Although this day was spent mostly travelling from Mbarara to Queen Elizabeth National Park, we took time out for a tour of the Igara Growers Tea Factory on the outskirts of Mbarara and for an evening safari drive once we arrived at the park.
Igara Growers Tea Factory is cooperative which purchases its tea from over 5500 local farmers, roughly 3400 of whom are shareholders in the company. About 90% of the factory’s production of black tea is in primary grades (BP1, PF1, PD, and D1), with the remaining 10% in secondary grades (BP, PF, D, BMF, and F1). We were able to tour the factory, although no photography was allowed. Led through the facility by a shift manager, we learned how tea is made in Uganda, from fresh tea leaves brought in by local farmers all the way to the packing of the final product. There are four steps in the process: withering, fixing, rolling, and sorting. Freshly plucked leaves are first withered by forced hot air, reducing their moisture content. The withered leaves are then tumbled in the fixing process and rolled to further drying. After we toured the factory, we drove a short distance to one of the factory-owned tea fields.
Our drive from the Tea Factory to Queen Elizabeth National Park was fairly uneventful, although passing through the Kalinzu Forest we saw baboons by the side of the road. Kalinzu Forest is a protected forest area that is home to over 414 species of trees and shrubs, 379 species of birds, and six different species of primates including blue monkeys, vervet monkeys, black and white Colobus monkeys, and chimpanzees. In Kalinzu Forest, there are over 220 chimpanzees; chimpanzee hikes and tracking can be arranged for a fee.
A little further on from Kalinzu Forest, we stopped for a spectacular view the eastern escarpment of the Western Rift Valley floor.
We arrived at Queen Elizabeth National Park in the late afternoon. Founded in 1952 as Kazinga National Park, the Park was renamed to commemorate a visit by the British monarch the following year. Queen Elizabeth NP occupies some 765 square miles and extends from Lake George in the north to Lake Edward in the south. The two lakes are connected by the 40-kilometer long natural Kazinga Channel. Known for its extensive wildlife, the Park is home to some 95 species of mammals and over 500 species of birds. The Park is also famous for its volcanic crater lakes. After we settled in to our home-away-from-home for the next 3 nights, Queen Elizabeth Bush Lodge, we took a short early evening game drive and saw many different animals in their natural habitat, including elephants, Uganda kob, water buck, Cape buffalo, and two female lions.