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Saadani National Park - enthusiastic trip report

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As far as I can see, no-one on this forum had ever posted a full report on a visit to Saadani National Park, on the mainland coast north of Dar Es Salaam. To redress this, and because we - Roger, Julie and Lizzie (15) - have just come back from a safari which started at Saadani, here’s our report. Disclaimers: we are not travel professionals and we haven’t any connection with Tanzania other than as travellers. Our visit was in mid-October and there had been rain a few days earlier, giving a gentle green to the otherwise parched land. Other visitors will have different experiences.

When we arrived at Dar from the overnight flight from Heathrow, our charter plane was waiting to fly us to Saadani. This flight took about 30 minutes (compared to 3-4 hours by road) at a fare of £GB 80 ($US 130) per person, return: a real bargain in my view. For this we got our own private flights - an exciting ‘first’ for all of us - which were timed entirely to fit our own schedule. This gives the lie to the view I’ve heard expressed that Saadani is somehow ‘hard to get to’. Indeed, as the Safari Lodge where we stayed is just five minutes drive from its airstrip, we were at our accommodation, inside a National Park and looking at baboons, little more than 12 hours after leaving Heathrow. I don’t think there are many other safari destinations in Tanzania of which you can say this. (There’s a challenge to regular contributors!)

We were impressed by Saadani Safari Lodge. It is a comfortable, well-equipped and well-run place on the beach, inside the National Park. It is carefully-designed to be a somewhere which is interesting just to be at. There is, for instance, an elevated stargazing platform with big cushions to lie out on at night. There is an attractive library area which is well-stocked with books about animals and nature. (Many quite high-quality lodges seem deficient in this.) There is also a raised hide overlooking a watering hole. (I spent the heat of the day there one day, reading quietly and watching baboons, cranes, warthogs and reedbuck). There is quite a good little souvenir shop, a well-designed swimming pool, and lots of quiet shady spots to laze around. The food is excellent, especially the prawns caught just offshore. Service is attentive, if a bit formal. The spacious tents look out onto the beach and, as well as normal beds, some have ‘veranda beds’ which are virtually out of doors. I will describe these more fully if anyone wants. Julie and I slept ‘outside’ every night, with the sound of the ocean and the cooling breeze.

On our first full day at Saadani we were woken at 5.30 to go on a boat trip up the Wami River. After tea and biscuits this left at 6.30. Although it was early there were already a few sailing boats out with fishermen aboard. One large boat with a red sail was heading for Zanzibar, which is opposite (although not visible). After about 25 minutes of speeding across the ocean, which certainly woke us up, we turned up the mouth of the Wami River, which is wide, meandering and surprisingly fast-flowing. At first there was heavy mangrove forest on both sides. This petered out eventually to give a mixture of open grassland interspersed with trees, including palms. At the top of one of these sat a colobus monkey and in the shade of one foraged a blue Sykes monkey (the only one we saw in a fortnight of safari). Basking by the sides of the river were crocodiles of various sizes. They seemed to be solitary and generally slipped into the water as we went past. At most of the bends in the river there were pods of hippo, watching the boat warily, their eyes and ears just out of the water. One was standing up and another couple had their mouths open threatening each other. All along the river-banks were different birds: egrets, storks, herons, kingfishers, osprey, bee-eaters, weaver-birds, sea eagles…. We watched two kingfishers diving for fish, hovering above the water and then diving vertically. Also several trees full of weaver bird nests with lovely golden weaver birds flitting around and two different kinds of bee eaters nesting in holes in the river bank.

The river bank showed no sign of human activity except for a tiny hamlet near the mouth. At one point, as we approached an apparently unoccupied boat, a flap opened up to reveal the national park ranger. He lived on the boat and we’d woken him up.

Back at the lodge we had a big breakfast and one of our fellow guests had his toast stolen by a vervet monkey.

I now realise that this will need to be Part One of a longer report, as I have more to say than I expected. I still need to write about our game drives in the park and several other things. But I hope I’ve already shown that we got a great lot out of our Saadani trip, which we think has been unfairly overlooked by this forum. Watch this space for more….and if anyone has any questions, fire away.

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