The Uluguru Mountains consist of two linked massifs that rise sharply from the low-lying coastal plain south of Morogoro to form one of the country’s most important catchment areas, the main source of water for the combined four million residents of Dar es Salaam and Morogoro. The Northern Uluguru – the dramatic backdrop to Morogoro –reaches an elevation of 2,150m, while the higher Southern Uluguru is dominated by the 2,500m Lukwangule Plateau, rising to the 2,635m Kimhandu Hill in the far south. The northern and southern massifs are separated by the Bunduki Depression, which drops to an altitude of around 1,700m but is still far higher than the surrounding plains. An estimated 100,000 people of the Luguru tribe live in the mountains, taking advantage of the moist climate and fertile soil to cultivate a variety of fruits, vegetables and other crops throughout the year.
Like the more accessible and publicised Usambara and Udzungwa Mountains, the Ulugurus form part of the ancient and biologically diverse Eastern Arc formation. Despite extensive deforestation over the last century, particularly on the lower slopes, the Ulugurus support a combined total of at least 500 km2 of natural forest across five separate core blocks, all of which are gazetted as forest reserves. These forests harbour a wealth of Eastern Arc endemics, including at least 40 vascular plant species, 10 reptile and amphibian species, and perhaps 150 invertebrate species that are totally unique to the Ulugurus. For ornithologists, the forests of the Ulugurus provide an important refuge for numerous Eastern Arc specials and other localised species, including Usambara eagle owl, Chapin’s apalis, white-winged apalis, Kretschmer’s longbill and Uluguru violet-backed sunbird. The undoubted avian star, however, is the beautifully marked and very vociferous – but equally elusive – Uluguru bush shrike, a species unique to the Ulugurus, as is Loveridge’s sunbird and the Uluguru grey-throated greenbul. Mammals present in the forests include suni antelope, blue, red and Abbott’s duikers, black-and-white colobus, blue monkey, Zanzibar and mountain galago, leopard, chequered elephant shrew.
A variety of Uluguru tours are offered by the Chilunga Cultural Tourism Program in Morogoro and detailed information about the mountains’ ecology can be obtained from the Uluguru Mountains Biodiversity and Conservation Project (see listings page xxx). The most interesting of these is the guided ascent of Lupanga Peak (2,150). a round trip that takes the best part of the day and should only be attempted by reasonably fit walkers. The route starts from the Regional Natural Resources Office on the outskirts of Morogoro, and leads through farmland past a lovely waterfall into a forest reserve where the endemic Loveridge’s sunbird and Uluguru bush-shrike might be seen alongside the near-endemic Fulleborn’s black boubou, various species of African violet, and the more widespread Livingstone’s turaco, silvery-cheeked hornbill, blue monkey and black-and-white colobus.
For independent travellers whose main interest in the Ulugurus is its natural history, two good and reasonably accessible starting bases from which to explore the forest are the villages of Nyandira and Bunduki on the northwest slopes of the Southern Uluguru. Of the two villages, Nyandira has the advantage of being accessible on public transport and it also boasts a good little resthouse, whereas Bunduki, accessible only in a private 4×4 (or on foot), allows camping at a lovely riverside site on the verge of the eponymous forest reserve. To get to Nyandira or Bunduki, you must first follow the Tanzam Highway south from Morogoro for about 20km to Mlali, then turn left onto a dirt road following the signpost for Mzumbe University, which you pass after another 3km. From here, a 20km curate’s egg of a road – very rough in parts, paved in others – leads via Kipera to Mgeta. Here, at a signposted junction, a left turn leads along a rough 9km track to Bunduki, while you simply need to keep going straight for another 6km to reach Nyandira. If you’re dependent on public transport, at least one bus per day runs between Morogoro and Mgeta. From Mgeta, the road to Bunduki is reasonably flat and you could probably walk it in around three hours. By contrast, the road to Nyandira is prohibitively steep in parts, but a few dalla-dallas cover it daily.
At Nyandira, decent accommodation is available at the UMADEP Guesthouse (tel: 023 260 3244), which consists of eight rooms using common showers and charges a very reasonable US$10 per person inclusive of all meals, and serves as a good base for the roughly six-hour round trip to the Lukwangule Plateau, a high-altitude expanse of grassland, heath and marsh reached via the eponymous forest reserve. From Nyandira, you need to follow the road for another 3-4km (20 minutes to drive, 45-60 minutes on foot) to the village of Tchenzema at the base of the plateau. From here, a 30 minute walk leads to the border of the Lukwangule Forest Reserve, from where another 90 minutes gradual ascent takes you to the plateau itself. If birds are your main interest, however, rarities such as Uluguru bush-shrike, Loveridge’s Sunbird, Mrs Moreau’s Warbler and Fulleborn’s Black Boubou are more likely to be seen in the forest than on the plateau, so there is no need to make the full ascent.
Technically speaking there is also accommodation available at the old fishing camp at Bunduki, but the building is very rundown and musty, and facilities are limited to a few rusting metal bed frames sans mattress or bedding. A more attractive option would be to pitch a tent, assuming you have one, which costs US$4 per person. The camping permit should be paid in advance at the forestry office in Morogoro, though the caretaker will accept a payment if you arrive without one. You can swim or fish in the river at the campsite, which also looks like a great spot for birding – the real rarities are absent from its immediate vicinity, but you stand a chance of seeing the likes of Uluguru bush-shrike and Mrs Moreau’s warbler if you follow a rough road deeper into the forest to a ridge above Bunduki. A popular excursion from the campsite is the Hululu Falls, which can be reached by driving 2km to the village of Vinile to pick up a guide (Tsh 3,000 per party) then by following a footpath for about one hour.
(c) Philip Briggs 2009