Lake Tanganyika in remote Western Tanzania is the longest freshwater lake in the world and the second deepest. It lies in the Great Rift valley with the Democratic Republic of Congo on its western shore, and Tanzania on the east. Parts of the lake also sit in both Burundi and Zambia.
Apart from the wildlife in and around the lake it also holds historical significance – it was at Ujiji where Henry Morton Stanley finally tracked down David Livingstone. Further south, at Gombe Stream National Park, Jane Goodall has studied chimpanzees over nearly 60 years, and thereby giving the world a remarkable insight into humankinds closest living relatives.
The Lake supports an incredible diversity of fish, supporting more than 500 fish species with 60% of them endemic – the celebrated Tanganyika cichlids. The water in the lake is beautifully clear offering great opportunities for snorkeling and swimming. Numerous small fishing villages dot the shore in some areas whilst incredibly remote and inaccessible beaches offer idyllic settings.
Mahale Mountains National Park is one of Africa’s greatest national parks, famous for the habituated chimpanzees that call Mahale home. This park offers an incredibly diverse and unique experience for the intrepid adventurer. Mahale boasts a pristine shoreline with white sandy beaches along Lake Tanganyika, rugged mountains, deep green jungles, waterfalls, woodlands and savannas. The highlight of exploring Mahale is undoubtably the opportunity to spend time with the incredible chimpanzee groups that roam the park. These chimps have been the subject of a research project that started in 1965 giving insight into their behaviour, community and history. Mahale also supports nine other species of primates making it one of the most important protected areas in Tanzania for primate conservation. In addition, the park supports wonderful butterfly diversity, fantastic forest and rewarding birding opportunities.
Conservation and Community
Our ten-night expedition takes us to spectacular Lake Tanganyika where we kayak, boat and hike our way through some of the region’s most beautiful and biologically diverse landscapes. Crystal clear waters teeming with endemic fish, abundant birdlife, the best chimpanzee tracking experiences available, incredible hiking in mystical mountain forests and camping on the lake’s remote beaches promises the adventure of a lifetime.
We fly by charter aircraft to western Tanzania and drive to the southern shore of Lake Tanganyika. From there we’ll paddle north by kayak for 5 days to explore one of the most beautiful sections of the lake, supported by a full crew and boat, and wild camping on remote beaches. On day 6 we’ll pull our kayaks up onto the white beach in front of the legendary Greystoke Mahale for 4 nights in paradise at this jungle-chic lodge. Chimpanzee tracking is the order of the day here and laid-back boating, canoeing and swimming in the tropical waters of the lake.
I became totally absorbed into this forest existence. It was an unparalleled period when aloneness was a way of life; a perfect opportunity, it might seem, for meditating on the meaning of existence and my role in it all. But I was far too busy learning about the chimpanzees'lives to worry about the meaning of my own……. All the time I was getting closer to animals and nature, and as a result, closer to myself and more and more in tune with the spiritual power that I felt all around. For those who have experienced the joy of being alone with nature there is really little need for me to say much more; for those who have not, no words of mine can even describe the powerful, almost mystical knowledge of beauty and eternity that come, suddenly, and all unexpected. The beauty was always there, but moments of true awareness were rare. They would come, unannounced; perhaps when I was watching the pale flush preceding dawn; or looking up through the rustling leaves of some giant forest tree into the greens and browns and the black shadows and the occasionally ensured bright fleck of blue sky; or when I stood, as darkness fell, with one hand on the still warm trunk of a tree and looked at the sparkling of an early moon on the never still, softly sighing water of Lake Tanganyika.”
Based in the Greater Mahale Ecosystem, in Tanzania, the Tongwe Trust was set up in 2002 with the expressed aim of securing Ntakata Forest as the Tongwe people’s new cultural heartland. Largely founded, staffed, and organised by members of our different villages, we are a community-led organisation.
Ntakata Forest was formally recognised as the Tongwe’s new cultural heartland in 2015. However, while our original aim has been achieved, population growth, inter-ethnic conflict, the bush meat trade, and land conversion all remain a threat: the Trust is dedicated to protecting our new heartland, its efforts funded through donations, grants, and a variety of activities, including developing Ntakata as a ‘narrow gauge’ eco-tourist destination.
“After coffee we launched into the quiet darkness of the glassy lake. Each paddle stroke created an ever expanding ring of ripples that reflected the deep pinks of the pre-dawn sky. Mesmerized by the beauty of the dawn, we paddled in silence for a long while, no need to talk. The shoreline was scattered with giant granite boulders that towered above us as we glided past. A splash in the water ahead gave away the presence of a small group of spotted-necked otters hunting in the submerged boulder fields.”
“On our first day at Greystoke we spent 6 hours tracking a family of chimpanzees deep into the mountains. Our brilliant guides explained that there was a dynamic at play that had encouraged them to move quickly and a long distance – it could have been a family feud or simply in search of a fruiting tree. Despite following their tracks and regularly hearing various calls and pant-hoots we weren’t able to view them on an otherwise extraordinary walk.
“The following morning the chimpanzees were practically in the lodge, feeding in the trees behind our rooms! We followed them as they foraged in the canopy, played and interacted with one another and descended to join us at eye level as they rested on the forest floor. The most contrasting but exhilarating 2 days of wildlife viewing imaginable.”