This small town built beside the surging Kabompo River, in the sparsely-populated northwest, is at the centre of Zambia's remaining teak forests – but otherwise fairly unremarkable. There is long-established Catholic mission here, a hospital, a branch of the Finance Bank, several small shops and a handful of resthouses – but no fuel station.
Where to stay
Aside from the mission's own accommodation, there are three guesthouses in town. The government resthouse and the district resthouse are exceedingly basic. A better bet is the Zambezi Source Investments Guesthouse, reached by turning south from the main road where there is a collection of assorted signposts, and then left at the roundabout. You'll pass the Purple Palace Recreation Club, before finding the ZSI Guesthouse on your left. Given a total lack of roadsigns, you might find the co-ordinates useful: (GPS:ZAMSOU).
Standing beside the Kabompo River, this seems like someone's house which they're allowing visitors to use, sharing it with the family. It has three double rooms, sharing a bathroom, which cost US$14/Kw70,000 per room. Alternatively, camp in the garden for US$4/Kw20,000 per person – where you'll find a few simple thatched roofs for shelter, and a long-drop toilet. There is a watchman on the gate all night.
If you need to pick up some food – then you might try the appropriately-named 'Last Resort Restaurant', in town.The World's Purest Honey
Driving around the Kabompo area, you'll often see what look like hollow logs, suspended high in the trees. These are bee-hives, and bee-keeping has long been a tradition in these forests, with fathers handing down to their sons not only the skills, but also traditional hives of grass, bark and hollow tree trunks.
However, over the last 20 years this traditional process has developed into a thriving industry with global reach. This started as a Zambian Government initiative to improve the marketing of the honey that was produced here, which was supported by funding from the German Technical Development Agency (GTZ) – with the objective of increasing the income of the rural population. Then there were only a few hundred local producers, and in 1979 North Western Bee Products (PO Box 140096, Kabompo; tel/fax: 08 375085) was established.
Now this company is owned by the producers and it buys honey and beeswax from about 3,000 traditional bark hive beekeepers in Zambia. It supplies almost half the African honey exported to the EU, at prices typically 50% above the average price paid for other imported honey, and this was the first honey to be certified organic by the Soil Association.
It exports most of its wax and honey to Tropical Forest Products, in the UK, which then markets and distributes it as a premium product to Fortnum & Mason, Waitrose, The Body Shop and others.
See www.tropicalforest.com for more about this model of sustainable development.
Getting there and away
Navigating to and from Kabompo (GPS:KABOMP) is very easy, as it's on the main M8 road. However, if you're heading from here northwards, to Mwinilunga, then that turning is easy to miss. First drive northeast about 27km towards the busy roadside town of Manyinga (GPS:MANYIN). The main road through this spread-out settlement crosses two bridges – over the Kabompo River on the east side, and over the Manyinya River to the west.
The turn-off north to Mwinilunga (GPS:TUMWIN) is west of both of these bridges – and not between them, as the maps suggest. (There's no ferry here either, as marked on some maps; I think the bridges have replaced it!) It's a good gravel road but there's no signpost so it's easy to miss; you may need to ask for local help to find it.
After about 4.5km this splits; the road to Mwinilunga takes the right fork over the tributary, and then bends back to the left, heading roughly north-northwest with the Manyinya River on its left.