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Trip Report Trip report: Tanzania Northern & Southern Circuits, June-July 2008

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I returned on the 10th August after 8 weeks in Africa visiting Tanzania, Botswana and Namibia. This was my third trip to Africa and a first safari for my traveling companions. I have now spent 120+ nights on safari and 150 nights in Africa. We started out as a party of 4 in Arusha – my aunt (DA), uncle (DU) and a fabulous friend (DF) of many years. All the land content was self-booked with in-country operators. The photos were taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ18 and edited using Picasa software.

http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/Treepol/NTanzania2008 (Northern circuit)

http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/Treepol/STanzania2008 (Southern Circuit)

http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Accommodation2008 (Accommodation)



Highlights

Overall, the Northern Circuit provided unsurpassed game viewing in terms of quantity and variety of fauna, and is an excellent area for a first safari – we saw 55 individual lions on the Northern Circuit. The highlights for me were the serval in the crater, the Blue and Colobus monkeys in Arusha NP, the lioness with cubs and the Hadeda ibis in a dry creek bed, the migration, zebras drinking at the river near the croc, cheetah in the Serengeti, 3 of the big 5 on the crater rim and ‘small creatures day’ in Tarangire NP. The Southern Circuit is memorable for an ongoing lion/buffalo/croc saga, fighting dik-diks and prolific bird sightings.


The Tanzanian itinerary was:

14th June – depart Hobart (overnight Perth)
15th June – depart Perth-JNB (overnight Metcourt Laurel)
16, 17, 18 June – Rivertrees Inn (nr Arusha); day trip to Arusha NP (private vehicle)

Northern Circuit safari (Good Earth Tours; guide is Raphael)

19th June – Lake Manyara, overnight Kirurumu
20th June – 6am start in Lake Manyara NP, overnight Serengeti Sopa
21-22 June – Western Serengeti, overnight Mbalagheti
23rd June – Return to Seronera, overnight Serengeti Sopa
24th June – Drive to Crater, overnight Ngorongoro Sopa
25th June - 6am start in Crater, lunch at Gibbs Farm, overnight Tarangire Safari Camp
26th June - Tarangire NP, overnight Tarangire Safari Camp
27th June - Arusha, overnight Impala

Tanzania Southern Circuit (booked with Foxes)

28th June-2nd July – DF and I fly to Ruaha NP, overnight Ruaha River Lodge
3rd-5th July – Selous Game Reserve, Rufiji River Camp
6th July - depart DAR for JNB (overnight Metcourt Laurel)

Getting there 14th-16th June
DA, DU and myself used frequent flyer points to fly from Tasmania to Johannesburg with an overnight in Perth. DF had opted to fly non-stop to Nairobi from Adelaide via Melbourne, Singapore and Doha.

I left on the 4.50 pm Qantas Hobart-Melbourne flight. It was a pleasant flight to Melbourne where I linked up with DA and DU for the Qantas flight to Perth. We were collected by the Country Comfort Perth Intercity Hotel shuttle where we overnighted. This was an OK hotel with a good breakfast buffet the next morning.

We enjoyed a comfortable flight from Perth to Johannesburg as the plane was only a third full. I watched the Bucket List before landing at ORTIA and quickly completed Immigration and Customs formalities. We located the Emperor’s Palace and were soon on our way to the Metcourt Laurel. The Metcourt Laurel is a fine hotel with large comfortable rooms, tea-making facilities and access to a Food Court which provides foods to meet all tastes and budgets.

Next morning, the obliging staff at the Metcourt ensured we had a full breakfast even though we were very early. Returned to ORTIA on the 6.25 airport shuttle for onward flights with time for quick duty free purchases Amarula and Amarula chocolates (me) and Scotch (DU) before flying to DAR (me) and Nairobi (DA and DU). I hope that DA will provide a post on their time in Nairobi with comments on accommodation and excursions.

DF had a much more dramatic start to her safari when her flight from Adelaide to Melbourne was cancelled, jeopardizing an international connection :`( . However, being a resourceful traveler, she phoned Qantas and reserved one of the last seats (only Business Class remaining) whilst waiting in the Virgin Blue queue. Bouquets to Virgin Blue for picking up this tab =D> .

I had a pleasant flight to DAR and a long afternoon waiting to check-in baggage for the Kilimanjaro flight. I met some fellow Australians who were on the same flight so we spent the afternoon exchanging safari stories. The Air Tanzania plane was 2 hours late ‘due to the late arrival of the aircraft’ and we finally departed for KIA at 9.30 pm with a very quick stop on Zanzibar. Arrived at KIA where it was raining and cold at 10.35 pm. I was met by Raphael (who came to be known as Rapha), and finally arrived at Rivertrees after 11 pm where Zablon showed me to my room and kindly bought tea and muffins after which I finally made it to bed around midnight. Still raining.

17th June – Rivertrees, Usa River, near Arusha

I slept in next morning and had a late breakfast with delicious spicy sausages and German breads. Still raining, so I couldn’t do the bird walk, but rather explored the gardens and accommodation instead. My room (No 9 or Black-bellied starling) was in the Main House which was the original farmhouse. It contained 2 beds with mosquito nets, a writing desk, chest of drawers, basketry items and African floor rugs. I particularly liked the buckets of locally grown fresh roses that were replaced every 3 days. A heat pump was installed but I didn’t need to use it. The bathroom was huge with loo, bidet, hand basin, shower over bath and plenty of hot water.

The living areas of the Main House had been converted into a common area with comfy chairs, television, books and some photos of the property from the 1940’s. I don’t think the area received much use as the only activity I heard was the ‘clean team’ each morning.

The gardens at Rivertrees are extensive with 2 Garden Cottages by the river and the upmarket River House for more secluded accommodation. I discovered a newly planted kitchen garden, flowering banana trees, the swimming pool and 2 trails of safari ants well away from the accommodation. My first bird was a bulbul in a magnificent pink bougainvillea tree and later an African pied wagtail. Blue monkeys lived in the trees next door.

Rivertrees is a friendly, informal and comfortable to place to stay accommodating a maximum of 24 guests. Martina and the staff work hard to make guests feel at home by learning names and making time to chat. The open plan common areas such as the restaurant, kitchen, lounge and bar areas contribute to the ambience. Martina is proud of the Rivertrees kitchen which provides delicious home-cooked food and she is also actively engaged in providing training opportunities to local staff in management and other specialized hospitality tasks. Some staff already have accountancy and book-keeping qualifications. Staff accommodation was located at the back of the property and everyone I saw had a smart uniform and a friendly smile. The gift shop sold mostly beadwork and DF and I both bought necklaces here. The shop raises funds for a local charity that assists women recently released from gaol who have no family or community support. Martina showed us some new stock that had just arrived from Kenya – elephants that had been ‘carved’ from compacted old rubber thongs washed up on beaches. They were surprisingly light for the size.

DF, DA and DU arrived at KIA around 6 pm and Rapha kindly took me to the airport to meet them. We all caught up over dinner and discussed plans for the next day. Marilyn, if you are reading this I did remind Rapha of the time that Brian was chased by the wart-hog. He laughed at the memory and said that you were very brave!

18th June – Arusha NP

Rapha collected DF and I for a day trip to Arusha NP. DA and DU opted for a car and driver to visit St. Judes School and a local rose grower. DA, DU and I have now sponsored a student named Simon and I am looking forward to keeping in touch with both him and St Judes.

Arusha NP was very green with lots of water - the lakes were full and the roads were muddy. We read about the park on the information boards at the gate and our first stop was at the little Serengeti where we saw a chin-spot batis, gray heron, hamerkop, black-headed Heron, warthog, giraffe, zebra and some crowned cranes in flight. Driving to Ngurdoto Crater we saw a red-backed duiker and a large troop of baboons that we sat with for about 20 minutes. A violet-backed sunbird and white-browed coucal were sighted at the Crater lookout and a few buffalo on the Crater floor. However, the many game tails indicate the area is popular with large animals.

The park contains well established strangler fig trees that lent an eerie atmosphere to the wet forest. We saw 3 Blue Monkeys and later stopped at a dry dam where giraffe, warthog, waterbuck, zebra and buffalo were easily viewed. Lunch was eaten at a lookout near the lakes where a sunbird was flitting between the flowers and a female grey breasted francolin searched hopefully for crumbs. The male was very lame and we watched him make slow progress towards the lunch area to arrive just as we were leaving. There was a flock of flamingoes at Momella Lakes in a long pink row extending for about a kilometre. During the afternoon we spotted the first of many black-shouldered kites, a female bushbuck and a yellow-breasted longclaw. Eventually the clouds around Mt Kilimanjaro cleared and we were able to see the snow-covered peaks. The last major sight of the day was two black and white colobus monkeys high in the trees. I hadn’t realized how handsome they are and how that spectacular tail streams behind them as they leap through the trees. Returning to Rivertrees we saw speckled mousebirds and caught a glimpse of a paradise flycatcher.

19th June, Rivertrees to Lake Manyara NP

The day began with pre-breakfast excitement when DU accidentally switched on the security alarm when searching for the hot water control. Within a couple of minutes there were 3 security guards at unit 5 to sort out the problem! :-] After breakfast Rapha drove us to the Good Earth office for a pre-safari briefing where we discovered that our upgrade to the Serengeti Serena had not been communicated to the Arusha office and that we were staying at the Sopa. GE apologized for the communication breakdown and cheerfully refunded $180 in cash.

We traveled in a new 7-seater Land Cruiser that was out on its second safari. The vehicle was comfortable with good vision and Rapha was a knowledgeable, entertaining and thoughtful guide who I recommend to anyone booked on a GE safari.

We had an uneventful drive to Lake Manyara with a stop at the Visitor’s Centre and lunch at the picnic area. During the afternoon we saw a pair of mating lions, and whilst the male was curious the lioness was very shy. Other sightings included a gray hornbill, several ‘sitting’ giraffes, a ground hornbill, a long-tailed mongoose, elephant, vervet and blue monkeys, crowned plover, helmeted guineafowl, yellow-billed storks, gray heron, giant egret, hamerkop, hippo, spoonbills, flamingos and great white pelicans.

We spent the night at Kirurumu Lodge on the escarpment. This is a pleasant place with amazing views from the terrace over Lake Manyara preferably whilst enjoying a G&T. The food was tasty and good quality, especially the roast lamb we had for dinner. The tents were comfortable with individual verandahs giving a view of the lake and the staff helpful and friendly. Maasai blankets made colourful bed covers and there was a good shower with lots of hot water. The camp was clean and tidy with well maintained gardens and walkways.

20th June – Serengeti

At breakfast I watched a laughing dove in a nearby tree carefully observing the dining room. Later we stopped at Karatu post office for DF to post parcels home and once this was completed we departed for the Serengeti. The weather closed in around the Visitor’s Centre at the entrance to the NCA where we saw a guide wearing an Australia Zoo shirt. The mist thickened as we climbed higher - in some places it was impossible to see the Crater floor from the road. Rapha made a photo stop at the top of the descent road for Crater views where a dead spotted hyena was being eaten by white-necked ravens.

Visibility improved as we descended to the Serengeti Plain. Lunch was eaten at Naabi Hill Gate where many superb and Hildebrandt’s starlings and red-billed buffalo weavers hopped around searching for crumbs. Later we climbed Naabi Hill and saw a sun-baking blue and pink male agama lizard. Driving further into the Serengeti we saw many Capped Wheat-ears and female agama lizards on the roadside and the first herd of Serengeti elephants. Two small calves were pushing and shoving until they became tired and when the show ended in a stand-off. Other birds seen this afternoon were a pair of black-shouldered kites, lappet faced vultures and a green wood hoopoe.

Arrived at the Serengeti Sopa around 6 pm and were greeted by impala at the turn-off. The Sopa is struggling with the housekeeping, maintenance, food and dining-room service being unremarkable (although only dinner was particularly bad). The pseudo-Moroccan décor is dated. On the upside, the rooms were large with a generous-sized bathroom and big shower area. There was a good view from the rooms over the Serengeti and a pleasant bar terrace. The staff choir sang after dinner adding a musical element to the evening. The waiter kindly supplied me with plastic cups and ice when we returned 2 days later so that we could enjoy the duty-free Amarula with lunch.

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    21st June, Serengeti-Mbalagheti

    Early this morning we saw a lioness and 3 cubs in a dry creek bed. There were 3 Hadeda ibis in the foreground together with a Ruppell’s Long tailed Starling and a Blacksmith Plover. We watched the lions for a while remarking on the blood on the cubs paws and faces.

    Other sightings in this area included several magpie shrikes and 3 young vervet monkeys. Rapha drove alongside a creek bed following footprints in an unsuccessful search for a leopard. As we drove into Seronera area we saw a black-winged stilt, three-banded plover, Hunter’s sunbird, an African fork-tailed drongo, black-headed heron and a busy black crake. Lions were plentiful in Seronera with a sighting of a mating pair, a small pride snoozing right on the roadside and a well-camouflaged young male only 3-4 metres from the vehicle.

    Lunch was eaten at the Seronera picnic site where we did the nature walk and found a young rock hyrax lying in the sun. After lunch we sighted the lions again and this time one was contemplating a distant giraffe. Closer to the Mbalagheti River we saw speckled mousebirds and a Ruppell’s gryphon vulture. Arrived at Mbalagheti in the late afternoon and were shown to our rooms with plenty of time to get ready for dinner which that night was a delicious Thai-themed buffet.


    22nd June, Mbalagheti area

    This morning as we left Mbalagheti a large troop of baboons was beginning to move away from their night roost in a tree that overhung the river. Sunrise broke over the nearby hills lighting the grass plains that were dotted with wildebeest and a large clan of hyenas returning from a night’s hunting. Other sights included a mother and young hippo almost covered in water cabbage, a squacco heron, marabou storks catching the early sun, a Nile monitor, yellow-billed and saddle-billed storks, a yellow-throated longclaw that eventually flew into a nearby tree with an insect in its beak, rufous-tailed weavers and a gray-backed shrike. While I was walking around the Lodge in the afternoon I saw a Speckled Pigeon intently watching a lizard high on the wall behind the pool.

    We arrived 5 days too late for the main migration crossing at the Grumeti however, there were still thousands of wildebeest and zebra in the Mbalagheti area. We spent a lot time watching them mill about, run backwards and forwards searching for lost calves and running in long lines towards the river. During the afternoon game drive we saw a colony of dwarf mongooses on a termite mound and spotted more lions near an unoccupied seasonal camp.

    I was pleased to meet Anna, another Fodorite at Mbalagheti. Anna had read my itinerary and noted that we would cross paths at Mbalagheti, where she had been looking out for a party of 4 Aussies. Hello to Michael and Anna from the UK if you are reading this. Hope your safari continued to be as good as it started out.

    Mbalagheti Lodge was a great property. Tea, coffee and muffins were always available in the Welcome Centre together with complementary Internet access. The food was excellent and the views from the pool and dining areas were spectacular. Zebra were almost always in view and could be clearly heard on the plains below. The dining room was quite a walk from the lodge rooms and we quite enjoyed the exercise that this provided. Masaai escorted guests to and from the dining room at night.


    23rd June – Mbalagheti to Serengeti

    We left Mbalagheti around 8am and the day’s game viewing began at the bridge near the baboon tree when Rapha spotted safari ants crossing the road and further on we saw a tawny eagle eating a small kill. As we left Mbalagheti the heavily used game trails on the surrounding hills made distinctive patterns more obvious from a distance. We stopped as hundreds of wildebeest and zebra thundered past the vehicle on their way to the river. The animals were partly obscured by clouds of dust and acacia thorns that created a good backdrop for photos. There were many grass fires in this area of the Serengeti, some still burning and large tracts of burnt grass through which the established game trails were still visible. There was a small herd of Burchell’s zebra in this area, many carrying ox-peckers. One female had given birth within minutes of our arrival, yet try as we might, we couldn’t see the foal.

    Further along we saw 2 Secretary birds and a large pride of lions resting in a sandy river bed. During the night they had killed a wildebeest and while we watched a monitor lizard approached the carcass to be driven off by a young lion that began to feed again. A patient hooded vulture sat below the vehicle waiting for the lions to leave. We were concerned about a lioness that had a snare around her stomach and Rapha assured that another guide had undertaken to report this animal to the Serengeti Lion Project staff – I suspect they received multiple notifications! As it happened, we saw the SLP vehicle at Naabi Hill the next day and Rapha checked to see what had been done for the lioness. The guys that he spoke to were working in the Eastern Serengeti and hadn’t heard of the injured animal but they were going to contact the relevant staff who would remove the snare if this hadn’t already been done. I sincerely hope someone took care of her [-o< .

    Driving back towards Seronera we crossed a river where hippos and a crocodile lazed about 20 metres upstream. There was a herd of 150-200 zebras intending to drink and we wondered if the crocodile would make a kill. Rapha parked so that we could watch, while I hoped that the croc wasn’t hungry. Small groups came down to drink, at times wading shoulder deep to reach the cleanest water whilst others, including the foals were content to drink from the shallows. Every now and then, something would spook the drinking animals and they would turn almost as one and crash out of the water and up the bank where they stood with tossing heads and twitching tails before once again approaching the river to drink – and no, the crocodile didn’t make a kill while we watched. A Green-backed heron oversaw this drama from his overhanging perch.

    We had lunch in the partially built picnic area at the Retima Hippo Pool. Fortunately, the bees hadn’t discovered this spot yet and our dining companions were noisy, colourful Ruppell’s long-tailed starlings. Rapha showed us crocodiles, a little bee-eater and a monitor lizard upstream from the pool and also warned us about the ‘wait a bit’ thorns. Retima Pool was full of hippos, including a mating pair and the water already looked stale this early in the dry season. Later, on the way to Seronera we passed a herd of eles where one youngster had a badly injured trunk that she kept putting in her mouth. Rapha said elephants could live with short trunks, although later a Ruaha guide said that lions kill young eles by biting the trunk and waiting for the animal to bleed to death. I still wonder if she survived or not.

    Cheetah! We were very lucky to catch glimpses of three cheetah feeding on an impala kill. Whilst the cheetahs mostly kept their heads down, they eventually left the kill with ‘balloon’ bellies and began to groom before heading back to the plains. As we were leaving, a spotted hyena was walking towards the kill. The last animal sighting for this rich game-viewing day was a peaceful herd of elephants feeding in the golden afternoon light. One cheeky calf ran towards the vehicle, peering at us from behind a bush at the roadside.

    Other sightings on this day included a long-crested eagle, brown snake eagle, Kirk’s dik-dik, a gray-backed shrike and a bare-faced lourie.

    24th June, Serengeti-Ngorongoro Crater

    We left the Sopa at 8 am and our first sighting was a large pride of lions close to where we had seen the lioness and cubs 2 days before. At Seronera we didn’t find a leopard however, we did see a white-browed coucal, a preening fish eagle, a common reedbuck and a wire-tailed swallow. Driving towards Simba Koppies we saw a lone lioness hunting in the long grass and later found where she had hidden her cubs near the side of the road. Unfortunately, there were no big cats at Simba Koppies, however, on a backroad to Naabi Hill we found a pair of lions.

    The male seemed quite old and had a magnificent mane and the female was attempting to hunt Thompson’s Gazelle. We watched as small groups nervously ran past her hiding place, yet she didn’t strike but followed them to an open area. We ate lunch, accompanied by the duty-free Amarula while the unsuccessful hunt continued. Before too long we left for the Crater with a brief stop at Naabi Hill to check out the gift shop and Rapha spoke to the SLP staff about the lioness with the snare. It was an uneventful afternoon until we got to the Crater rim where we saw 3 buffalo and unbelievably, a leopard.

    Driving towards the Sopa in the foggy dusk, all of a sudden there was a leopard on the road right in front of us! He casually strolled down the road stopping to sniff the vegetation and once to scent mark - we followed him for about 300 metres before he disappeared into thick foliage. We arrived at the Sopa in the dark and the cold, and were relived to find that the large rooms were so warm and cosy that it was difficult to leave for dinner. The rooms had been renovated earlier in the year receiving a new paint job and a bathroom makeover. The food here was very good and for dinner we had delicious peppered beef fillet for mains and homemade ice-cream for dessert.

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    25th June, Crater to Tarangire

    We met Rapha in the coffee bar at 6am for hot drinks and biscuits before braving the dark, freezing morning and Crater descent. Eles crossed the road as we drove to the gate, completing our sighting of 3 of the big 5 on the Crater rim. DU spotted movement on the side of a depression as we descended and Rapha excitedly told us this was a ‘new animal for you, new animal’ which had us all on our feet, and identified the small cat as a serval =D> . Wow! The serval was leaping at a bird which fluttered just out of reach. Luckily, it walked closer and sat grooming before ambling over to the vehicle stopping within about 4 metres of us when we saw that it had a damaged eye. This was a very special sighting that lasted for about 20 minutes, and remains a highlight of my 8 weeks in Africa.

    Next up was a pride of lions approaching a herd of zebra. The lions weren’t hunting as they had 5 three month old cubs with them, however the zebra were understandably nervous and maintained a safe distance from the cats. The cubs were practice hunting on their mothers and would run up behind them and either try to trip them up or attempt to leap on their backs. The lionesses were very patient, occasionally flinching or snarling when the cubs sharp teeth and claws found their mark. We also saw buffalo, spotted hyena and a rhino that was lying in long grass before stopping at Ngoitokitok Spring for breakfast. The hippos were huddled together for warmth in the water and the yellow-billed kites looked on as we ate in the vehicle. Long lines of buffalo were winding up towards the foothills of the crater and a few zebra stopped to stare. After breakfast we drove to Lake Magadi where many wildebeest were drinking, one with a very short-tail. The lake shallows were thick with flamingos and the golden jackals were pacing, looking for easy prey. Also seen were crowned cranes and an immature Kittlitz plover. We left the Crater after a drive through the Le Rai forest where there were many leopard prints but sadly, no leopards for DA.

    We traveled to Gibbs Farm for lunch which was mostly a salad buffet with a few hot dishes and good desserts. Next time, I’ll try Ngorongoro Farmhouse for lunch as Gibbs Farm was further off the road than I had realized and consider Gibbs Farm for an overnight stay. The magnificent gardens and the coffee plantation provide an authentic African backdrop and the garden was alive with birds. A paradise flycatcher landed briefly on the roof and a Reichenow’s weaver perched on an outdoor chairback. The garden seats looked perfect for a lazy afternoon’s birding.

    Departed Gibbs Farm for Tarangire where we arrived late in the afternoon. Rapha stopped to assist a Ranger Safaris vehicle that had battery trouble and DU was delighted to get under the bonnet with the other guys whilst we examined amarula fruit that had fallen from a nearby tree – so that’s what the raw material looks like! A yellow-necked spurfowl and 2 zebras were soaking up the last of the sun. Arrived at Tarangire Safari Camp and settled into our bungalows before calling the escort to walk us to the bar for pre-dinner G&Ts.

    26th June, Tarangire NP ‘Small Creatures Day’

    We left the lodge with breakfast boxes, not quite sure what we would see. Late June isn’t the best for wildlife viewing in Tarangire NP, however Rapha named this small creatures day as we concentrated on birds, plants and small things – OK, there were a couple of ele stops in there too. Early sightings included a crested francolin, a hamerkop fishing and a male Namaqua dove. The crested francolin is incredibly noisy and later in the day we heard one desperately calling for a lost mate. We ate breakfast – cinnamon rolls, sausages, egg, bacon, juice, yoghurt and hot tea and coffee - at the picnic spot above the Tarangire River before returning to the Lodge for lunch and later, an afternoon game drive. DF and I wrote postcards watched by dik-diks grazing nearby and absorbed the surrounding sounds and sights of the park from the Terrace.

    Small creatures seen today included 2 gray-backed shrikes, a buff-crested bustard, a pair of Namaqua doves, ashy starlings, bare-faced louries, white-headed buffalo weavers (one of which closely observed our breakfast), Kirks dik-dik, an African hoopoe and a bee’s nest. Rapha stopped at an impala ‘bachelor’s club’ where the males were scuffling and fighting, testing each other’s strength. They were all testy, continuously jostling and there was clearly a pecking order operating. It was funny to see these aggressive males run for cover after being spooked by a warthog before the largest and most aggressive impala returned to ‘see him off’ by running at the warthog with antlers lowered.

    Driving on, we found a well camouflaged tree hyrax, tree squirrels, a white-bellied lourie, brown parrots, iponia or trumpet flowers, rock hyrax, white-backed vulture and many yellow-collared lovebirds. The afternoon drive yielded a tawny eagle, baboons, a red-necked spurfowl with chicks, another hoopoe and an augur buzzard. The Tarangire sunset was memorable because of the baobab trees which were sharply etched against the late golden sun.

    This was my second stay at the Tarangire Safari Lodge. This trip I stayed in a bungalow and with hindsight a tent would have been preferable, especially as the old green tents with dodgy zips were replaced earlier this year. This is one of my favourite lodges, and even though it is rustic and doesn’t have white fluffy towels, the superb location on the bluff overlooking the escarpment, friendly staff and warm welcome in the bar/dining area are more important to me. I awoke to birdsong each morning and tea was delivered on request - it was so peaceful to sit outside and watch the park wake-up. The food was tasty and the cinnamon rolls were a treat.

    27th June, Tarangire NP to Arusha

    We were sad at breakfast on this last day of the Northern Circuit safari. The morning game drive showed us more yellow-collared lovebirds that from a distance looked like flowers in the trees, a Nile monitor lizard, a sunbaking hamerkop and a white-headed buffalo Weaver. Rapha stopped at a baobab tree known as Poacher’s Hide and found brightly coloured Fruit Chafers feeding on the flesh of the baobab nut. Later we saw a pygmy falcon that was huddled up against the cold, a wattled starling sans wattles as it wasn’t breeding season and 2 ‘dancing’ red-billed hornbills performing a courtship ritual.

    Our final lunch was shared in the picnic area at the entrance to the park where we finished the Amarula and thanked Rapha for a wondrous safari experience. We arrived back in Arusha late in the afternoon and checked-in to the Impala Hotel. DF and I had to make a 15 kg baggage limit for a small plane flight to Ruaha the next day and this had been causing some concern. DU had bought his spring-loaded scales and we were relieved when our combined bags weighed 28kg.

    The Impala Hotel is OK for an overnight stay. My room was large with a lounge area, fridge and good hot water supply although DA and DU had a small room and DF had a poor hot water supply so the standard of the accommodation varies considerably. There was a reasonably priced gift shop and good Internet access. Dinner tonight was a delicious Indian meal after which we retired as DA and DU had an early start (3 am wake-up) for the onward flight to DAR and South Africa. The Impala serve masala chai at breakfast – yummy!


    28th June, Ruaha NP

    Nicholas from GE transferred DF and I from the Arusha Hotel to the Arusha Airport for our 8 am Coastal Flight to Mtemere via Lake Manyara, Dodoma and Jongamero. The morning was cloudy and the flight was slightly delayed. As we took off from Lake Manyara airstrip the escarpment suddenly dropped away from beneath the plane and then we were over the Rift Valley floor and Lake Manyara – and there were flamingos on the lake! :-D It wasn’t quite like Out of Africa, but you get the idea. The pilot stopped at Dodoma for a quick fuel stop, very quick because a VIP flight was scheduled to take-off after only 20 minutes after we landed and he didn’t want to be delayed as a result. The plane made a short stop at Jongamero after which we spotted elephants, impala, hippos and kudu as we flew along the river to Mtemere.

    Arrived at Ruaha River Lodge (RRL) in time for a late lunch and settled into our bandas before the afternoon game drive. Stephen was our guide and we saw a white-headed lapwing, a rufous crowned roller, giraffe bones from a week old lion kill, and a brown parrot. Ruaha turned on some of its magic this first evening with an amazing sunset that threw rays of purple, red and golden light over the park.

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    29th June, Ruaha NP

    We decided to book a private vehicle for 4 days at Ruaha. The first day we did a morning and afternoon game drive with Nigo (Francis) and Ndanzi – what a great team. Early on we saw two male dik-diks fighting, how comical to see these tiny antelope scrapping over 500m of territory, however size issues aside, this was a serious fight evidenced by the foot-stamping and aggressive posturing. Nigo is the most experienced leopard spotter at RRL, and sure enough a flock of squarking guinea fowl above a rocky creek seemed to indicate that a leopard was around, no sighting though. Later in the morning we found a large pride of lions comprising 5 adults and 14 older cubs. Lying on the road they weren’t too concerned about the vehicle, however when a lioness appeared further down most of the cubs ran to greet her en masse. Closer to the river we saw (and heard!) three male impalas threatening a fourth – the hissing was audible from 40-50m away and the interloper wisely turned and ran. Driving back to camp we saw a herd of elephants peacefully feeding and noticed one busily scratching his butt on a convenient rock. The highlight of the afternoon drive was a family of 3 bat-eared foxes quietly lying in the late afternoon sun and the last sight of the day was a family of elephants peacefully drinking in a quiet river pool. Other sightings today included black-faced sand-grouse, rufous-chested swallow, a pair of D’Arnauds barbets, rufous crowned rollers, a wild bee hive, a white-headed plover, a male kudu with magnificent horns and a large flock of ring-necked doves.

    An enjoyable aspect of RRL was the nightly walk to and from the dining room with Mariso, a Masaai from Ngorongoro. Mariso and Stephen were brothers who had traveled south to get work and Mariso would teach DF and I a few Swahili words on the walk each evening – I keep finding these in my notebook where I had to write them down, otherwise they would be forgotten before morning. On the first night a large animal crossed the river in front of my banda in the early morning hours – initially I thought it was an elephant, however, dung on the path next morning indicated a hippo.

    30th June, Ruaha NP

    This was our first day with Josephat as guide and like Nigo he is a keen spotter and willingly shares his deep knowledge of the park and its flora and fauna, including the regular haunts of animals such as leopard, klipspringer and bat-eared foxes. For those of you who know Josephat, he is getting married in November at Mifundi. He didn’t tell us this himself, but one of his friends working at Rufiji River Camp passed this on.

    Josephat pointed out a 10 year old baobab making slow progress towards adulthood – it was only about 12-14” high before driving a short distance upriver to see an injured male lion that had been kicked by a giraffe or zebra the previous week. Thankfully, he was making a steady recovery and easily walked to the river to drink whilst a juvenile bateleur kept watch from a nearby tree. Other sights this morning were an African hawk eagle, a little bee-eater and a brown snake eagle. Just before lunch we found 2 monitor lizards on a fallen tree near the river. This afternoon Josephat spotted a solitary lioness, however when we approached we found a pride of lions relaxing after gorging on a giraffe kill. We spent some time checking out the remains of the giraffe, not that there was much left. Nearer to RRL we found a film-maker who had set up his gear on the road in order to film a chameleon. His driver had seen it crossing the road after which it disappeared into a tree and turned itself into a leaf! It took me ages to identify it among the foliage, and even then I thought that not only was it leaf-coloured, but leaf-shaped as well (-:

    This evening lions roamed around outside the lodge area and up near the staff camp before slowly roaring their way downriver and an impala grazed outside my banda just after dawn.

    1st July, Ruaha NP

    Today we returned to the giraffe carcass located yesterday. It had been picked clean by hyenas, jackals and vultures after we left the previous day and I thought that the abandoned ribcage, legs and feet were a sad sight. However, later we saw a female giraffe with a 2 day old youngster. He had very wobbly legs and cute tufts of hair where the horns would eventually appear. I do hope he survives in this lion infested area [-o< . Several vultures sitting in tree tops led us to the pathetic remains of an impala killed sometime during the previous night.

    Returning upriver, we saw a herd of buffalo resting uneasily in the shade, some were staring intently and anxiously towards the river. We soon discovered why when we found a male lion lying beside a dead buffalo that was lying on its back with 4 feet in the air and the exhausted lion was lying in the shade of the carcass.

    Other sightings today were a pair of D’Arnaud’s barbets, black faced sandgrouse, red-necked spurfowl, a beehive, several saddle-billed storks and yellow-vented bulbuls at the lunch spot.

    Tonight an elephant came to feed twice to the tamarind tree outside my banda where I could hear him breaking branches, chewing and quietly snorting. Next morning a few over-turned stones, lots of tamarind pods and a few broken sticks were the only clue to his visit.

    2nd July, Ruaha NP

    Josephat made an early stop at a waterhole where we watched guinea fowl, ring-necked doves, golden-breasted bunting, red-cheeked cordon bleus and a red-billed firefinch drinking and preening. He drove past the bat-eared fox den but unfortunately they weren’t in sight. We went back to check on the buffalo kill and found that both haunches and most of the stomach had been eaten indicating there were more lions around. After lunch we ventured beyond Mwagusi Camp crossing a sand river bed that attracted elephant, baboons, giraffe and impala. Josephat found 7 lionesses relaxing under a tree in the midday heat, 2 were on their backs totally relaxed. This group had a rank, meaty smell about them, something I hadn’t noticed anywhere else this trip. A few hundred metres away a male lion was resting in the shade – he had many old war wounds and Josephat though he would be about 9 years old. The Ruaha males that we saw didn’t have big manes, rather they were a bit wispy and immature looking except for their size and battle scars. Closer to the lodge we found a poor old lion that was in a bad way. He had lacerations to the hind legs and was so lame in the foreleg that he could barely hobble around to change his resting position. He didn’t seem to have any facial injuries so I don’t know if he had been fighting or injured whilst hunting. I hope he recovered sufficiently to get to water before another lion or hyena found him.

    The only visitor to my banda (that I knew of) was an Emerald Spotted Dove that quietly foraged under the tamarind tree while I watched from the deck in the late afternoon.


    3rd July, Ruaha NP, Selous

    This morning departing guests opted for a morning game drive in a shared vehicle. DF and I were traveling with Nigo and Ndanzi and after a quick check at the bat-eared fox den we headed down river once more. Everyone was pleased to have one last look at the lion and buffalo and was wondering how much meat would be left this morning. Well – big surprise because the lion was lying next to a 5-6 foot crocodile he had presumably killed during the night. The croc’s stomach had been partially removed and the flesh around the hind legs and tail was partially eaten. Once we had finished exclaiming at this unusual sight we noticed that the buffalo carcass was fairly clean – a jackal was worrying what remained on the skull and a single vulture sat patiently waiting for the scraps. Josephat told me later that he thought the buffalo had scented the buffalo and been killed by the lion when he came to feed on the remains of the carcass. He said he had never known a lion to kill a croc before, but it seemed that was the most likely explanation.

    Ruaha NP is a very special place, and although it required some patience because the game density is nowhere near that of the Northern Circuit, the viewing is exceptional. I will remember the fighting dik-diks, 2 day old giraffe, many lions, saddle-billed storks and the monitors in the tree for many years to come, to say nothing of that lion/buffalo/croc story. The birdlife was prolific and easily viewed and the sand rivers, baobabs and palm trees give this park a distinctive habitat. t. The game drives start between 8-8.30 as we were told that the game doesn’t come down to the river to drink until the day begins to warm up. This meant that we missed any early morning predator activity, although there was no shortage of lazy lions. All up we saw 56 lions in Ruaha NP.

    Whilst I would like to return to Ruaha sometime, I would investigate other accommodation options such as Old Mdonya as I have posted previously on another thread. I wouldn’t return to RRL because both DF and I got sick at different times during our stay. The food was of varying quality, and the dining and serving staff were reserved, and whilst not unfriendly, seemed uncomfortable talking to guests. Joseph the barman was the exception to this! I would have appreciated some electricity in my banda between 6.30-7.30 am to light the bathroom which was dark in the early morning due to small windows and a low thatch roof. Rather, the power was switched on between 9-1 when most guests were on game drives. The bathroom was fine at other times of the day. Power was also provided between 6.30-10.30 at night. Unfortunately, no comments form was given to departing guests at RRL, however I noted my opinion of RRL on the comments form at Rufiji River Camp (purchased by Foxes in late 2007) upon departure.


    The flight to Selous lasted about 1 hour 15 minutes. The landscape was varied, with much of the country similar to Ruaha. There was a lot of small scale intensive agriculture although at one point we flew over a large commercial sugar cane plantation. The landscape became more riverine the closer we got to Selous with bright green vegetation around watercourses and in some places hippos were visible from the air. Charlie from Rufiji River Camp drove us the 1 kilometre from the airport to the camp, pointing out giraffe and impala on the way. After settling into our tents, we opted for the evening river safari which departed at 4 pm.

    DF and I were the only passengers this evening and as we set out upriver we saw a golden weaver, white-fronted bee-eaters, a giant kingfisher, yellow-billed storks, a great white egret, open-billed storks and just before sunset a flock of white-faced whistling ducks, and yes, they really did whistle. The driver stopped the boat while 5 elephants crossed the river in front of us. Highlights were the white-fronted bee eater colony and open-billed stork sightings. The white-fronted bee-eaters were settling in for the night, with many perched on branches over-hanging the bank whilst others caught the last of the sun from the entrance to their burrows. One open-billed stork was having a last hunt while others had already settled onto their nests. These really do have open bills that let water escape whilst trapping any food scooped out of the river. I was intrigued to see daylight through the profile of the permanently ‘open’ bill.

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    4th July, Selous

    This morning DF and I joined the morning river safari to the bird island. A cheeky wire-tailed swallow hitched a ride upriver, sheltering beneath the canvas roof. Birds spotted included a brown-headed kingfisher, a pair of giant kingfishers, an African skimmer, Goliath heron and open-billed stork. We stopped on a small island mid-river for drinks during the morning where one guest almost stepped on a well camouflaged African skimmer nest containing 2 eggs. The numerous tracks indicate that the island is frequently visited by crocodiles and hippos.

    The bird island was densely covered in nests and very noisy. The predominant species were black-headed herons, sacred ibis, African darters, gray herons, spoonbills, egrets and open-billed storks and most nests had young of varying ages. The boat circled the island slowly while we photographed birds caring for their young, before heading back to camp for a late lunch.

    The river cruises provided a pleasantly cool wildlife viewing experience. Selous was very hot with temperatures in the high twenties and the humidity was noticeable but not uncomfortable. I was pleased I had packed a cheesecloth top for these few days. As we cruised, crocs slipped slowly into the river and hippo snouts were commonly seen. Game seen at the river edge included buffalo, waterbuck, elephant, giraffe, impala and bushbuck.

    DF opted to miss the evening game drive due to illness – shame, because we found the small pack of wild dogs frequently seen within a few kilometres of the lodge. The dogs were relaxing in the late sun and were unperturbed by the nearby vehicles, providing a great opportunity to observe their painted coats close-up and to wonder at the unique markings of each animal. There are only 3 dogs in this pack as one was killed by lions last year. Other first-time sightings this evening were yellow-eyed starlings and a flowering desert rose.

    5th July, Selous

    Gordy was our guide today when DF and I shared an all day game drive with an English couple who had traveled to Zanzibar for his son’s wedding. The lady really wanted to see an elephant, and I know its hard to believe but we didn’t see an elephant all day! First time sightings included a dikkop or water thick-knee and a yellow baboon. We saw many zebra, giraffe, buffalo, waterbuck and a ground hornbill, and also a lioness with 2 young cubs hidden in a dry creek bed.

    We drove to Lake Manze, winding around the lake until we saw the bird island from the previous day. There were good-sized herds of buffalo and waterbuck as well as many open-billed and yellow-billed storks and egrets. We watched as a troop of yellow baboons carrying stolen food came running around the shore and jumped over a small creek before disappearing into the trees. One was a mother with a young baby on her back and as she leapt into the air, the baby crouched and hung on tightly – he looked like a pint-sized jockey.

    6th July, Selous to Johannesburg

    Rufiji River Camp (RRC) is well appointed and well maintained. The combined dining, bar and lounge provide a central area for guests and are furnished with quality wooden furniture with African themed carvings providing a focal point at the bar and main lounge area. A small library area containing 2 glass-fronted bookcases provided additional seating and a place to charge camera batteries. The nearby pool was popular during the hot days.

    Table service was excellent with soup arriving in individual tureens from which guests served themselves. Similarly meat and vegetables were delivered to tables on individual platters for guests to self-serve. RRC had a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere and the staff knew most guest’s names and had time to stop and chat. The camp is managed by Cathy and Charlie who were beginning their first season in Tanzania. Originally, from Zimbabwe they were happy to be back in Africa after a short time in the UK and I believe their friendliness added much to the ambience of the camp. The rooms were spotlessly clean and had an outdoor seating area with views over the river. Some people found them small for couples (and located close together), however DF and I enjoyed our stay in single rooms. Bathrooms contained a basin, shower, toilet and bidet.

    Vervet monkeys lived around the camp and spotted hyena visited each night. Hippos could be seen on islands in the river each morning and night, and heard at most times of the day and night.

    DF and I were sad to be leaving Tanzania as we had enjoyed so many wonderful wildlife sightings and reluctantly left on the morning flight to Dar. Our last Tanzanian wildlife experience occurred at the airstrip when a green snake fell out of a tree at our feet and just as quickly disappeared up the tree again and into the thatch. No one knew what type of snake it was but there was a lot of yelling to ‘get back’ in case it was a boomslang :-o . The short 40 minute flight passed quickly and with much laughter as all 9 passengers had got to know each other at RRC and we enjoyed swapping wildlife stories, onward travel plans and email addresses. The wonderful Coastal staff transferred DF and I the short distance to the Flamingo Lounge at the international airport where we spent 2.5 hours until it was time to check-in for the onward flight.


    Next up is a separate report on Botswana (Makadagadi, Nxai Pan, Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Mashatu) and Namibia (Windhoek, Swakop, Hobatere and Etosha)


    Cheers,



    Pol

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    Pol, thank you for sharing the photos and some excellent ones at that. My favorites were some of the birds and of course the fruit chaffers!! I also enjoyed reading the report and hearing about Josephat who was our quide in 2005 and 2007. We exchange letters now and then so it was nice to read your comments about him. Dick

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    I have not gotten very far into the photos or the report yet, but wanted to say the white-browed coucal portrait is most impressive. Also love the lion cubs with ibis and young vervets.

    Thank you--a joy to view these!

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    Hi Pol,

    I very much enjoyed reading of your wonderful experiences and the marvellous range of animals you saw. I didn't realise till I came home how special some sightings were - like a serval or aardvark. In fact I didn't even take a picture of the honey badger we saw - Raphael must have thought I was mad, as I usually clicked at everything I saw.

    He is such a knowledgeable guide isn't he! So pleased you had a memorable time. Your photos were also fabulous and the incredible detail of your report was a delight to read. Welcome back!

    Marilyn

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    Really enjoyed having another look at the serval. You have so many great bird shots. The Selous sunset over the Rufiji brought back nice memories. Jealous of your dog sighting ;)

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    Have read the Northern Circuit part of the report.

    How funny your friend set off the alarm, but the response is reassuring. A 20-minute serval would be a highlight.

    When I saw small animal and Tarangire, I knew there would be a dik dik involved.

    Next is pics.

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    Bummer that DF got sick and missed the dogs. I finished the report and looked at the photos a few weeks ago but realize I never returned to let you know how much I enjoyed both. Loved the speckled pigeon with lizard, lion family, bee eater, of course the dogs, the eles and many others. I hope RRL can get its act together, as I would be interested in staying there.

    Thanks again, pol!

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    I'm still catching up a bit on trip reports. Enjoyed yours very much, your easy flowing narrative style. Lot of nice photos too. I'm trying to write my report and afraid my style is more choppy narrative :-). I also stayed at the Metcourt Laurel on my way in and liked the room and other facilities. Thanks again.

    regards - tom

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    Hi lovejl and Leely2,

    I used intelligent auto for the photos, I've never found the time to learn about photography. The point and shoot cameras with the big zooms are just what I need. I'm sure you will have a great time with your FZ28. I'm thinking of buying one for my partner for Christmas.

    Leely2 - thanks for your kind words. With regard to RRL, I'm really looking forward to Kimburu's report on Old Mdonya as I'd be interested in Ruaha one day.

    Cheers,


    Pol

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    So, I found the report at last. Only had time to read the southern part so far, but it's really interesting - especially about Ruaha. Not sure if Mdonya would be the ideal alternative since they have no electricity at all there, except for a solar power cell in the office. Light in the bathroom in the early morning isn't a problem though, since there is no roof ;-) They do have permanent hot water too (as long as the sun shines!).

    Selous sounds very low key from the way you wrote about it... is that the way you felt about it?

    Looking forward to the rest now.

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    Southern Circuit report--You had some significant small creature sightings here as well. The fighting dik diks and the foot tall decade old Baobab.

    You seemed to find lots of wounded lions. Regarding the dead croc near the lion, was there specuation that it had tried to get a bite of buffalo? Or did it appear to have been dragged from the water? Very interesting. Nice to see the dogs there.

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    Lovely drinking lion and elephants. Picture perfect sunset. Nice shot of the rufous crowned roller.

    Back to Arusha, how fascinating you could get animal carvings out of old flip flops washed up on the beach. That's a more environmentally sound option than from wood.

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    Kimburu, sorry for the tardy response but I've been a bit distracted lately.

    I don't remember thinking that Selous was low-key, although with hindsight there weren't a great many memorable animal sightings (wild dogs excepted :)>- ). However, the birds were terrific and the river cruise offered a refreshing change of pace from safari vehicles. Maybe Selous is better for animals later in the year?

    I certainly wasn't disappointed by Selous and I have good memories of the Reserve. I didn't have any particular expectations and was happy to take the game viewing 'as it came'. Apologies if I've given a lukewarm impression, that certainly wasn't intended #-O .

    Looking forward to your trip report and more details on Old Mdonya - I wouldn't let lack of electricity put me off and a roofless bathroom sounds fine (neither of these would be a first for me).

    Lynn, Josephat thought that the crocodile had scented the buffalo and had been killed by the lion/s when it approached the carcass sometime during the previous night. There wasn't anything like drag marks to indicate that the croc had been dragged from the water. The saga of the lion/buffalo/croc was a highlight and one that I'm not likely to forget in a hurry.

    Cheers,


    Pol.

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    Pol, if you were organizing this trip to Tanzania again, would you consider doing the Southern Circuit before the Northern Circuit? With the quantity of game in the North, would it make the South an anti climax having to search harder for sightings or does the wildness of the place make up for it.
    Just wondering, as I plan to visit the Southern Circuit (not sure which part yet) and would add it on to either some of the Northern Circuit or the Mara. I love the isolation offered in Ruaha and Selous but don't know whether it would feel like a let down if you had seen huge volumes of game already or whether doing Selous first would make the Northern parks seem too crowded and irritating.
    Decisions decisions.

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    Twaffle, I'm also interested in this issue. I'm looking to go to southern Tanzania next September, if I can get a few people together. I've been to northern Tanzania several times and wanted to see the south: Selous, Ruaha and also Katavi in the west.

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    Twaffle and Shay Tay,

    difficult question as it depends so much on the time of year and your own expectations for the safari.

    If it was a first safari I would do the South first as the game in Selous wasn't prolific but the birds were and the river cruises offered a very different viewing experience from 4X4. Ruaha offered unique sightings that included the lion/s that killed a crocodile, a 2 day old giraffe, fighting dik-diks and great birds. However, there were times when we wouldn't see an animal, not even a zebra or impala for 30-45 minutes. This is when the bird-watching became a welcome diversion as Ruaha is also good for birds.

    The Northern safari delivered well for the 3 newbies this year and DA and DU were satisfied that they had seen as much of the plains game that they could expect, given that night drives weren't possible. I've been to the North twice now and on both occasions we saw more game than in the South. This year, I doubt that we went more than 5 minutes without having animals in sight.

    If this is a return safari trip and you don't have a list of must-sees and have a 'happy to see everything' attitude including the small game and birds, then it probably doesn't matter which comes first.

    The time of year and other factors such as ease of access to airports and keeping flights to a minimum may also become important to the decision-making process.

    Cheers,


    Pol

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    Pol, I've read only through June 24, but am so enjoying your style of writing this. Your details are good. Sounds like a wonderful safari -- but then I can't imagine a bad one!
    Samcat

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    An additional comment: what you've written about Rivertrees at Arusha and even the pictures sound so much like the old house, farm, etc. at Loldia on Lake Naivasha.
    Samcat

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    thanks Pol for your views on South/North first. I think it will come down to organizing the travel between them efficiently given your opinion that it probably wouldn't matter which one came first, especially for travellers who have been on safari before. My husband loves birds so I guess he'll be happy either way!
    The long planning stages continue …

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