Ngaga Camp, situated just outside the boundary of Odzala-Kokoua National Park, lies in some of the most majestic primary forests the Congo Basin has to offer. The thinking behind locating Ngaga outside the National Park was not only to increase the ecotourism benefits to local communities, but also to widen the area where active conservation efforts can maintain the rainforests in their current pristine state. It’s a beautiful drive from our boutique village hotel in Etoumbi, where the tar-road ends and the forest begins, along a laterite track that takes you by the periphery of the park, through villages, forests and savannah until you reach the Camp. You truly get a sense that you are venturing into the unknown as you pass behind the ‘green curtain’.
The final stretch of the journey – after you pass the famous gorilla road sign – sees you descend into prime western lowland gorilla habitat. The dense marantaceae forest seems to part almost reluctantly to allow you to enter, until you reach the magical glade overlooked by the Camp.
Ngaga’s position, perched above a natural forest clearing which is often wreathed in mist in the early mornings, gives the Camp something of a fairy-tale feel. This sense of being somewhere otherworldly is strengthened by the calls of strange, hidden birds and primates, and the design of the guest rooms which were inspired by traditional forest-dweller homes.
From the vantage point offered by the large restaurant and star-deck, steps descend into the clearing and paths lead through the vegetation to our six elevated guest rooms, each of which has a private veranda looking directly into the forest beyond.
Managed by Conrad and Retha Cooke, Ngaga Camp draws you into an intense forest experience of which the highlight for most of our guests is the opportunity to track one of Africa’s great apes: the western lowland gorilla. Adding to the atmosphere of exploration and discovery is the fact that we can call upon the expertise of world-renowned primatologists Dr Magda Bermejo and German Illera whose research base is located at Ngaga. What better way to learn about gorillas than around a camp fire at Ngaga in conversation with a team that has studied these animals for more than 17 years. It is with the expert help of their team of trackers that we are able to locate and view the gorillas. There are only an estimated fifteen master gorilla trackers in Africa, two of whom (Zepherin Okoko and Gabin Okele) track the gorillas around Ngaga on a daily basis.
Morning activities at Ngaga are primarily centred around the gorillas. With one of the master trackers in the lead, a guide and a maximum of four guests set off at first light, heading towards the nesting site the gorillas used the previous night. Recent studies show that some twenty-three groups of gorillas frequent the area around Ngaga and this area is believed to have one of the highest densities of gorillas anywhere in Africa.
Two of these groups have been painstakingly habituated by the researchers and can be viewed by guests. Neptuno, one of the most magnificent silverbacks in the area, and his group of 13 gorillas are generally very relaxed in the presence of guests and researchers. The presence of two tiny babies in the group adds an extra dimension to the social interaction and play behaviour that can be observed.
The second habituated group is led by the equally impressive Jupiter, who despite his stature and strength is endearingly shy. His group numbers over twenty and they can be rather mischievous and noisy, giving us the chance to enjoy lots of interesting dynamics among the handful of adolescents.
Even though we can never guarantee sightings of the two different groups of gorillas, we always aim to give you a glimpse into the different characters of the two groups. Despite the fact that they live in the same area, eat the same foods and follow the same patterns day by day, the experience of observing each group can be quite different.
Afternoons at Ngaga are usually devoted to giving you an immersive forest experience, and looking at some of the smaller (but no less fascinating) life forms. Macro-photographers can spend hours on end admiring the amazing insect and plant life, while guests who want to delve deeper into the world of gorilla research can take part in some of the daily activities conducted by the team of researchers.
After the tracking experience there is also of course the option to relax and take in the sounds and sensations of the forest with an ice cold drink at the deck below the Camp. The cool clear waters of the Ngaga stream are a balm to tired feet – but don’t be surprised if your toes are inspected by the ever-vigilant small fish who live there.
A visit to the small forest village of Ombo, our neighbour to the west, is another afternoon activity not to be missed. The village has fewer than forty residents, and they are justifiably proud of the key role they played in helping to set up the gorilla programmes in the area. Several people from Ombo are employed at Ngaga, continuing our links with the village, and we also buy fresh fruit and vegetables from their smallholdings.
Back in Camp, you can kick off your muddy shoes and enjoy a spectacular treetop view of the sunset from Ngaga’s restaurant. While our front of house team Linda Anekoumou and Rency Ganongo-Ibara set the beautiful wooden dinner table in the restaurant our head server, Hurmel Kanga is always on hand to offer you a Congolese beer or perhaps our house cocktail, a ‘Mosquito Net’ – a little sweeter than the beer, but still with some bite!
Dinner, prepared and presented by our Beninois chef de cuisine, Desiré Santos, is always a treat. With the help his team of local trainee chefs, Godel Kessouaki and Ghislain Mare-Ngatsongo, he prepares delicious three course dinners and is always happy to accommodate any dietary requirements you may have. Try his tremendous tiramisu for an energy boost before heading out on a short night forest walk – an activity unique to Ngaga. This is a unique opportunity to spot animals that you may never even have heard of, let alone seen: pottos, palm civets, genets and galagos.
Fall asleep to the eerie cries of the tree hyrax and the gentle sounds of the trees before the traditional 05h00 wake-up call – and another opportunity to track the western lowland gorillas of Ngaga!