When it comes to hot air ballooning, I would love to say that I have had the privilege of floating over the vast plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania, skirted through the valleys of Queenstown in New Zealand or taken to the skies in Cappadocia, Turkey using Mother Nature’s winds, and the physics of ‘hot air rises’. Sadly, I have not. One day maybe. What I can say is after researching all the possible places to ride in a hot air balloon (and the list is endless, Napa Valley, Sossusvlei, Albuquerque and so on!) I would still choose the northern tip of the Kafue National Park in Zambia.
Whilst one could categorise flights into scenic, wildlife, space etc. so as to not have a blanket approach, the Kafue hot air balloon experience ticks every box, which is why I believe it to be the finest hot air balloon trip in the world.
There are no other balloons when you fly – it’s your balloon and endless views as the sun starts to peak over the horizon. The plains are vast, dotted with thicker islands where the terrain is ever so slightly elevated allowing trees and other plants to grow above the annual flood line and flourish. This allows the pilot to rise and descend to his liking, allowing for a stunning high 360 degree view of the surrounding area, as well as flitting inches above trees and often below tree tops as you skim the remaining pools of water, keeping an ever-watchful eye for hippo! One moment you are hundreds of feet up where everything looks miniature, the next you are almost eye level with the hundreds of red lechwe and puku in the plains! This area allows for a more intimate viewing of the animals due to the plains being open and elevation of the land not erratic. Other places where there are hills, dunes, mountains or valleys means that your altitude and flight path is predictable. Not in the Kafue! Here the winds decide where you go and the altitude is adjusted by your expert pilot and depends on what animals you are seeing.
The game viewing is more than abundant. Red lechwe and puku, more than you can count! Whilst large buffalo herds are in the area, being nomadic they might not be in the ‘right place’ on that day but you will see the odd dark shape as an old dagga boy moves towards a wallow in the early morning sun. Keep a close eye when passing alongside or over the thicker bushes for reedbuck and bushbuck, a little shyer and happier in the more dense foliage; zebra, wildebeest, sable and roan as they cross the open plains to drink; hippo and crocs in the water as well as the mass accumulation of birds towards the drying pools as they fish and forage for their breakfast. Lion are also common on the flights as they bask in the early morning sun to warm themselves after a cool night. Jackal, hyaena and oribi are seen in the taller grasses and even water mongoose and serval have been sighted regularly. I asked the pilot what his best sighting had been – he smiled and said he loved every flight as each one is different. He enjoys flying alongside a circling African fish-eagle or floating over large pods of hippo. When pressed further, he answered with leopard. He often sees leopard on an extended branch, catching the morning rays. I was jealous!
Kafue ballooning has it all and the best thing about it is the quietness, no other balloons in the air and no vehicles below except the ground crew heading to meet you with a smiling face and a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the flight!
The 2017 hot air ballooning safari season takes off in Kafue National Park’s Busanga Plains in Zambia on 1 August, and will run through to 31 October 2017. Wilderness Safaris guests visiting the Plains for three or more nights will receive a complimentary hot air balloon safari – arguably the most exclusive hot air ballooning experience in Africa. Click here to find out more.