By Mwene Nsheka

Kayunga

 This little known and nameless Island on the River Nile in Kayunga sits on a granite rock of about 6 acres. On either side, the Nile waters holds the island in a tight embrace with strong rapids that down-stream form the violent Kalaggala Falls.

Accessing the Island

From Kampala, take Jinja bound taxis or coaster buses and disembark at Njeru just before the Jinja Bridge. From here, take another taxi (which sits four people per row) and get off at Bukolooto. A bodaboda taxi costs 2,000/- to take you to the Wild Waters Island. But there is another way. You can take the Gayaza-Kalagi-Kayunga-Bukolooto route if you have your own car.

Still, there is a heli-pad to allow helicopter landing. This is the safest but for the moneyed. For lesser folks, you arrive at the west side of the river to take the most treacherous human powered boat. Yes, there is no motor boat and management of the Island is not about to change that.

The boatmen pick you at the river bank and help you into a boat. They ensure that you are fully jacketed. They paddle southwards against the flow of the Nile, but with its magic, pushes the nose of the boat to its flow. From nowhere, huts jut from a small island.

It is a nameless Island but travelers have christened it Wild Waters Island. Yes, the waters on either side are stormy. You see, the river flows on either side and as its waters spank the rocks and the rapids run over the stones, it gives the sound of constant storm.

And a Wild Waters Lodge has been built there. And what a jewel, a marvel and craftsmanship this place is! Previous visitors to the island as revealed in the guest book have used a thousand superlatives to describe the place. I chanced on one by the late Lillian Nsubuga, the former PR Manager at UWA and she wrote; “I have been to every tourism spot in this country, but this, I find it magical, enchanting and extremely beautiful,”

Ms. Hellen Kaweesa of the Parliament of Uganda, a previous visitor said; “This is a hidden treasure Island. A perfect weekend gateway to perfect tranquility. I will definitely come again,”

And yet, I had never heard of the place until June this year when I met an elderly couple from England and told me about this heavenly offering. They said; “We do not know if Winston Churchill visited this island to call Uganda “the Pearl of Africa,’ maybe he had this island in mind. It is a real pearl,”

Management of the Island

There are other six smaller islands that are part of the Mabira Forest belt under the management of National Forest Authority (NFA) but leased to Lemala Wild Waters. On this island, are 10 meticulously woven cottages with a capacity of 22 guests. The first proprietor of the island, one Cameroon, named it the Wild Waters Island because it did not have a name and he called the lodge Wild Waters Lodge and the name has since stuck. It is a befitting name.

The lodge, to my consternation, is known world over. The guest list is from far and wide. From Japan, to Wild West Americas to Russia and the Middle East. It has played host to princes and princesses from Saudi Arabia and other oil rich states. Even Ugandans who love beautiful things have been there.

According to Victoria Ngambirano, the Reservations Manager, the lodge does little advertising since most of its clients are referrals. But also, they are careful not to exceed the holding capacity of the island as prescribed by NFA of 22 people at any one time.

“We are flooded with bookings all year around from all over the world. We are a high range facility where a night for two on full board cannot go below US$700 but that does not deter guests. In fact, from 1st of December to end of January 2018, we are fully booked,” Ngabirano says.

Even for a meal, you have to make reservations 24 hours earlier. As I sat at the lounge, I listened in to Victoria politely but painfully turning away diners.

“I would love to host everyone here but I cannot. We now know price is not deterrent enough. We are an eco-lodge. The Nile River is the lifeblood of millions of people downstream, we cannot compromise it. We have to manage the numbers,”

And yet according to Ms. Jean Byamugisha, the CEO of Uganda Hotel Owners Association, 90% of the hotels in Uganda operate at less than 40% of their capacity, Wild Waters Lodge, a member of the association is an exception.

What is special at the Wild Waters Lodge?

The restaurant opens southwards facing the flow of the river as the waters slither underneath the restaurant. You can drown in your dreams of heaven at this place. The restaurants rests on iron stilts, so you are safe.

“We are flooded with bookings all year around from all over the world. We are a high range facility where a night for two on full board cannot go below US$700 but that does not deter guests. In fact, from 1st of December to end of January 2018, we are fully booked,” Ngabirano says.

Even for a meal, you have to make reservations 24 hours earlier. As I sat at the lounge, I listened in to Victoria politely but painfully turning away diners.

“I would love to host everyone here but I cannot. We now know price is not deterrent enough. We are an eco-lodge. The Nile River is the lifeblood of millions of people downstream, we cannot compromise it. We have to manage the numbers,”

And yet according to Ms. Jean Byamugisha, the CEO of Uganda Hotel Owners Association, 90% of the hotels in Uganda operate at less than 40% of their capacity, Wild Waters Lodge, a member of the association is an exception.

What is special at the Wild Waters Lodge?

The restaurant opens southwards facing the flow of the river as the waters slither underneath the restaurant. You can drown in your dreams of heaven at this place. The restaurants rests on iron stilts, so you are safe. The composites have a wooden look and according to Shem Nagenda, a nature purist describes this as near perfect, extremely wild and serene.

“It is a place to go to. It has been built with the hindsight of keeping it close to nature as much as possible. A beautiful place to rest and revive one’s spirits,” Nagenda says.

Vivian Craddock Williams, a British national resident in Uganda calls it ‘a Magical Wild Island” “It is an extra-ordinary place. A lovely idea. And if you ask me why Uganda is the pearl, I will point you to this place,”

For the romantics, those intending to celebrate anniversaries and a gateway treat just like the Marriot family from the UK did after 40 years, the sound of the Nile has not changed a bit at this unique facility. The price does not matter really! I loved the embrace of the two arms of the Nile around my Nyungwe hut and I am fully on for my marriage anniversary.