The northern section of the park is a slightly undulating plateau, veined by rivers – the Lufupa, the Lunga, the Ntemwa, the Mukombo, the Mukunashi, and the Lubuji – which are all tributaries of the main Kafue, whose basin extends to the border with DRC. The main Kafue River is already mature by the time it reaches this park, though it has over 400km further to flow before discharging into the Zambezi.
Thus in the park its permanent waters are wide, deep and slow-flowing, to the obvious pleasure of large numbers of hippo and crocodile. Tall, shady hardwoods overhang its gently curving banks, and the occasional islands in the stream are favourite feeding places for elephant and buffalo. In short, it is a typically beautiful large African river.
Occasionally it changes, as at Kafwala. Here, there is a stretch of gentle rapids for about 7km. The river is up to about 1,000m wide and dotted with numerous islands, all supporting dense riverine vegetation – making a particularly good spot for birdwatching.
Most of the park's northern section, between the rivers, is a mosaic of miombo and mopane woodlands, with occasional open grassy pans known as dambos. The edges of the main rivers are lined with tall hardwood trees. Raintrees (Lonchocarpus capassa
); knobthorns (Acacia nigrescens
); jackalberries (Diospyros mespiliformis
); leadwoods (Combretum imberbe
); and especially sausage trees ( Kigelia africana
) are all very common.
The Kafue's tributaries are smaller, but the larger ones are still wide and permanent. The Lufupa is probably the most important of these. It enters the park from the Kasonso-Busanga GMA in the north, and immediately feeds into a permanent wetland in the far north of the park: the Busanga Swamps. In the wet season these waters flood out over a much larger area, across the whole Busanga Plains, before finally draining back into the river, which then continues its journey on the south side of the plains.
The swamp and seasonal floodplain together cover about 750km2, and are a superb area for game. The seasonal floodwaters on the plains are shallow, but enough to sustain a healthy growth of grasses throughout the year on the mineral-rich black-cotton soil. These open plains are dotted with numerous small 'islands' of wild date palms, Phoenix reclinata
, and wild fig trees (various Ficus
The area is perfect for huge herds of water-loving lechwe and puku, which are joined by large numbers of zebra, wildebeest, and other plains grazers, as the waters recede at the end of the wet season. However, the Busanga Plains are very remote, and normally impossible to reach by vehicle until about June/July. Hence, until recently, few people (even in the safari business) had heard about them, let alone visited them, and so this remarkable area continues to go largely unrecognised.