Lying on the southern shores of Lake Tanganyika in the Northern most tip of Zambia, Sumbu National Park covers an area of just over 2000 square kilometers encompassing 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 a valley flanked by 300 meter escarpments on either side.
The western boundary of Nsumbu National Park 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 therefore, with the National Park, completely surrounding Tondwa. Sumbu 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 in relation to other parts of the Park. 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.
Although wildlife numbers have declined, there is still a wide range of species present in the park and numbers are recovering, although sightings are not guaranteed. Roan, sable, eland, hartebeest as well as buffalo and zebra and occasionally elephant, lion and leopard. Bushbuck, warthog and puku often frequent the beaches. The rare blue duiker, a small forest antelope is one of the Parks specialities along with the shy swamp dwelling sitatunga. Other species seen here are the spotted hyena, side-striped jackal, serval, impala, waterbuck and reedbuck This side of the Lake is teeming with crocodiles, so swimming is obviously not advisable. Some reach up to six meters in length. Hippos often emerge at night around the lodges to mow the green grass.
Birdlife in the park is still prolific with many migrants coming down from East Africa and up from South African regions. The flamingo is one of the more spectacular migrants while some of the lakeshore inhabitants include the skimmer, spoonbill, whiskered tern along with many different storks, ducks and herons. Commonly encountered species around the lake include the grey-headed gull, lesser black-backed gull, white-winged black tern, whiskered tern, African skimmer, and of course the ubiquitous fish eagle. The palmnut vulture and Pel’s fishing owl are also occasionally seen.
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 its excellent angling off the shoreline and some of the better catches are the large Nile perch, goliath tigerfish, vundu catfish, lake salmon and the tasty yellow belly or 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 Sumbu 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 for 500
Update 2007 – Roads in the Northern Province
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 now. (no longer a pontoon)
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 firwewood 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 Sumbu park are also being worked on.
Where to stay
There are three lodges in secluded bays along the Parks shoreline, Nkamba Bay , Kasaba Bay and Ndole Bay. . Camping is possible at Ndole Bay.