Southern Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve and Ruaha National Park have always held a special place in my heart. In March 2005, my first educational with Safari Consultants was to explore these areas and I have never looked back.
I will always remember my sense of awe flying over the colossal Selous Game Reserve, even if, it was with just one eye open being my first time on a light aircraft flight! My lasting memory was the sheer vastness of thick green bush, the dominant Rufiji River snaking its way through and palms trees, countless palm trees. The Ruaha took it to another level for me, much more open, with undulating hills dotted with baobab trees and a real sense of raw wilderness and much to Bill’s amusement – my first experience of the ‘pesky’ tsetse fly!
Several years on, I returned to these areas for a whistle stop tour to update on any changes to the properties. However, this trip I dedicated ten days to exploring them again in more depth, re-igniting all those senses from my first trip, but with a lot more experience, a greater tolerance to the tsetse fly and thankfully now, without the fear of flying!
My trip started in Ruaha, a fairly long flight west from Dar es Salaam via the Selous to drop passengers. Once out of sprawling Dar, approx. 30 minutes into the flight, you reach the edge of the Selous and are immediately mesmerised by its enormity. I was once again drawn to the impressive Rufiji River winding its way through the wilderness to reach the Indian Ocean. We followed the Rufiji west, and flew over the Udzungwa Mountains to reach the remote Ruaha National Park.
I spent four days visiting several properties around Mwagusi River, the heart of the best game-viewing region within this park. A picturesque setting with the seasonal sandy Mwagusi River bed, a key attraction, fringed by Albida woodland, palms trees and where many animals take refuge. The wildlife is impressive – we encountered lions every day; two beautiful leopard sightings; elephant and giraffe in fantastic numbers as well as zebra, kudu (including lesser kudu), buffalo, impala and a sizeable python! If you are an avid ‘birder’ like myself, you will not be disappointed with over 500 recorded species!
There are a few property options to consider, but what adds to the magic of this park is that 12 years on, only a handful of new properties have opened and it still maintains its exclusivity – a rarity within National Parks in Africa these days. Game drives are the main activity in the Ruaha, but if you enjoy walking and an even more ‘wilderness’ experience then you will want to read on!
I travelled eastwards through the park, a good two hour drive away from the Mwagusi River following the great Ruaha River to a more remote region and spent two nights at Kichaka Expeditions. An owner run operation by Andrew Molinaro or ‘Moli’ as he is famously known and his partner Noelle Herzog together with a Zimbabwean pro guide Jacques Hoffman. The focus is on walking safaris and a wild bush experience. They run an excellent operation and you have the opportunity to stay in their simple, but very comfortable ‘bush camp’ for a few nights before moving onto even remoter areas of the park with their fly-camp. You don’t see anyone else in this area and it fills you with a wonderful sense of adventure. Morning walks last anywhere between 4-6 hours. Moli’s knowledge and passion for the park and its wildlife is infectious and he has a rare skill of having you completely drawn in to his every word that you feel captivated by each of his explanations and stories. The wildlife in this areas is not as concentrated as around the Mwagusi River, and with the lack of people, the animals are shy. That said, we did see impala, zebra, kudu, eland, and giraffe and had an exhilarating half hour tracking a herd of elephants. You can stay at Kichaka Expeditions on an exclusive basis offering fantastic flexibility or on a shared basis giving you the opportunity to meet like-minded safari goers and enjoy afternoon drives as well as morning walks. If you enjoy walking and wilderness, excellent guiding and hosting then combining four or five nights in the Mwagusi area for your ‘big game’ with three to five nights at Kichaka Expeditions then this offer is an incredible Ruaha experience.
A sad farewell to Ruaha, I flew eastwards to spend a further four nights in the Selous Game Reserve. The Selous offers a wonderful varied landscape – open grasslands, lakes, forests and wooded hills. The Rufiji River system is a dominant attraction and boat cruises a highlight in addition to game-drives, walks, fly-camping and fishing (the latter a passion of mine and I had heard of a good area to catch the fierce tiger fish).
There is nothing quite like sitting on the veranda of your tent overlooking water, its blue colour glistening in the African bush immediately gives you a sense of calm, whilst enjoying those infamous sounds of animals synonymous with the water – the grunting of hippo or quintessential call of the fish eagle! The majority of the properties in the Selous overlook water and the beauty of this reserve is that you can also enjoy activities on the water.
During my time in the Selous, I enjoyed several boat cruises on the main Rufiji River as well as some of the smaller lakes. The focus is on birdlife which is fantastic – white-fronted bee-eaters, African spoonbill, numerous kingfishers (pied, malachite, grey hooded), Saddle-billed stork, African skimmer to name, but a few! Pods of hippo bob their heads up and down as you cruise past and crocodiles are everywhere, basking on the sandbanks before stealthily moving into the water as your boat approaches!
Whilst thoroughly enjoying the birdlife we were treated to an incredible sighting of several herds of elephants crossing from one bank to another. We spent a good hour watching them play, you could feel their elation as they enjoyed the coolness of the water after a long hot day in the bush. We watched in awe as two males sparred in the water, their heads and trunks splashing and crashing against the water as the sun slowly dipped below the horizon behind them – another ‘pinch yourself’ moment in Africa for me.
My last morning, I took to the water again, this time with a fishing rod in hand in the hope of catching that tiger, which had eluded me until now. My guide and boatman felt positive, they knew the best spots – the rest was up to me! Nothing quite beats standing on a river bank in the middle of the Rufiji River, enjoying the chorus of the morning birdsong all around, the crashing of trees as elephants feed in the distance and then there it is, my line goes…. “Walk back and reel in” the guide shouted, I held the rod firm, reeling with all my might and edging backwards at the same time, gripping the mud with my bare feet and finally, several minutes later , my dream as a little girl has become a reality, a sizeable tiger landed and beaming faces by all, especially me.
The variety of activities make the Selous a fantastic destination for couples and families alike. A three night stay in the Selous combined with four or more nights in the Ruaha, makes for more guaranteed big game make them an excellent combination. Southern Tanzania is often overlooked by the better known Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti in the north of the country. The south does not offer the famous wildebeest migration, but a combination of the Selous and Ruaha does offer fantastic wildlife, a variety of activities, wilderness, incredible scenery and wow factor and a destination not to be missed!
During Michele’s trip she stayed at the following properties: Mwagusi Safari Camp, Ikuka Safari Camp, Kwihala Tented Camp, Kichaka Expeditions, Kigelia Ruaha, Selous Maji Moto Camp, Lake Manze Tented Camp and Selous Impala Camp.
Michele also visited: Mdonya Old River Camp, the site and building works for the new Jabali Ridge (due to open in September 2017), Siwandu Camp, the suite and building works for the new Roho ya Selous (opened in August) as well as The Oyster Bay Hotel in Dar es Salaam.