The small town of Rutamba is situated about 30km east of Lindi as the crow flies, in a cashew-growing area studded with attractive lakes and offering easy access to two of the most significant of the 18 coastal forest reserves dotted around the vicinity of Lindi. Rutamba town is flanked to the south by the smallish Lake Nampawaru, and to the northeast by an oval lake covering some 3km2 and also called Rutamba. The attractive 9km2 Litopo Forest Reserve, which lies on the eastern shore of Lake Rutamba, is bounded to the south by the Lindi road starting 2km out of Rutamba town, and to the east by a long, narrow and apparently anonymous lake. The 7km2 Chitoa Forest Reserve lies to the northwest of Rutamba, and is transected by a generally motorable track leading to Milola village.
The significance of the Litopo and Chitoa forests is not so much the size of the protected areas, but that – unlike several larger forest reserves around Lindi – they still contain a large component of closed canopy coastal forest. Both forest reserves are relatively poorly known in scientific terms, but a recent ornithological expedition to the area revealed them to be rich in coastal forest birds such as east coast akalat, Kretschmer’s longbill, red-tailed ant thrush, Reichenow’s batis, Livingstone’s flycatcher and plain-backed sunbird. Litopo Forest also harbours a significant breeding population of the brilliantly coloured and highly sought after Angola pitta, while the very rare white-chested alethe has been recorded in Chitoa. The localised African finfoot and white-backed night heron are resident on the shady fringes of the lakes, along with a variety of more widespread water-associated birds. Mammals are more poorly represented – or perhaps just more elusive – but hippos live in some of the lakes, a small elephant population is known to inhabit the forest seasonally, and various small antelopes and primates are present.
Getting there and away Rutamba lies about 45km from Lindi by road. To get there in a private vehicle, head south along the main surfaced road towards Mnazi Moja for about 20km, then turn right onto an unsurfaced road. This passes through Ngapa after about 10km, crossing a bridge over a river after another 8km or so, shortly before passing through Ngonja, after which it’s another 5km to Rutamba. The trip should take about an hour in a private vehicle, and both forests are accessible by road, making this a perfectly feasible day trip out of Lindi.
The situation is not quite so straightforward for travellers without private transport. So far as I can ascertain, no formal public transport runs to Rutamba from Lindi. On most days, however, at least one truck will head out to the Rutamba area to collect cashew nuts, taking passengers for US$1 per person. These trucks normally stop to collect passengers at the junction on the edge of town, opposite the Shell garage, but it might be easier to ask around about suitable transport the day before you want to travel – the bus station is the best place to start making enquiries. Another option would be to catch public transport to Mnazi Moja as far as the Rutamba junction, and wait there for something to come along – you should get through with an early start, but if not then it will be easy enough to catch public transport back to Lindi. From Rutamba, the Litipo Forest Reserve can be reached on foot by following the main road back to Lindi for about 30 minutes, while the Chitoa Forest Reserve lies a similar distance along the road towards Milola.
Where to stay
Travellers who reach Rutamba using public transport or trucks, or who arrive in a private vehicle but want to seek out birds during the prime hours after dawn and before dusk, will need to spend the night. There are a few basic guesthouses to choose from. With permission, it should also be possible to pitch a tent on one of the lakes.
(c) Philip Briggs 2009