My wife and I are just back from a brilliant safari to Selous, Mikumi and Ruaha in Tanzania. We had a fantastic time and although the grass was still a bit high in Selous and Mikumi, due to the later than normal rains, we still had some good game viewing in those areas.
Ruaha was the gem though. It seems to have the same diversity and quantity of wildlife as the Serengeti (minus the wildebeest of course) without the hordes of people. On our all-day game drives we usually came across only two or three other vehicles. We really felt that we had the whole place to ourselves, which is exactly the experience we were after.
We did our safari with The East African Safari and Touring Company (EASTCO), which I had used in 2004 for my northern circuit safari, and again the service was excellent. We stayed at Beho Beho Special Campsite for three nights, one night at Vuma Hills Tented Camp, one night in Iringa (Isimila Hotel) and four nights under canvas once again at Mbagi Special Campsite on the Mwagusi River in Ruaha. We traveled by road from Dar es Salaam, where we had stayed at the superb Sea Cliff Hotel, to Selous Game Reserve via Kibiti. A long drive on some pretty rough tracks but you get to see some interesting villages on the way and because the people see relatively few tourists, they greet you with smiles and waves (especially the children) as you pass through. Photography in Selous at this time of the year is rather difficult as the game is widespread and very nervous (flight distances of 100m/100 yards for even the common impala and zebra!) so every photo has to be earned. Which is a reward in itself really. We did get good photos of giraffe, Nyassa Widebeest, impala, lion, elephant, eland, buffalo, Defassa and common waterbuck, spotted hyena, hippos, crocodiles, Nile monitor, baboons, vervet monkeys and myriad birds. We had an armed ranger in camp with us the whole time we were there as that is Game Department policy if you are staying at a campsite.
The drive to Mikumi NP along the eastern side of the Uluguru Mountains, via Kisaki, was spectacular, passing through villages and small towns and then through the mountains to Morogoro and on to Mikumi. What a road! Rough as guts but I kept thinking about how much we would have missed if we had flown instead. We knew it was going to be rough and were prepared for it. Eight hours to do 260kms! Got some good photos of Colobus monkeys when we stopped for lunch near Matombo.
Vuma Hills was very comfortable. We had tent number 3 with great views over the Mkata floodplains in the distance. We had time for a morning game drive in Mikumi NP and had good sightings of zebra, buffalo, wildebeest, baboons, elephant, impala, giraffe and, again, a multitude of birds. Good photos.
The drive to Iringa, on good bitumen road, was very scenic, following the valley of the Ruaha River for most of the way with interesting geology and some very impressive baobab forests. The Isimila Hotel in Iringa was okay, but one night was sufficient and the following morning we headed out towards Ruaha NP on a good dirt road. Arrived at the gate in time for lunch and then picked up a ranger from park HQ to show us to the campsite which was 20km away and difficult to find. The drive to the campsite was enough to convince me that this is my favourite park in Tanzania. We saw no other vehicles on the way, but animals everywhere. And they don’t run away when you get near! Brilliant! The campsite was on the south bank of the Mwagusi Sand River, in the Mbagi area, surrounded by riverine forest. The dining tent overlooked the dry river bed and we would eat dinner listening to the sounds of the birds, bushbabies and the occasional leopard. The following four days consisted of morning and afternoon game drives (back in camp for brunch) alternating with all-day game drives with lunch boxes. The feeling of isolation was fantastic. We saw and photographed buffalo, impala, zebra, mongooses, elephant (charged twice!), giraffe, kudu, lion families, two big male lions on a bull buffalo kill (with attendant vultures and jackals) and very special sightings of cheetah, serval and leopard. There is an abundance of birds and Ruaha is particularly well endowed with raptors. The scenery is truly spectacular and the baobabs are beautiful trees.
EASTCO did a fabulous job. Bernard, our wonderful guide, has a gift for locating game (he’s a great tracker) and also, very importantly on a safari like this, a great companion. I am proud to call him rafiki yangu, kaka zangu. The camp staff consisted of Paolo the chef (superb meals from a bush kitchen), Hassan, Izekial and Barbolo. They were all very efficient and friendly and made us feel right at home. They worked tirelessly setting up, breaking down and then setting up camp again. The Landrover TDi is a great workhorse and ours performed faultlessly. It had a pop-up roof which provided great sun protection. We are very appreciative of the efforts of Simon and Hartley and the office staff in Arusha for organizing such a successful safari.
I can also highly recommend the Sea Cliff Hotel in Dar es Salaam for those of you who are considering starting you safari from there. Beautiful rooms, with superb views of the Indian Ocean, and a very nice restaurant.
I’ll see what I can do about posting up some photos.
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