If you’re looking to do something a little different this weekend, kayaking on Lake Kivu has to be one of the most exciting and yet relaxing activities in Rwanda. Kingfisher Journeys set up operations in November 2015 and has amassed a team of kayaks that are waiting for you to take them for a spin. You paddle at a relaxed pace to find peace and quiet with stunning scenery, or go fast and venture a little further out into the lake to discover a true adventure for a weekend break or a few days away from the city.
Most mornings in Gisenyi are calm and sunny, with spectacular views over the blue waters of Lake Kivu. Unfortunately for us, we went in the rainy season so it was a little damp as we set out. But after some breakfast pancakes and a little bit of patience and wisdom from our cheerful guide Francis; the rain passed by.
To start us off, Francis ran through some basic skills (like getting in and out of the kayak without capsizing) and we were ready to go. He helped us launch and we were off! Having previously always paddled in a double kayak (where my partner did all the work) I found the paddling on the flat water in my own kayak was challenging at first but I soon settled in and I was cruising in no time at all. They have great equipment but I’ll have to come back again when they also have some doubles to also give that a try.
As the clouds cleared and the sun came out, we realized how beautiful it was looking across the lake and back to shore from afar. We took a short break to see and experience the hot springs bubbling on the edge of the lake, and met some of the locals basking in the warmth. The water bubbles out at 100 degrees, and is thought to possess healing properties such as being good for weightloss! We decided to stay fat and save our swim in the hot springs for another day and continued paddling across to a nearby fish farm. I was actually surprised at the size of the fish farm and, being a scientist, I naturally had a lot of boring questions about fish feed and ecology.
As the day went on, the breeze began to pick up and the lake started to get a little choppy. I was happy that we could stop for a break on the tip of a small peninsula where Francis laid out a picnic rug and we refueled with some beautiful salads that Kingfisher Journeys had arranged for us from Gisenyi’s Calafia Café. While we were enjoying our lunch, Francis told us that most of the day trips he runs continue on to a small, uninhabited island where people often go for a swim in the clear water. We would have totally been up for that on a hot, sunny day and it’s great to know it’s an option for future trips.
After lunch, this being the wet season, we could see some more clouds gathering so Francis suggested it would be best to start the paddle back to Paradis Malahide, where there were surely some cold beers waiting for us (and a stash of cheese we brought from Kigali). So we paddled back at speeds I didn’t know I was capable of! Francis was flexible and accommodating to both the conditions on the day and also my ability, so by the time we reached Paradise Malahide I had a sense of unknown accomplishment from paddling for 3½ hours. I’m sure others will enjoy longer trips. I’m told that, if you’re up for it, you can spend up to six or seven hours on the water – really!
One thing that I didn’t do but which sounds really worthwhile, is to see (and hear) the unique fishing boats of Lake Kivu departing in the evening. Apparently the fishermen sing rhythmically in unison as they paddle into the night and being up close on the water by kayak is a very special way to experience this spectacle.
Overall, our kayaking trip was a lot of fun and it was a wonderful way to spend a day. Maybe it was just me, but we were a little exhausted at the end and it was totally worth it! These kayaking tours are a very welcome addition to Rwanda’s tourism offerings and I’d totally recommend you give them a try the next time you’re at the lake.
At the moment, Kingfisher Journeys have four single kayaks and run one-day, two-day and occasionally longer tours out of Gisenyi (or Kibuye on request). You do need to book in advance, but they have an easy online booking system, which shows their availability and accepts PayPal as well as all major credit cards. They also do short kayaking trips by the hour out of Discover Rwanda hostel in Gisenyi, which can be arranged when you arrive. Some big discounts are also available for charities, NGOs, Rwandan & East African Community residents, and citizens.
It really is an awesome day out and a wonderful way to experience Lake Kivu at water level! Give them a try next time you’re in Gisenyi.