What you need to know:
The eco-friendly lodging facility inspired by African architecture, is set in the heart of the park’s interior in Katwe-Kabatoro town council. It is surrounded by three stunning lakes; Katwe, Mwitanzige and Munyanyange.
James Thibara, the chef, stands beside the service area donning a neat white toque on his head and a white coat.
He makes eye contact to probably give confidence to guests that the meals are sumptuous. The sun is rising and illuminating the African art on the wooden interior of the restaurant and bar at Lake Munyanyange Caves Lodge.
On the balcony, the sight of Lake Munyanyange and the lesser flamingoes in close proximity is a sight to behold. The compound is a rare botanical marvel with a display of floral spectacle. These are scenes that made us marvel at Queen Elizabeth National Park during the three-day stay.
Our Safari starts in a seemingly-old Coaster minibus as we ply the direct route via Mubende to Fort Portal City.
From the newly-created city, to the most dynamic and popular protected area, a wild mode sets in instantly at the encounter of an African elephant. A huge bull with leathery ears and tusks and a variably grey colouration stood in the road.
“That is a welcome gesture,” whispered the high-spirited Julius Luwemba. The most singular wildlife spectacle on a game drive is provided by the herds of the largest land animals congregating and grazing.
The following day on our game drive through the Kasenyi gate, we gazed at a bloat of hippos, a pride, a gang of buffalos, Uganda Kob, and warthog that have partly enabled the park to earn the name ‘Medley of wonders.’
“This is the northern sphere of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Expect to meet our resident guests; the lions and hyenas.” He quickly cautions, “We are safe but need to keep our eyes open,” which sends everybody into sudden silence. The sound of the wilderness fills the dusk before Sulait Mabulu, the manager, meets us at the lodge.
He explains that oftentimes they light a bonfire which attracts antelopes, Kobs, and bushbucks, which are prey to carnivores. Fortunately, humans have not fallen victim except for livestock that is not kept in kraals.
The eco-friendly lodging facility inspired by African architecture, is set in the heart of the park’s interior in Katwe-Kabatoro town council, surrounded by three unique and stunning lakes; Lake Katwe, Lake Mwitanzige popularly known as Edward, and Lake Munyanyange.
Munyanyange emerges from the Bakhonzo; one of the biggest tribes in the Queen Elizabeth conservation area, meaning the indigenous egret birds. As the name stipulates, the bird is a common sight at the salty lake and home of lesser flamingoes in varying numbers. They migrate from Lake Natron in Tanzania and Lake Nakuru in Kenya, both known as saline lakes in Great Rift Valley of East Africa.
The lesser flamingos are the smallest and the brightest of the flamingos, with pale pink plumage, legs and bills. Lawrence Kasaga, a local tour guide, affirms that Lake Munyanyange is home to cattle egrets and about 2,000 lesser flamingos.
He adds that grass-like plants (sedges) grow well at the lake because of the salty conditions of soils. “But in extremely dry conditions, the lake dries up,” he explains.
Important Bird Area (IBA)
The bulk of Queen Elizabeth National Park supports a natural cover of the swampy area, savannah plain and forested area, which is home to more than 600 species of birds in Uganda.
At Lake Munyanyange, the presence of the Pied Avocet; a white bird with bold black markings whose presence is restricted in this area, is a birding spot. The lake hosts 25 percent of the water birds categorised as shorebirds.
Ashley Brian Baboineki, one of the leading ornithologists (people who study or are experts on birds in Uganda), says birds feed on shores because they cannot swim in the salty water.
He describes the lake as an IBA because it plays host to the Palearctic migratory birds such as the Great black-backed gull and Ruddy turnstone, which fly from Europe to African countries.
“Some animals die on the shores, which attracts scavengers such as White-backed vulture, Ruppells vulture, White-headed vulture and some raptors such as the Black-chested snake eagle,” he says.
“On a given night tour, birds from the Kazinga Channel are found at Munyanyange because it is safer. Crocodiles and monitor lizards that prey on them would not have a chance at Lake Munyanyange,” says Sulait Mabulu, a resident and councilor of the area.
After lunch, we travelled to the tranquil setting that brought us closer to a large herd of elephants having an afternoon drink and a splash. Nile monitor lizards, hippos, Nile crocodiles basking on the banks, buffalos lolling about in the water are a common sight.
Innocent Kahwa, a guide along the channel, says the hippopotamus population on the 40km stretch, is more abundant than any other place. Kahwa conducts one to three trips every day.
Betty Adong, a guide on MV Kazinga, says the channel is eight metres deep at the Katunguru bridge, but as one sails down to Lake Edward, the water level reduces. Adong says the busiest seasons are the summer and winter period
Looming threat on Kazinga
While Kazinga cruise offers great bird-watching and picturesque opportunities, there is a growing concern about plastic litter and pollution along the banks by the community.
Having plied their trade in the area for more than four years, Adong and Kahwa say the water hyacinth that is building up on the banks, is a threat to the launch trips in the near future.
“Pastoralists who graze cattle in the park, transmit diseases from livestock to the wild animals along the banks. Domestic animals that graze on the banks create soil erosion,” she adds.
Tourism has had a transformative impact through improving livelihoods among residents of Katwe-Kabatoro town council. Sulait Mabulu, the area councilor and manager, says Lake Munyanyange Caves Lodge has offered employment opportunities to many residents.
“Some people have established art and crafts shops, restaurants, and others serve as guides and drivers,” he says adding that Lake Katwe, Munyanyange and Edward attract investors that contribute towards the local government tax.
At the bonfire
After a warm shower, we converged at the bonfire. Angela Thembo Naggayi ensured everyone had nyama choma, a glass of wine, whiskey, or beer, as we gathered round a blazing fire to warm up, share stories and deepen business friendships.
The easy-going vibe, cultural performances, friendly people enjoying their night outside, painted a picture of hospitality that is truly Ugandan.
While most headed back to Katwe village, we spent the night drinking and making merry until 4am.
The next day was the last day of our memorable trip. It will not be long before I return to Queen Elizabeth National Park.