Words and pictures by Gordon Stewart.
On our 2012 trip north to Rwanda via Tanzania, we came across two gems not often visited by tourists as they’re a little off the main road. From our own experience, however, they are definitely worth a visit. They are the Irente Farm Lodge in the Irente Biodiversity Reserve near Lushoto, high up in the Usambara Mountains about 40 kilometres from Mombo, and Lake Chala, a crater lake on the Tanzania/ Kenya border, about a similar distance east of Moshi.
To get to the Irente Farm Lodge, turn off the B1 main road between Korogwe and Same at Mombo, drive through the town and follow the signboards leading up the mountain pass and along the road that winds towards Lushoto through the West Usambaras Lushoto Mountain Reserve. We were rewarded with stunning views, through the trees, of waterfalls and the valley below. The turnoff to the Irente Farm Lodge is about three kilometres before Lushoto with a final stretch of about five kilometres of gravel road. The journey from Mombo took us about one hour, with several stops for photos.
The Irente Biodiversity Reserve is a nature reserve with a difference. Owned and managed by the Lutheran Church in Tanzania, it incorporates both environmental conservation and sustainable organic agriculture. The Usambaras are one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots; i.e. they are recognised as an area with exceptional diversity of species. There is a project here to restore this biodiversity by replanting trees, shrubs and climbers native to the western Usambaras. This will, in turn, attract more and more birds, butterflies, reptiles and small mammals.
One of the main sources of income is eco-tourism and food processing. Rye and other crops are grown, and there is a dairy herd. Fruits are bought from the local women, and jam and juice are made. From the small shop on the farm you can buy rye bread, muesli, butter, Tilsiter cheese, quark (cottage cheese), cream, yoghurt, passion-fruit and orange-juice concentrate, and an assortment of jams made from local fruits.
On our arrival, the farm manager showed us both of the available campsites, one which was very shady with a lovely view over the inland mountains but quite some distance from the only small ablution block, and the other – that could really accommodate only two vehicles, but was right near the ablution block and a large thatched area that we could make use of as a work/dining area.