Serengeti-Mara is not the only migration - every year in the far west of Zambia tens of thousands of Wildebeest, accompanied by Tsessebe and Zebra, converge on the Liuwa Plains in search of fresh grazing
For a wildlife phenomon of this magnitude, the Liuwa Plains remain incredibly little-visited, receiving only a couple of hundred visitors a year. This is in part due to that old chestnut "Africa's best kept secret" and partly, undoubtedly because it is so remote.
For those that make the journey the rewards can be large - as well as the large herds of congregating Wildebeest, interspersed with the resident Red Lechwe, Buffalo, Roan, Reedbuck, Oribi and Eland, the predator population of this Park is booming - Lion and Leopard both occur, but it is Cheetah, Wild Dog and Hyena which are particularly thriving.
The birdlife is also excellent - massive numbers of waterbirds can congregate, particularly as the water-levels are dropping, over a thousand Wattled Crane have been observed on several occasions, Southern Crowned Crane are also common and a characteristic sight on the plains and near the pans are the huge flocks of gregarious waders. While the Wildebeest congregate on the ground there is another migration in the skies - at their peak in mid-November at least 100,000, and possibly closer to a million, passage-migrants fly south over the Park each day.
Photographically the Park is a delight - with its huge skies, large electrical storms and carpet of pink sand lilies. The Liuwa Plains combine particularly well with the enormous Kafue National Park which you fly over en-route to and from Lusaka so it is eminently possible to drop in for a few days of contrasting adventure there.
When to visit
Liuwa has traditionally been both a dry-season and expeditionary destination - ie it was only possible to visit at certain times of year and on fixed-date set-departure safaris. While an element of the fixed-date departures is likely to remain as this makes best use of the aircraft flying visitors in and out of the Park, there is now a permanent camp (as opposed to only mobile camp sites) and there are plans afoot to operate throughout the rains - which offers the tantalizing chance to see the area when historically very few people have - and to watch and photograph the Wildebeest, Zebra and their predators running through the shallow water.
January to April
- this is the rainy season in Zambia and so it can and will rain - typically in large impressive storms rather than a gentle drizzle, but the latter does happen. The Liuwa Plains are inundated with mid-calf deep water and the grass is green and rich - perfect for the both the herbivores and waterbirds. The only challenge (and it is a big one) is access and getting around.
early May to mid-July
The beginning of the dry season and the onset of winter. The plains dry out leaving small residual water holes and the migratory game and birds start to move out. The Wildebeest moving in to the woodland that surrounds the Park and dispersing there. Lots of resident wildlife does remain and wild flowers abound. The skies are cobalt blue-clear and the temperature very pleasant indeed.
mid-July to the end of September
Mid dry season - this is perhaps when Liuwa is at its least attractive. Very few water holes remain and the grass dries out - fires often move through the area leaving a somewhat post-apocalyptic scene; strong winds and warm temperatures can make being out exposed on the Plains somewhat trying.
late September to early November
Late dry season - while it is still warm and the wind still blows, the re-appearance of the Wildebeest and the dramatic cloud build-up as the first rains break provide ample compensation.
mid-November to December
The rains have broken and the Plains teeming with wildlife. Mid-November is the classic time to visit - large electrical storms, green grass, lots of wildlife - but access and getting about still possible. The more rain that falls the greener, wetter and muddier the Plains become. Another factor is that by mid-November many of Zambia's other wildlife attractions (the Kafue, Luangwa and Zambezi) have also become largely inaccessible and so there is less to combine Liuwa with.