What to see and do
Although there is some game here, and the large herds of Kafue lechwe can be totally spectacular, the birds are the main attraction at Lochinvar. The best birding is generally close to the water, on the floodplain. For this it's probably best to walk north and east from Mulindi Tree or north of Chunga towards Hippo Corner. 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. A few sites to note include:
Site of the old farmhouse (GPS: OLDLOD) built by Horne, and later the old government-run lodge. There are plans to renovate this dilapidated, crumbling old building. It does have superb views over the park, and with a lot of work, and money, a lodge here would contrast perfectly with the seasonal tented camp of Lechwe Plains. However, until enough people come to Lochinvar to make a second lodge economically viable, it's likely to remain an evocative old ruin.
Gwisho Hot Springs
Gwisho Hot Springs (GPS: GWISHO) are near the southern edge of the park. To get here drive from the main gate to the old lodge, and then turn sharp left immediately in front of the old lodge's gates. From the campsite, drive north out of the camp and turn right towards Sebanzi Hill, following the edge of the plain. After about 2.5km turn left at a stone cairn and palms. The springs are signposted, and just a few kilometres further on, about 2km west of the old lodge.
The springs' hot waters vary from about 60°C to 94°C, and contain a high concentration of sodium, chlorine, calcium and sulphates. The thick vegetation around them is surrounded by a picturesque stand of real fan palms, Hyphaene petersiana
, which have small fruits – when opened, these are seen to have a hard kernel known as 'vegetable ivory'. In the thick, wet vegetation here keep a lookout for birding 'specials' including black coucal and Fülleborn's longclaw. Also look out for the stand of knarled old trees on the rocks at the top of the small rise beside the springs. These may look a little like deformed baobabs, but they are in fact African star-chestnut trees (Sterculia Africana
Excavated in the early 1960s, the remains of late Stone-Age settlements were uncovered here; it was described as one of the best-preserved and oldest sites in southern Africa. (Some artefacts discovered here are on display at Livingstone Museum.) It seems that the local inhabitants had traded the salt collected here far and wide, possibly as far as East Africa, as Arab-style trading beads were found here.
Talk to the local people and they will tell you that the Gwisho area was the location for several fierce battles between the TongaIla people and the Batwa, with hundreds of men being killed at a time – hence the existence of several mass burial sites nearby.
Looking even further back, into geological history, the springs were formed by a geological fault which stretches along the southern end of the park, on the edge of the Kafue Flats Basin. Associated with this is a deposit of gypsum, the mineral used to make plaster of Paris, which was mined at Gwisho from 1973 to 1978. You can follow the white rocks which mark this fault from Bwanda Hot Springs past the old campsite and Sebanzi Hill through Gwisho Hot Springs to the lodge, and past Drum Rocks.
The water which wells up into these springs has been heated far below the surface, and thus is independent of the rainfall or local surface water conditions.
Bwanda Hot Springs
Bwanda Hot Springs lie in the southwest of the park, and are surrounded by a large area of reedbeds. They're quite close to Limpanda Scout Camp, and so are often used for bathing and washing by the local people – and even sometimes as a place to water their cattle.
This national monument marks the position of an Iron-Age village on the top of the hill, which was excavated during the sixties. Archaeologists say it has been inhabited for most of the last millennium. Originally known as Ko-Banza, the village continued to exist right up to the first half of the 20th century when the villagers were evicted, presumably by the ranch owners. Looking out from this site you have an excellent view over the park and the springs, and hence realise why it was a strategically important site in times of turmoil.
The giant baobab on Sebanzi is said to be 2,500 years old, and is often used by nesting white-backed vultures. There are also said to be some caves in the side of the hill, though these are now hidden behind deep, impenetrable thicket. The hill is still probably home to some threatened southern African species, including pangolin and aardvark, as well as hyenas, jackals, bush pig, bushbuck and small wildcats. Notable birds often seen here include the African broadbill.
Close to the lodge, in the south of the park, is an outcrop of rocks (GPS: DRUMRO) that echo when tapped, producing a curious, resonant, almost metallic sound. These are the Drum Rocks, or Ibbwe Lyoombwa in the local language. Ask the scouts to direct you to these: they are fascinating. (Similar rocks, on the farm called Immenhof, in Namibia, were originally discovered by San/Bushmen and are now known locally as the 'singing rocks'.)
Considered sacred by the locals, these rocks are actually just the remnants of much larger boulders that were dynamited by the ranch's owners, curious to know the secret of their sound. They play an important part in the local religious calendar. As part of an elaborate rite of passage, it is traditional for a young man to come with his cattle to the rocks, chant 'Ibbwe Lyoombwa' and then perform a dance and various rituals designed to prove his manliness. At the end, he should leave with his cattle without turning back, for fear of seeing his dead ancestors, and then stay away from his village until the beginning of the rains. If he had proved himself sufficiently, he would then be considered an adult and would be able to take a bride on his return. Even today, visitors are supposed to chant 'Ibbwe Lyoombwa' to prevent bad luck befalling them.
Nearby is a large baobab (GPS: BAOBAB) with a completely hollow trunk that can be entered from a crack in the side (which is the size of a small doorway). According to Chief Hamusende, the cave was formed by an old man who, given a magic club, decided to try it out by bashing it against a nearby baobab; a broken tree and the formation of the cave were the result of his experiment. It was actually used as a shelter by the district commissioner during the 1800s, and local legend has it that anybody who refuses to believe in the customs and beliefs of the villagers will enter into the cave and never return, the tree sealing up and closing behind him.
This group of large winterthorn trees, Acacia albida
, is roughly where the main track meets the lagoon. It's the site of the old wildlife camp, and a good spot to camp provided you don't mind being disturbed by the odd vehicle.