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Uganda. Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP), Mweya Sector, Kazinga River Campsite No 2. Monday and Tuesday 10 and 11 August. Week 16, Days 119 and 120.

Today we were heading for the Mweya (northern) section of QENP. As this is close-by we had time to do the fig tree drive again but again no luck with the tree lions although it was early morning. We both remarked that it was disappointing that there were no routes at all along the lovely Ishasha River ( just as later there were no routes close to the Kazinga Channel). It remains a lovely scenic drive but despite an apparent high carrying capacity and plenty of water, animal numbers were not high. Perhaps it is different in another season, but I doubt it. The weather was nice and balmy after our time spent at altitude and it was good to spend the evening outdoors without sweaters.

We continued north on the dirt public road. This route only has occasional animals and should perhaps be regarded as a route linking Ishasha to Mweya, rather than a game drive. This road is in good condition. Later more thickly wooded savannah becomes indigenous forest and later savannah again, but with plenty of tree thickets. We saw some more L’Hoest monkeys along the way. Later, just after the park HQ, a T-junction is reached with the main public tar road to the north. You then cross the bridge over the Kazinga Channel and we stopped to stock up on beer and some fresh produce in the small village here. I was surprised how wide the channel was, it connects Lake Edward to Lake George, both on the boundaries of the park. On this public road there is a crossroads of sorts. East is to the Kasenyi Plains section of QENP and west to the Mweya sector, 22km away on a good dirt road. Here we passed an almost completely dried out crater-lake, Nyamanyuka Crater, which was an impressive sight. We were to visit these explosion craters later. From this public dirt road there is a signposted turnoff to the Main Gate of the park. The Mweya park offices are 7km away, on a hill overlooking Lake Edward and the Kazinga Channel. There are 3 campsite choices here and at the suggestion of the office we drove to see them all before deciding.

Campsite 3 (peninsula or public campsite) did not appeal at all. Despite a decent view of the Kazinga Channel from a height, it is very large, obviously intended for multiple groups. It is barren and windswept with no shade. It is the only site with water points, flush toilets and cold showers. It also has a camp attendant. The other sites have no facilities at all (or those present are derelict) and you will have to carry wood from the pile at campsite 3, which we did. We initially missed the turnoff to camp 1, which is not sign posted and arrived at 2, also not sign posted but marked on T4A as “Wild campsite Kazinga Channel”. We liked this campsite with a view from a moderate height of the channel about 500m away. There was only 1 shade tree and there were a couple having lunch. It turns out they were in campsite 1 but were still to let the office know they were staying an extra night. Later we had a look at campsite 1 and it is perhaps slightly more attractive than 2. Right at the front of the site there is a small area where a single tent could be pitched with a great view of the channel and the buffalo and elephant herds on its shores. A larger group would have to camp further back. There was very little difference between these 2 campsites and we felt we could not be so unkind as to usurp them from 1. As it was 2 was absolutely fine. We later showered at camp 3, the showers were cold but refreshing in the warm weather. Toilet was our mobile toilet seat and a hole. At campsite 2 there were derelict showers and toilet. This scruffiness at QENP was a little disappointing!

During our 2 days here we did a number of game drives in the Mweya sector. It is not huge but the principle drive is the so-called Kazinga Channel route (camps 1 and 2 are just off this). There are also numerous loops off this into the area further away from the channel, some linking with the road from the main gate. This whole area is thickly bushed with many magnificent Candelabra Euphorbias. The thickness of the bush makes game viewing difficult but there are decent numbers of elephant and buffalo. The bush is attractive as are the birds. We saw a nesting pair of giant eagle owls that had commandeered a hamerkop’s nest. We also saw warthog, Defassa waterbuck (without the ring around the tail area) and hippo but missed out on lions. Some of the loop roads are a little rough. The best feature was the view from camp where large herds of buffalo and noisy elephants would congregate on the channel edge. We enjoyed ourselves here as did Wayne. His presence was especially appreciated on the first night when a single male lion roared within a couple of hundred meters of the campsite soon after dark. Wayne was thrilled as the lion continued to roar in close proximity, slowly moving down the little valley towards the channel. The nights were impressively noisy with hippos and elephant continually sounding off and I particularly enjoyed the attendant square-tailed night jar. It was right in camp and its Lister engine-like call, with the characteristic change of gears, evoked memories of previous nights in the bush. On our second night, after Wayne had left, the same lion roared once, from the opposite side of the campsite. So there were clearly lions there.

Others reported seeing lions but we had no such luck. On the final morning of our stay, as we were driving out we came upon a stranded vehicle with its bonnet up. They had stopped to watch a lioness and her 3 small cubs playing in the road. These had just moved off into thicker bush and were no longer visible. Bad luck on our part but we helped them with their flat battery with a jump start.

Wayne decided to stay only one night and wanted to head for the nearby Rwenzori Mountains and as befits a young man in his prime, to hike there. The loose arrangement is to link up again later. I suspect he is enjoying having some company but also Anne’s cooking. He has such a positive attitude and really is a nature lover. We all decided to first explore the explosion craters in the north of the park on the way out. We knew precious little about these but at the ranger office they had suggested that this was a spectacular drive. We had enjoyed a brief taste on the way into Mweya at the Nyamanyuka Crater. These explosion craters had been formed by a massive set of volcanic eruptions only about 2,000 years ago. We all highly recommend this drive. You will need a sturdy 4x4 vehicle though as the road is rough in places.

The entrance to this drive is sign posted Katwe explosion crater drive and is almost opposite the entrance to the main gate at Mweya. Ask at the gate if unsure. This drive is purely for sight-seeing, there are virtually no animals here. I am unsure of the exact number but there are more than 10 craters, some with crater lakes. These are all fairly small enabling one to appreciate the craters better. The drive is spectacular in the extreme and one drives up and down and around the crater rims. At times the road is rough over the clearly layered lava flow rocks. We cannot recommend this drive strongly enough, I only hope the photos give you some idea.

As Wayne headed north we drove on the tar road to explore the Kisenyi Plains of the park, on the opposite side of the bisecting tar public road to Mweya. We enjoyed our drive here but in the midday heat this was not the right time of day to look for their famed lions. This part is once again open savannah with interspersed thickets. We saw plenty of Kob and waterbuck as well as some buffalo. This part of the park extends as far as Lake George but once again, thoughtlessly we felt, there are no roads up to its shores. We had a look at 2 newish lodges where there might be camping, but they appeared unoccupied. During this drive we reached a significant milestone, we crossed the equator for the first time on this trip. For the record this occurred at co-ords S00 00,000 and E30 05,453 at 13H00 on 11 August.

On the tar road we came upon a dead African rock python squashed on the road. This is one of my target species as I have never seen one in the wild. I hope this carcass is not the closest we are going to get to one. Throughout QENP there are never very many other vehicles and overcrowding does not appear to be an issue.

In summary we enjoyed QENP even though the game viewing is not what it could be. We were pre-warned by others about this and some even suggest leaving it off the route, especially considering the costs involved. Our view is probably to the contrary. I think 1 night at Ishasha and 1 night at Mweya would be enough, but then make sure you have the time (as determined by your original park entry time) to explore both the explosion craters and the Kisenyi Plains on your exit day. This is probably easier done with 2 nights at Mweya as we did. The highlights for us were the wonderfully situated campsite at Ishasha. We enjoyed seeing for ourselves Lakes Edward and George and the unique Kazinga Cannel linking them. The explosion crater drive will probably turn out to be one of the best of our entire journey. The birds are good and there are many aspects to this conservation area making it unique. Once again, make up your own mind.

If time and budget are not major concerns, include QENP, but don’t die wondering whether you should have or not.

Finally, something that has saddened this trip for us and has been troubling me for a couple of weeks now. The principle mentor for us on this trip did a similar trip in the reverse direction, last year. At that time force of circumstance resulted in us not meeting in person whilst they were in South Africa. This I regretted. During the planning of our trip the amount of time and effort she put into helping with the planning of this trip was unbelievable. All the enjoyment we have had so far on this trip has been largely thanks to this help we received. Then the cherry on top of the cake. An invite to meet them personally by joining them for 4 days at the end of August in their special camp in the Masai Mara Kenya, at the prime time for the wildebeest herds.

As the weeks and months on this trip have progressed so she has been following, emailing and advising. After our long delay in Arusha with illness and vehicle problems she expressed some doubt as to whether we would be able to meet this deadline and expressed understanding if we could not. Until we actually reached Uganda I believed we could curtail our trip here a little and fulfill this commitment. Now having spent a bit of time here and now fully appreciating the lustre of this “Pearl of Africa” I have realized that rushing through this country is just not a prospect. It would really be a travesty to do this and fail the basic precept of the entire trip of exploring each country thoroughly and avoiding any deadlines and rushing and leaving out possible unforgettable destinations. I thus had the sad and frankly embarrassing task of messaging on the sat phone to my daughter at home asking her to email, apologise and cancel the arrangement. We would have had about 10 days to complete Uganda and would have had to cancel most of the out of the way places that we had particularly dreamed of. Now that I have internet coms again I have emailed personally. I must say that she saw this coming long before we did and warned us. It is not in my nature to let people down and I am deeply saddened by this.

PHOTOGRAPHS.

Main photo, Kazinga Channel campsite no 2.

Thumbs.
1. View of Kazinga Channel from campsite.
2. View of Lake Edward.
3 and 4. View of Nyamanyuka Crater from entrance road to Mweya sector, note the buffalo.
5.Defassa waterbuck, no ring around rear end. Previously seen in Zambia.
6 and 7. Some of the explosion craters, one with a crater lake.
8. The dead African rock python.
9 and 10. The equator.

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