Bunyonyi: The Magical Archipelago!

 

It is a misty late afternoon and we leave Kabale town for ‘Gorillas In The Mist’ Safari Lodge, located on the chief viewpoint of Lake Bunyonyi; with two great friends who double as colleagues – Owen and Daniel – on a consulting assignment, our exhilaration could not be tamed as we moved past the stone quarry (located at about 8 minutes from Kabale town) along the way to Bunyonyi. Edwin, our guide, was so kind and he is one of the most humble guys I have ever met. With deep knowledge and unmatched goodwill in the area, we could never have achieved access to some of the most amazing places and viewpoints without him. But most importantly, we carried our adventure spirits along with us!

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With Edwin and Owen, incredible guys!. Photo credit: Daniel Muhanguzi

If it is your first time to hear about Lake Bunyonyi, let’s take a glimpse into one of the finest magical places in the great lakes region. Located in the greater Virunga catchment area that stretches to Rwanda and Eastern Congo, Lake Bunyonyi (‘the land of many little birds’) lies 8km West of Kabale town in South Western Uganda, close to the border with Rwanda. Though the depth has not been established with pin-point accuracy, the lake is undoubtedly the deepest in Uganda and would be the second deepest in Africa (only after Lake Tanganyika) if the highest estimate (900 m or 2,952 ft) were true. With 29 islands (the most renowned ones including; Akampene – punishment island, Bushara, Kyahungye, Bucuranuka and Bwama and Njuyera) concentrated mainly in the central part, the lake stretches 25 km long and 7 km wide covering an area of 61 square km and surrounded by hills as high as 2,478 m above sea level. This spectacular elevation gives you unrivaled view of this beautiful lake with its characteristic dotted islands.

We were welcomed at ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ by the graciously looking zigzag patterned islands that form the mighty Bunyonyi Archipelago. The view was spectacular and unrivaled. Compared to my first view of the Lake from the distant Kacwekano village about six months earlier, this was inconceivable. I was personally taken into consternation and wonder at how magical this lake could appear. It was a bit misty earlier into our view but the mist gradually cleared. We could not contain it but indulge in some sort of a photo shooting fiesta and we captured some of the rarest shots.

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The Bunyonyi archipelago as seen from Gorilla in the Mist.

As the excitement slowed down, we came back to our senses that we actually had gone for work; so with our tape measures and note books ready, the caretaker of the Lodge, Mr. Nyesiga, another humble and highly hospitable middle aged man, took us through the property. The Lodge will be undergoing a multi-million dollar state-of-the-art upgrade into a 5-star safari lodge and our role was to provide an initial project conceptualization and strategy. Seated on 11 acres of prime view, the lodge, albeit still modest, already boasts of six spacious and very compelling high-end rooms as well as a mini-bar facility. But with this kind of huge endowment of space, proximity, stunning view of the lake and terraces as well as dedication of the proprietors, the lodge will soon develop into one of the most thought-after safari lodges in Bunyonyi and the rest of Virunga tourist catchment.

Finishing our preliminary work, our guide, Edwin, was kind enough to take us through the rest of the view points and safari lodges around the lake. Beginning with Acardia cottages (yes, these are very outstanding cottages!), we enjoyed another great view of the lake that served as a control experiment before we headed down where we visited Bird Nest, the renowned Overland Camp Resort as well as Bunyonyi Safari Lodge, all located on the lake shores. Some of the islands now appeared at close range. It was already too late to take a canoe cruise and oh yes, there was a speed boat at the overland camp and resort!

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Lake Bunyonyi as viewed from Acadia Cottages. Photo credit: Daniel Muhanguzi

So we headed back up to ‘Gorilla in the Mist’ where we would spend our night. Taking a stopover at the nearby trading center to enjoy a moment with the locals, we grabbed a moment and a chat with some women at their businesses. It was a good feeling, so authentic and relaxing, but we would soon continue to the lodge.

It was a wonderful night altogether, spacious room (yes, we preferred to share one room so we could use the night to share ideas about the project), hot water in the bath, spotless white beddings and great service unmatched. But what became even more outstanding was the view of the lake as darkness began to scatter in the morning. Daniel – an endowed photography enthusiast was up by 5:30am and waited to capture series of shots as dawn unfolded. He was kind enough to wake us up and we captured some of the most unprecedented shots no one has ever achieved. Franked by Mt. Muhabura in the center far background, the lake looked so dazzling at dawn and as the sun began to break from its cradle, the whole scenery looked like a huge painting from a master painter. I nearly cried!

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Above: That would be my bed at Gorillas in the Mist. Below: The huge painting from a master painter! Photo credit: Daniel Muhanguzi.

Retreating back to Kabale town that morning, it was freaking cold but endearing and most fascinating was the thick mist that we only could see thick clouds down where we were headed and we were prompted to coin a phrase; ‘Bunyonyi: where the sky is under your feet’.

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