Saadani National Park - enthusiastic trip report

Nov 2nd, 2008, 03:54 AM
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Saadani National Park - enthusiastic trip report

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.
Wistman is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2008, 06:33 AM
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Outstandng Wistman! I love seeing a report on an area that has been uncovered on this board, especially one that is so convenient to include with other safari areas.

The river trip sounds excellent. I will look forward to reading about the game drives, you definitely have me intrigued.

How many nights was your stay and how many do you think would be ideal to cover the range of habitats and activities? What were your other stops on this itineray?

If you did any snorkeling I'd love to hear about that as well. Lastly, from time to time people have been on this board looking for sea turtle hatching experiences, I'm sure any info you might have gained on sea turtles there would be of interest.

Thanks for bringing this new area to us!
PredatorBiologist is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2008, 07:07 AM
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Thanks for redressing, Wistman.

Twelve hours from Heathrow to baboons is a good selling point for me. Your other interesting monkey sightings are too.

Looking forward to more enthusiastic reporting.
atravelynn is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2008, 07:36 AM
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Yes, Wistman. It is about time. Say as much as you want. This is what we want to know!
kimburu is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2008, 08:00 AM
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Thank you all for your supportive comments. To answer the points PB raises…

We could only stay at Saadani for three nights because we had to move on (to Mdonya Old River Camp and Mwagusi in Ruaha and then to Impala Camp in Selous). We would happily have stayed on a day or two longer but safari time is always tight and it didn’t seem a good idea to spend very long somewhere no-one else much seemed to have been to. (More on that later.)

There are lots of things to do which we had no time for, such as walking safaris, guided visits to the local village and, yes, snorkelling. For this I gather you take a boat out to a sand island which slowly reveals itself as the tide goes down. You can take a picnic and have lunch on your own new island. But this is all second-hand reporting. Further up the coast there is a turtle sanctuary. You can read a lot more about this on the website of Dr. Rolf Baldus

(I don't know whether this link will work but it is basically right.)

In fact his site had a huge amount of information about Saadani and reading this partly inspired us to visit. Dr. Baldus has also co-written an excellent guidebook to Saadani published by Gallery Publications. This was on sale at Dar airport and at the lodge but supplies seemed limited and I couldn’t get it in the UK.

And while I’m talking about information sources, the official Saadani park website has quite a good map of the park which seems to be unavailable elsewhere. It’s at and if you click on the little map it turns into a bigger pdf file.

Finally the best current mainstream guidebook for Saadani is the Rough Guide (in my h.o.)and I only recently discovered that pretty well the whole text of this is avaiable free on their website.

More on our game drives when I can…

Wistman is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2008, 12:27 PM
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Good to see a report on Saadani! Will you be posting photos?
Patty is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2008, 03:21 PM
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This is very interesting, didn't know anything about Saadani. Looking forward to the rest of your report.
twaffle is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2008, 04:50 PM
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Thank you, Wistman! I've been waiting for your return. Saadani has been on my list of "if-possibles" for years and years, and this is one of the first reports I've read here of it. Spening an afternoon "reading quietly and watching baboons, cranes, warthogs and reedbuck" sounds excellent.

I am looking forward to your next installment.
Leely2 is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2008, 05:15 PM
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thanks for posting this interesting report. Looking forward to the game drive details.


Treepol is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2008, 07:16 PM
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Wistman: thanks for those answers and resources, I will definitely check them all out as well as look forward to the rest of your report.
PredatorBiologist is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2008, 09:55 AM
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Here's the rest of my stuff about our visit to Saadani

We took two game drives in Saadani. They were in the open-sided Land Rovers you get in the south. On one occasion we were on our own and once we were with another couple. Our guide/driver was an Italian who was knowledgeable and interesting. The roads were good and well-graded (much better than in, say, the Selous GR) although they are prey to the dreaded black cotton soil and the park is apparently pretty-well impassable in the height of the rainy season. The Saadani landscape is fairly flat and featureless but we drove through a variety of open grassland, deeper woodland, with occasional water holes, whistling thorns, tidal flats and occasional baobabs. We saw much more game than we expected, although this may have been due to the recent rains which seem here to draw the wildlife in. Our list of sightings included duiker, baboon, vervets, bushbuck (including two have a mock fight), eland, warthog and bushpig. There were many giraffes, including a large group standing photogenically under a huge baobab. Reedbuck were everywhere, replacing the impala which seem to be ubiquitous on other parks. Biggish herds of buffalo looked suitably grumpy and there were lots of hartebeest, including one with a worrying limp. These were our only sightings of reedbuck and hartebeest in our two-week safari. We were told that the wildebeest, of which was saw several, were not ‘locals’ but were the surviving descendents of inmates of a small zoo which had been set free to fend for themselves when it ran of money. They looked happy, if you can ever say that of wildebeest. We only saw two more wildebeest over the next two weeks, both in Selous, and one of these was being eaten by lions!. Birds were plentiful: glossy ibis, hammerkop, palm nut vulture, lots of lilac-crested rollers…. We saw no other vehicles on either of the two drives and, indeed, no other humans at all except a solitary local riding his bike deep into no-where in the descending dark. We were worried about him because, although we saw neither, there are lions and leopards about.

Why do people not go to Saadani in greater numbers? Well, one (otherwise very resourceful) travel agency actively argued against us going there at all, arguing that ‘although it offers good sea and good safari it offers the best of neither.’ I can see their point but I think it is unfair and misleading. As far as safari goes, it is true that neither lions nor leopards are at all guaranteed here (yet) and so if people just went to Saadani and are predator-obsessive they might feel short-changed. And it is true that of the two truly jaw-dropping things we witnessed on our safari neither was in Saadani. This is why I’d recommend visiting Saadani at the start of a safari, when every sighting is exciting and when you are getting your ‘spotting eyes’ working. For us, Saadani was also a great place to recover from a long journey while getting our safari started straightaway. Alternatively, as the boat safari is very special it might give a great ending to a Northern Circuit safari instead of the more standard but (largely) wild-life-free trip to Zanzibar.

As far as beach goes, Saadani is not quite the paradisiacal, manicured Shangri-La of, say, the excellent Pongwe Beach in Zanzibar which we visited a couple of years ago. Instead of coconut palms, for instance, there are indigenous, slightly scruffier smaller palms. The lodge staff don’t sweep the beach every morning. But, remember, this is a National Park, and so we’d want things to be a bit wilder and natural, wouldn’t we? (The beach, incidentally, has hundreds of little two-inch holes which were a mystery to us until we visited at dusk and saw a rather ghostly crew of little crabs clacking away). And the place is still absolutely gorgeous and the sea is ridiculously warm and the Visitors’ Book is full of happy comments from happy honeymooners.

There is another point to make here and at this point I get a bit preachy - sorry in advance. The creation of the National Park has not been without its problems. Poaching was a big issue here for years and there is a local human population which needs to be convinced that the National Park will benefit them as well as the wildlife. The Lodge and Park management are well aware of this. According to the lodge manager, the village already has a dispensary supported by the lodge and there will soon be a peripatetic doctor who spends three months of the year here. The school is being rebuilt, and a biomass energy source developed. The next stage will be to establish alternative employment (other than fishing and coconut farming), possibly in the craft field (for sale to tourists here and in Zanzibar). But everything needs to be done with care because there can be unforeseen consequences: when a water pump was installed this put eight people out of work who used to collect and distribute water. In short, Saadani is a brave attempt to balance off interests which don’t always coincide, in a remote part of a poor country. I think it deserves our support. End of sermon. And if all the above is naïve or pompous or plain wrong, tell me.

On our last night supper was laid out in the bush, lit by lanterns. Afterwards we moved to a huge campfire and chatted to fellow-visitors, while trying and failing to work out which constellation in the huge night-sky was which. The following day our private plane flew us back to Dar, where we picked up Coastal to Ruaha. Our pilot was a young lady from Uganda and I would have loved to have had the time to hear her life story.

Wistman is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2008, 05:35 PM
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Thanks for the additional details. I enjoyed reading about your experience at Saadani--and that includes your "sermonizing," which gives an added perspective, a fuller picture.

I think Saadani sounds wonderful. Can't wait to see photos.
Leely2 is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2008, 10:03 PM
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Thanks for the rest of the details Wistman. It sounds like a terrific find for those who are interested in diversity of habitats and activities as well as having a park exclusively to yourself.

I completely agree with you that its a worthy idea for people to visit a less established park from time to time to help pay the way for conservation in new places and assist with community upliftment. Lasting conservation can only be acheived if parks/reserves generate sufficient economic benefits to local people. Your example of the water pump and the lost jobs was a great illustration of how delicate the balace can be.

Over time the skittish wildlife will habituate but I also find it interesting to see animals that retain more weary and wild instincts. A park like this works well since it can be conveniently combined with some very well established safari areas on the same itinerary.
PredatorBiologist is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2008, 11:37 PM
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Thanks for the great info, density of animals is not a bother to me. Peace and relative solitude sounds good.
Nov 4th, 2008, 09:42 AM
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Saadani sounds wonderful to me!
Patty is offline  
Nov 6th, 2008, 04:39 AM
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Correction: the flight from Dar to Saadani cost us £80 each way, not return, so it wasn't quite the easyjet-style bargain I though it was. But it was still good value and fun.
Wistman is offline  
Nov 7th, 2008, 08:53 PM
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I enjoyed your enthusiasm and your sermon. Thanks for bringing this area to our attention.

Interesting about the wildebeest origin of the few you saw.
atravelynn is offline  

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