Huddled together on the Rift Valley floor some 200km south of Addis Ababa, this trio of surprisingly divergent Rift Valley lakes is well established as a weekend retreat from Addis Ababa, but it also offers much to keen birdwatchers, walkers and other nature lovers. The main focal point for tourism is the freshwater Lake Langano, which is more developed for tourism than any other lake in the Ethiopian Rift Valley, boasting at least half a dozen beach resorts on its shores. Langano and its resorts are a popular venue for swimming and a variety of watersports. And Bishangari Lodge, exclusive Sabana Lodge and African Vacation Club provide a more wild-life oriented atmosphere.
Some 40,000 years ago, Langano, Abijatta and Shalla were submerged below an inland sea whose surface stood more than 100m above the present-day level of the lakes. Sometimes referred to as Lake Galla, this vast freshwater body was fed by the rivers Awash and Modjo, and extended north via Lake Ziway to the vicinity of present-day Modjo town. It started to shrink about 20,000 years ago, due to a drop in rainfall and a tectonic upheaval that caused the Awash and Modjo rivers to change their courses and divert eastward. Ziway became a separate lake around 4,000 years ago, while the three more southerly lakes divided perhaps 2,000 years ago. The only links between them today are the rivers Bulbula and Horakalo, which respectively flow out of Ziway and Langano to empty into Abijatta.
Despite their common origin and close proximity, the three southern lakes are very different in character. Langano, with a surface area of 305km and depth of up to 45m, is a freshwater lake whose waters look deceptively dirty due to a suspension of fine red-brown particles carried down by various inlets that rise in the Arsi Highlands to the east. Only 5km to its west, the 175km2 Abijatta is much shallower, nowhere more than 14m deep, surrounded by tightly growing grass flats. The more southerly Lake Shalla, separated from Abijatta by a 3km-wide hill, is nestled within an immense volcanic caldera that collapsed 3.5 million years ago, and its surface is studded with a collection of small volcanically formed islands while its shore supports several fields of hot springs. Despite its relatively modest surface area of 330km2, Shalla has been calculated to hold a greater volume of water than any other Ethiopian lake (including Tana, which covers an area almost ten times larger) due to its mean depth of 86m and maximum depth of 257m.
FLORA AND FAUNA
Open water accounts for around 60% of Abijatta-Shalla’s area of 887km2, and although much of the park’s land has been settled and cultivated since the last years of the Derg, the remainder supports a cover of wooded savannah, as does the shore of nearby Langano. Trees and shrubs of the genus Acacia dominate, with at least five species present including the magnificent umbrella thorn, but there are also patches of mahogany forest, notably on the eastern shore of Langano, while the shore of Abijatta comprises an open floodplain of saline deposits. More than 75 mammal species have been recorded. A few Grant’s gazelle live at the ostrich farm next to the main entrance gate, Anubis baboons are still quite common, and there may still be viable breeding populations of the likes of greater kudu, Abyssinian hare, black-backed jackal and spotted hyena.
By contrast, the birdlife at all three lakes is exceptionally varied, with more than 430 species recorded in Abijatta-Shalla, many of which can also be seen in the vicinity of Langano. Premier bird attractions are the flamingos that aggregate in their thousands in the shallows of Abijatta and the small crater lake Hora Chitu, and the large flocks of pelican that are still commonly seen on the open water. The acacia woodland around all three lakes supports a wide range of colourful and charismatic species associated with this habitat.
WHERE TO STAY, EAT AND DRINK
Situated in a small nature reserve on the southeast shore of Langano 16km from the main road, eco-friendly Bishangari is the ideal choice for those who want to commune with nature in a quiet environment, or to partake in more adventurous activities such as hiking, mountain biking, horseriding, & boat trips in search of hippos. Accommodation in rustic wooden godjos, each of which contains 2 double beds a solar-heated shower & toilet, as well as a private balcony.
The lodge is set in a stand of woodland that attracts small mammals such as guereza & grivet monkey, warthog, bushbuck & genet, as well as forest birds including the exquisite Narina trogon, which is sometimes seen from the bar. Among the more conspicuous of the 400 bird species recorded within walking distance of the lodge are great white & pink-backed pelican, African fish eagle, bare-faced go-away bird, silvery-cheeked hornbill, banded barbet, beautiful sunbird & little weaver.
The most stylish resort in the Langano area lies on the west shore about 3km east of the main road. Approached by an attractive red-lava driveway, it lies on a cliff overlooking the lake, with a footpath leading down to a swimming beach below. The A-frame bungalows, decorated in an earthy organic style that evokes an East African safari camp, have king-size beds, hot showers & private balconies.
The 6ha grounds still contain plenty of indigenous vegetation, and the birdlife is prolific. Activities include walking, kayaking & mountain biking, & a good spa is attached. There is little to choose between them in terms of quality, but Bishangari is likely to appeal more to those seeking a genuine bush retreat, while Sabana feels more sophisticated, spalike & beach-oriented, & is also quite a bit cheaper.
Article By: Kaleab Ayenew