In the 1970′s, the park was considered to be one of the best national parks in Zambia. However, between 1980 and 1990, game numbers declined due to lack of management. Another impediment was the cutting back of the country’s domestic airline which used to fly visitors to the park.
Nsumbu National Park (also referred to as Nsumba) lies on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the Northern most tip of Zambia, covering 200 square kilometres. And on its western side lies the murky Lake Mweru Wantipa (“wa ntipa” meaning “with mud” in the local language).
In 1994, the dilapidated properties within the park were reverted to private ownership and underwent major renovations, making them operational once more. Other refurbishments included the construction of a gravel road from Mbala to Kasaba Bay, which started in 2010, and a new bridge over the Lufubu River in the park. In recent years game numbers are said to be rising again.
The park lies mainly in the Central Zambezian Miombo woodlands eco-region and much of the land includes open grasslands. But the park also contains patches of the rare, endangered and almost impenetrable Itigi-Sumbu thicket. The Itigi-Sumbu thicket is a unique, thick, primary deciduous vegetation that contains a number of endemic plants. It was once the vital habitat of the black rhino, unfortunately poached to extinction in this area.
Nsumbu National Park shares its northern boundary with the south-western portion of Lake Tanganyika, known to be the longest lake in the world. Lake Tanganyika is an incredibly scenic deep freshwater lake and the shoreline of beaches, steep cliffs and rocky bays is said to be ome of the most beautiful areas of Zambia. The lake is home to crocodiles and hippos. Therefore swimming in the lake is not advised.
The valleys opening onto the lake bear large acacia, albida and trichilia roka trees. The sides of the valleys, the hills close to the lake and some parts of the plateau are covered with combretum thickets.
Wildlife numbers are recovering and there is a wide range of species present in Sumbu Nationl Park. Some of the wildlife observed there include the buffalo, lion, leopard, elephant, hippo, and roan, sable, water-buck, serval, eland, impala, reedbuck and other antelopes. Bushbuck, warthog and puku often frequent the beaches.
The rare blue duiker, a small forest antelope, is one of the park’s specialities, along with the shy swamp-dwelling sitatunga. Other wildlife that can be seen at Nsumbu National Park includes the zebra, the spotted hyena and the side-striped jackal.
Nsumbu National Park has a rich birdlife with many migrant birds coming in from East Africa and South Africa regions. One of the more spectacular migrants is the flamingo.
Lake-shore inhabitants include the skimmer, spoonbill and 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, African skimmer, and of course the ubiquitous fish eagle. The palmnut vulture and Pel’s fishing owl are also occasionally spotted.
Nsumbu is famous for its excellent angling off the shoreline and The Zambian National Fishing Competition takes place in Sumbu every year around March or April. Some world fishing records have been set here.
Some of the better catches are the large Nile perch, goliath tiger-fish, vundu catfish, lake salmon and the tasty yellow belly or ‘nkupi’. Occasionally the much sought after golden perch is caught. Fighting against a 20kg Nile perch is a challenge that attracts sport fishermen world-wide. There are over 200 types of shining chichlids, which may be collected by divers for export.
Nsumbu National Park offers game viewing, combined with sports fishing on the lake, and a beautiful landscape.
Sumbu National Park can be accessed by road through Mansa or Kasama. 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.
By air, visitors to the park can fly in from Lusaka or Ndola to Kasaba Bay or Nkamba Bay airports. Chartered flights are available to both bays. There is also the option of coming in by boat from Mpulungu though the service is not regular.
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 passengers.
The park’s remoteness by road and its proximity to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (then experiencing civil war) only worsened the situation.