Tom’s Talk — the best time to visit Kafue National Park, Zambia

Sara Drawwater
19 October 2012
Early morning mist on the Kafue River in Zambia (Credit: Egbert de Kwaasteniet)[/caption]

Early morning mist on the Kafue River in Zambia (Credit: Egbert de Kwaasteniet)[/caption]

In recent times the series of Tom’s Talks seem to have faded into the mists that rise from the Kafue River early in the mornings of July and August. At this time of year the air above the river is cooler than the warm waters of the river. Leaving the many reasons I could come up with for the long break I am now galvanised into action by the question often asked of me, “When is the best time to visit Kaingu Safari Lodge and the Kafue National Park in Zambia?

September, October and November in Kafue National ParkIndeed a valid question but not an easy one to answer. It all depends on one’s interests. What do you hope to see and experience? What is your level of tolerance to different climatic conditions of heat, wind, rain, mud and humidity?

November sunsets at Kaingu Safari Lodge (Credit: Egbert de Kwaasteniet)[/caption]

At the outset, allow me to be a little subjective and tell you MY favourite time and why. I love November, especially the mid to later part of the month just after the first rains.

In late September to early October the wind is still from the south and east. The earth is dry and dusty, the air is hot and oppressive. Rain clouds have started to appear in the late afternoons and these grow bigger and bigger, and more and more dense with each passing day, giving rise to brilliant sunsets. By early evening these clouds just disappear leaving beautiful clear star studded skies.

By this time the sap has risen in many of the trees and shrubs, and they are covered in the first flush of brilliant green leaves. Some, like the sausage tree, rain tree and many of the combretums have finished flowering and are in full leaf. They give welcome shade during the heat of the day.

In early November one sees flashes of sheet lightening far to the north and one knows and feels that the rains are on the way. As the wind swings to the north, you see the golden rain beetles dive-bombing the lights at night. You start to get ready for the real lightening and claps of thunder that precede the first downpours. When the rain comes, it comes with huge rain drops that slam into the dry ground with loud plops sending up spurts of dust. This is followed by the wonderful smell of wet earth that can only be a true African experience.

Luscious green carpets of grass are popular with herds of Impala[/caption]

Just after the first rains everything is washed clean and the air is clear and crisp in the early mornings. You can almost hear the grass growing and the ground is soon a green carpet. Flowers, especially the bulbs are popping up all over the place and the birds are especially noisy early in the day. Bush buck and Kudu love the fallen flowers from the trees and are often seen below the pod mahogany trees, daintily picking up these protein rich morsels.

On the river, early in the morning, the water is like a mirror reflecting the trees lining the banks. The brilliant blue of the half-collared kingfisher will catch your eye and many of the granite boulders sticking out of the water will have a pair of migrant rock pratincole that have flown in from Europe to breed in the warm climate of Zambia.

I could go on and on about the beauty of Spring at Kaingu. I have not even mentioned that fishing is getting good now. Many of the bream species get ready for breeding and are particularly aggressive, taking any lure that dares to come near their nests which lie in the shallows. This is the time for catch and release to ensure fishing fun for next year.

December through to March in Kafue National ParkSo what about the rest of the year? We are one of the few Zambian Kafue Lodges that is accessible throughout the year. So if you do not mind sloshing around in the mud looking for insects, butterflies, frogs and flowers, then the summer rainy season is the time for you. Technically, we are not officially open. We use this quieter season for repairs and maintenance. But we do get the odd specialist that does not mind a bit of late afternoon rain and is keen to do things that most African Safari goers avoid. Such travelers are always welcome and often have the Kaingu Safari Lodge all to themselves.

Sable in Kafue National Park[/caption]

This green season has its surprises as one creeps around in the tall grass following well-worn hippo paths. We have often had close encounters with the stately Sable and the odd leopard. The river is full and boating easy since we do not have to watch for rocks. During this time we can cover a lot of ground, so don’t count out the Summer, also known as Zambia’s emerald season. However, February and March are the heavy rainy season so this would be a no-no, except for the really intrepid traveler.

Controlled burning at Kaingu Safari Lodge[/caption]

April, May and June in Kafue National ParkAutumn in Zambia is in the months of April, May and June. It is still wet but generally accessible in May and June. This is when we start setting up our seasonal bush camps in the Kafue National Park. We carry out some early controlled burning, repair roads and canoe on the faster flowing Kafue river!

This is a good time to get involved in some participative tourism, helping with some of the outdoor tasks. This is what make Kaingu safaris different from the usual. The normal routine at the normal lodge is a game drive in the morning, brunch, sleep and then another game drive in the evening. The normal lodge routine doesn’t suit Kaingu — here, expect the unexpected!

At this time, the weather is cooler, air clear, grass long and game viewing from vehicles not veryeasy. Walking trails combined with or without canoeing are our specialties at this time of the year.

July, August and SeptemberThese months are known as high season in the Zambian safari calendar. Prices are generally higher and there are more guests. Game viewing is better since there is less grass. The cool evenings and nights are great for campfire stories about the day’s game sitings and walk.

All the activities done in April, May and June are carried over to these months so if this is the best time to for you to come due to leave, school or university holidays then so be it. You will always find something to keep you fully occupied at Kaingu Safari Lodge and in the Kafue National Park. Try to make it at least a two or three night stay. Make it four nights if you want to combine some luxury lodging with some excitingly different comfortable bush camping and canoeing through the unbelievably beautiful Kafue River islands, rapids and wilderness area below Kaingu Lodge.

I hope this run through the seasons will help with your planning. If you want any further information do not hesitate to contact me through the Best of Zambia website or email or

The Tom’s Talk seriesThis is the sixth article in a series about happenings in and around Kaingu Safari Lodge, Kafue National Park, Zambia.1: Introducing Tom’s Talk from the Kafue National Park2: Tom’s Talk — Facelifts and new adventures at Kaingu, Kafue National Park, Zambia3: Tom’s Talk — Sable antelopes, the show-piece of Kafue National Park, Zambia4: Tom’s Talk — Open Africa and Kaingu Safari Lodge5: Tom’s Talk — Cheetah: the greyhound of Zambia’s vast plains6: Tom’s Talk — the best time to visit Kafue National Park, Zambia

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