Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Along old German Coffee Farms

Along the foot hills of the Usambara Mountains, Mount Kilimanjaro and Ngorongoro Crater the pioneer German colonialists have established their coffee farms – all of them beautifully located, at times they must have been incredibly remote and lonely – and nowadays some of them turned into guest houses and hotels, while many have disappeared in the 1930th when coffee prices collapsed. So travelling the North of Tanzania can very well be turned into a journey of coffee history in this country.

Irente Farm, Lushote (about 20 Min drive from Lushoto town)

Tel. Mob 0784 50 29 35 or 0784 67 40 46; about 60'000TzSh for the self catered flat, less for the rooms)

Irente Farm is run be the Lutheran Church, hosts a school for disabled children, has a biodiversity project reestablishing the original forest on the extensive grounds of the farm, produces delicious goat and cow cheese, mouth savoring jams, rye bread and quark, and all can be bought in the farm own shop just next to the cottage and rooms for rent. They are self catering, simple and very affordable, next to the old German farm house where now the manager Peter resides. You can go for walks and hikes through the garden landscape with a guide from Irente Farm. About half an hour walk from the farm is Irente view point spectacularely overlooking the Maasai plain from a rock some 1000m above, with no hand rail what so ever. Unfortunately, somebody has also built a huge and ugly hotel just behind, but if you try hard and go early morning you still can immagine old times Tanzania when looking from the view point into the raising mist and the small holder farms on the slopes, and extensive sisal plantations in the plains.

Makao Farm

(Tel. Mob 0754312896/7; www.makoa-farm.com, e-mail: info@makao-farm.com)

Makao Farm is another Colonial Coffee estate in the foot hills of Mount Kilimajaro, just a few kilometers off the main road between Moshi and Arusha (let yourself pick up at the main road, the last kilometers up to the farm are not signposted and difficult to find); Run by a German animal loving couple (including a friendly pack of about 10 dogs, peacocks residing on your car scratching it, and a dangerous warthog locked in a make shift yard), it is a paradise for horse riders. On offer are either rides through the extensive coffee plantations of the farm with great views on Mount Kilimanjaro and across the plain all the way to the Tanzanite mine, or several day horse safaris in the vicinity of National Parks (if you are not afraid of lions said to consider horses as a Sunday roast…). The horse rides are very professionally led, but most horses suitable for advanced riders only, particularly for taller and heavier riders (many are former Polo horses from Arusha). The farm house has been beautifully restored, good food is served on the old terrace around a table with a nice glass of wine and candle light; the new safari tent cottages seemed somber and a bit damp to us, the old restored papaya drier house definitely preferable, with a great little terrace, however inside also quite dark, and one is prone to hit one’s head each time going to bed or leaving it…A very special place, and as they say in their webpage: you are either an animal lover and enjoy it, or otherwise the visit might turn out into a night mare. All in all it seemed a little overpriced to us, with rates ranging from 120 to 180US$ per person and night, not including the rides.

Marangu Hotel, Marangu town on the foot of Kilimanjaro

(Tel. 0754 88 60 92; 027 275 65 94; e-mail: info@maranguhotel.com; http://www.maranguhotel.com/)

On the grounds of a former coffee farm as well, now turned into a park like garden with spacious double roomed cottages, Marangu Hotel is a reminder of the early Kilimanjaro climbing times, when in the village there were just two Hotels catering for mountaineers: Kibo, located slightly higher, and the said Marangu hotel. Investments have been modest for many years and thus all is simple, but value for money (90US$ for a double full board), and even though food still has a distinct “English note” it has over the years become a bit old fashioned, followed by tea and coffee in a large saloon, or you move across to the bar cottage which is nice too. Best of all is early morning coffee in the beautiful gardens surrounded by flowers, in your back Mount Kilimanjaro, and countless birds hanging in the trees to watch. Coffee comes under a warming hat and mugs are colorful – and new! If you do not intend to mount Kili (Marangu Hotel looked like a reliable organizer of Kili tours) the place is great for hikes in the banana and coffee “forest like” landscape of the mostly Chagga community, and numerous water falls; A newly opened shop just adjacent to the market square sells art craft and a good cup of coffee too, and it is nice to climb up to Kibo Hotel for a sundowner – if you are lucky they might even light the fire;

Gibbs Farm

(Tel. 027 253 40 40; http://www.gibbsfarm.com/; e-mail: reservations@gibbsfarm.net)

Gibbs farm has a rich colonial history. Located just on the border of Ngorongoro crater protection area, the logo of the farm does not come as a surprise: a huge elephant track leads behind the farm through the forest like a manmade road, linking the crater with Manyara National Park through now established animal corridors. Guided walks into the protection area are possible, up to the waterfall allowing for great views, and even further to the so called elephant caves, where animals come to lick minerals. The proposed hike to the crater rim as indicated on Gibbs Farm webpage is not always possible, as the trail needs annual clearing, so do not be disappointed.

Margareth Gibbs was a friend of Mary Leakey, the researcher that with her husband passed by often in search of good and fresh farm food, among else! Mary, as the story goes, then had some research money left, which Margareth invested into the first two tourist cottages. Recently, the extensive coffee farm has been sold, more cottages built and upgraded to very luxurious, out of Africa imitation places, beautifully located on a rim. However, they match little with the old farm house, and even less with the cattle and manure piles still maintained behind the house. We stayed in the old house of Margareth Gibbs, with a wonderful fire place, and an own little terrace overlooking the coffee plantation, spacious, and cheapter than the cottages. Food is great, mostly originating from the farm own huge garden, amended with goodies such as an excellent mousse au chocolat! All in all expensive, and prone for more changes into a luxury lodge only, but given its location, just 30Min outside the crater area entrance, still a pearl not to be missed.