete, where we stayed in a motel on the right bank as we wanted to head straight off the next morning. Probably Aitch’s least favourite lodgings of the trip – mozzies and an empty swimming pool. Leaving town two garages had no petrol. They said the word was that the town on the far bank had, so we crossed back over the Zambesi, filled up and crossed back again. The kombi liked that!
Our biggest luxury was three nights at Vilanculos Beach Lodge. Sea, sand, a bar, lovely food, huge soft beds, friendly staff. Especially João, who spoiled the kids rotten, writing up cooldrinks to our room number! They thought he was a wizard.
We took a boat to Bazaruto Island and then on to Two Mile reef offshore in the big Indian Ocean. Lake Malawi and Bazaruto were Aitch’s main snorkeling destinations and she LOVED them both! Two-Mile reef really is ‘like an over-stocked aquarium’.
Two Mile Reef, two miles east of Bazaruto Island off Vilanculos, Mocambique
Zavora Bay near Inharrime. Stunning lakes and a wi-ide bay; A reef at the point, so you can walk in and snorkel in sheltered water for a kilometre; Lovely cottages – houses, really, on top of the dunes overlooking the bay. Our best find in Mocambique. We hadn’t heard about it before and we fell in love with it. We agreed: “We MUST come back here one day!”
Ponta Zavora, Mocambique
One Child, One Beach
Here’s where the kids got sick. We tested them – high positive readings for malaria. Luckily the lodge owner gave us Co-Artem pills which we fed them and then set off early next morning for South Africa.
When we got to Nelspruit hospital they tested all clear! The Co-Artem had done its job perfectly!
Two Memory Highlights:
Firstly, the rivers – stunning! The Chobe, Zambezi, Kafue, Luangwa, Shire, the Zambezi again (at Tete it’s wi-i-ide and beautiful), the Save and the Limpopo rivers were all magnificent and welcome and we stopped and stared. South Africa has some lovely rivers, but these were wider, swifter-flowing and clearer.
Secondly. the friendly people. Everywhere we went we were helped and fussed over and we heard laughter and “No Problem!”, and quite often: “Are these your children?”
Accommodation: We camped 14 nights; Basic shelter with roof 6 nights; Comfy lodgings 7 nights; Spoiled ourselves with luxury 5 nights;
Duration: Five 3-night stays; Three 2-night stays; Eleven 1-night stands;
Cook’s Tour: Thomas Cook (1808 – 1892) was an English businessman best known for founding the travel industry. In 1855 he took two groups on a ‘grand circular tour’ of Belgium, Germany and France, ending in Paris for the Exhibition. The expression ‘A Cook’s Tour’ was humorously used for any rapid or cursory guided tour: “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium.”
Showering one-year-old Tom in my arms in the ablutions at FlatDogs camp in Zambia I must have squeezed him a bit too hard, as he shot out of my arms like a slippery bar of soap and landed flat on his back on the tiled shower floor!
Waaah! he squawked when he got his breath back after a deadly-silent second! What’s wrong? call Aitch and Jessie from the ladies section next door (separated from us by a thin reed wall). YIKES!! I picked him up hurriedly and spent the next few hours watching him intently. He was fine, thank goodness! a sueto continua! (the holiday continues!)
Much safer to hang our own shower in a tree on a sandy floor! (also in Zambia).
Trish (Aitch) and 5yr-old Jess made a paste-and-cut album when we got back from our trip to five Southern African countries. I found it lying around so thought I’d photograph it and paste it here as a gallery. Hope you enjoy.