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Written by: Webmaster on 8 November 2011

Southern Tanzania & Zanzibar | by Luca Schmidt

South Tanzania travel report

Just about 5 hours after I departed from Johannesburg with the non-stop flight from Kulula, I arrive in Dar es Salaam. This small airline is only one of many that offer a fast and direct connection between the largest city in South Africa and the largest coastal town in Tanzania.

With a population of about 3-4 million people and because of being the biggest commercial, administrative and industrial centre of the country, Dar es Salaam is often referred to as the capital city. This is where my 2 week journey with my colleague Stephan Schuff begins. While exploring the busy city, I managed to get lost in the hustle and bustle quite a few times. In addition hereto are the ever hot and humid conditions that dominate the climate in Dar es Salaam.  Hence I could hardly wait for our driver Lazaro from Arusha to pick us up at our hotel so we could begin our safari that would take us to the less frequently visited National Parks and Reserves of southern Tanzania.


Our first stop is the Udzungwa National Park, which we reach after a 4-5 hour drive. On the way here we passed Morogoro and the Uluguru Mountains on a well tarred road. With its surrounding mountain ranges, the Morogoro region is one of the most fertile areas of Tanzania and supplies Dar es Salaam as well as other coastal regions with agricultural products.

Soon thereafter road signs remind us that we are traversing the Mikumi National Park.

The TAN ZAM Highway, that separates the Mikumi National Park, is the most important connection between Dar es Salaam and the south of the country. Unfortunately, it is also the main reason for the numerous fatal road accidents with wild animals. Even though busses have been banned from driving at night and there are countless speed bumps to slow down busses and trucks, those accidents cannot be prevented.


At the crossroads in the town of Mikumi, we turn left and continue for approximately 25 km on a bumpy road. After about an hour we reach the Hondo Hondo Campsite, situated outside of the National Park. We overnight in basic and rustic mud huts, which are very similar to the accommodation of the local community. The next morning we enjoy the beautiful view of the green surroundings and the impressive mountain walls that rise over 2000m and are covered with dense rainforest.  It is possible to join a guided walk through the Udzungwa National Park and among other things, to visit the Sanje Waterfalls that at its highest point plunges down approximately 70 metres.  The park is known for its diverse species of primates, including the Red Clobus Monkey. But the Udzungwa National Park is especially appealing to bird watchers. With over 250 different bird species it is one of the richest habitats in East Africa for forest birds.


The next morning we have a very early start as a long drive to the Ruaha National Park awaits us.

The TAN ZAM Highway takes us through a beautiful, hilly landscape along the Great Ruaha River, where countless baobab trees are lined up next to one another on the river bank. This is also the reason this region is known as the Baobab Valley. After a 6 hour drive, we stop over at Iringa before driving in the direction of the Ruaha National Park. We reach the entrance gate after driving on a sand road for about another 2 hours. Time is running out, as all vehicles with tourists have to arrive at their overnight stay no later than 18.30h.  Our camp for tonight is located in the far western end of the park and it takes us another 1.5 hours to get there. However, even on our first and unfortunately very hectic game drive we were able to see elephants with calves, hippos, jackals, antelopes, giraffes, zebras, water bucks and many more.


Finally we arrive and we are welcomed by Moule & Noel from Jongomero Camp, who have patiently been waiting for us. These two lodge managers give this usually fly-in tented camp a very personal flair. The candle light dinner on the dried out riverbed is only one of the small details that make this camp so special. We hear a roaring pride of lions and for a short moment we are a bit worried. But after being reassured that everything is safe, we continued to enjoy this delicious dinner under a clear, starry sky.


The following day we have the opportunity to discover the park. Its versatile landscape is dominated by a dense bush forest, open grass plains and rivers. A 200m high trench of the Ruaha Rift, divides the smaller southern part from the larger northern part. Although this region is extremely dry and the great Ruaha River has dried out at places, it still offers a permanent habitat to an abundance of wildlife. This is especially the case during the long lasting dry season, when the animals come to the rivers. We make use of this opportunity and park our safari vehicle directly on the river bank under the shady Baobab trees. It is not long before impalas, zebras and other antelope species as well as a herd of elephants approach our vehicle to get down to the water.  We continue our safari but always take time to stop and enjoy the beautiful views under the afternoon sun.


Some elephants take a mud bath and it is the little ones that enjoy it most – but so do we.

Furthermore hippos, buffalos as well as water birds can be spotted at the river.

The Ruaha National Park also forms a natural border between the fauna and flora of Southern and Eastern Africa. Thus the park is home to the Greater and Lesser Kudu as well as other species that does not exist in the northern parks of Tanzania. Another nice thing is that one very seldom comes across other vehicles and therefore has the feeling of being the only one in the whole park.


The following night we spend at Tandala Camp, located only about 10 km from the park entrance gate on the outside of the park. The camp is surrounded by a beautiful landscape and with a bit of luck one can even spot elephants and nyalas from the tent veranda. This family friendly camp is run by the owners John and Dionysia and their small daughter, who take pride in taking care of their guests. An open-air dinner at the fire and a drink in the stylish lounge with its heavy leather chairs round of this beautiful day.


Once again we drive through the Ruaha National Park but this time in a north-easterly direction to our overnight stay for tonight, Kigelia Camp which borders the Mwagusi River. The camp is hidden in between acacia and miombo trees and in order to get to the camp, we have to cross a few dried out river beds.

It is the remote location directly on the Mwagusi River, the private atmosphere with only 7 tents and mostly the personal camp management that make this luxurious fly-in camp a very special safari experience.


Our time in the Ruaha National Park comes to an end and on the so-called “never ending road” we travel back to the TAN ZAM Highway. We stop in Iringa, a major supply city that has been erected on a plateau at about 1500m, to refuel. From here it is only about 50km to our next stop, the Kisolanza Farm. It is here where one experiences the sheer country life with flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, vegetable gardens and homemade goodies like bread, meat and milk products. In addition to a leafy campsite and simple stable-accommodation, the farm also offers comfortable double and family cottages. We overnight in the former manager house, directly next to the cowshed and are able to witness the real country life with all its associated smells and sounds. A drumming sound reminds us that it is time for dinner, which is served in a simple building with thick brick walls. A rustic and traditional atmosphere awaits us and we can really say that the Kisolanza Farm lives up to its name as a traditional farm.


After being back on the TAN ZAM Highway for about 5 hours, we arrive at the small town of Mikumi. After the registration at the entrance gate of the previously mentioned Mikumi National Park, we drive to the northern part of the third largest National Park in Tanzania. It is not without a reason that this park with its open grass plains and steppes is called the Little Serengeti. Plenty of gnus, zebras and antelopes can be spotted and with a little luck one may even see eland, water and bush bucks, as well as hyenas and lions. The park is also very well known for its large number of elephants and buffalos that sometimes can already be seen from the TAN ZAM Highway. But because our accommodation for today is situated in the southern part of the park we once again have to cross the TAN ZAM Highway. Here visitors are offered a completely different picture of the Mikumi National Park. Because of its dense vegetation, dominated by miombo trees, there are only a few paths. This makes exploring the park a lot more difficult. The entire area is very hilly and we are looking forward to benefiting from the terrific view from the patio of our accommodation for tonight, the Vuma Hills Tented Camp. The same lodge group also owns a very nice camp in the northern part of the Park. The Stanley’s Kopje Tented Camp is located high up on a gigantic cliff, a so-called Kopje, a bizarre rock formation which has been formed by wind and rain erosions.  Once we have reached the main house at the top of a steep stairway, we are rewarded with an overwhelming 360° view over the far and flat Mkata plains.


The next day begins early in the morning and after about an hour’s drive we reach Morogoro. From now our journey continues in a southerly direction and we travel for about 6 hours on a very bad gravel road to the Selous Game Reserve. It isn’t long after the last rains and a lot of roads are partially muddy and rain-sodden. And so it happens that a transfer driver, who is taking hotel employees to the different lodges, gets stuck in the thick mud. But despite all the efforts of the passengers in their neatly dressed uniforms, the vehicle isn’t moving. But thanks to our experienced driver Lazaro, the transfer vehicle was manoeuvrable again after just two attempts.


To return the favour, the driver of the transfer vehicle guides us to our camp for tonight. Without him we would have probably only arrived here much later. The Selous Luxury Tented Camp is situated in a remote area of the south-western part of the park on a small course of a river. The best way to access the camp is with a light aircraft flight to the Stiegler’s Gorge airstrip, which is just a 30 minute drive from the camp. Being part of the Serena group, the camp offers the usual lush and baroque luxury. Chandeliers and heavy Persian rugs, as well as free standing, nostalgic bath tubs await you at this camp. We are the only guests and therefore experience the full attention of the well trained staff and the obliging lodge managers. The evening is topped with a partial lunar eclipse.

The Selous Game Reserve is named after the big game hunter and English Gentleman Mr. Federick Selous, who died in the battle against German colonial troops. A stone slab close to the Beho Beho River still commemorates the death of the legendary trophy hunter. Shortly after the First World War the region was declared a Nature Reserve. Consequently it is the oldest reserve in Tanzania and one of the oldest ones in whole of Africa. At the same time it is also the largest reserve in Africa. But it is only the northern part of the park that is accessible to photo tourist which is also why this part is often referred to as the photographic sector. The far larger southern part is withheld for hunting tourist only. But even these “smaller” parts of the reserve are huge and one needs at least two full days to get an impression of this vast and diverse landscape. We are lucky and one of the experienced guides of the Serena camps accompanies us through the park and shows us the public campsites as well as the most remote areas of the park. While travelling we did not come across one single vehicle. After a 2 hour drive we are back on the main road, driving in a south-easterly direction towards the main gate. It is only then when we pass a few vehicles on game drives.  The wide Rufiji River runs through the Selous Game Reserve and forces itself through the 8km long Stiegler’s gorge. This is also the reason that many river courses and one big lake have been formed. This attracts a lot of animals especially in the dry season (June – October).

Of course there are also a lot of crocodiles and hippos at the lake. In General the Selous Reserve is known for its large herds of animals. The sheer number of elephants is estimated at 65,000 and in addition thereto big herds of gnus, buffalos, antelopes, zebras, kudus, water bucks and many more can be found here. If lucky, one could also observe wild dogs. Apparently there are even some black rhinos in this region although they are very difficult to spot in this dense bush. Same applies to leopards.


Tonight we are staying over at the Selous Safari Camp, where we are warmly welcomed by the camp staff and the adorable Camp Manager, Jenni. This luxurious and extremely stylish camp is probably one of the best spots in the park and we are in very good hands. That very same evening we are able to go on a boat safari with our brave driver Lazaro. We enjoy the rich birdlife which includes egrets, pelicans, kingfishers, African fish eagles, weaver birds and many more. Besides this we also spot numerous hippos and enormous crocodiles lingering on the sandbanks of the shallow water. For the next day Jenni arranged a fishing trip for Stephan and a walking safari for me. I am accompanied by two specially trained guides who have an extensive knowledge of fauna and flora. And right at the beginning we come across a herd of elephants that had just passed by our camp. To be so close to these majestic animals with no protection of a vehicle is a very special moment. Of course we always keep a safe distance.

Then in the middle of nowhere, a bush brunch with freshly brewed coffee was set up as a surprise for us. By now Stephan and the boat captain have also arrived and we can all enjoy a hearty brunch.

Stephan caught 3 big cat fish in total – not a bad achievement for only 2 hours of fishing. The camp staff is also happy as they will be having a delicious cat fish dinner tonight.


It is time for us to say goodbye to Jenni and her fantastic staff and we continue our safari through the Selous Reserve. On the way to the Mtemere Gate we help another vehicle that got its second flat tyre in one day and is waiting for help to arrive. Shortly thereafter we encounter a lioness that is hiding her cubs in the dried out creek bed. One not yet fully grown and very playful male climbs a tree and tries out all different ways of lying in order to find the most comfortable sleeping position. Time flies and before we know it, we have been observing this pride for a whole hour.


But, we need to get moving – after all our camp for tonight is located on a small island in the middle of the Rufjij River, which we have to cross by boat. The Selous Wilderness Camp spreads over the whole island and narrow paths lead through a dense jungle to the seven en-suite tents that are very spacious and tastefully decorated in bright colours. Because of this bushy vegetation one feels totally undisturbed and can therefore enjoy the outside shower to the fullest. Tables have been set up right on the riverbank with a view over the Rufiji River, and a delicious dinner awaits us. After a restful night we continue our journey in the morning and take the boat back to the mainland.  But, because the water levels have subsided during the night, we run onto the sandy ground in the shallow waters several times and our boat driver has to navigate the boat through the river in a zigzag pattern.

Sadly our time in the versatile and less frequently visited National Parks of southern Tanzania comes to an end and we have to travel back to Dar es Salaam. After 3-4 hours we reach Kibiti and from here it is another 150km to Dar es Salaam on a tarred road. Here it is time to say goodbye to our experienced and reliable driver, Lazaro, who always made sure we get to our destination safely. While Lazaro still has a long way to go before he gets to Arusha, Stephan and me take a 20 minute flight with Precision Air to Zanzibar. The last few nights I spend on the east coast which is famous for its beautiful long beaches. I also explore Nungwi, the lively centre for tourist on the north coast.


For those interested in culture and history, a stopover in Stone Town on the west coast is recommended. The historic town centre can easily be explored alone or otherwise there is always the option of organizing a tour guide who is able to take you to the points of interest like the old fort, the House of Wonders, the dhow harbour etc. and point out the lavish wood carved front doors of the houses. But most importantly he always finds the right way through the narrow and winding streets where it is easy to lose your orientation.


In the evening, I enjoy the hustle and bustle of the Forodani gardens, where typical spicy Swahili dishes as well as fish and seafood are freshly prepared on the braai. In the end it is time for me to leave and a taxi takes me back to the airport where my journey ends.


Should you be interested in a lodge – or camping safari through the south of Tanzania, please feel free to contact us for further assistance.

Author: Webmaster

Through his work on the websites and with the offered tours, our webmaster is learning more and more about eastern Africa. Thereupon, he has been on safari in Kenya and Tanzania repeatedly, climbed the peak of Mt Kilimanjaro and third-highest peak of Mt Kenya and visited the sandy beaches by the Indian Ocean. He also lived and worked in Tanzania. Not only does he know HTML, he speaks German, English, is almost fluent in Kiswahili and have basic knowledge of Zulu. Feedback about the website is welcomed by the webmaster.

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