Extending over 140km2 after good rains, this relatively shallow and seasonally fluctuating reservoir was created in 1965 when the Nyerere administration constructed the Nyumba ya Mungu (‘House Of God’) Dam on the Pangani River some 50km south of Moshi. Originally built as a source of hydro-electric power for newly independent Tanzania, Nyumba ya Mungu still helps light up Tanga, Moshi and several other small towns in between, as well as being an important source of protein, with an annual fish yield of up to 25,000 tonnes in a good year. Although the reservoir’s water is not piped out anywhere, it has encouraged agriculturist migration into what was formerly otherwise a rather arid extension of the Maasai Steppes, and several lakeshore settlements bear names that hint at the origin of their inhabitants – most memorable among them the tiny village of Banda, named by Malawian settlers after their former president!
Of interest primarily to birdwatchers, Nyumba ya Mungu can easily be explored in a private vehicle over a few hours, using a rough road loop that veers southwest from the B1 at Kifaru (40km south of Moshi), then follows the eastern lakeshore to the dam wall, from where a good dirt road leads back to the village of Kisangara on the B1. Coming from Moshi, you need to turn right at Kifaru, immediately before the primary school, then follow a rough track for about 12km to the village of Handeni, crossing a railway line at the 8km mark. From here you can drive along the floodplain for another 16km until you reach the village of Langata, passing an extensive area of riverine swamp that’s teeming with birdlife. Among the more interesting species likely to be seen in the area are collared pratincole, African marsh harrier, open-billed stork, squacco heron, black egret, glossy ibis and a wide variety of kingfishers, waterfowl, plovers and waders including curlew sandpiper and bar-tailed godwit.
Another 18km past Langata, you come out at the Kisangara road, where a right turn leads to the dam wall after 4km. There are no restrictions on visiting the dam, though you will need to sign in, and the view from the wall over the forested Pangani River is rather attractive. Improbable as it sounds, the small village here is called Spiriway, a bastardisation of (and pronounced like) the English word ‘Speedway’, in reference to the waterfall-like plumes that crash through the overflow gates after heavy rain – or so they’ll tell you locally! A few (non-express) minibuses daily link Moshi to Spiriway, which boasts a couple of basic guesthouses if you feel like exploring the lake and its environs on foot. Organised day tours to the lake can be arranged through the cultural tourism programme in Mwanga.
(c) Philip Briggs 2009