Wander North

Imagine feeling your heart pounding with excitement at the thought of embarking on an adventure to a far-off land. As a true traveller at heart, I take the opportunity to nourish my wanderlust by seeing a different side of the world each year. 

So, when I heard about the chance to journey over 1000 km away from my hometown to the mystical northernmost region of Zambia, I couldn’t resist. Especially since it marks where our great nation meets the waters of the Tanganyika. And so, with my bags packed and my heart filled with anticipation, I set out on an unforgettable voyage.

Fortunately, I was able to join other travel enthusiasts on an excursion organised by a local travel agency. Our expedition began in the early morning hours as we set out on the main highway that links Lusaka and the Copperbelt province. We were eager to reach the Kapiri-Mkushi turn-off before the lorries and commuters cluttered the road. 

If you start off and drive into Kabwe after 6 a.m., I highly recommend a short stop for coffee and cake at the Fig Tree Cafe.

We drove past the Zambia Railway – TAZARA Railway interlink in Kapiri just as the golden sun peaked over the horizon. By this point, we were now traversing the breadth of Zambia’s Central province. I couldn’t help but marvel at how the landscape transformed before our very eyes; from the wheat and maise-laden plains in the Mkushi farm block to the protruding hills of the Muchinga Escarpment in Serenje, every vista was more breathtaking than the last.

Although we had planned to take a detour to see the stunning Kundalila waterfall, we had our sights set on reaching Kasama, the Northern provincial capital, before nightfall. The state of the road after Serenje made our plans feel a little far-fetched, but we weren’t disheartened. Instead, we took advantage of the opportunity to get up close with the grey inselbergs of the escarpment that dotted most of the region.

We eventually got to Kasama in time for the main evening news broadcast. We settled into Alitasha Lodge, which provided us with all the amenities needed to recharge for the rest of our journey.

The following day, we left Kasama and drove through the northern countryside, which was covered in meadows of greenery that stretched to the scenic highlands at Senga Hill. It was no wonder why this side of the Northern Province, much like the Luapula Province, is a veritable treasure trove for tourism. The vast open spaces were filled with awe-inspiring highland landscapes and sunflower gardens, and the air was crisp and refreshing.

The area after the Mbala-Mpulungu T-junction formed the apex of this scenery as the Great African Rift towered over the valley that gradually descended into the picturesque Mpulungu harbour. And finally, we beheld the stunning sight we had longed for – the shimmering waters of Lake Tanganyika. 

We made a pit stop at one of Zambia’s oldest national monuments, the Niamkolo Church. Though it was without a roof, the church remains the oldest surviving stone church in the country and has been declared a national monument. The Niamkolo was built by the London Missionary Society missionaries who also journeyed to Zambia after David Livingstone. The church continuously served as a place of worship until 1908, when the mission post moved inland to avoid the sleeping sickness carried by tsetse flies near the lake. 

Today, the remnants of the Niamkolo Church still stand as a testament to the country’s rich history, and it’s a remarkable sight to behold. As we went downhill towards the Mpulungu Harbour lakeside marketplace, we could smell the day’s fresh catch lingering in the air. The lakeside marketplace was a bustling hub of activity, with fishermen and traders offering their wares.

Interestingly, the harbour marked the end of the Great North Road, which began at Kabwe traffic circle in Lusaka. It was a momentous feeling to know that we had traversed the entire length of this iconic road. 

Our adventure continued with a 30-minute boat ride on Africa’s longest lake to get to Isanga Bay, laden with brown sandy beaches and palm trees. The peaceful surroundings and the clear, pristine waters of the lake were refreshing and invigorating. The bay offered such a contrast of experiences, making the entire journey worthwhile.

I absolutely enjoyed being able to leave the safety of the bay and kayak into some pretty deep blue waters. Thankfully, this side of the lake does not usually have crocodiles and hippos. Of course, being a strong swimmer is highly recommended if you paddle yourself onto the second-deepest freshwater lake in the world. Another notable experience I enjoyed was just resting under the palms and enjoying a much-needed breather; this was a vacation, after all. 

As the sun began Its slow descent towards the horizon, I found myself at peace perched on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, eagerly awaiting the scene about to unfold. A storm was brewing in the distance, lightning almost splitting the clash of greys, oranges, yellows and navy blues, all in a spectacle of nature’s might, gentleness and calm.

In this moment of bliss, I was not alone. Tinkles, the friendly sausage dog who resided on the property, joined me in enjoying the serene atmosphere, basking in the gentle ripples of the lake and the striking beauty of the sunset. Even an animal could not resist the calming allure of this view. Alas, as the idiom dictates, time indeed flew by, and it was already time to journey back home.

The next day, our journey continued to Mpulungu, where we then proceeded towards Mbala to visit the Kalambo Falls, Zambia’s Northernmost waterfall. We were relieved that the road from Mbala town was graded, with plenty of signage along the way. We decided to park and walk down the last 1.5 km to the waterfall site as the road got quite rocky and almost treacherous for our non-4×4 vehicle. It was amazing that we could see Tanzania on the other hillside because, like Mosi-oa-Tunya Falls, the Kalambo Falls is also a cross-border waterfall. 

We then went to the visitor’s centre, where we learned about the area’s archaeological significance and the river’s history. From there, we descended a staircase to the point where the Kalambo River swirls and plunges 200 meters into the gorge below, making it Africa’s second tallest uninterrupted falls. It was stunning to experience, and the views of the rift valley and Lake Tanganyika in the distance were unmatched. Walking back uphill to the vehicle was quite the workout, but witnessing the area’s beauty made it worthwhile.

Returning to Kasama, we were eager to complete the trifecta of Northern Zambia’s stunning waterfalls. As the golden hour approached, the uppermost waterfall, Mutumuna Falls, greeted us. Its boulder-strewn base provided an ideal perch for us to appreciate the falls’ majesty up close, but the slick rocks underfoot required our utmost care.

Downstream, the Luombe River accelerated, culminating in the breathtaking Kaela Rapids. A tranquil lake gave way to a tumultuous cascade of water, and we were spellbound by the raw energy of nature. Yet, the undisputed star of the trifecta was the awe-inspiring Chishimba Falls. The cascading water could be heard long before we saw the stunning sight. As the Luombe River plummeted over the cliff, the fall’s power was simply mesmerizing. After our exhilarating adventure, we returned to Kasama, where we spent the night before journeying back to Lusaka the following day. 

The thrill of exploring the unknown had ignited our wanderlust and left us craving more. As we drove away from the Northern Province, we knew this was just the beginning of our travels. To any fellow adventure seekers reading this, I highly recommend embarking on a journey into the unknown. The experiences and memories you will make might be those you will cherish forever. So go out there and explore the world – your next adventure awaits!

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