WESTERN CIRCUIT AND NEW TOURIST DESTINATIONS
Attractions around Mwanza include a short boat excursion to Saa Nane Island (literally “eight o’clock island”) which has a large variety of reptiles and small game: a visit to the scruffy beach resorts on Ukerewe Island: and a visit to the Sukuma Museum (15km out of Mwanza on the Musoma road) where there is a spectacular drum collection. Once a week, usually on Saturdays, the locals put on the riveting Sukuma Snake Dance, with live pythons.
Kagera Region is located in the northwestern corner of Tanzania. Bukoba, Kagera Region’s capital, is a fast growing town with an attractive waterside setting. Situated on the shore of Lake Victoria, Bukoba lies only 1 degree south of the Equator and is Tanzania’s second largest port on the lake. Kagera comprises of five administrative districts: Bukoba, Muleba, Karagwe, Ngara and Biharamulo. The region neighbors Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi and lies across the lake from Kenya. This location makes Kagera an ideal place for business and a perfect stop for tourists traveling between any of these nations and Tanzania. You may arrive in Kagera by air from Mwanza, road from Rwanda or Uganda or by ferry from Mwanza.
Kagera is considered to be one of the loveliest parts of Tanzania given its staggering scenic beauty, variety of nature, friendly inhabitants and strong cultural history. Bukoba is located in the heart of Africa just next to the equator on the Tanzania western shore of Lake Victoria. It is the major commercial center of Kagera Region.
The first foreigner to discover lake Victoria was explorer John Speke, after months of braving dense forests and tropical diseases in his search for the source of the Nile. Lake Victoria, shared by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, was named after the Queen of England and is the world’s largest tropical lake and the second largest freshwater lake. Covering a total of 69,000 square kilometers, the lake is as large as Ireland. Despite its huge size, the murky lake is not that deep – only 100 meters at its deepest. The lake lies in the Rift Valley of East Africa, a 3,500- mile system of deep cracks in the earth’s crust running from the Red Sea south to Mozambique. Although this region of Africa is better known for its large cats and the herds of wildebeests, zebras and giraffes that roam the savanna plains, its most diverse and endangered ecosystems are to be found under water.
Lake Victoria’s vastness (400 km long and 280 km wide), blue waters and extensive white sand shores are awe-inspiring. It has a number of Islands, each with its unique beauty and enchantment
Western Circuit National Parks
Kagera Region hosts Biharamulo, Burigi, Ibanda and Rumanyika and Orugundu Game Reserves, a National Park situated on Rubondo Island and a wildlife sanctuary based on Saa Nane Island.
Mahale Mountains National Park
Set deep in the heart of the African interior, inaccessible by road and only 100km (60 miles) south of where Stanley uttered that immortal greeting “Doctor Livingstone, I presume”, is a scene reminiscent of an Indian Ocean island beach idyll. Size: 1,613 sq km (623 sq miles). Location: Western Tanzania, bordering Lake Tanganyika.
Silky white coves hem in the azure waters of Lake Tanganyika, overshadowed by a chain of wild, jungle-draped peaks towering almost 2km above the shore: the remote and mysterious Mahale Mountains.
Mahale Mountains, like its northerly neighbour Gombe Stream, is home to some of Africa’s last remaining wild chimpanzees: a population of roughly 800, habituated to human visitors by a Japanese research project founded in the 1960s. Tracking the chimps of Mahale is a magical experience. The guide’s eyes pick out last night’s nests – shadowy clumps high in a gallery of trees crowding the sky. Scraps of half-eaten fruit and fresh dung become valuable clues, leading deeper into the forest. Butterflies flit in the dappled sunlight.
Then suddenly you are in their midst: preening each other’s glossy coats in concentrated huddles, squabbling noisily, or bounding into the trees to swing effortlessly between the vines.
The area is also known as Nkungwe, after the park’s largest mountain, held sacred by the local Tongwe people, and at 2,460 metres (8,069 ft) the highest of the six prominent points that make up the Mahale Range.
And while chimpanzees are the star attraction, the slopes support a diverse forest fauna, including readily observed troops of red colobus, red-tailed and blue monkeys, and a kaleidoscopic array of colourful forest birds.
You can trace the Tongwe people’s ancient pilgrimage to the mountain spirits, hiking through the montane rainforest belt – home to an endemic race of Angola colobus monkey – to high grassy ridges chequered with alpine bamboo. Then bathe in the impossibly clear waters of the world’s longest, second-deepest and least-polluted freshwater lake – harbouring an estimated 1,000 fish species – before returning as you came, by boat.
HOW TO GET THERE
Charter flight from Arusha, Dar or Kigoma. Charter private or national park motorboat from Kigoma, three to four hours. Weekly steamer from Kigoma, seven hours, then hire a local fishing boat or arrange with park HQ for pickup in park boat, another one or two hours.
BEST TIME TO VISIT MAHALE
Dry season (May-October) best for forest walks although no problem in the light rains of October/November.
Chimp tracking (allow two days): hiking: camping safaris: snorkelling: fish for your dinner.
Rubondo Island National Park
Rubondo Island is tucked in the southwest corner of Lake Victoria, the world’s second-largest lake, an inland sea sprawling between Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. With nine smaller islands under its wing, Rubondo protects precious fish breeding grounds. Has Size: 240 sq km (93 sq miles).Location: Northwest Tanzania, 150 km (95 miles) west of Mwanza.
A pair of fish eagles guards the gentle bay, their distinctive black, white and chestnut feather pattern gleaming boldly in the morning sun. Suddenly, the birds toss back their heads in a piercing, evocative duet. On the sandbank below, a well-fed monster of a crocodile snaps to life, startled from its nap. It stampedes through the crunchy undergrowth, crashing into the water in front of the boat, invisible except for a pair of sentry-post eyes that peek menacingly above the surface to monitor our movements.
Tasty tilapia form the staple diet of the yellow-spotted otters that frolic in the island’s rocky coves, while rapacious Nile perch, some weighing more than 100kg, tempt recreational game fishermen seeking world record catches.
Rubondo is more than a water wonderland. Deserted sandy beaches nestle against a cloak of virgin forest, where dappled bushbuck move fleet yet silent through a maze of tamarinds, wild palms, and sycamore figs strung with a cage of trailing taproots.
The shaggy-coated aquatic Sitatunga, elsewhere the most elusive of antelopes, is remarkably easily observed, not only in the papyrus swamps it normally inhabits, but also in the forest interior.
Birds are everywhere.
Flocks of African grey parrots – released onto the island after they were confiscated from illegal exporters – screech in comic discord as they flap furiously between the trees.
The azure brilliance of a malachite kingfisher perched low on the reeds competes with the glamorous, flowing tail of a paradise flycatcher as it flits through the lakeshore forest. Herons, storks and spoonbills proliferate in the swampy lake fringes, supplemented by thousands of Eurasian migrants during the northern winter.
Wild jasmine, 40 different orchids and a smorgasbord of sweet, indefinable smells emanate from the forest.
Ninety percent of the park is humid forest: the remainder ranges from open grassland to lakeside papyrus beds.
A number of indigenous mammal species – hippo, velvet monkey, genet and mongoose – share their protected habitat with introduced species such as chimpanzee, black-and-white Colobus, elephant and giraffe, all of which benefit from Rubondo’s inaccessibility.
HOW TO GET THERE
Scheduled flights from Arusha, Lake Manyara, Serengeti and Mwanza in peak season, charter flights only in low season. By road from Mwanza and then boat transfer. Contact the Park for transport details.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Dry season, June-August. Wildflowers and butterflies Wet season November-March. December- February best for migratory birds.
Walking safaris, boat excursions, sport fishing, chimpanzee treks, plans for canoe trips.
Gombe Stream National Park
An excited whoop erupts from deep in the forest, boosted immediately by a dozen other voices, rising in volume and tempo and pitch to a frenzied shrieking crescendo. It is the famous ‘pant-hoot’ call: a bonding ritual that allows the participants to identify each other through their individual vocal stylisations. To the human listener, walking through the ancient forests of Gombe Stream, this spine-chilling outburst is also an indicator of imminent visual contact with man’s closest genetic relative: the chimpanzee.
Gombe is the smallest of Tanzania’s national parks: a fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat straddling the steep slopes and river valleys that hem in the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika. It has the Size: 52 sq km (20 sq miles), Tanzania’s smallest park. Location: 16 km (10 miles) north of Kigoma on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania.
Its chimpanzees – habituated to human visitors – were made famous by the pioneering work of Jane Goodall, who in 1960 founded a behavioural research program that now stands as the longest-running study of its kind in the world. The matriarch Fifi, the last surviving member of the original community, only three-years old when Goodall first set foot in Gombe, is still regularly seen by visitors.
Chimpanzees share about 98% of their genes with humans, and no scientific expertise is required to distinguish between the individual repertoires of pants, hoots and screams that define the celebrities, the powerbrokers, and the supporting characters. Perhaps you will see a flicker of understanding when you look into a chimp’s eyes, assessing you in return – a look of apparent recognition across the narrowest of species barriers.
The most visible of Gombe’s other mammals are primates. A troop of beachcomber olive baboons, under study since the 1960s, is exceptionally habituated, while red-tailed and red Colobus monkeys – the latter regularly hunted by chimps – stick to the forest canopy.
The park’s 200-odd bird species range from the iconic fish eagle to the jewel-like Peter’s twin spots that hop tamely around the visitors’ centre.
After dusk, a dazzling night sky is complemented by the lanterns of hundreds of small wooden boats, bobbing on the lake like a sprawling city.
HOW TO GET THERE
Kigoma is connected to Dar and Arusha by scheduled flights, to Dar and Mwanza by a slow rail service, to Mwanza, Dar and Mbeya by rough dirt roads, and to Mpulungu in Zambia by a weekly ferry. From Kigoma, local lake-taxis take up to three hours to reach Gombe, or motorboats can be chartered, taking less than one hour.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The chimps don’t roam as far in the wet season (February-June, November-mid December) so may be easier to find: better picture opportunities in the dry (July-October and late December.
Chimpanzee trekking: hiking, swimming and snorkelling: visit the site of Henry Stanley’s famous “Dr Livingstone I presume” at Ujiji near Kigoma, and watch the renowned dhow builders at work.
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