Journey Guide: Tough Boats Tanzania

Journey Guide: Tough Boats Tanzania

Starting his journey at the southern end of Lake Tanganyika, the world’s largest freshwater lake, Zay Harding travels north for over 300 miles on the extraordinary ‘Liemba’, which is not only said to be the world’s oldest surviving passenger ferry, but also has an incredible wartime history.

The big 230 foot long ship, originally named the Graf von Goetzen, was built in 1913, when Tanzania was part of colonial German East Africa. When WW1 started in 1914, the ship was converted into a warship and fitted with powerful guns to fight ships from nearby British and Belgian colonies. In 1916, however, the ship’s German commanders were forced to scuttle it, to prevent its capture by the British or Belgians. The location of the sunken ship was soon discovered, and after the war ended in 1918 the British and Belgians attempted to lift it up from the lakebed. In 1924 it was finally raised to the surface, and astonishingly, despite being underwater for 8 years, it was in good enough condition to be put back into service as a passenger ship. Today, a century on, it continues to provide a vital service ferrying hundreds of local Tanzanians up and down the lake.

After a fantastically enjoyable two day journey aboard the Liemba, stopping at remote villages along the way, Zay disembarks at Kigoma, towards the northern end of Lake Tanganyika.

150 years ago, the central African region around Lake Tanganyika was a major source of slaves, an estimated 1.5 million of whom were captured and then force-marched over 750 miles to the coast of the Indian Ocean, before being shipped by dhow to the slave market on the island of Zanzibar off the Tanzanian coast. For the last part of his journey Zay follows this tragic trail, sailing on a traditional working dhow trading goods to Zanzibar.

Traders have sailed the Indian Ocean for thousands of years in these tough and historic boats, whose design has barely changed since the days they carried slaves. The ocean crossing by dhow is a spectacular but poignant end to Zay’s once-in-a-lifetime Tanzanian adventure.



Generally speaking, the best time to visit Tanzania is during the dry season (late June to October), the best time for viewing most wildlife, and also when ground transportation is at its most reliable.


International flights arrive either at Dar es Salaam airport, or at Kilimanjaro airport (which is nearer to many of the most popular tourist destinations, such as Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti).


Assuming it’s on schedule, the passenger ferry Liemba travels the length of Lake Tanganyika once a fortnight, starting from Kigoma and ending up at Mpulungu in Zambia, before returning to Kigoma. Perhaps the best website to find a timetable of its departure dates is
As the Liemba is sometimes broken down or under scheduled repair or otherwise simply running late, it’s wise to contact in advance the Branch Manager of Marine Services Co. Ltd. in Kigoma, by emailing or telephoning +255 28 280 2811


Gombe Stream National Park, near Kigoma (one of the best places in the world to see chimpanzees in their natural wild habitat)

 Lake Tanganyika is the longest freshwater lake in the world at 660 kilometres. It is the second deepest lake in the world at 1436 metres.  It is said that it holds around 18% of the world’s fresh water! As well as all the sights to take in, the lake also has a few water-based activities to indulge in. Fishing, Snorkelling and even scuba diving are some of the best of the lake’s offerings. The water is warm and there is a large variety of beautifully coloured fish to see.

Gombe Stream National Park

Chimpanzee at Gombe Stream National Park


Dar es Salaam: Harbour View Suites Hotel

Mbeya: Utengule Coffee Lodge

Kasanga: Liemba Beach Lodge

Kipili: Lake Shore Lodge

Kigoma: Coast View Resort Hotel

Chuini: Zanzibar: Mangrove Lodge


  1. Tanzania Tourist Board
  2. Gombe Stream Nation al Park
  3. The Liembe


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