Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) is the most visited national park in Uganda, and it is reasserting itself as one of the must-see places on earth. The scenic panoramic view of Mount Rwenzori which gives the Mweya peninsula a heavenly backdrop is one of the things that will blow you away. But the real deal is the park’s wildlife residents.
This 2000 sq km park is teeming with herds of elephants, buffalos, Uganda kobs, waterbucks, hippos, topis and many other mammals. You have got to appreciate the effort of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the agency charged with conservation in Uganda.
Queen Elizabeth NP is also a top birding destination thanks to a horde of migrant birds fleeing the harsh winter weather of the West. Here the weather is mild all year, and the birds seem to enjoy sharing territory with Africa’s killing machine, the crocodiles that usually bask in the sun on the shores of River Nile. They say, ‘some things are worth dying for.’
And now UWA is making sure you don’t miss this experience by improving the amenities around Queen. “UWA has availed two new comfortable boats on the Kazinga Channel launch trip,” says the UWA spokesman Gessa Simpliciu.
“The boat has an address system and cushioned seats with a capacity of 50 seats. The ride takes an hour or two and it gives you an experience of a lifetime.”
On board, one can shoot a frame comprising: crocodiles, buffalos, elephants, antelopes, monitor lizards, etc. The white-winged terns travel all the way from Europe to come to join Queen Elizabeth’s 1065 species of resident birds. The rare Shoebill and the majestic African fish eagle are a permanent fixture too.
Nature Uganda executive director Achilles Byaruhanga says there are 600 species of birds in QENP. This is beside primates pulling funny faces in the wood as reptiles slither by. The underground forest of Kyambura Gorge presents Queen visitors with the chance to track chimpanzees.
But the main performers of this game park are the tree climbing lions at Ishasha. They dine and nap upstairs after hunting at night. There are not more than two populations of this big cat that behave like that in the entire world. The other tree-climbing lions are in Tanzania, but even they are not as famous for tree-climbing as the Ishasha residents.
By the design of their paws, lions are not meant to climb trees. But nobody told the Ishasha lions. And if ever chased by a lion in Queen Elizabeth NP never consider tree climbing as an escape option. These majestic cats do climb and so perfectly.
They have taught themselves to scale fig trees as a way of protection against insect bites. Another school of thought has it that they climb to cool down. But the more plausible argument is that they climb to scan the landscape for prey. Given that Queen Elizabeth is largely covered with relatively tall grass, hunting for lions is not easy.
As the debate continues of why they climb trees, have your camera, baseball cap, sun shades and lots of drinking water if destined here. Because the Kyambura gorge walk is good for the eye. Walking experiences can be organized at the ranger post in place. A bird watching guide may cost you $50.
A trip to Katwe Explosion Crater is worth a while. The community there have tales to tell about surviving crocodiles, hippos and snakes that make reality stranger than fiction. It is situated north of the Mweya Peninsula. Along the Crater Drive that runs on 27 km, one gets distant sights of the stunning view.
Watch out for salty Lake Kitagata which is fed by salty hot-springs. There is no wildlife around it. Other sights to behold comprise the great Western Rift Valley, its escarpments, Lake George, the Rwenzori Mountains of the Moon, the Kazinga Channel and Lake Edward.
Getting to Queen Elizabeth National Park
Vehicles travel from Kampala to Kasese 24/7. They comprise minibuses and huge buses. But if self-driven be ready for sections of the journey with potholes and clouds of dust. Hitch-hiking is not dependable in this park as you might end up trekking all the 24km from the park entrance gate to the UWA offices – under the gaze of hungry deadly mouths.
The facility boasts a network of trails around Mweya Safari Lodge and Katunguru gate that treat guests to water bucks, kobs, elephants and a leopard or two. And north of the road to Katwe are eye grabbing crater lakes and a cliff. You can go for a forest walk in Maramagambo Forest where one can see birds nest, and tweet like they live in the White House. This place will leave you speechless – ironically – the meaning behind its name.
It is believed that long ago, a group of young men got lost in this forest. When they resurfaced ten days later, they were too tired to utter a single word. They couldn’t even explain their ordeal. In other words, they were overwhelmed and speechless thus “Maramagambo” – which is Rutooro for speechless.
Take heed if you have a private vehicle. The road from Katunguru is often unreliable. But there is a direct road to Ishasha, it is normally muddy when it rains and requires a 4WD vehicle. It is always under maintenance but it takes a cloud of to be what it was. Some road users opt for a detour via Kihihi, Ishasha and Rukingiri. This is a more dependable route.
If coming from Mweya, you are recommended to request for a radio message from the park’s office found in Mweya to the Ishasha Katookye gate asking for information on the state of the route from Katunguru.
Elephants might pass by and engage you in a staring contest as an occasional rock python changes address from one side of the road to a cooler end. All you can do is, halt and let nature be, because they have the right of way and they will enforce it if you try to deny it. Don’t hoot and don’t drive beyond 40km/hour.