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“Eye of the rhino”

Although primarily specialising in East African wildlife adventures such as Kenya and Tanzania safari tours, Ziara Safaris also appreciate that there is so much more to Africa than solely wildlife reserves. For this reason, we decided to write this guest blog for the brilliant AfricaFreak website!

To this day, the name Lake Victoria evokes certain thoughts in the mind – thoughts of exploration, thoughts of discovery, thoughts of wonder and excitement upon seeing this vast body of water for the first time.  In truth, there are certain pockets on the shores of Lake Victoria, and on islands in the lake itself, where little has changed since John Hanning Speke, the first European to clap eyes on the lake in 1858, gasped in amazement and declared the lake to be “much more like a sea than a lake, a tropical sea”, before naming it after England’s erstwhile queen.

Unfortunately for Speke, much of his equipment and tools had been lost during his arduous expedition to Lake Victoria. Since those days, extensive research on Lake Victoria has revealed its vast depth and rich variety of species dwelling in the waters.  With a surface area of some 68,800 square kilometres, Victoria is the largest of Africa’s Great Lakes.  Its average depth is around 20 metres, but the deepest point reaches 84 metres.  The shoreline is approximately 4820 kilometres, with parts in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Most of the shoreline (almost 50%) is in Tanzania, and there are some truly stunning places to visit here.  At Speke Bay, named for our ambitious explorer, life seems to have continued the way it has done for many, many years (with a few incongruous reminders of the 21st century).  Visitors to Speke Bay can join local fishermen in a day of fishing on the lake, using traditional methods and listening to the fishing songs of old – about home, about fish, about life.  The sight of the women toiling in the fields on the shores will remind you that even now, life can indeed be uncomplicated.

Venturing even further across the shores of the lake, you might come across Lukuba Island, where monitor lizards sun themselves on giant granite boulders and great cormorants swoop and dive at the water’s surface.  Unlike at the mainland’s shores, swimming here is safe, and is highly recommended.  Boat trips from this island are a delight – especially for bird watchers, who can spend many hours spotting different species.

The major city on Tanzania’s Lake Victoria shores is Mwanza, being in fact the second largest city in the country.  The city overlooks Lake Victoria, yet is a far cry from the slow-paced, rural villages around the Speke Bay area, or from the pervading tranquillity of Lukuba Island.  Smallholder agriculture is thriving, as is fishing in the lake.  Mwanza airport is located only 10 kilometres from the city centre, making Mwanza town the perfect stopover point for travellers who have visited the more northern shores of Lake Victoria, and need to return to Arusha or Dar es Salaam, or even connect to a flight to Zanzibar for a beach holiday.

So, next time you think of Tanzania, don’t just think about spotting game.  Whilst the wild creatures of Tanzania are fascinating and beautiful, there are many other equally beautiful things to see in this wonderful country.  For a more unique and off-the-beaten-track experience of Tanzania, head for Lake Victoria – the greatest of the Great Lakes.

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