Out and About: The Kazinga Channel.

The Kazinga Channel, located in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda is a must visit when here.

It is a vast channel of water, just over 30 km wide, that is a joining of two lakes, Lake Edward and Lake George. The channel is quite big and is said to have one of the highest concentration of hippos and Nile crocodiles in the world.

A school of hippos just basking and splashing.

There are many boat tours that have knowledgeable guides who will take you on the channel for an hours (2-3 hours) long boat ride that will have you come as close to the hippos and Nile crocodiles than you ever thought possible. The boats are safe and sturdy, and life jackets are a must. So you can be assured you are in safe hands. The guides are from the surrounding community, and are well versed in the animals’ behaviour.

I posted this on Twitter and someone said the calf has shifty eyes. LOL.

There is plenty of wildlife to be spotted when on the channel. From numerous schools of hippos, Nile crocodiles basking lazily in the sun, vervet monkeys, Cape buffaloes, Nile Monitor lizards, and a wide range of birdlife. So it is advisable to carry out binoculars too. We spotted many beautiful birds, from the African Fish Eagle, black crake with its bright red feet, grey herons, Egyptian geese, hammerkop, pied and malachite kingfishers to the colourful Madagascar bee eater, among many others. If you are lucky you may spot some elephants on the edge headed for a drink.

Some nest tunnels on the river banks.
Spot the colourful birds?
Beautiful pied kingfisher birds.

The boat cruise has to be booked in advance and the surrounding hotels and tours to the area include the boat ride as one of the activities to be done. You cannot afford to pass this up when you are at the Queen Elizabeth National Park. The kids were so excited to see the animals up close and time passes fast you will not realise an hour or two are up when on the water.

It’s a hippo affair.

We had a wonderful guide Martin, who answered all our questions, gave us interesting facts about the area and the wildlife, and was patient enough to let us take as many photos as we could. You can carry some water or snacks to munch on the ride, as well as a hat and sunglasses and sunscreen of course. The boats are shaded though so the hot glare of the sun will not get to you.

Do you think he is mooning us?
In water all day is quite the life, isn’t it?
Can you spot the croc?
Do you see it now?
These ones had a no nonsense look so we kept our distance.
More mooning.

I was so amazed at how close we got to the animals, especially the hippos and crocodiles, but the guide assured us of our safety and maintained on the importance of staying calm and not making loud noises. The hippos seem used to the human presence, as there are many fishermen in the water in the mornings and there is a thriving fish market on the beach at the same time. Safety however is paramount and we have to remember to be respectful of the animals as we are the ones in their natural habitat.

Here are some fun facts we got to learn from our guide:-

  1. The word “hippo” is greek for “river horse”, perhaps due to how graceful they are when moving in the water.
  2. A group go hippos is called ‘ a school’ and is comprised of 15- 30 members headed by a dominant male. This is the wild, and younger males are perceived as threats by the head, so they leave or hide among the rest.
  3. Hippos are very territorial, and their “yawning”, grunts and snorts are to warn you off.
  4. When evading attack in water, dive/ swim deeper, hippos can’t swim, go deep in the water or hold their breath for too long underwater.

It was fun spotting various birds and animals that were hidden in the marshes. We spotted monitor lizards high above the trees, probably trying to catch some sun rays, female hippos with their calves away from the rest of the school to keep their little males safe from the dominant male hippo that can kill them at an instant. Lone Cape buffaloes that had been driven out of their herds and doomed to live alone, referred to by the locals as “the losers”, pied kingfisher birds swooping down on the water to get some fish, baby crocodiles chilling on the banks as a majestic African fish eagle looks on and numerous “holes” in the high banks that serve as nest tunnels for the kingfisher birds. It was fascinating to experience all this up close.

This elephant was grazing quietly just off the roadside to the channel.

If you are ever in Uganda, be sure to visit the Queen Elizabeth national park and book a boat tour of the Kazinga channel, the experience is worth it.

Weekend Recap: Garuga Resort Beach Hotel.

Garuga Beach on Nam Lolwe (Lake Victoria), is one of our favourite places to take a weekend drive to. It is beautiful, pristine and not so crowded, which makes it perfect for a family getaway.

This is one of the views of the lake as you drive to the resort.

The first time we went there was over a year ago. It was quite empty then, quiet and peaceful. It is nice for a weekend getaway if you long for some silence. There are many vervet monkeys around so you have to make sure your keep your room door locked unless you want some uninvited guests. And do not forget your mosquito repellent and some warm jackets as the mornings can be a bit chilly.

This is the path headed to the beach.

The pros of the place. It is beautiful, quiet and serene. The proximity to the lake is their biggest asset. They have a beautiful beach and one can wade on the sandy shores comfortably. The views of Lake Victoria, the sound of the waves, the cooling breeze, the variety of birdlife, are this place’s best features. There are some stone benches outside the rooms overlooking the lake that are such a pleasure to sit on in the morning as you meditate or pray.

The grounds are not too big but perfect for a picnic and some frolicking around. There are some swings for the kids and a small play area too with some climbing tyres and bars. You can have a picnic or order from their restaurant then play your own family games, which is always so much fun. I love having my son chase me around barefoot on the grassy slopes. There is a small swimming pool too with a baby pool, and a gym though it doesn’t look like it has been in use for a long time. Their pool is small but ok, the first time there the kids and I had the pool to ourselves the whole time. Bliss!

Their food is delicious. Usual hotel fare and freshly caught fish that can be steamed, fried or stewed, and their pork chops are some of the best I have ever tasted.

This is my favorite spot, right under this tree.
It is hard to resist wading into the water and walking around barefoot.
There are some benches and chairs to sit on, or you can carry a mat, but I love the grass as it is. Perfect to sit, walk and run on, even roll and sleep on.

The cons. The road to the resort is rough and very rocky but one can get through with an ordinary vehicle. It is one bumpy ride though. The service is well, slow. Very slow, EXCRUCIATINGLY slow, but their food is great which is such an oxymoron. When we first spent a night there, the breakfast buffet was non existent, the staff made us feel like we were a bother when we should ask for what was supposed to have been ready for us. We had to order hours (I kid you not, HOURS in advance), so the food would be ready by the time we were hungry. Can you imagine having to order after breakfast so that your kids’ food will be ready by lunchtime? I remember on one of the mornings there, my daughter asked for sausages, and we were told that the chef was tired and done making sausages for the morning, never mind that some of us had not had breakfast yet. Sigh. And it was not as if it was busy at the time, we were a party of six adults and four kids, how can you not be prepared for that?

If you are wondering why we would go back to that. We have found a way to go round the poor service- You would rather go for the day, when you have already eaten, or pack some food, instead of having to spend the night there. They charge for having a picnic on their grounds but it is pretty affordable. As a family, we love their beach more than any other here so far. We go for the views, the sound of the water, the feel of the waves lapping on our feet, the cooling lake breeze, the sand that sticks between our toes, and the fact that it is off the beaten path, so does not get crowded.

You will spot some egrets, pied kingfisher, cormorants, weaver and sunbirds, or some fishermen in their canoes in the distance.
Sandplay on the grass.

This is one of my favorite places to hide away. It is about an hour’s drive away for us, so not too far for a weekend drive. The sight of the water never fails to take my breath away, and the kids’ delight at playing in the water gives me so much joy.

This is the life!