A week-end at The Haven, Jinja – accommodation on the Nile
A cursory look at The Haven’s visitor’s book tells it all: full of compliments from first time, second time – even ninth time! – visitors. Just outside Jinja, The Haven’s accommodation and camping facilities are particularly popular with campers who just happen to be driving from Cape Town back to Europe via Jinja and Uganda.
I can’t believe it’s been four years since I last visited The Haven. My family had such a fantastic time last time that I was bit worried: Would this visit live up to the memories of the first time? Would the spectacular rapids beneath the Lodge still be visible or had they been submerged following the creation of the new dam?
I chatter, chatter as I flow to join the brimming river, for men may come and men may go, but I go on forever.- From The Brook, 1887 Lord Tennyson.
“You can really see how the village has developed!” Exclaimed Ma as Rashid drove us through the bush for the last couple of kilometres drive to The Haven. No doubt it is a combination of tourism and the Bujagali Falls dam that have increased local incomes, resulting in more brick houses and more tin roofs. Nonetheless, the route was as picturesque as ever.
We had a lovely warm Ugandan welcome from everyone, particularly Isaac who said: “I know you!” (What a memory!)
I had forgotten about the legendary Haven breakfasts. When the staff say you are going to be served Continental Breakfast, they don’t just mean coffee and a bread roll. The staff ply you with an extensive menu that consists of: warm, freshly baked slabs of bread; home made fruit juice; a mixed platter of fruit; wafer thin pancakes with honey, chocolate spread and sumptuous mango compote; a mixed platter of cheese and thinly sliced cured meats (clue: the owner is German); and on top of all that lot is the cooked breakfast. These are not options, I hasten to add – this is the regular standard breakfast for everyone!
How I didn’t sink to the bottom of the swimming pool after that lot, I don’t know!
Did I say we ate well at The Haven? Sunday lunch starter was a yummy light salad of warm cashew nuts, black olives, tomato, onion and a vinaigrette dressing. We loved the lunch and evening menu options, always a choice of three main courses. I found the fish and the vegetable kebabs delicious; the caramelised banana pudding with ice cream was to die for. Red meat was on the menu too (but not for this Muzungu).
With these gargantuan tasty meals, you might have thought we would have (should have?) tried all those adventure activities we’d discussed … but the pool beckoned, as did the sun loungers and the hammocks, strategically slung so we could doze above the rapids while watching the Grade 5 white water rafters do all the work.
God my life sucks…
Lime trees, bananas and colourful Bougainvillea decorate the grounds of the Haven. Fragrant wafts of Jasmine reached our dining table, adding to the magic of the setting.
The Haven is a wonderful place to take in riverside life: tiny fish are visible in the shallows of the Nile, multicoloured dragonflies and butterflies flourish by the river.
“THE River,” corrected the Rat.
“And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!”
“By it and with it and on it and in it,” said the Rat. “It’s brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It’s my world, and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing. Lord! The times we’ve had together…”
– From The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
Our sunset cruise on the Nile below The Haven was a very laid-back, private affair in the hands of the very capable ‘Captain’ Charles, one of The Haven’s staff. A tray laden with Uganda Waragi, tonic water and a bucket of ice are the natural accompaniment to any boat cruise…. (surely everyone knows that?)
As we set off, a Ross’s Turaco flew across the river, black and red wings flapping above our heads.
Along the river shore, we spotted: a vibrant Jacana hopping delicately across the vegetation, our first Dwarf Bittern, the outline of a statuesque Purple Heron at the top of a tree, a Common Sandpiper, bright white Little Egrets and majestic African Fish Eagles.
“If the Eagles can’t find fish, they might come into the village and carry off a 3 kg duck!” Charles told us. That would be quite a sight.
Charles moved the boat closer to one of the islands, so we could watch the Black Headed Weavers crafting their intricate nests. The Weavers trailed pieces of grass – the effect was as if they had long, thin, tails. Amidst the Weavers’ busy chatter, two Grey Herons made a 360° loop of the island before landing in one of the trees.
According to the book, “the Striped Kingfisher is a small and rather drab kingfisher” – but I spotted him and no-one else did – so to me he was GORGEOUS!
Charles explained how the River Nile separated the two historical kingdoms of Buganda and Basoga. It was interesting to hear the local names for some of the popular river birds. The Malachite Kingfisher is known as the rainbow bird (so much easier to remember in any language!) The African Darter is known as the snake bird, because of its looooooong neck.
Upstream we passed a huge Hammerkop nest at the top of a large tree. More of a house than a nest, did you know this Ugandan bird’s nest is the biggest of any in the world? (Don’t stand beneath one though: you never know what rodent or snake might fall out of it!)
The birding highlight for me was looking up to see a flock of 14 Sacred Ibis fly in formation overhead. The actual highlight was being with my family, who’d flown all the way from the UK to see me.
As our little boat pootled upstream towards the dam, we noticed the Cormorants and Sacred Ibis flying downstream and away from us to their roost in the trees and bushes on the rapids below The Haven. Charles explained that there they feel safe from predators.
A tall and solitary mvule tree made me wonder what this landscape would have looked like 20, 50 or even 100 years ago. Was it once part of Mabira Forest?
A few hundred metres from The Haven is the roar of white water over smooth granite boulders. Long Tailed and Great Cormorants dry their outstretched wings on the ammonia-stained branches of the low bushy trees on the rocks between the rapids.
Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day. – A. A. Milne, Pooh’s Little Instruction Book
Unless you knew the river before, you probably wouldn’t detect the impact of the dam. Only the occasional eddies and swirls of water gave a clue to the rocks that lay beneath us. Charles revved up the engine slightly as we reverse boated what were once scary grade 5 rapids.
If only Ma realised – she certainly wouldn’t have crossed this stretch of white water five years ago!
Early morning, overlooking the rapids:
Between me and the white water is a single African Open Billed Stork perching atop a big bush, its beak glistening. These storks often look bedraggled and unkempt to me but this morning it shines. I wish I had my camera! I’m glad I didn’t have my camera… what an image: the gleam of shiny black feathers, early morning mist and the white water backdrop.
About the accommodation at The Haven, Jinja
We’d loved the banda on our first visit, but on this occasion we stayed in the self-contained thatched family bungalow at the back of the compound. Although the front of the building doesn’t look onto the river itself, climb to the upper floor and the veranda looks out at right angles onto the Nile. The bedroom veranda was a great spot for evening sundowners.
Being at the (less disturbed) back of the compound meant we had the best birdlife. We could twitch right from our beds! We never did work out quite what the bird was that sounded like a creaking wheelbarrow… The tiny bright blue and orange Malachite Kingfishers were easy enough to spot, however.
The bungalows are spacious and can sleep four adults and two children. The double master bedroom has an ensuite bathroom. Also on the top floor, leading off the master bedroom, is the children’s bunkbed room. The decor here is functional; the honeymoon bungalows are far more decorative.
The facilities at The Haven are better than ever: a big private area for camping with hot showers and outdoor barbecue, mountain bikes for hire, a sandpit and swing for the children, badminton, table tennis, satellite TV and free Wi-Fi in the main dining area.
Sunday was a bit busy when we arrived. The swimming pool is for residents only, which some lunchtime visitors may find disappointing. The pool isn’t that big though, so this decision probably makes sense; The Haven can be busy at weekends.
The Haven is now the base for Kayak the Nile. Many of Jinja’s adrenaline activities can be booked and organised through reception at the Haven. Special thanks to Abraham, who dashed off to the pharmacist for me when I suspected I had malaria!
For more information about Jinja accommodation, you can tell I heartily recommend The Haven. The staff make you feel right at home, you will eat like a king and even the camping is an upmarket experience. Check out The Haven’s website or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +256 (0)702905959 / +256 (0)78 2905959.
Please tell them the Muzungu sent you 🙂
DISCLOSURE: This blog is based on my personal experience. I was delighted to be given a discounted room rate in return for this blog post. For more information, read the Muzungu’s Terms and Conditions.