Lake Tanganyika

If you haven’t been to the Lake its hard to describe its size and beauty. Every morning I wake up to the orange light of the rising sun and look out through my window at the calm serene waters, I know I am lucky.

Described as an inland sea due to its vastness and depth, the Lake is truly a wonder.  So today I shall tell you a little bit about the lake itself.

Tanganyika was first made known to the European world in the mid 1800’s 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’.)

Tanganyika’s 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.

These fish are called Cyclids and we get fish enthusiasts from around the world coming to see and film their bright colours and unusual breeding habits.

It is essentially a landlocked sea but in years of heavy rain the lake overflows into the Lukuga River which in turn feeds Congo DR’s 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).

There is always a folklore of some kind around large waters. The locals say there is a “Donna Fish” that resides near Congo Point in the lake. I guess its our version of Mermaids.. The fish is half woman and half fish and lures men to eat them. It is still believed she exists to this very day.

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.

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.

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. 98% of the lake’s Cychlids (which comprise two thirds of all the lake’s 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.

Swimming in the lake 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.

There is one part of history that its till operating til this very day.

The MV Liemba, a large ex German warship that has been converted into a passenger ferry, arrives at the port of Mpulungu every Friday morning and leaves in the afternoon for Kigoma in Tanzania and Bujumbura in Burundi. If you have time to do the week long trip there and back or if en route further up Africa, this is an experience not to be missed.

It’s not luxurious but the trip itself offers a spectacular experience of this vast Lake in the heart of the continent. There are ‘first class’ cabins with double bunks and one family cabin with en suite facilities. The toilets seldom work properly so be prepared. It has a carrying capacity of 500 passengers and by the time it has left Kigoma, it is usually full.

It was originally built as a cargo vessel when German occupied what was then known as Tanganyika, now Tanzania. The First World War broke out before its completion and it was converted to a military expedition ship to be used against the British forces in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia and the Belgian Congo, now Zaire. It was bombed by the Belgians in 1916, raised and dragged it to Kigoma where it sank again. The British, who had taken control of Tanganyika after the war, raised her again and renovated her to a cargo and passenger vessel.

The name Liemba being the name Livingstone gave to the Africans living in the area when he first reached the Lake.  There is the history for you!

So basically most of our activities here at Ndole Bay Lodge are lake based:

  • Fishing
  • Swimming
  • PADI Scuba diving
  • Snorkelling
  • Scenic Boat trips
  • Kayaking
  • Waterskiing, wakeboarding and tubing
  • Sunbaking and relaxing on the beach

Being a land locked country these activities are especially popular with our following of local Zambians and internationals alike.

As Craig grew up here and is a qualified Marine Ecologist and Dive master, the Lake is truly a passion we both share, and we share it with all those who come and visit us here.

Come and see it for yourself!

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