After about three hours' drive from Lusaka (148km), on the Great West Road towards Mongu, a large modern factory looms next to the road. Orderly warehouses stand behind well-watered lawns. This is perhaps the country's biggest cotton ginnery.
A few kilometres west is a turning off the road to the north, which leads – after about 4km of Zambia's most pot-holed tar – to the thriving township of Mumbwa.
This very busy little centre has a fairly reliable Total fuel station (GPS: TOTALM), a 'medi-test' laboratory, a large mosque with a dominant minaret, and endless small local shops. I'm probably being very unfair to a delightful little town… but for some unknown reason I never like this town, and always feel 'ill at ease' here.
However, it can be a very useful refuelling stop – as it's the only one for miles around. If you need to use a bank to pay for this, then there's a branch of Barclays Bank (open Mon–Fri: 08:30–14:30). If you arrive when it's shut, and need to change US$ into kwacha, then ask at one of the shops (the chemist on the left at the end may be able to help).
On the far side of the shops, in the township, is the local bus station. All the buses passing through Mumbwa – heading west to Mongu or east to Lusaka – will stop here. Being a relatively busy route, there are arrivals and departures at all times of day, though the highest frequency is the middle of the day, when buses that left from Lusaka or Mongu in the morning will pass through Mumbwa.
Where to stay
If you need to stop overnight in Mumbwa then the Mumbwa Motel
, on the right as you drive into town, has small round bungalows with sloping roofs. It boasts a cocktail bar, a restaurant and a public phone as its amenities. Other possibilities include the Kalundu Motel
(PO Box 830024, Mumbwa; tel: 01 800132) and La Hacienda Hotel
(PO Box 830222, Mumbwa; tel: 01 800295) which promises self-contained rooms and the use of a bar and restaurant.
Getting there and getting away
Mumbwa is very easy to find, just off the main Lusaka–Mongu road; all the buses stop here. Leave this tarred road and a high-clearance 4WD is essential even in the dry season. If you're driving to Hippo Lodge or McBrides' Camp, or trying the adventurous eastern route towards Kasempa, read on… From Mumbwa to the Lubungu pontoon
If you are looking to reach hippo, Mcbrides' or anything around the Lubungu pontoon, then this is your best way to get there. If you're driving to Lunga (which very few people do) then the route through the park is longer than this one, but probably better. You'll certainly see a few more vehicles (handy if you have problems!), and a lot more game.
The easiest route on the park's eastern side has always been to strike north at Mumbwa. For this, turn north into Mumbwa Township, then left just before the Total garage (GPS: TOTALM). At the top of the next rise, about 1.4km later, take a right turn on to a reasonable gravel road. This is the road to Lubungu pontoon. About 35km from the Total garage, there's a split in the road (GPS: TUKAIN), with the right track leading to Kaindu. (Eventually this leads round to a point just south of the Lunga pontoon, but it's a very little-used track.)
Bear left at this fork for the Lubungu pontoon. About 15km later you enter an area that's a private wildlife conservancy. Around 66km from Mumbwa you'll stop briefly at the gate at Kabulushi Scout Camp (GPS: KABULU) where you may need to pay park fees. (That said, due to a very strange historical anomaly, Hippo Camp is sited on private land within the national park, and so the fees are slightly reduced!)
Past the gate, at almost 86km from Mumbwa, the road bends around to the right, towards the Lubungu pontoon. A turning (GPS: TUHIPP) bears off from the main road, signposted to Hippo Camp. Take this track, away from the graded gravel road and on to a bush track.
There's a small barrier gate here also, and yet another gate (GPS: MINEGT) 5km further on, erected by the Zoo Copper Mining Company – ignore both and drive through. You'll soon pass the whitewashed buildings of the old Hippo Mine. This started in 1911, and gets its name from the fact that in the early days one of the workers was killed by a hippo, and buried here. It was the first commercial copper mine in Zambia, and closed only in 1971.
Finally about 97km from Mumbwa you'll drive on to the airstrip (GPS: AIRHIP). This is where the tracks to Hippo and McBrides' separate; it's barely 2km to Hippo Camp, and less than 3km to McBrides' Camp.
Had you ignored the turning (GPS: TUHIPP) to Hippo, and followed the main road right, you'd reach the Lubungu pontoon (GPS: LUBUNG) in about 10km.
The team that run the pontoon are often to be found in the buildings beside the road, a few hundred metres from the pontoon – so you may want to stop there first. (You may even want to make an arrangement with them for a later time if you're returning!) The pontoon is free, but a tip of something like US$1/Kw5,000 each is always a good idea. If the Lubungu's waters are very low, then the pontoon will not be in operation and you will have to ford the river a few kilometres upstream – but you will need a local person to guide you to find this.
This road, from Mumbwa to the Lubungu pontoon, has been graded in recent years, and isn't in bad condition; it'll take two hours. (Do check locally to see if anything's changed recently.)From Mumbwa to the Lubungu pontoon via Nalusanga
There is one other possible route here, though I've not heard of anyone using it for some time. It is only suitable for two or more 4WDs and is an old cut line track that skirts the eastern boundary of Kafue National Park. This starts from Kafue's Nalusanga Gate (GPS: NALUSA), which is about 37km west of Mumbwa on the Great West Road. From here there is a bush track which heads about 33km north (and slightly west) directly to the park's Kabulushi Gate (GPS: KABULU), on the road to the Lubungu pontoon.
Given that the road directly from Mumbwa to the Kabulushi Gate has recently been graded, as described in the section above, it's likely that this cut road has fallen into almost total disuse. Ask at either scout post before you attempt this one!From the Lubungu pontoon to the Lunga pontoon
See Northern Kafue's Route direction for 4WDs section
for directions along this route.