Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s most popular. It’s diversity of habitats, including lakes, savannah grasslands, forests and wetlands, attracts the biggest variety of large mammals in the country. Whilst it is renowned for game-based game drives, our itinerary included two on the river.
Having seen a jetty near our lodge, and watched the boats go from the Mweya Peninsular to the land on the other side of the Kazinga Channel, we assumed this would be where we would begin.
However, we drove for 30-minutes along Channel Track to Katunguru, a small town on the outskirts of the Park. We crossed the bridge and on the southern shore of the Kazinga Channel found Irungu Boat Cruise Company.
Boat ride 1
On board were just two other guests, along with Innocent our guide and the captain who steered an easterly course along the 32km Kazinga Channel, linking Lakes George and Edward.
Due to the size of our boat, we were able to get close to the bank, and in terms of animals spotted: buffalo, heaps of hippo wallowing in the shallow waters at the edge, and a monitor lizard. However, this was a day devoted to birds: some high in the trees and others wading in the waters. I had a field day ticking them off: hamerkop, jacana (or Jesus bird as it walks on floating vegetation with ease), pied kingfisher, black winged stilt, yellow billed stork, Egyptian Geese, African fish eagle, various heron, ibis hadada, Madagascan bee-eater, double toothed barbet and the strangely named water thick-knee.
Despite his best efforts, and contact with other boats, Innocent wasn’t able to locate elephants seen the previous day.
Two hours later we were back on land and on re-entering the park, put up the roof of the jeep, with our guide telling us that sometimes elephants were found crossing the channel track. As we neared the lodge, we came across another vehicle with a completely flat tyre, and we stopped to help. Within 10-minutes, the tyre had been changed and we were on our way. Our helpfulness was rewarded as further on, we came across at least 50 elephants of all shapes and sizes, crossing the track in front of us. If we’d not stopped, we would have missed them.
Boat ride 2
Our itinerary included a second afternoon boat trip and rather than replicating everything, we began at 11am. As there was just the two of us, a smaller boat was planned, but as the engine wouldn’t start, we set off in the same boat as before.
We took the same route, but this time spotted a large Nile crocodile, which although it was facing the wrong way, helpfully turned around and opened its mouth as we approached. Having been absent from the area until the 1980s it’s unclear how they made their unexpected reappearance although several theories abound.
New birds seen were: greater egret, cormorant, eastern grey plantain eater (rare in the area), grey backed heron, pelican, and palm nut vulture which is superficially like the fish eagle.
We also spotted baboon, more hippos (both in large pods and singly) including an albino one, vervet monkey, waterbuck and herds of buffalo.
Elephants appeared and looked as though they were going to come down to the channel, but Innocent suggested heading further downstream to another group, past three elephants playing in the water. There was indeed a huge herd of around 50 with some drinking, and a pair mating.
It was a magnificent sight, but until we started heading back, I didn’t realise how much further we had gone compared to the previous day and althoguh our overall trip was an hour longer, Innocent was delighted he’d delivered.