Zambia Part VII – Ndole Bay


zambia ndole-1

After driving ten hours to cover the 260 kilometres between Lumangwe Falls and Ndole Bay, we finally arrived after dark.

A friendly attendant showed us to the camping spots and asked us whether we wanted food. We wanted to kiss his feet.

I think this was the most tired Hugo had been since we started the trip. After the horror of a trip over the escarpment between North and South Luangwa, we’d not really had good roads or a good rest. This road was, apart from the mentioned pass, the absolute worst and it kept on and on and on… Sand and gravel and stones and rocks and holes and corrugation and bigger holes… We had dust in our teeth and hair and fingernails and we had to brush the trailer down before we could set up camp. Not that it helped a whole lot.

Craig and Elise, the young owners, told us the view would be worth the effort of getting there when we woke up the next morning. They were right, so we stayed a week!

Ndole Bay Lodge is nestled on its own private beach on Lake Tanganyika. Ndole Bay borders on Nsumbu National Park, which has 100 km of pristine coastline that is untouched by man.

“Lake Tanganyika

This vast inland sea was first made known to the European world in the mid 1800s by the English explorers Richard Burton and John Speke. They pursued it as the source of the Nile, arriving at its shores in February of 1858, only to discover that the Ruzizi River in the north, which they thought to be the Nile, flowed into and not out of the lake. (Their incredible journey is documented in the movie “Mountains of the moon”.)

Tanganyika’s waters lap Tanzania, Burundi, Congo DR and Zambia. It is the longest fresh water lake in the world and the second deepest after Lake Baikal in Russia. The immense depth is because it lies in the Great Rift Valley, which also has created its steep shoreline. It reaches a depth of 1 433 metres (4 700 feet), which is an astounding 642 m below sea level.

Although Zambia can only lay claim to 7% of its surface area, it stretches north to south a distance of 677 kilometres (420 miles) and averages about fifty kilometers wide (31 miles). The clear waters host more than 350 different species of fish and is well known for aquarium fish exports and excellent angling.

The fertile circulating surface water, although not tidal, provides abundant plankton for its inhabitants which in turn provides much needed protein for both the local and export markets. The stiff winds that blow off the surrounding mountains aid the continual movement which inhibits the spread of bilharzia, the parasitic disease carried by shallow water snails.

A landlocked sea

It is essentially a landlocked sea but in years of heavy rain the lake overflows into the Lukuga River which in turn feeds Congo DR’s Lualaba River.

Despite the ferocious surface storms that occur, driving waves up to six meters high (20 foot), no mixing of the lower relict waters occur. The bottom 1 200 meters of the lake remain “dead” – either too high in hydrogen sulphide or too low in oxygen to support life. This “fossil water” may be as old as 20 million years. By contrast, the oceans, because of currents and upwellings have life forms even as low as 11 000 meters (36 080 feet).

Lake Tanganyika has a remarkably uniform temperature. The lower regions are only a mere 3 °C colder than the surface. The reason for this strange phenomenon has yet to be discovered.

Biologically unique

Regarded as one of the most biologically unique habitats on earth, Lake Tanganyika is also an evolutionary showcase due to its great age and stability. Ninety eight percent of the lake’s cychlids (which comprise two thirds of all the lake’s fish) are unique to Tanganyika. Also endemic are all seven of its crabs, five out of the thirteen bivalve molluscs, more than half of its gastropod molluscs and eleven of its thirty three copepod crustaceans. 

Sport fishing is very popular here and catches include the goliath tigerfish and Nile perch. Crocodiles inhabit most of the shoreline, except around Mpulungu, probably due to the noise of people and motorboats. Swimming in the lake (in the Mpulungu area only!) is an absolute treat. Warm, clear, salt free water that changes from silky stillness, to high waves for a great body surf – usually with no apparent reason for the change. Storms from way up north probably cause the still waters in the south to agitate.”

̶  Source:


We set up camp on the beach under a massive thorn tree. I won’t call the beach pristine, but it was near enough. The children made friends with Elise’s dog, Tanga, and from time to time they also had human friends to keep them busy. This time round, I didn’t do our laundry; the friendly people of the resort did. As well as our dishes! Bargain! Who would’ve thought camping next to a lake in Africa would remind us of our island holidays?

Elise told us that Ndole Bay had been in Craig’s family for about 30 years, but the Zambian government sent soldiers with AK 47’s to ask the family “politely” to pack their bags and leave. Around nine years ago, the same government asked the family whether they wanted to buy (?!!) the property back. They did and arrived to find almost everything destroyed, missing or not in working condition. Boats and 4×4’s included. They did a fantastic job of building it back up. It was a true haven to us.

We didn’t do much but lounging about. Craig was kind enough to find someone who could help Hugo weld the exhaust back in place  ̶  it got damaged when he tried to reverse it onto the pontoon near Luambe.

But we did go on a fishing excursion with one of Ndole’s boats. That was an earlier than usual morning for us, but it was worth it to see the sunrise. First we had to go to a fishing village for bait. You know, for all the big fish we planned on catching. The whole village was built only with grass; there was nothing permanent. Our skipper, Derick, told us they moved around with the fish.

The village on the water with the fishing boats, fishing nets, drying kapenta and children running around in the early morning begged to be photographed, but I didn’t have my camera with me. It meant that I came back the following day on my own to take a few photos.


The Tanganyika sardine, is known as kapenta in Zambia and Zimbabwe (a related but different fish known as dagaa or ndaga is Rastrineobola argentea). Kapenta is really two species (Lake Tanganyika sardine Limnothrissa miodon and Lake Tanganyika sprat Stolothrissa tanganicae), both of which are small, planktivorous, pelagic, freshwater clupeid originating from Lake Tanganyika in East Africa. They form the major biomass of pelagic fish in Lake Tanganyika, swimming in large schools in the open lake, feeding on copepods and potentially jellyfish. Their major predators are four species of lates which are also endemic to Lake Tanganyika, and are related to (but not the same as) the Nile perch in Lake Victoria. All of these pelagic fish have suffered from overfishing in the last two decades.

Limnothrissa miodon has been successfully introduced in both natural and artificial African lakes. Large kapenta fisheries now take place in the Lake Kariba (Zambia/Zimbabwe) and Cahora Bassa (Mozambique).

Limnothrissa miodon is usually around 10 cm long, its maximum length is 17 cm. Stolothrissa tanganicae is smaller at 7 cm (maximum 10 cm).


This fish is caught at night using kapenta rigs, these rigs use mercury lights connected to portable generators to attract the fish to the rig. A dip net measuring roughly 6 m in diameter and around 8 to 10 m in length is then used to bring the fish up from anything from 40 m (130 ft).


In recent years there has been a steady decline in the kapenta population. In order to maintain the kapenta population certain countries have made it illegal to fish for kapenta in shallow water (less than 20 metres), as the kapenta breed in this shallow water, and have introduced licenses to control and monitor fishing.


Kapenta is usually dried in the sun on a clean surface such as concrete slabs, rocks or netting. Drying on racks gives the best results. Drying takes one day or more, depending on the weather. Unfortunately the kapenta season coincides with the rainy season when the fish congregates and sundrying may not always be possible causing postharvest losses. These losses are mostly economical as the lower quality dried fish fetches a lower price. In the worst case the dried fish is used as chicken feed. Salting before drying is a solution: kapenta is salted at a ratio normally of 2.5 kg per 30 kg (1 lb per 12 lb) of fish, and dried in the hot Zambezi Valley sun. It is a hugely important staple, providing refrigeration-free protein to people of Africa. A cup of dried kapenta will feed a family. Dried kapenta is preferred to the slightly bitter dried dagaa from Lake Victoria, but poor people will buy dagaa because of its lower price.

In Zimbabwe dried kapenta fish are shallow fried with onions and tomatoes. They are eaten with traditional staple meal called Isitshwala/sadza.

Fresh kapenta is also packed in plastic pouches and frozen. Frozen kapenta is popular but more expensive than dried kapenta. Fresh kapenta is not sold in the markets, except in fishing villages. In fact in southern Africa fresh fish is unknown in markets and supermarkets where frozen fish is often called “fresh” fish. Specialised fish shops hardly exist.

In the 1960s/70s some fishery development projects experimented with smoke-dried kapenta, salted or not, but this never caught on.

Marinated kapenta can be made from kapenta fillets put in vinegar with salt and kept in a refrigerator. After 2 or 3 days the vinegar is discarded and the fish is quickly rinsed with clean water. Then the fillets are put in a mix of olive oil, vinegar, sugar, garlic, chili peppers, and lots of parsley or celery. After another 2 or 3 days in the fridge the marinated fillets are ready to eat.

It is an important bait fish for the tigerfish (Alestidae family) and, although introduced in Kariba and Cahora Bassa, does not seem to have harmed the environment. 

It is an important contributor to the economies of the areas it is caught in.”

̶  Source: take a guess…


Often during our trip through Zambia, we wondered what people used as a source of protein. We didn’t see any cattle or sheep (or donkeys, for that matter); only a few chickens and a handful of goats. It appears that kapenta has fantastic nutritional value:

“A recent chemical composition analysis of kapenta by the National Food and Nutrition Commission (NFNC) shows a great variation in the nutrient composition for the dry and fresh fish.

NFNC principal nutritionist Mr Musonda Mofu says dry kapenta contains 209 calories of food energy compared with 85 calories of food energy in fresh Kapenta. In addition, dry Kapenta contains 63 grammes of protein and only 16 grammes in fresh Kapenta. Overall this shows that, per portion, there are more benefits in dry kapenta than in fresh Kapenta.

The nutrition problems of iron deficiency and vitamin A deficiency can also be addressed by consuming kapenta as it has a high content of these minerals. Overall, 8.5 milligrams (mg) of iron can be derived from dry Kapenta and 2.1 mg from fresh Kapenta.

Kapenta is also rich in Vitamin B12, which is important in the promotion of cardiovascular well being since it is intricately tied to keeping levels of homocysteine in balance. Homocysteine can damage artery walls and elevated levels could be a risk for atherosclerosis.

Allergic reactions can occur from virtually any food. A number of allergic reactions to kapenta have been reported. Oral allergies in which the mouth itches or tingles after eating kapenta are common in some individuals. Other reactions have been linked to anaphylaxis which is a severe systemic reaction in which the body releases large amounts of histamine. When allergies are observed, it is recommended to see a doctor for assessment and advice.

Kapenta is key on the menus of many Zambians. It can be used to promote protein consumption especially among the poor.

Consumption of whole kapenta is also helpful as the intestines of kapenta provide a rich source of micronutrients. 

̶̶  Source: Zambia Daily Mail

We bought a small bucket of freshly caught kapenta from the fishermen and set off on our quest to bag a few giant tigerfish. Sophia got very brave and put her own bait on her hooks (three or four kapenta on three or four hooks on a line), put her own line out and watched her rod. And then reeled in the biggest fish of the morning! Hugo and Gustav caught a few small lake trout and koppi, or ghoppi, as the locals call it. The real name is giant cichlid or emperor cichlid (took me some time of research to figure it out; at least Hugo could remember what it looked like). And of course, I caught a tan again. Then Hugo convinced me that I should also try for something. And just for the hell of it, I caught an even bigger fish (emperor cichlid again) than Sophia! Go girls!

Zambia Part 7 photo 2 Zambia Part 7 photo 3


Derick kindly cleaned our fish for us and that evening we feasted on the freshest of fresh fish.

On another afternoon, we went on a sunset cruise on a wooden dhow. It reminded us a lot of Mussandam in Oman, which we visited when we lived in Dubai. It seemed to me the Arabs, like the English, Germans, French, Belgians and other colonialists, had fingers in pies all over the world at some stage. In my humble opinion, it all worked out devastatingly for the locals and local cultures. I do know, however, that there are two sides to a coin and I am painfully aware that there are pluses as well, but one has to wonder whether it was worth it.

Okay, done with philosophical thoughts. Each night before the moon came up, the lake was dotted with lights. It almost looked like fireflies. It was the fishermen out with their nets to catch kapenta. They towed three lanterns on small wooden floats to lure the fish into the nets. One of the locals told us that the fishing is still good on Tanganyika in Tanzania, but other places and lakes are struggling.

As a treat, we let the children play with some older children on a tube behind a boat. Elise, skipping the boat, tried her level best to throw off the teenagers, but was very kind to my young ones and they had great fun.

On our last night at Ndole, we met Peter Howard and his amazing drone. (I asked Hugo for one for Christmas.) He’s originally from the UK, but has lived in Africa for most of his life (currently in Nairobi) and mainly in the countries on our list. He gave us invaluable information, especially about which roads have been “Chinesed”, or tarred by the Chinese.

Peter, you were wondering about the B8 in Tanzania. Give it a skip my friend, the Chinese haven’t arrived there yet, but more on that in the next post.

Ndole Bay will surely be on our favourites list at the end of this trip. But Hugo and I agreed that next time, we would fly in. This road will not see us again! Unless of course it has been Chinesed…


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