Expert Reviews – Nechisar NP
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
A tale of two lakes
Bordering the small town of Arba Minch, Nechisar National Park protects a beautiful ecologically varied landscape of rolling grassland and dense forest dominated by the twin lakes Chamo and Abaya. The most popular and worthwhile activity in the park is a boat trip on Lake Chamo to visit the so-called Crocodile Market, a stretch of reed-lined sand flats where large numbers of gape-mouthed crocodiles can be seen sunning themselves. The lake is also a good place to see hippos and it supports a prolific birdlife including African fish eagle, great white pelican and goliath heron. The lush groundwater forest of towering sycamore figs close to the park entrance supports various monkeys and forest birds and is also worth a look.
More ambitiously, game drives across the ‘Bridge of God’ (a hilly acacia-studded isthmus separating the two lakes) to the Nechisar (literally ‘White Grass’) plains can be a disappointment. Many large mammal species once associated with these plains are now locally extinct (a list that includes elephant, buffalo, black rhinoceros, cheetah, African wild dog, Rothschild’s giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, Beisa oryx, eland and lesser kudu) but you might well see plains zebra, Grant’s gazelle, Swayne’s hartebeest and greater kudu, and a few lions reputedly still cling on. For birders, a night on the Nechisar plains offers the opportunity to see one of the world’s least-known birds, the strictly nocturnal Nechisar nightjar Caprimulgus solala, which was first described from a single wing collected in 1990, but not seen alive until as recently as 2009.
Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.
A crocodile market on the shore of Lake Chamo
Due to long-term neglect, poaching and overgrazing, wildlife numbers are down in this scenic park. I drove the long bumpy road to the plains area recommended for wildlife viewing, but only saw a single greater kudu and a herd of Burchell’s zebra. More worthwhile is a boat trip on Lake Chamo to visit the famous ‘crocodile market’, the local nickname for a particular stretch of lakeshore where these living dinosaurs congregate naturally. Old photos show hundreds of massive crocs piled up together, but numbers are far lower today. Nevertheless, a late afternoon trip out on this beautiful Rift Valley lake is highly recommended; mountains rise up from the shore in every direction and you should see some monstrous crocs and plenty of hippos. Needless to say, the birdlife is phenomenal.