DAZZLING, emerald green Crater surrounded with rich vegetation. This is how one can start to describe the beauty of Lake Ngozi; the second largest Crater Lake in Africa rated among the world’s leading tourist attractions.
With an area of 9,332 hectares, 2.5 kms long, 1.5 kms wide and a depth of 74 metres, Lake Ngozi was formed inside a volcanic caldera -- a crater formed by sinking of land after depletion of magma chamber beneath it due to volcanic eruptions that took place more than 40,000 years ago.
A leading tourist attraction in Mbeya Region, this lake is part of the Mporoto Ridge Forest Reserve with Ngozi Peak measuring at 2,620 metres above sea level. This is to say, one really needs to go up the mountain to get to Lake Ngozi.
A combination of unusual calmness, dense mountain forests, and water which keeps changing its colour from time to time, Lake Ngozi appears as big as a floating jewel altogether giving breath-taking scenery.
There are two small islands which are standing close to each other. Wild ducks can be seen in the lake and in these islands as well. A total of 22 villages are bordering this lake.
These are Isyonje, Idweli, Mbeye One, Goye, Ntokela, Swaya, Shinga, Malangali, Nsebelo, Igembe, Kipande, Igale, Shongo, Ngoli, Iduda and Nsenga.
Others are Swaya, Wimba, Nsongwi Juu, Nsongwi, Mantanji and Iwalanje in six wards of Swaya, Ijombe, Isongole, Kinyala, Igale and Mwasanga. There are two main routes to get to the lake, one is through Mbeye One village in Rungwe District and another entrance is through Uyole Kati in Mbeya town.
A trip to the lake offers unique hiking which gives a mixture of a thrilling and yet a very enjoyable experience.
Tourists have to pass through a road full of bamboo trees, rich green mountain forests and bushes of wild banana trees with steep slopes and gorges in each side.
It takes 30 minutes to two hours to get on top of the mountain to view the lake, depending on the route one decides to take, whereby the journey from each of the two points is done by foot.
Inside the forest there are endemic types of beautiful birds, rare type of three-horned chameleons as well as various types of monkeys. Water of this lake can appear in different colours like deep emerald green, blue, white, or black. Different strange stories concerning water colour changes in this lake have been told by the locals for years.
These stories make one wish to pay a visit to see for oneself. At Iwalanje village, one of 22 villages bordering Lake Ngozi, Chief Wadson Talla Mwahandi of the Safwa tribesmen, still believes that there is a very large snake at the middle of the lake which can only be seen if one gets closer to the lake. The giant snake, according to him, is the reason for the colour changes.
“This lake is full of magic. If you are a stranger in the area and goes to the lake you can run away at the sight of that snake,” he says.
His friend, Chief Mina Mwanyagala, recalls that many years ago their parents used to look at the lake from far since they believed it carried supernatural powers.
“The water colour changes is due to weather, position of the Sun, colour of the sky and vegetation surrounding it,” says Innocent Lupembe, Rungwe Nature Reserve Conservator, who is also managing Mporoto Ridge Forest Reserve and Lake Ngozi under Tanzania Forest Services (TFS).
The lake maintains its volume throughout the year and hardly experiences fluctuations even during drought. There are no rivers bringing water in, instead there are underground streams which take water in and outside.
Nearby villagers have been using the lake’s salty water to treat different diseases. Effects of volcanic eruptions which took place thousands of years ago are still visible which include underground hot springs generating from the lake as explained by Lupembe.
“it has been proven that there are remains of geothermal power which cause hot springs to generate from the lake.
Other hot springs which also have their source from the lake can be observed in surrounding villages such as Malangali,” he says.
Production of electricity using geothermal power generated from the lake is expected to begin soon under the Tanzania Geothermal Development Company after completion of all processes. Mporoto Ridge Forest Reserve, where Lake Ngozi is located, was first gazetted in 1937 with two main aims -- to protect water sources and to preserve biodiversity.
For a number of years, acts of environment destruction have destroyed forests in this area.
Trees were cut for making charcoal and timber. Indigenous trees like Hagenia abbysinica or Mituranga, as known in local circles, nearly disappeared as a result of these activities.
Awareness campaigns to villagers on the importance of environment protection have been conducted to make sure that the villagers are engaged in the matter. Village leaders are participating in educating the public on the dangers of destroying the forests.
Henrick Talla, the Iwalanje village chairman, says that “we have made environment a permanent agenda, which is given priority in village meetings.
“Environmental destruction has a lot of negative effects to all of us. We have decided to make this agenda important. In each village meeting, environmental issues must be discussed in detail. T
o make this work, we are involving the elders and local leaders who understand environmental matters,” he says. On the other hand, there are ongoing protection and conservation projects as well as improving infrastructures for expanding tourism activities, which are implemented by TFS in collaboration with other stakeholders.
Three ranger posts are being built at Idweli, Syukula and Kandete villages which will help to strengthen forest supervision. Village Natural Resources Committees (VNRCs) are also being strengthened to play a critical important role in environmental protection.
Joint Forest Management (JFM) agreements between the government and the villages, which are expected to take place soon, will increase villagers’ participation in protection activities. Through these agreements, local guards are going to be hired to add force in protection activities inside the Reserve.
“We have started doing JFM agreements in Rungwe and after we finish we will do the same to Mporoto Ridge Forest Reserve. We are going to hire local guards who will add force in protection activities as part of these agreements,” Lupembe explained. Meanwhile, an annexing exercise with support from African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) is proceeding.
This is done following a survey and awareness meetings which were carried out in all 22 villages. The purpose of this exercise is to make boundary verification which will also help in avoiding unnecessary conflicts between the government and the villagers.
Preparation of the area’s map and biodiversity survey to establish the number of various living organisms -- species of plants, birds and animals -- will follow after completion of the annexing exercise.
Initiatives to improve tourism activities are going on which have started with trails maintenance. Once, trails to get to the lake were very rough and not easily passable, thanks to the efforts by TFS, the Uyole Kati route is now under maintenance and there are improvements.
According to Lupembe, camping sites will be built inside the Reserve to create friendly environment for tourists.
“After we are done with the annexing exercises, we are going to prepare a Management Plan, which will be renewed after every five years,” he said.
Preparations of the Management Plan will involve different groups of people -- village leaders, non-government organisations, political leaders and the villagers through meetings.