August 4, 2022
The chatter at the dinner table has grown quiet, as we all enjoy a delicious mushroom risotto. The dining room is perched on a hill, looking eastward over Lake Itezhi-Tezhi, and antique lanterns illuminate the table and surrounding deck. In the quiet we can hear loud splashing noises coming from the water. Abandoning our places at the table, we move to the edge of the decking and look out into the darkness. The beam of the torch lights up twenty or thirty hippos, all grazing, stomping and splashing in the shallows and on the shore. Slightly skittish, perhaps feeling a little exposed and vulnerable, they quarrel with one another, periodically dashing towards the water and sending up in plumes of spray. During the daytime there’s a constantly changing array of wildlife in front of the lodge, with puku, bushbuck, impala, vervet monkeys and a troop of banded mongoose, all very at home here, and elephants no strangers to camp; but we hadn’t expected hippos, in such numbers, to visit after dark. Looking up, the stary skies overhead were mirrored by the twinkling lights of the local fisherman’s camps and the lamps on their dugout canoes as they fished in the darkness. After dinner we retired to bed, leaving the hippos in peace, and in the morning, opening the doors to our room, we lay in bed listening to them, still munching, as a spectacular sunrise lit up the sky in a kaleidoscope of colours and a huge monitor lizard, swaggered past in the grass. When we headed to breakfast a little later we found and a leopard had left it’s footprints on the deck, when it had come for a drink from the pool, while we were asleep.
We are at Konkamoya, the only lodge on the banks of the Lake Itezhi-Tezhi, in the southern part of the Kafue National Park. Kafue, Zambia’s oldest and largest National Park, and one of the continents wildest, is named for the river, the lifeblood of the park, that dissects it almost north to south. The Kafue River is the largest tributary of the mighty Zambezi. A large river, up to 400m wide in places, and elsewhere interspersed with islands, granite boulders and fast flowing rapids, the Kafue eventually feeds the beautiful, yet relatively undeveloped, man-made, Lake Itezhi-Tezhi.
Kafue is an unspoilt wilderness, a land without fences and with few roads, but with an extraordinary array of wildlife. Nowhere else in Africa can you see blue duiker, sable, roan, red lechwe, Lichenstein’s and Defassa hartebeest, elephant, buffalo, leopard, wild dog, hyena, hippo and yellow backed duiker all in one park. Whilst Kafue doesn’t have the huge herds of game that can be found in other parks, what it lacks in density it more than makes up for in diversity. There are at least 161 species of mammal, 6 cat species, and 22 species of antelope (Kafue boasts the highest antelope diversity of any African park). The park is also home to approximately 500 species of birds.
Konkamoya, positioned on a quiet promontory that juts out into the lake, sitting amongst mahogany and ebony trees and the occasional ancient baobab. Lake Itezhi-Tezhi, a vast expanse of water, has not always been here. The dam was built in the 1970’s for hydroelectricity, but now also attracts an array of wildlife to its shores. Overlooking the Lake, Konkamoya is surrounded by open plains and beautiful bush scapes. We watched a herd of elephant wander through camp and a shy leopard stalking its prey, we heard the roar of lions and the grumble of hippos, and we listened to a symphony of bird calls. With no surrounding fences, Konkamoya blends into the surrounding bush, deep in the heart of park.
Konkamoya, meaning “follow the wind” in the local language, Nyanja, was built in 2010, after founder Andrea Porro discovered this corner of paradise. Andrea was born and raised in Milan, but his interest in wildlife, from childhood, had led him to study zoology and natural sciences. Combining his love of wildlife with his passion for photography, Andrea travelled around the world, including to Zambia, where in 2007 he discovered Kafue National Park. Repeated visits ensued, culminating in his decision to plant roots in the park. Andrea says “When for the first time I arrived in the Kafue, now more than 10 years ago, as a wildlife photographer and passionate zoologist, I completely fell in love and decided to change my life. From Italy, my birthplace, I moved my home onto the banks of the Itezhi-Tezhi Lake, a magical place… My aim is to share my passion and my home in the bush with a small number of guests… to offer a real close-up encounter with Mother Nature in one of the wildest and less known areas of the Kafue NP… For me this is a matter of love and I am never too tired for another thrilling drive late at night, to track an elusive aardvark or to find the lions calling nearby”.
Freshly refurbished, and almost unrecognisable from my last visit a few years ago, Konkamoya is small and exclusive. Aside from his other skills, Andrea has turned his hand to carpentry and has created all the wooden furniture in the lodge, chairs, beds, tables, cabinets, benches and more. With only four, spacious, luxury safari tents, accommodating a maximum of 8 people, the lodge guarantees an intimate connection with the surrounding wilderness. Each of the four tents are on raised wooden platform, high enough to deter any unwanted guests! Inside, each has an open plan bedroom and sitting room, with an adjacent bathroom and shower. All the tents are east facing and have marvellous views of the sunrise, from your bed, your lounge room or your private verandah. Electricity is powered by solar, so there’s no generator to disturb the peace of the bush, the roar of a lion, the grunt of a hippo, or the distant call of a Pel’s fishing owl.
Out on game drives we were hot on the heels of hyena, lion and leopard tracks. Birds were everywhere, from the red-faced mousebirds to grey headed gulls, Mayer’s parrots, egrets, spoonbills, cormorants and storks, watchful fish eagles perched in trees overlooking the water and pelicans soared overhead. Stopping for a drink we suddenly found ourselves in the ‘thick of things’ as a herd of elephants decided to cross the road ahead of us. The group was huge and it seemed to take forever for them to cross the road. Elephant after elephant crossed, big one, small ones, mothers, babies, teenagers. Some stopped to stare, others shook the branches of trees hoping to dislodge fruit, a few young males tried to show one another ‘who was boss’. After almost 30 minutes there were still a few stragglers who had yet to cross the road and we decided to give up on waiting, and turning the vehicle around, headed off in the other direction.
Food is a definite highlight of your stay at Konkamoya. A simple but delicious lunch of sliced salamis and prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato and pesto salad, accompanied by homemade focaccia. Dinner of mouth-watering risotto, homemade pasta, delicious roasted meats, or traditional thin crust pizza made in the lodge’s wood burning oven. Meals are fantastic, and are all accompanied by Italian wines. The menu is arranged and personally overseen by Caterina Ferazzini who joined Konkamoya in 2019, and has been passionately overseeing everything from reservations to human resources and catering ever since. She is the one responsible for all the delectable dishes you’ll find on your plate. Thanks to Andrea and Caterina’s backgrounds, the menu is strongly influenced by Italian cooking and, like any Italian home, the kitchen is at the heart of the lodge.
Often overlooked in favour of Zambia’s smaller parks, Kafue is a sleeping giant. As one of Africa’s oldest and largest parks, but still one of its wildest, this is a remote wonderland, with spectacular rivers, vast open plains, woodlands, stunning scenery, wildlife and birds. The feeling of remoteness is palpable in this untouched wilderness, but at Konkamoya the smile is wide and the welcome genuine.
Written by Sarah Kingdom