The lakeshore ports that lie to the south of Mahale Mountains National Park are most likely to be visited by travellers who want to travel on the MV Liemba, but do not want to visit Mahale or to cross into Zambia. The four main ports on the southern lakeshore, starting in the north, are Ikola, Kalema, Kipili and Kasanga. Which one of these ports you decide to disembark at will depend largely on your onward travel plans. Ikola and Kalema, which lie only 15km apart, are linked by road to Mpanda, railhead of a southern beach line to Tabora, with onward rail links to Dar es Salaam, Kigoma and Mwanza. Kipili lies about 80km south of these two ports, close to the substantial town of Namanyere. Kasanga is the most southerly port on the Tanzanian part of the lake, situated within striking distance of the spectacular Kalambo Falls and linked by road to Sumbawanga, from where regular buses continue southeast to the Tanzam highway and Mbeya, the principal town of the southern highlands.
The MV Liemba stops at all four of the mentioned ports on both the southward and the northward leg of its return trip between Kigoma and Mpulungu. With the exception of Kasanga, there are no proper jetties at any of these ports, so the ferry is met by a flotilla of small boats that take disembarking passengers to the shore. On the southward leg from Kigoma, the ferry typically arrives at Ikola an hour or two before noon on Thursday, at Kalema about one hour later, at Kipili in the late afternoon or early evening of the same day, and at Kasanga early on Friday morning. On the northbound leg, the ferry typically arrives at Kasanga early on Friday evening, at Kipili early on Saturday morning, and at Kalema then Ikola at around noon on the same day. Timings will depend greatly on the duration of various loading stops, and it isn’t unusual for the ferry to fall progressively further behind schedule over the course of its voyage, so that it might be 6-8 hours behind schedule towards the end of the northern leg. For further details, see the box MV Liemba on page xxx. In addition to the ferry, occasional lake-taxis run between the various ports listed, as well as to Lugosa (near Mahale Mountains), but there is no fixed schedule.
This pretty traditional port has a remote and welcoming atmosphere, as well as strong trade links with several ports on the Congolese part of the lake. Although of less inherent interest than Kalema to its south, Ikola does boast accommodation, as well as better transport links on to Mpanda. The best – in fact only – place to stay is the Zanzibar Guesthouse, which is located two doors away from the police station. Owned and managed by a friendly and helpful Zanzibari-Zambian couple, both of whom speak good English, the guesthouse has several basic but clean and inexpensive rooms, and although no food is served, the owners will happily show you a local restaurant, or cook you fish by special arrangement. Trucks to Mpanda generally leave a few times a week, and will take paying passengers, but realistically you should expect to spend one to three nights in Ikola before anything heads off to Mpanda.
Kalema is perhaps the most inherently interesting of the ports south of Mahale Mountains. It started life as a staging post between Tabora and the Congolese port of Mpala during the slave-trading era, and was settled in 1879 by Belgians with slaving interests. In 1885, the White Fathers established one of the first missions in the Tanzanian interior at Kalema. The main mission building, built in 1893 and still in good condition, has a whitewashed, rather Mediterranean exterior, and is fortified with ramparts and gun slits that helped to ward off frequent attacks by Wabende slave raiders in its early years. The White Fathers’ church, built in 1890, is also still standing today. Surprisingly, the Kalema Mission is the best part of 1km inland from the jetty. The story is that when the White Fathers landed in Kalema, the level of Lake Tanganyika was marginally higher than it is today and so the hill under which the mission was built would then have been right on the shore. The high water level of the 1880s is probably attributable to the rocks and silt that blocked the Lukaga River, the lake’s main outlet, as noted by Stanley a decade earlier. There is no accommodation in Kalema, but it is fine to camp in the police compound, and there is a guesthouse in Ikola only 15km to the north.
This attractive lakeshore port, which lies about 40km east of Namanyere town, has recently been recommended as a worthwhile stop not only for ferry travellers, but also for overlanders who want to break up the drive between Sumbawanga and Mpanda with a few nights at the lake. The best place to stay is the guesthouse at the Saint Benedict Catholic Mission, which charges around US$6 for a double room. Camping is permitted in the mission grounds at no charge, but if you take advantage of this generosity, please leave a realistic donation. For travellers using public transport, there are occasional dalla-dallas between Kipili and Namanyere, where the pick of a few local hotels is the Matunda Garden Inn & Annex Hotel. More regular public transport links Namanyere to Sumbawanga and Mpanda.
Founded in the German colonial era under the name Bismarckburg, Kasanga is the most southerly port on this stretch of the lakeshore, and the largest – which isn’t saying a great deal, though it evidently recently inspired the ferry authorities to construct a proper jetty. In 1998, a dog called Immigration, resident in Kasanga, made local headlines when it was sentenced to death by a judge for lowering the name of ‘a highly respected and law-abiding government department’. There are a couple of very basic guesthouses in Kasanga, and at least two buses weekly run to and from Sumbawanga, normally timed to coincide with the ferry arrivals times, as well as more regular dalla-dallas. The 211m high Kalambo Falls, which lie on the border with Zambia about 20km south of town, and can be visited as a day or overnight trip from Kasanga (see box Kalambo Falls page xxx).
The Kalambo River, which for a short distance marks the boundary between Zambia and Tanzania, is one of the three main feeders of Lake Tanganyika. At the Kalambo Falls, the river plunges over the Rift Escarpment in a single vertical drop of 211m, the second highest waterfall in Africa (about double the height of the Victoria Falls) and the twelfth highest in the world. The width of the waterfall varies seasonally from 3m to 15m, and is at its most spectacular towards the end of the wet season, during February and March, but it is worth visiting at any time of year. During the dry season, a large colony of marabou storks breed in the sheer cliffs next to the waterfall.
Just above the waterfall, by the side of the river, the Kalambo Falls archaeological site is one of the most important in Southern Africa, having seen almost continuous human occupation for at least 60,000 years. The earliest tools discovered at the site may be over 100,000 years old, a semi-circle of stones suggests some form of wind-break, and three hollows lined with grass were probably where the inhabitants slept. The earlier sites of occupation were regularly flooded by the river, which deposited a fine layer of sand, preserving the tools and artefacts in a neat chronological sequence of layers that have been exposed by subsequent erosion by the river. The site is unique in that, in addition to the wealth of tolls and other cultural artefacts, it has yielded contemporary organic remains such as wood, charcoal, and pollens, often in association with undisturbed, prehistoric camping places. Kalambo is also thought to contain the earliest evidence of fire in sub-Saharan Africa, a tremendously important step for stone-age man, since it enabled him to keep warm and cook food, as well as scare off aggressive animals. Burning areas of grass may even have helped him to hunt. The site is also noted for evidence of much later settlement, from the early Iron Age. Archaeologists even speak of a Kalambo tradition of pottery, for which they can find evidence in other sites in northern Zambia. In the 8th century BC, early Iron Age farmers displaced the original Stone Age inhabitants, and there is evidence of at least four different Iron Age settlements at the site between the 5th and 11th centuries AD.
The Kalambo River mouth is about 15km south of Kasanga, and adventurous backpackers could use of the lake-taxis that ply between Kasanga and Mpulungu in Zambia to drop you off at the river mouth and pick you up the next day. You could also hire a private boat in Kasanga to take you further upstream neat to the base of the falls, and ask to be collected the following day. From the pool at the base of the waterfall, it is a strenuous two-hour climb to the top. An simpler alternative route, omitting this steep ascent, involves a short ride in a pick-up truck out of Kasanga, then a roughly eight hour round trek to the top of the waterfall and back. Either way, the trails are not clearly marked so you will need a local guide. Readers have recommended a local guide called Peter, who usually meets the lake ferry at the jetty in Kasanga, and Mr Mapata, who speaks good English and lives in Kasanga-Muzi about 45 minutes walk from the ferry jetty.
The waterfall can be reached along a rough road – often almost impassable in the rains – that runs east and is signposted from the road between Kasanga and Mpala in Zambia. The turn-off might theoretically lie in Zambia, nobody seems to know for sure, but in practice the border area above the waterfall is something of a no-man’s land, and there’s unlikely to be any problem with immigration provided that you arrive and return from the same country. Vehicles left unattended near the waterfall are likely targets for theft, so consider taking extra safety precautions, like having someone with you to look after the vehicle. Camping is permitted at the top of the waterfall, but you will need to bring all your own food and equipment.
(c) Philip Briggs 2009