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Pongara National Park - A view from our expert author
One of Gabon’s most accessible parks, Pongara is astonishingly beautiful. Extending for 870km², it was granted protected status because of its diverse scenery – vast mangrove flats, forest, savannah, and of course the beach itself. It harbours a rich and varied birdlife, including the severely threatened Damara terns. The beach at Pongara Point, where the estuary meets the ocean, is famous for the large number of critically endangered leatherback turtles that crawl ashore to lay their eggs here. As in Akanda, Pongara’s mangroves are full of shrimp and young saltwater fish.
Spot humpback whales, leatherback turtles and severely threatened Damara terns in this beautiful and diverse national park.
Spot the increasingly rare Damara terns at this beautiful national park © Magnus Manske
Its forests have remnant populations of monkeys, buffaloes, duikers and even a few chimpanzees and elephants. From November to February, the local environmental organisation Aventures Sans Frontières (ASF, Adventurers without Borders) tries to protect the turtles’ eggs and reduce human-generated threats. ASF follows the turtles by tagging and tracking them, conducts research and runs a turtle hatchery, which plays a big role in the local education programmes. The leatherback turtle also plays a big role in traditional Gabonese stories where, thanks to its cunning, the turtle gets the better of leopards, snakes and crocodiles.
ASF organises wonderful excursions exploring Pongara National Park. As turtles tend to lay their eggs at night, ASF offers to pitch a tent for you right on the beach. You can spend the day walking along the coast on the lookout for turtle traces or join a guided forest tour. All excursions start at ASF’s Pongara Visitor Centre or Sea Turtle Museum, which provides information about turtle biology, threats and conservation issues. The trip is excellent value for money and not expensive: count on 10,000–50,000CFA for the guide(s) and 10,000CFA for a tent. ASF can arrange a ferry from Michel Marine (10,000CFA round trip).
The leatherback turtle also plays a big role in traditional Gabonese stories where, thanks to its cunning, the turtle gets the better of leopards, snakes and crocodiles.
Walking down the endless beach, you pass the idyllic resort La Baie des Tortues Luth, a perfect place for a break. From here, a short hike in the forest takes you to the place where chief Rapontchombo, alias King Denis, was buried for the first time. Rising sea levels forced the villagers to dig the body up and rebury the king someplace deeper in the forest. If you want to visit his current grave, you should ask the village’s chief – who is one of Rapontchombo’s direct descendants – for permission and directions.
Continuing south brings you to Pointe de Ngombé and its lighthouse, which dates from the end of the 19th century. There used to be a nice restaurant here, but it had to close its doors in favour of the planned construction of a new five-star hotel by the Singapore-based Aman Resorts. Climb to the top of the lighthouse for spectacular views of the ocean. From June to September, it’s possible to spot passing humpback whales from up here.