Getting to Bangweulu isn't always easy and you'll need to either:
• Organise a special 'mobile' trip here with an experienced safari company. (I know of none who regularly runs trips here – although the Kasanka team will sometimes organise 4WD transfers to/from Bangweulu.)
• Fly into here, and then continue by flying out. This is how most people visit; although not cheap it is the easiest way to organise, and the most relaxing way to visit.
• Drive in here with your own fully equipped 4WD. This isn't easy or quick, but it can be fun if you've an adventurous streak and can be self-sufficient.
There's only one company working on the ground in this area – and that's the Kasanka Trust. They run Kasanka National Park and (having bought it a few years ago) Shoebill Camp. You can book a trip with them directly or, more usually, arrange it through the tour operator who is organising the rest of your trip in Zambia for about the same price as booking direct.
These must be pre-arranged. You can fly in to Shoebill Camp, as there is an airstrip (called Chimbwe) at Chikuni, just 3km from Shoebill. You'll be transferred to the camp from there, and your activities will be arranged for you. There is currently no 'schedule' for these flight transfers, and so they are relatively costly for one person because you need to hire the whole plane. Consequently, the price becomes more economic for two or three passengers. Flying in will give you a view of the wetlands and surrounding plains that you can't get from the ground – it's fascinating!
From around November to April, driving yourself on any of these routes can be very challenging – not to say wet, muddy and very slow. If you don't know what you're doing, you're likely to get stranded. By contrast, in the dry season it is fine, although note that there are very few vehicles on some of these tracks, and you always need a fully equipped 4WD – with your own food and suppliesFrom Chiundaponde to Chikuni
If you're approaching from Waka Waka, then to reach Bangweulu just continue straight through Chiundaponde, heading roughly north. After leaving the village, you'll find the track bends slowly round to the right before crossing a small bridge. Barely 500m after this bridge is a left turn (GPS: TUSBIL) on to a track which is small and easy to miss; this leads northwest to Bangweulu. This turning is about 4km east of Chiundaponde, and a fraction under two hours' drive from Waka Waka.
Barely 100m north of the turning is a scout post – and it's always worth checking with the scouts here for the latest news and directions. (There's a fairly reliable radio here that's in close touch with Chikuni and, in case of problems, could even reach Kasanka.) Follow the track northwest, and after about 19km you'll pass Mwelushi Middle Basic School. In another 20km you'll reach Muwele village (GPS: TUMUWE) where the track splits; the left fork leads in a more westerly direction towards Chikuni. At times this track resembles more of a footpath than a road, but don't give up!
About 6km after the village, the road forks (GPS: TUNSOB), with the left turn going to Nsobe Camp. If you continue straight on, without turning to Nsobe, you will soon emerge from low scrub into a plain of open grass, stretching for as far as you can see. (Look around you – that dark reddish colour on the horizon may just be thousands of black lechwe!) Here you'll see the start of a long causeway leading to Chikuni; this is in poor condition, and generally not used. In recent years it has been better, in the dry season, to follow the vehicle tracks which run parallel to the causeway. In the wet season you really need experienced, up-to-date local advice – which, when levels are low, will generally be to splash through the water on existing tracks. During periods when water levels are very high, Chikuni has been inaccessible by vehicle.
However you are proceeding across the plains, about 8km after the turning to Nsobe, you reach the small scout post of Chikuni (GPS: CHIKUN). Chikuni literally stands out as it's on top of a small rise in the plains, marked very clearly by a tall eucalyptus tree. This is one of the few trees within sight on the plains; there is another one at Kaleha, about 8km east along the Lukulu River.
If you're going to Shoebill Camp then you need to have pre-arranged your stay, and Chikuni is often the rendezvous point where you leave your vehicle, and continue by mokoro; in any case, you should stop, check with the scouts, and sign the register. The scouts here have a radio that can contact Shoebill Camp (as well as the ZAWA scout post on the road from Chiundaponde). Somewhere beyond Chikuni, depending on water levels, the wetlands begin.From Chikuni to Shoebill
You should pre-book your time at Shoebill Camp, so take advice from the Kasanka team about how to get from Chikuni to Shoebill at the time of year when you are going. If the water's high (typically January to June) then you may need to leave your vehicle at Chikuni and reach the camp by mokoro.
Later in the year you should be able to drive, in which case you sign in with the scouts at Chikuni and then pass straight through. Follow the direction of the airstrip for part of its length, and then hit out at 30° to your right, where you should find the tracks of other vehicles to the Shoebill Island causeway. If in doubt, try scanning the flat horizon for Shoebill's distinctive rectangular water tower amongst a patch of small trees.
Facing the camp, you will need to bear slightly to the left in order to join the beginning of the causeway (or later on, depending on the water levels). However, the route varies a lot with the particular season, and so it's vital that you get directions from the team at Kasanka, or the scouts at Chikuni, before you try to drive here.