ON a bright Wednesday morning of Sept 8, 2018, we set out in a Toyota Land Cruiser to Muganza ward on our way to see the uniqueness of Geita Region tourist attractions.
Driving carefully while observing all traffic road signs, our driver ...managed to pull the brake at the Kasanda port entrance gate at around 9PM. The adventures started at that point, the place is busy, everyone is doing whatever is on his/her schedule for that particular morning.
However, smiles and charming eyes covered the welcoming faces of Kasanda residents who seemed happy to receive guests. We were offered a bench to seat as we waited for our turn to board a boat to the beautiful, attractive and the biggest Island National Park. We are talking about Rubondo Island National Park, the second largest island in Lake Victoria.
The park is located on the south-west shores of Lake Victoria, Rubondo Island National Park includes Rubondo Island and several other small islands of Lake Victoria. The park has 456.8km 2 of which 236.8km 2 is dry land and 220km 2 is water.
About 80 percent of the park is covered by a dense forest thus providing a variety of habitats for both indigenous wildlife and introduced species.
It was gazetted in 1977. It is an important breeding for Tilapia and Nile perch as for a long time it stood to be the only area in the waters of Lake Victoria, which was well protected and preserved. The park boasts for its rich and diverse variety of butterflies and bird life, easily viewable from the lake shore. The rare Sitatunga, an extremely endangered amphibious antelope, can sometimes be viewed escaping from the charging predators by hiding and camouflaging itself in the lake shore marshes.
A visit to Rubondo Island National Park offers visitors a break from game viewing in the tranquil peace of a lake shore setting. Exploring the islands within the park creates an excitement for day trips. Fishing expeditions into Lake Victoria are easily arranged through the major lodges. Rubondo Island National Park is a relaxation from the rigorous safari circuit and a relaxing place from which to explore Lake Victoria.
The park Acting Chief warden, Mr David Kadomo said the park is unique with various attractions, which are not found in other places.
The park has a variety of water birds, Eurasian migrants and introduced African grey parrots. Most birds are found on ‘Birds Island’ which is one of 11 islands found in the park. Also high density of African fish eagles distinctly seen, animal species including Sitatunga, Elephants, Giraffes, Hippos, Bushbucks, Pythons, Crocodiles, Chimpanzees (not fully habituated), Bush pigs and Suni.
According to Mr Kadomo, there are indigenous wildlife such as Sitatunga, hippos, bushbucks, velvet monkeys, genetic cats, crocodiles and many others.
He said the indigenous wildlife share the ecological niches with introduced species such as chimpanzee, giraffes, black and white colubus monkeys, suni and African grey parrots.
It is in Rubondo where the Lake Victoria forms a spectacular sight for visitors with the deepest point in the lake ‘Irumo’ point. Moreover, the park has a magnificent view of one of the last remaining representatives of evergreen dense primary lowland Congolese forest with a unique habitat mosaic in the midst of high biodiversity value.
On beaches, Rubondo has beautiful and most ever attracting beaches such as Fly catcher, Mchangani and Michicoco. However, vistors are advised not to swim due to the presence of crocodiles and hippos especially in the shallow water.
Furthermore, while in the Island, the visitors enjoy a clear sighting of both sun rise and sun set. The Cultural sites such as “Ntungamirwe”, “Maji Matakatifu”, “Altare” and “Solo” which explain the life of natives who once stayed in the park are available and well preserved. According to Mr Kadomo, still some people go there for worshipping and practicing rituals.
The Birds Island
It is a home to varieties of birds, some are natives and other comes from other areas including outside the country. East Africa birdlife is rich and diverse, with over 1,000 species in Tanzania and Kenya together.
Approximately over 200 species of indigenous and migrant birds which can be observed either breeding or pass through the National Park. The Island has an abundance of herons, storks, ibises, egrets, cormorants, kingfishers and birds of prey. However, it is believed that the park has the highest density of fish eagles in the world.
The island is a good place to visit, it is natural and a home to thousands of birds who seem to be happy when jumping and flying peacefully in the area. It is a breeding ground for water birds
This is home to crocodiles, where most of them are found during daylight. Rubondo is rich in reptiles such as snakes (pythons), monitor lizards and crocodiles.
While in Rubondo, tourists are engaged in various funny activities. Sport fishing, this is the most exciting recreational activity in which there is a great possibility of getting a big catch to make a wonderful and challenging record of catches among others.
While on boat, one can see a spectacular beauty of the land, beaches, variety of water birds, crocodiles, the deepest point in Lake Victoria ‘Irumo’, hippos, otters, plants and plant species along the shores as well as enjoying the cool lake breeze.
One can walk up to four hours. It depends on the requests. Professional tour guide are always available to listen to the tourist’s request. One can enjoy seeing animals such as suni, mongoose, genet cats, monkeys, bush pigs, sitatunga and bushbucks.
The visitors have a great possibility of watching big games such as elephants, giraffes and other mammals, reptiles, amphibious and other wildlife.
Chimps habituation experience
One can join chimps habituation crew to experience how chimpanzee are habituated in their natural state. In 2012-2014 a research group from University College London undertook a study of the Rubondo chimpanzees.
Since 2015 Tanzania national park managers have been running a chimpanzee habituation project. Guests are more frequently having the opportunity to spend time with the chimpanzee while staying on the Island.
Accommodation within the park
Bandas: Located about two kilometers from the Park headquarters with 1 unit of well maintained Uniport with triple beds inside/self contained and 5 double bedrooms all self contained with hot shower service.
Rest House: Owned by TANAPA and located about two kilometers from Park headquarters with 2 singles, 1 triple beds room and 1 double bed sized room all being self contained with TV and hot shower. Maximum/full capacity is 7 pax per night.
Youth hostel: Located at park headquarters. Capacity 36 persons (16 boys, 16 girls and two rooms with double beds to accommodate 4 teachers.)
Resting shelters: Four resting shelter located at bandas facing a magnificent view of the lake where visitors rest while enjoying the lake breeze during the day.
Dining and Kitchen: A well maintained and fully equipped facility comprising of dining and kitchen owned by the park, all visitors are advised to bring in some foodstuffs while the park provides kitchen and dining facilities. Note that, the place is self catering.
Campfire: The dining/kitchen facility faces a fireplace where fire is normally lit for visitors to stay nearby during evening times while enjoying their barbecue and drinks.
The Acting Chief Park warden, Mr Kadomo asked Tanzanians and other people from outside the country to visit Rubondo Island National Park to experience adventure in a truly wild area. He said the area is well protected and reserved for nature.
He said the Tanzania National Park (TANAPA) invites both local and foreign tourists to the island to experience the nature and see wild animals in their natural areas.
How to get to Rubondo Island National Park
Rubondo Island National Park can be reached both by charter/air and road. By air, visitors who prefer to travel to the Island should check with the tour operators in Bukoba, Mwanza, Arusha and Dar es Salaam for flights schedules.
Also by road, the visitors could reach the Island through Geita route, which is only 170 kilometres drive through tarmac road from Mwanza to Nkome via Geita route. Then the visitors can be picked-up by park boat and will take one hour to the park.
Moreover, by road through Muganza route, visitors can travel by both private and public transport through Mwanza-Bukoba road and drop at Muganza. From that point it takes only five minutes by a tax to Kasenda port where they are picked up by park boat to the park. It takes only 20-30 minutes to dock at the park port.