NSUMBU NATIONAL PARK
Storytelling by Matt Blair
Images by Mana Meadows
Nsumbu National Park
Whether you are flying in, or driving up from Mporokoso, there is a point in both journeys where Lake Tanganika slowly reveals itself as you come over a ridge that leads down to its shimmering waters. The rawness of the wilderness is both harsh and beautiful – rugged meets serenity as the hills meet the lake shore: a combination that best reveals itself in the golden hours of the day. The contrast is breathtaking.
This is the backdrop to Nsumbu National Park – one of Zambia’s most unique and scenically outstanding national parks. At just over 2000 sq km – it is a tapestry of miombo woodland, rich floodplains and the endangered Sumbu-Itigi forests which give so much depth, literally and figuratively, to this special park. Eighty kilometres of the park’s shoreline borders the lake, some of the most wild and pristine it boasts.
From a photography and filming perspective, both the lake and the Sumbu-Itigi forests have different moods that can be a challenge as well as a pleasure to capture. With its hardworking lakeshore fisherfolk, assortment of boats and expansive waters, this giant inland sea can be reminiscent of Tanzanian or Mozambiqan coast – a photographer’s delight in landlocked Zambia. Breaking up the extensive forests in Nsumbu are the gentle flow and cascades of various rivers and waterfalls – this is a landscape photographer’s paradise.
Personal favourites for me included floating on the lake as the sunset threw the sky and the water into a myriad of pastel colours, with the last light shining on the steep mountains leading down to the shore, as the first night light of the fishermen sparked to life. Another special memory was hiking into a remote valley to be greeted by the Lufubu River with its amazing birdlife, mossy rock-strewn gurgling tributary streams and the steady soundtrack of the Chika waterfall – the sight of the waterfall itself being completely unexpected and rewarding after the hour long hike down into the valley.
And there are few other places in Africa where you may have the chance of spying elephants swimming in turquoise gin-clear water. Thankfully, as the partnership between Frankfurt Zoological Society and Zambia’s Department of Parks and Wildlife deepens (in the form of the Nsumbu-Tanganyika Conservation Programme who are doing excellent work at protecting the area) these sights are only going to increase.
The lake offers superb fishing opportunities, with varying species from the infamous Nile Perch and Goliath Tigerfish, to an array of cichlids with the Nkupi being the largest and most entertaining to catch. And who would believe you can scuba-dive in Zambia? With visibility rivalling most popular dive destinations, Tanganyika offers you the chance – explore the world beneath the surface of this beautiful lake too.
For the birding enthusiast the park offers some great opportunities to tick a few of the specials and ‘lifers’ off the list. One of the unique sightings includes the migratory flamingo, lesser black-backed gull and white-winged tern.
Mostly accessible throughout the year, the most spectacular time of the year to visit is between November to April. Not only is this a popular time for fishing, but it is one of the more beautiful periods to witness storms building up over the lake, with more than enough sunshine in between to enjoy the beaches and bush. The birding comes to life during the wet season, and the waterfalls as the rivers come to full flush. However, the mainland component of the park becomes largely inaccessible between December and March.