Lying on the southern shores of Lake Tanganyika in the Northern most tip of Zambia, Nsumbu National Park covers an area of just over 2000 square kilometers. It includes 100kms of some of the most pristine shores of this vast Lake. Its beauty ranges from sandy beaches, vertical cliffs, rocky coves and natural bays to the rugged hills and deep valleys of the interior. The Lufubu River winds its way through the Park and pours into Lake Tanganyika.
The western boundary of Nsumbu National Park, or Sumbu as it is called locally, is buffered by Tondwa Game Management Area, an IUCN Category VIII Multiple Use Management Area of 54,000 ha. The much larger Kaputa Game Management Area (360,000 ha) is also contiguous with the National Park to the north-west and south-west, and therefore the National Park completely surrounds Tondwa. Nsumbu National Park and the two Game Management Areas thus form important parts of a network of Protected Areas in Zambia.
The Park is dissected from west to east by the sizeable and perennial Lufubu River, which also demarcates the eastern boundary of the Park up to the river’s discharge into Lake Tanganyika. Nkamba and Chisala Rivers are ephemeral and smaller than the Lufubu, draining Tondwa Swamp into Nkamba and Sumbu Bays respectively, the former through an attractive valley with abundant wildlife. Much of the park is covered by combretum thicket, but along the lakeshore there are many strangler figs and candelabra trees along with the strange and interesting boulders balanced on top of one another.
During the rains, from November to April, the Lake is at its most beautiful and this is the most popular time to visit the Park for angling. Despite being this far north, most rain falls in big but quick thunderstorms in the late afternoon or early morning with lots of sunshine in between. The landscapes during the wet season are fantastic with lots of perennial waterfalls visible from the lake. A large number of migrant birds visit during the wet season and the dense vegetation looks like the whole Park is covered in rainforest. The terrestrial part of the Park is extremely inaccessible from Dec to April due to flooding and tall grass. For landlubbers the best times are certainly after June in the driest season, but before December, allowing a visitor to get to some of the most amazing sites in the area, like the upper Lufubu waterfalls, Kampasa rainforest and Tondwa Swamp. There also tends to be a higher density of wildlife along the lakeshore in the dry season. Ndole Bay Lodge only offers walking safaris in the Park during the dry season.
The Balancing Boulders are shrouded in myth and are of great significance to the local Tabwa people. On the Nundo Head Peninsula a large boulder balances upon three smaller ones and is the scene of annual ceremonies in which a white chicken is sacrificed to honour the God Nundo. Further east at Kabwembwa, just outside the Park there is a sacred place where the Spirit of the Lake resides. Local fishermen throw offerings into the water here whenever they pass as a sign of respect. Nsumbu is famous for it’s excellent angling off the shoreline and some of the better catches are the large Nile perch, goliath tigerfish, catfish (vundu), lake salmon and the tasty yellow belly (nkupi). Occasionally the much sought after golden perch is caught. The Zambian National Fishing Competition takes place here every year around March or April and some world records have been set here.
Access to Nsumbu National Park and Nkamba Lodge is either by road via Mansa or Kasama to Sumbu and the Park gate (1363 km and 1188 km respectively from Lusaka). By air from Lusaka (or Ndola) to Kasaba Bay / Nkamba Bay Airports (810 Km direct). Or by boat from Mpulungu (no regular service). There are gravel tracks from Sumbu to Nkamba Lodge and Kasaba Bay, to the various scouts’ camps and from Nkamba to the Lufubu River where a link with the Mbala road is planned but not yet completed .
At present, most client transfers between the Lodges are carried out by boat.
Kasaba Bay Aerodrome is currently owned and operated by the Department of Civil Aviation. Other laterite airstrips are at Kasama and Mprokoso. There are currently no aviation refuelling facilities in the area, the nearest being at Ndola on the Copperbelt. Chartered flights are availabe to Kasaba and Nkamba Bay.
Whilst the national road network is gradually being improved, journeys can be long and arduous to this corner of Zambia, particularly on the unpaved portions. The most direct route from Lusaka is via Serenje, Mansa and Kawambwa on paved roads, then to Mporokoso on a good gravel road, and finally from Mporokoso to Sumbu on a poor gravel road. A longer route, but with better gravel roads, is via Nchelenge from Mansa on a paved road, thence to Sumbu via Kaputa on a good gravel road which runs through Mweru Wantipa National Park. Finally, there is a route via Kasama to Mporokoso, but this is in poor condition. Access to the lake via Mbala and Mpulungu is by paved road all the way, but there is no link yet between Mbala and Sumbu.
There are no reliable, regular road or lake transport services to Sumbu or the Lodges in the National Park. However, the Lodges have their own boats and vehicles available for short-distance transfers, and there are companies which have vehicles for hire. A ferry service between the major international ports on Lake Tanganyika is operated by Tanzania Railways, using the historical MV Liemba with a capacity of 500.
The dirt road network in the Northern Province has undergone major reconstruction, specifically the road from Nchelenge to Kaputa. Nsumbu on to Mporokoso and both roads from Mporokoso to either Kasama or Kawambwa are in excellent condition. The road from Kawambwa to Mporokoso crosses the Kalungwishi river as a bridge has been built.
The access road to Lumangwe has also been repaired and it is quite good all the way to Kabweluma falls. The campsites at Lumangwe Falls and Ntumbuchasi Falls are clean with some basic thatched shelters and drop toilets. The caretakers at both are very helpful and knowledgeable, and will supply firewood for a small fee.
The tar road from Kasama to Mbala/Mpulungu is quite bad but work has also started there. There are also plans to open the road from Sumbu to Mbala which is currently only passable by 4×4 in the dry season. Several loops within Nsumbu Park are also being worked on.