Lake Ziway, known in the local language of Oromifa as Hara Dembel, is the largest lake in Ethiopia’s Central Rift Valley and is home to thriving bird populations, resident hippos, and tilapia fish – delicious served grilled with lime!
Five volcanic islands dot Lake Ziway’s surface, with hiking trails, forests, and ancient monasteries to discover. Tulu Gudo is the largest island and is famed for once acting as the hiding place of the Ark of the Covenant. The story goes that King Menelik I, the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, brought the powerful relic to Ethiopia in the 4th century B.C. Hidden deep within the Saint Mary Zion Church’s sacred Holy of Holies in Aksum, the Ark rested peacefully until the 10th century when the violent campaigns of warrior-Queen Yodit Gudit threatened to destroy it. Queen Gudit, the then ruler of Aksum, was known for her destruction of Christian churches, and her crusade to exterminate the rulers of the Axumite dynasty. To protect the Ark, it was carried far south to the island now known as Tulu Gudo, where it remained for some 70 years before being safely returned to Aksum. Those that brought the Ark to Tulu Gudo became known as the Zay people, the guardians of the Ark.
Lake Ziway holds adventures for both culture and nature lovers alike. Due to its important role in Ethiopian Christian history, Tulu Gudo’s Maryan Tsion monastery boasts a number of manuscripts dating back over 1,000 years, that are said to have accompanied the Ark on its journey to the island. For nature lovers, Lake Ziway offers a fantastic variety of aquatic and arboreal bird species on its islands, shoreline, and neighbouring forests. Highlights include the Sacred Ibis, Hammer Kop, and Long-tailed Starling as well as a host of endemic and near-endemic species including the Black-headed Forest Oriole, Abyssinian Catbird, Yellow Fronted Parrot, Black-winged Lovebird, Wattled Ibis,and Thick-billed Raven.