It is said that in the late 1800’s, the widowed ‘Queen Nyarroh’ of Barri, fell in love with the Chief of Koya, who lived on the opposite side of the Moa river, behind Tiwai Island. As a gift of love, Queen Nyarroh gave half of Tiwai to the Koya Chief, so the Chiefdoms would share ownership.
As one of the last remaining tracts of Upper Guinean Congolese Rainforest, Tiwai is a wildlife sanctuary of profound ecological importance. Established in 1979 as a research centre by leading primatologist, John Oates, Tiwai is increasingly sited as a place with terrific ecotourism potential. Though just 12 sq km in size, this island located in the Moa River is teaming with life. It is host to 11 primate species, over 135 bird species, numerous butterfly species (some of which have recently been discovered by science) and at least 627 known plant species. Tiwai is also home to the extremely rare and elusive pygmy hippopotamus (the closest relative of which is thought to be the whale), which has only just recently been photographed by researchers. Wandering the island is like entering an older world, where heady aromas seep from the soil and primal calls rent the air.
It is said that wherever a cluster of bamboo is seen growing (and there are many) former residents used to dwell. Huts were constructed from bamboo poles that continue to grow so long as they are placed in the soil right side up.
There are many well maintained (and in the evening around the campground, solar lit) paths by which to explore the island; leading from the rivers edge through the camping area to the research station. Boat excursions are highly recommended for visitors that want to view aquatic life as well as the rapids. There is a spacious visitors’ centre in which to enjoy meals as well as converse with locals, island caretakers, researchers and other explorers. Facilities include canopied tents, replete with mattress and clean sheets, as well as dormitories. Shared bathroom and shower facilities exist in the main camping compound. There is a bar with chilled drinks for sale as well as cooking facilities. Small snacks, dry food and beverages are sold. Visitors must supply their own fresh food. Locally produced crafts, largely textiles, are available for purchase, the sale of which supports the local economy.
Following an ecotourism model, administration of the island is primarily shared between local leaders from the 8 host communities and environmental NGO’s under the umbrella organization; Tiwai Island Administrative Council (TIAC). Conservation and sustainable livelihoods are the driving principles behind its operation with tourism activities serving to support such.
Journey- Personal Reflections, by Kim Slater
Rainy season (April to September) can make the roads all but impassable, so better to attempt travel during the dry season. Even then the driving conditions are at times rough, and your bones will get a good rattling. Thankfully, there are swaths of paved road that by comparison make you feel like you are flying! Word has it that the road will be paved entirely by 2010. The bumpy patches not withstanding, the drive itself is quite lovely. The road cuts through rolling countryside and forests, while the sweet musk of growing things floats on the breeze. The rolling hills offer their bouquets of palms to a rosy sky, while the branches of the occasional cotton tree seem to tickle her. The lush green landscape is punctuated periodically by sienna coloured villages, round huts made of wattle and daub. It would be a two-toned landscape were it not for the riot of colours in the clothing being worn by people passing by and seen drying in the sun.
As the hours spent travelling lengthen, so does the road grow narrow until it is but a crayon line of red drawn through the tall elephant grass. The 8 hour journey ends in the tiny village of Kambama, perched at the edge of the Moa River. It is here that you disembark TIAC’s colourful mini-van and pile into a small speed boat. On a moonless night the inky darkness causes the river and the sky to swim together, making it a mystery as to how the guide finds his way.
Perhaps he uses the constellations peppering the night sky or the island’s vague shape, but somehow he expertly navigates the vessel across the water to Tiwai Island. You step onto the island, pregnant with nocturnal murmurings and chatters, and make your way along a path cut through the jungle and arrive in a clearing to be surprised with a frigid cold beer, chilled by a solar power refrigerator. Your time on Tiwai has begun and what a memorable time it will be!!