A young gorilla plays near Nkuringo in southern Uganda in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where the endangered animals are fiercely protected.
A young gorilla plays near Nkuringo in southern Uganda in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where the endangered animals are fiercely protected. Glen Morrison

View from the Bwindi Forest

IF a gorilla touches you, pretend to stumble or fall over. If the gorilla knows you are weak, he will not bother with you.

Do not run.

A head ranger is firm with his instructions as I embark on a trek into the dark and mysterious depths of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to track a family of endangered mountain gorillas.

Equipped with walking sticks and instructions on how to avoid a physical interaction with a monstrous silverback, our guide leads us down the steep incline from Nkuringo village into the green below.

I have high expectations for what I might find in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, with a name like something out of a Twilight movie.

Its precarious location in the southern corner of Uganda, bordering the unstable Democratic Republic of Congo, adds to its mystique.

More than half of the world's endangered mountain gorilla population live here - 340 to be exact - while the rest are in neighbouring Rwanda and Congo.

After years of ruthless tyrant leaders and instability, Uganda has slowly emerged as a desirable yet comparatively untouched tourism destination to its more popular African neighbour, Tanzania.

Aware of its growing popularity, the Uganda Wildlife Authority makes a conscious effort to protect the gorilla clans in Bwindi and the strikingly beautiful environment.

The authority only issues eight permits a day for gorilla trekking and groups are allocated one of the six gorilla families in the forest to visit.

Each family has a story. One was discovered as recently as 2007.

It takes several years for families to become comfortable with humans in their environment.

Coming face to face with one of the six mountain gorilla families in Uganda does not disappoint.

As we make our way into the jungle, park rangers - complete with AK47s - keep a watchful eye on us and our surroundings.

Despite my earlier conclusion they are there to protect us from potential dangers emanating from the DRC, our guide Asigario Turyagyenda tells us the gun-toting rangers will protect us from animals, caught unaware by wondering tourists.

Congolese families cross the border into the forest and walk for eight hours, often with kilos of bananas balanced carefully on their heads, to reach a nearby market.

The women, wrapped in brightly coloured fabrics, smile politely as they make their way down the leafy track.

As we walk through the forest, our guide prods at gorilla droppings littering the forest path.

He estimates how old the excrement is and from the fast-paced exchanged between Asigario and one of the rangers, I can sense some excitement.

The ranger points to a tree 15m away and there, peacefully munching on fruit, is a larger-than-life silverback gorilla.

Unaware of the small herd of gawking tourists below, the monstrous animal carries on as its baby plays in the lower branches.

We pull ourselves away with bursting camera memory cards and make our way up the steep, never-ending hillside to Nkuringo.

After making our way through the village, with curious eyes watching our every step, we reach our camp, complete with clean clothes, a bottle of red and a bonfire.

The Nkuringo Gorilla Camp only accommodates a small group of guests and the owners cook up delicious meals for breakfast and dinner.

To top off the camp's extreme hospitality, we are treated to a vibrant, heart-warming song and dance performance from the Nkuringo Youth Initiative Program.

The group teaches local children not to beg but to earn their money through tourism by creating crafts, jewellery and making music.

It might have been the exhaustion but the effort these kids put into their performance, which was in stark contrast to the begging children foreigners see in most of Africa, catch my emotions off-guard.

Gorilla trekking normally involves one day but we are lucky enough to pass gorillas en route to our accommodation.

On the day of our trek, two rangers descend into the forest before us to pinpoint the gorillas' location. Within minutes, we receive word the gorillas are in sight.

Clawing our way through the dense jungle, we approach the gorilla family and come within an arm's length of the huge animals.

Interaction with the mountain gorillas is limited to one hour to minimise stress to the families.

The hour is spent taking countless photos, oo-ing and ah-ing at the gorillas which seemed to be unfazed by our presence.

Our head ranger tells us about some close encounters.

One story involves a woman wearing red lipstick.

The dolled-up lady caught the eye of a silverback during a trek and the monstrous animal approached her, touching his finger to her lips.

Then, as the surrounding trekkers and guides stood frozen in fear, the silverback protectively stood in front of the woman when another gorilla rushed towards her.

Later, our trip concludes with a night at the Birdnest Hotel with amazing views over Lake Bunyonyi.

The gorilla trekking experience provides an intimate insight into the world of one of the most endangered animals.

This includes a glimpse into gorilla family dynamics eerily similar to our own.

It definitely gave me a few tactics to practise at the family dinner table.



How to get there:

  • Emirates flies from Brisbane to Kenya via Dubai starting from $2200 per person return.
  • Air Uganda flys from Nairobi to Entebbe starting from $282 per person return.

Where to stay:

  • Nkuringo Gorilla Camp provides modest, clean cottage-style accommodation from $67 per night.
  • The Birdnest Hotel at Lake Bunyonyi is a beautiful 14-room hotel surrounded by stunning mountainside. From $100 per night.


  • Nkuringo Walking Safaris can organise a trip from Entebbe to Nkuringo, including safaris, airport transfers, canoeing, accommodation and gorilla trekking visas. Costs vary.


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