Elephant in Ruaha - photo by Roy Southworth
Earlier this year, some close friends I've known for many years asked me to arrange a safari in Tanzania for them. The only stipulation was that it must include the south of the country, and that we use Coastal Aviation for the domestic flights as they were also close friends of Nicola, who built up Coastal over the last 30 years. The airline now operates the largest network of scheduled flights around the country, going to some pretty incredible place - even, on shared charters, to most of Tanzania's neighbouring countries.
My friends, Cathy and Roy and their son McLain, who had been a best buddy with my son David when they were growing up in Dar es Salaam, together with their oldest friends, Brad and Martha, wanted to spend about 11 days in August on the safari of a lifetime. It was the hope that Nicola and his wife Carolina would be in Tanzania at the time, and might even join them on part of the journey. Nicola took a close interest in the arrangements and made some very good suggestions. Sadly, after a courageous fight with cancer, he passed away just a week or two before the safari began. The travellers thought of Nicola as his wings carried them over Africa.
Hippos snorting in Lake Manze, Selous - photo by Roy Southworth
So I began to draft some travel plans for the group, including the Selous and the Ruaha, the two biggest conservation areas in the south of Tanzania, which enfold some of the most spectacular riverine and wilderness areas in Africa.
Kungwe beach lodge in the Mahale Mountains on Lake Tanganyika - home of the elusive chimpanzees
It was my personal wish to add some excitement by including some of western Tanzania - probably the least known part of the country, and an area that is beginning to open up its spectacular scenery to tourism. So that meant we must include either Katavi National Park or Mahale Mountains, and Lake Tanganyika. No small feat in 11 days! Luckily we were not too constrained by budget as the itinerary necessitated using air charters as Mahale and Lupita are not on the Coastal Aviation schedule. Coastal came up trumps, sending their fast and comfortable Pilatus aircraft to waft our guests from place to place.
It would have been nice to do Katavi, but there just was not the time so we opted for the very special Mahale, home of chimpanzees.
You can do this trip a little cheaper now, as Air Tanzania is opening up new flights to Sumbawanga and Mpanda in the west by the end of this year.
So after some weeks of poring over Tanzania maps and deciding on the route, and sharing packing guides, the safari began!
Early one morning our group flew from Dar es Salaam to Siwandu airstrip in the Selous Game Reserve, one of the biggest in Africa, with the mighty Rufiji river stretching through it like a many-streamered ribbon. 4x4 cars from Lake Manze camp were waiting at the airstrip for them, each with its own driver and guide and the safari began.
Giraffe - the national emblem of Tanzania - photo by Roy Southworth
Roy is a keen and gifted photographer and most of the wildlife shots included in this story are by him. He used a Canon D Mark III with a Canon 100 - 400 mm 1:1:4.5-5.6 L lens.
Simba! No question who is the boss - photo by Roy Southworth
The Selous is home to some mighty elephants - photo by Roy Southworth
A magnificent male greater kudu - photo by Roy Southworth
A leisurely game drive from the airstrip brought the party to the camp in time for lunch, followed by time to settle in to their tents and have an afternoon nap before going out again in the afternoon.
Elephants passing by one of the tents at Lake Manze camp
This camp is built by Malcolm Ryen, a biologist and environmentalist, who understands better than anyone how to share these natural surroundings with the wildlife in a sensitive way. Comfortable tents with ensuite bathrooms are carefully situated overlooking Lake Manze, but leave such a light footprint that the animals continue as before, and are not disturbed by the human presence.
Zebra grazing near Lake Manze camp - photo by Roy Southworth
The smile on the crocodile - photo by Roy Southworth
Over the next 3 days the party saw almost everything you could wish for - lion, elephant, African wild dogs and lots of grazing animals and fascinating birds. They went fishing and caught lunch!
Open-billed stork - photo by Roy Southworth
Yellow-billed stork - photo by Roy Southworth
Grey herons nesting in a Borassus ethiopum palm - photo by Roy Southworth
The birdlife in Selous is particularly interesting and is accessible from the river or lakes on boat safaris.
Next up was the Ruaha National Park - the Coastal charter picked up the travellers and flew them to Msembe airstrip in the Ruaha. Once again, smiling guides and drivers were there to meet them and take them on a pleasant game drive with a picnic lunch enroute, arriving at Mdonya Old River camp in time to settle in and shower before a candlelit dinner under the stars.
Young hyena - photo by Roy Southworth
Banded mongoose - photo by Roy Southworth
Mdonya is another of Malcolm's camps. There is no electricity in the tents, oil lamps, candles and torches are used at night, creating a gentle ambience as the guests chat around the campfire, often to the sound of lions roaring in the Mdonya riverbed.
The tents are simple but comfortable at Mdonya Old River
As at sister camp Lake Manze, the natural surroundings are hardly impacted by this eco-friendly camp
Mdonya is rather famous for the many leopard sightings in its environs. Roy was not disappointed, and caught some pretty impressive shots.
Leopard near Mdonya camp - photo by Roy Southworth
Look away now!
A helping push up the slippery bank by big sis - photo by Roy Southworth
After three days it was time to leave Ruaha with a very early start - the pilot of the Coastal charter plane slept at the camp so they could leave Msembe airstrip by 8 am for Mahale Mountains.
Boat trip to Kungwe beach lodge on Lake Tanganyika
From the airstrip near Mahale they took a boat along Lake Tanganyika to Mahale to Kungwe Beach lodge, another comfortable place in natural surroundings. There are no roads in Mahale!
Kungwe beach lodge - dinner on the shores of Lake Tanganyika
Here they were hoping to see chimpanzees - with only one night here it was a tough call. Ideally you would need at least two nights or more in order to see the elusive primates. In fact Roy and McLain did make it through most of the tough trek and saw a troupe of chimps high in the mountains. The others turned back, but were lucky enough to see chimps near the camp that evening! They do sometimes come down, foraging for fruits in the lakeshore area.
Young chimp at Mahale - photo by Roy Southworth
Next day, a Coastal plane arrived to ferry them to Kipili village, down the lake, and to take McLain back to Dar, where he had to catch a plane home a day or two earlier than the others.
Cottage bedroom at Lupita Island, overlooking the beautiful lake waters
At Lupita Island all the cottages have open sides looking out over the lake - there is total privacy here and some guests book exclusive use of the lodge, if they are a family or group of friends.
By now the group were a little tired and footsore so the final stay at Lupita Island was just what the doctor ordered. I had figured that they would deserve a little five star luxury at this point!
Lupita is a little known exclusive heaven with just 10 cottages, each in its own style and overlooking the lake, with a personal plunge pool and stream running through the spacious rooms.
Lupita Island rises up out of the pristine sapphire waters of historic Lake Tanganyika in this remote southwestern region of Tanzania. The island is prehistorically lush, extraordinarily private. The 110 acres of privacy allows guests to feel free to rediscover themselves. Our little group relaxed and chilled out totally. They snorkelled around the fascinating rocks found just below the surface, crowded with beautiful colourful fish; many only exclusively found around this island. (You can also take out a kayak alone or with a water guide.) They went out on the boat for sundowners and observed the most spectacular sunsets.
photo by Rob Besant
Village life on Lake Tanganyika - photos by Cathy McLain
Next day, Cathy and Roy went on a village visit to the neighbouring island, and made lots of new friends.
On the last night they enjoyed fine dining and a blissful evening under the stars. A perfect end to the safari!
You can book a similar safari with any good travel agent.
In Tanzania we recommend in particular these two operators:
Or please feel free to contact David or myself at firstname.lastname@example.org for safari suggestions. We love to recommend the good places - for the love of Africa!