After a short rest and refreshment at Budongo Eco Lodge, following our successful, but quite straining chimps trek, we continued north, toward the central region of the park. But before reaching the south bank of the Nile, we took a diversion toward the top of the falls, after which the park was named.
Murchison Falls is probably the most dramatic spot on the entire flow of the Nile, the longest river in the world. Here, although still not very far from its source out of Lake Victoria, already mighty and impressive White Nile forces its way through narrow gap in the rocks and tumbles 43 meters deep into the gorge, before calming its flow again on the flat terrain before reaching nearby Lake Albert.
From the top of the falls, we had to backtrack for a few kilometers and then continued toward the ferry across the Nile at Paraa. Road into the park from the south is notorious for being very insidious and dangerous, causing many vehicle rollovers. Currently, a Chinese construction company is very busy building a new, modern road through the park, which will also include a new bridge across the Nile, replacing the current ferry. Unfortunately, the motives behind the new road are probably not based on boosting the tourism – they are more likely related to recent findings of large oil reserves in that area, which makes the feature of the park as conservation area uncertain.
At Paraa, we embarked the ferry, which carried us over the Nile to its north bank. Close to the ferry jetty on the north bank, there is a Paraa Safari Lodge, which we visited couple of times for some refreshments during the heat of the following few days.
We spent the next two nights at UWA North Bank Campsite. Its infrastructure consists of derelict long-drop toilets only. Other than that, the campsite is just a clearing in the bush, positioned high on the river bank, with little shade, but with an exceptional view across the Nile. You have to be totally self-sufficient to stay there, but this suited us just fine. Needless to say, we were the only campers there during our stay. Apart from one visit of a troop of baboons, we didn’t have any close encounters with animals in the camp. However, birdlife in and around the camp was exceptional.
In the next couple of days, we explored the most prolific area of the park, between the Nile and Lake Albert, north of the river. It is mostly open savanna type of habitat, dotted with acacias and palm trees, with occasional wooded patches.
Wildlife is very diverse. Lots of elephants, buffalo, giraffes, waterbucks, hartebeests, kobs, oribis and other usual suspects. And lots of various birds. Apart from couple of spotted hyenas, we didn’t encounter any predators, but did hear lions roaring every night.
Speaking of birds, we have had extreme luck on one occasion, when exploring the “delta” near Lake Albert. We visited a birding hide but didn’t find any exceptional avian visitors there. We already decided to leave, when all of a sudden I realized that I’m looking directly at the shoebill! After seeing one at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, we certainly didn’t expect to find one here, although this area is known as one of the best in Uganda for shoebill sightings. This was our fourth shoebill sighting on four different locations: Bangweulu Wetlands in Zambia and Mabamba Swamp, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and now Murchison Falls in Uganda. The bird was only about 20 meters away on an open terrain, and we were able to approach it even closer.
One of the afternoons in the park, we made a break from usual game drives and took an organized boat cruise up the Nile, to the bottom of the falls. This was our second boat excursion to the falls – first being three and a half years ago – and again, it didn’t disappoint. Slow and relaxing floating up the river by boat gives you a different impression of the landscapes and enables you to observe the animals from an unusual angle, from the water level.
On the last afternoon, we drove out of the park through the Wankar gate and spent the night at Murchison Safari Camp. It is a nice camp, just outside the gate, with a couple of chalets and flat, grassy and shady campsite. It has very decent ablutions and warm showers and you can even order a meal if you don’t fancy cooking yourself. Being located in a more seldomly visited eastern sector of the park, it has very few visitors, but it makes an ideal starting point for a long drive between Murchison Falls and Kidepo.