Lake Tanganyika

This vast inland sea was first made known to the European world in the mid 1800s by the English explorers Richard Burton and John Speke. They pursued it as the source of the Nile, arriving at its shores in February of 1858, only to discover that the Ruzizi River in the north, which they thought to be the Nile, flowed into and not out of the lake. (Their incredible journey is documented in the movie Mountains of the Moon.)

Tanganyikas waters lap Tanzania, Burundi, Congo DR and Zambia. It is the longest fresh water lake in the world and the second deepest after lake Baikal in Russia. The immense depth is because it lies in the Great Rift Valley, which also has created its steep shoreline. It reaches a depth of 1433 metres (4 700 feet), which is an astounding 642m below sea level.

Although Zambia can only lay claim to 7% of its surface area, it stretches north to south a distance of 677 kilometres (420 miles) and averages about fifty kilometers wide (31 miles). The clear waters host more than 350 different species of fish and is well known for aquarium fish exports and excellent angling.

The fertile circulating surface water, although not tidal, provides abundant plankton for its inhabitants which in turn provides much needed protein for both the local and export markets. The stiff winds that blow off the surrounding mountains aid the continual movement which inhibits the spread of bilharzia, the parasitic disease carried by shallow water snails.

It is essentially a landlocked sea but in years of heavy rain the lake overflows into the Lukuga River which in turn feeds Congo DRs Lualaba River

Despite the ferocious surface storms that occur, driving waves up to six meters high (20 foot), no mixing of the lower relict waters occur. The bottom 1 200 meters of the lake remain dead – either too high in hydrogen sulphide or too low in oxygen to support life. This fossil water may be as old as 20 million years. By contrast, the oceans, because of currents and upwellings have life forms even as low as 11000 meters (36 080 feet).

Lake Tanganyika has a remarkably uniform temperature. The lower regions are only a mere 3 C colder than the surface. The reason for this strange phenomenon has yet to be discovered.

Lake Tanganyika boasts over 350 species of fish of which most are endemic. Like Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika is extremely old, and the combination of its age and ecological isolation has led to the evolution of unique fish populations. Since new species are being discovered continually in these remarkable lakes, it is difficult to determine which has the highest diversity, but they at least share the distinction of being the top two lakes in the world in terms of biodiversity, whilst Lake Tanganyika has the highest proportion of endemicity, concentrated mainly in the Zambian waters of the lake.

The Lake Tanganyika Biodiversity Project has been set up to ensure that its biological diversity is maintained. The aim of the project is to produce an effective and sustainable system for managing and conserving the biodiversity of Lake Tanganyika. As Lake Tanganyika is a border for four countries Zambia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo- the success of the project will depend on how well these countries work together. The project which began in 1995 comes to an end in the year 2000 and is funded by the Global Environmental Facility through United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Species of particular note include the Giant Nile Perch (Lates angustifrons) and Small Nile Perch (Luciolates stappersii) which are important commercial and sports fishing (that is angling) species, Goliath Tiger (Hydrocynus goliath) and the English Fish or Lake Tanganyika yellow-belly (Boulengerochromis microlepis) which are important angling species (the latter being especially prized for its good eating), the Kapenta (Limnothrissa miodon) which is an important source of fish-protein in Zambia, the rare Bichir (Polypterus congicus), and a great variety of endemic Cichlids.

Regarded as one of the most biologically unique habitats on earth, Lake Tanganyika is also an evolutionary showcase due to its great age and stability. Ninety eight percent of the lakes cychlids (which comprise two thirds of all the lakes fish) are unique to Tanganyika. Also endemic are all seven of its crabs, five out of the thirteen bivalve molluscs, more than half of its gastropod molluscs and eleven of its thirty three copepod crustaceans.

Sport fishing is very popular here and catches include the goliath tigerfish and Nile perch. Crocodiles inhabit most of the shoreline, except around Mpulungu, probably due to the noise of people and motorboats. Swimming in the lake (in the Mpulungu area only!) is an absolute treat. Warm, clear, salt free water that changes from silky stillness, to high waves for a great body surf – usually with no apparent reason for the change. Storms from way up north probably cause the still waters in the south to agitate.

Where to stay

The most popular for backpackers and campers is a place on the edge of town called Nkupi Lodge. It has twin bed, thatched rondavels and a well-shaded campsite with toilets and showers and is self catering. They offer boats for hire for fishing, snorkelling and swimming in the Lake.

Kasakalawe Lodge Situated 3km from Mpulungu on Lake Tanganika’s lakeshore. 4 en suite Chalets (sleeping 10 people @ a time) Campsite, Backpackers welcome and offers fishing, boat trips, trips and hikes to Kalamba Falls, snorkling (365 different species of Chilchids – tropical fish, indineous to Lake Tanganika)

Tanganyika Lodge is a few kilometers west of town on a beautiful stretch of rocky lakeshore. It has three twin chalets, two en-suite family chalets and camping facilities. Fresh fish is available every day and they offer both catering and non catering rates. Boats can be arranged for fishing and trips to Kalambo Falls

Mishembe This is a small private secluded beach at the base of Kalambo Falls owned by Luke Powell. The only way to access the bay is by boat which makes the place even more peaceful and remote. The beach is made up of fine white sand which leads into the clearest blue water where tropical fish can be seen. At present only tented accommodation is available with either catering or self catering. Luke offers guided walks up to the Falls, boat trips up the river mouth and fishing. With only the famous Red Colobus monkeys as companions you can totally relax under the stary night feeling miles away from reality !! To book you can either phone or fax Kasama on 04 221615.

Further west are three fishing and game lodges in the Sumbu National Park which borders the lake:
Nkamba Bay , Kasaba Bay and Ndole Bay.

Ndole Bay is nestled amongst lush tropical vegetation opening onto its own exclusive beach, on the shores of a unique lake. A fleet of twin engine boats opens the secrets of Tanganyika, while shaded hammocks, sunset paddles and a library allows days to slip by. Situated just outside Sumbu National Park, the untouched wilderness is only a step away. Accommodation is available in thatched, en-suite chalets; through to a beachside campsite. Meals are prepared for those not self catering and a fully stocked bar is central to the dining area. Activities include fishing, game viewing, hot springs, waterfalls, isolated rainforest, lake cruises, snorkelling and cultural interactions as well as overnight bush camping tours along the lake.

Ndole Bay is the first recreational SCUBA diving facility in Zambia offering the latest equipment for hire and all PADI courses under our resident instructor and ecologist. Tanganyikas crystal clear waters and brightly coloured fish are a delight in this mystical underwater paradise.

Nkamba Bay Lodge is an exclusive private lodge set in a stunning location on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. It is the only lodge in Nsumbu Game Park, one of the unspoilt,

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