18 June 2018 - 29 June 2018 > 12 days
Back to the southern parts (and parks) of Tanzania!
This year we reached out to the Ruaha Carnivore Project to ask if they still could use SD cards for their camera-traps. Since our first visit we fell in love with Ruaha National Park and Joni has been spending time on the Snapshot Ruaha project on Zooniverse, classifying wildlife as a volunteer citizen scientist. The project has a wishlist on amazon so we decided to take some items with us. After reaching out to them they asked if we could take more stuff with us. Off course, no problem, we’ll take an extra suitcase. They shipped camera-traps, digital camera’s, powerbanks and such to our home address and we took it with us to Ruaha.
All photos from this trip are published !
Day 1 - Flight from Amsterdam to Dar es Salaam
Today started with our flight to Julius Nyerere International Airport, Dar es Salaam Tanzania. We had pre-booked seats near the emergency exit so we could stretch our legs during the flight.
We had a nice chat with the stewardess sitting across from us and before exiting the plane she gave us a bag with water bottles, salty nuts and cookies. This was very much appreciated, especially after checking into the hotel where the bar was already closed and there was no drinking water in the room.
We checked in at Transit Motel Airport (which should have been the Airport Transit Lodges but apparently there had been a miscommunication with the tour operator). The room wasn’t very comfortable, mainly because the beds were too short. Staying close to the airport was a good choice as we would leave the next morning a 6am, but next time we will double check the booking and make sure we have a slightly more comfortable room.
Day 2 - Drive from Dar es Salaam to Rivervalley Campsite near Iringa
Today we had a long drive on our schedule. We were heading for Ruaha National Park, 625km from Dar. As this trip would take well over 12 hours there was no way we would be able to stay inside the park that same day. Instead we decided to stay at Rivervalley Campsite, close to Iringa.
We left Dar at 6am and arrived at Rivervalley Campsite at 5pm. The campsite is in a beautiful spot next to the Little Ruaha River. We were looking forward to sit down with a cold wine after the exhausting trip. That was not to be as clearly the season hadn’t really started for them, even diner was ordered in from Iringa town. With nothing much else to do we decided to have a warm shower and an early night.
Visit to Ismila Stone Age Site and en-route game drive to Ruaha River Lodge
We had a good night sleep and after breakfast it was time to visit Ismila Stone Age site. At this archeological site you find stone age tools like hammerstones, axeheads and scrapers, estimated to be between 60.000 and 100.000 years old. Our main reason to visit though is the canyon with the very scenic rock towers of up to 30m high. As you walk through the canyon you are surrounded by these beautiful formations. The funny thing was that our driver/guide had never visited this canyon and he was truly amazed by the views. The site is just a few kilometers off the road from Iringa to Mbeya and he had passed it many times. Half the fun of visiting Ismila was the excitement of our guide.
We arrive 3:45pm at main gate of Ruaha National Park. Checking in takes almost 1 hour. There are lots of butterflies and we try to take pictures of all the different species.
And then we see the Great Ruaha River. We have been longing to go back to Ruaha since our visit June 2014 and this is the reason why. It’s breathtaking and we feel privileged to be here. June is breeding season for the Greater Kudu and we see a magnificent male posing for us. It is one of Joni’s favourite mammals (shared first place with at least another dozen mammals). The beautiful markings on the face and body, the huge ears and extraordinary horns.
After the en-route game drive we check in at Ruaha River lodge for a 4-night stay. This lodge has 2 Dining areas. In 2014 we stayed in the one positioned on top of the largest kopje in the area which has a spectacular view. At first we were a bit disappointed that this year we stayed in the other area with the dining banda close to the river. The view from our banda was better in 2014, but besides that the disappointment was short lived. To sit with a cold wine by the campfire, next to the river and hear hippo snorting only 5-10 meters away from you is spectacular.
A morning and afternoon gamedrive in Ruaha National Park.
On our first full day in Ruaha we have an early start. Breakfast in the lodge starts at 7am but we want to be on the road by that time to catch the morning light so we take a packed breakfast. We want to look for Sable antelope and decide to take the road towards the Jongomero Area. We see Brown Parrots, Jackal, a young Lion, Yellow Baboon and more kudu, but no Sable. The road to Jongomero follows the Great Ruaha River but you don’t see much of it. The route is not very scenic but sometimes that’s the price you pay for searching a specific species. We have lunch at the lodge and see smoke on the other side of the river. These controlled fires are either to reduce the hazards of a spontaneous fire during the end of the dry season and/or to rejuvenate the perennial grasses. In the afternoon we have another game drive, in the area of Park Headquarters. The environment is beautiful and we enjoy it to the fullest. It’s quiet and peaceful. Nothing on your mind and savour the moment. We park the car and watch a large bull elephant walk past. He turns and looks at us, he assesses we’re not a threat and goes his way again. The sun is setting and we enjoy the golden light on the grasses and Boabab trees.
A morning and afternoon gamedrive in Ruaha National Park.
Today we again leave early with a packed breakfast and will follow the Great Ruaha River to the east. We watch a herd of Greater Kudu. Both male and female have beautiful markings on their face. The males have spiral horns. This one is still young with small horns which can can reach a length of 180cm!
Next we encounter a Black-backed Jackal which is pretty common in Ruaha. It’s a very elegant canine and we always enjoy watching it so we stop the car and take our time. This part of Ruaha NP is very scenic. The landscape is rolling and dotted with huge Boabab trees. The grasses are golden, the bushes are still green. In these bushes we see lots of Hornbills, both Von der Decken’s and Red-Billed Hornbills. They are very noisy and clumsy when climbing the bushes. Rajab, our driver/guide, asks several times if we’re ready to go but we want to stay a little longer and watch how they interact with each other. We have breakfast on the riverbank and enjoy the company of a Hippo family. There are lots of younger ones and they are cleaned by Yellow-billed Oxpeckers.
We find a small pond, almost dried out. Here 4 Great White Pelicans are fishing. When we stop the car, the pelicans get out of the water a go for a stroll. After assessing we’re no threat, they go back to the water and start fishing again. All the while a pair of Saddlebill is keeping a watchful eye, ready to steal the fish from the pelicans.
In some places, like the Serengeti, Plains Zebra are very common but in Ruaha you don’t see many. Same goes for the Grant’s Gazelle. We find both close together and they award is with a show of rolling on the dust and some playful fighting.
Before we turn around to go back to the lodge we meet another huge bull elephant. We stop the car and watch in silence. He’ so impressive. He’s alert but at the same time very calm and starts feeding. After lunch at camp, we stroll the campgrounds and are lucky to see a pack of Banded Mongoose. They are closely related to Meerkat and feed on insects, small reptiles and birds. They forage in groups and are a delight to watch.
In the afternoon we find a Crowned Lapwing. She was screaming her head of so we stopped to see what was up. She then went back to her nest where she sat on her three eggs. The truth is, if she had kept quiet, we would never have seen her or her nest.
What we love about the afternoon game drives is the soft golden light, everything is more beautiful than before. The smell and the sounds of the bush, the wind blowing through our hair, the warmth on our faces. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Full-day game drive in Ruaha National Park.
Today we want to do the Mwagusi Sand River circuit which means we have to do a full-day game drive as it’s located on the other side of the park. But first we have to drop of the suitcase for the Ruaha Carnivore Project at reception, for Ana to pick-up later today.
This time of year there are plenty of young birds and we stop at a small pond to watch our beloved teacosy’s again, also known as helmeted guineafowl. Plenty of birds come to drink here and we spot a Green-winged Pytilia, a very colourful bird.
We reach the Mwagusi Sand River and meet some very impressive Cape Buffalo. This area is very beautiful, the sand river lined with Borasses palm. Later on we see a large herd of buffalo, at least 100 individuals.
In this area we see a Red-necked francolin with very small chicks, lots of giraffe, Green-pigeons and of course elephants. There is a herd further down the road which is blocked by a protective individual. We stop the car and wait for them to move on and off the road.
On the banks of the river we find a large troop of Yellow Baboons. We stop the car and watch them for a while. They are supercute, playing and grooming. And some youngsters are climbing up and down the Borasses palm to pick the fruits.
On the way back to camp we see two giraffes fighting. They swing their heads and try to hit the body of the opponent. This is called necking. It’s fascinating to watch. Although this fight is not serious you can clearly hear the thudding noise of the impact of the blows.
We’re back at camp at approximately 5pm. It’s the first time we’re not on a pm game drive and have time to enjoy the hippo in the river in front of the dining banda. They make a lot of noise, grunting and groaning and wheezing when they surface. They are very close and some people are intimidated and go inside. For us, armed with a bottle of African Passion, this is the perfect ending of the day. Just before sunset the staff lights the campfire and we stay outside until it’s time to have dinner. The sky is on fire behind us, the setting sun colouring the sky with many hues of yellow, orange and red. Masai warriors are standing guard and keep the elephants away from our tents.
Travel to Camp Bastian and PM Gave drive in Mikumi National park.
When we exit the park we stop at a small settlement. We’re out of diesel it appears. Villagers get orders from our driver to get us some seats. Someone else is sent to get some diesel. There are some curious kids coming to shake hands with us. We share our lunchbox and drinks with the kids, making sure they each get something. As a token of appreciation they give us a red plastic whistle. I blow it and they are having a good laugh. Before leaving I ask Rajab to tell them that I very much enjoy their present but that I rather not take their toy with me and hope they won’t mind to get it back. Before leaving they want their pictures taken. They pose and have a lot of fun to see themselves and laugh at how each one looks in the picture.
After a while the guy comes back with a water bottle full of diesel and we are on our way again. Until after a couple of kilometers it becomes clear that the diesel wasn’t clean but probably mixed with some water. We have no power and do have huge black exhaust fumes. So we stop again and Rajab sends Paul out to get new fuel, good quality this time. In the meantime Rajab revs the engine to burn as much as the dirty fuel as possible. This time we get good fuel and make it to Iringa to fill up at a Shell station.
We arrive at Camp Bastian at 3pm and check into our banda. We drop our bags and go to the bar area to have a cold tonic and fresh coffee. And then we are off for a quick visit to Mikumi National Park. Tickets to the National Parks in Tanzania are valid for 24 hour but they are single entry. A lot of tourist therefor go for a full-day drive that starts in the morning. This means at the end of the day most tourist vehicles are gone and we almost have the park to ourselves.
Mikumi is beautiful, especially in the afternoon light. This is the second time we visit Mikumi as a stopover between Ruaha and Selous. We enjoy the park so much that we decide that our next visit will be a longer stay - a couple of days at least. Probably two nights at Stanley’s Kopje and 2 nights at Vuma Hills Lodge.
We stop at the Hippo pool and see really huge crocodiles basking in the sun. Then we spot a female bushbuck. Normally they are very shy but this one is clearly used to vehicles. We watch her for at least 10 very special minutes.
We drive through an area where there is a controlled fire to rejuvenate the grasses. Lilac-breasted Rollers are diving above the area to catch grasshoppers and other insects. We also spot a family of Ground-hornbill looking for tasty grilled insects.
We enjoy the scenery and the last rays of light and are just in time to leave the park before it closes. When we get back to Camp Bastian there is a fire burning and we enjoy our G&Ts, watching the flames and replaying all we have seen today.
Travel to Selous Jimbiza Lodge.
Today is travel day again, to Selous Jimbiza Lodge. We would drive through the reserve and enter at Matambwe Gate. We had travelled this route on our 2014 visit, in the opposite direction. There were a lot of roadworks on the road between Morogoro and Kisaki. Trees were cut and graders were preparing the road for being tarred.
We drive the 75 km from Matambwe Gate to Mtemere gate. This road is also broadened. We are told that this is all in preparation of building the hydroelectric dam at Stiegler’s Gorge. This project is very controversial as it probably has a negative impact on nature conservation in Selous Nature Reserve.
We arrive at Selous Jimbiza Camp at 6pm, just in time to see the sun set on the river. During diner we are visited by Galaogos, also known as bush babies. This are small nocturnal primates and they are super cute.
Full day game drive Selous Game Reserve.
Today we head out to Selous Game Reserve for a full day game drive. As usual we start early. This time after a proper breakfast as Jimbiza caters to early-risers.
When entering the park we are a bit disoriented. Last time we had to drive slowly as there were lots of bushes and lots of elephant in this area. The road is much broader now, bushes cut on both sides and it takes away some or the wilderness feeling of Selous Game Reserve. Thankfully, when you leave the main road and are on the game drive circuits you’re back in the bush.
We had planned to visit Lake Tagalala and the hot springs but rumour had it the wild dogs were near the lakes and we decided to look for them instead. We skirted Lake Mzizima, Lake Siwandu, Lake Nzerakera and Lake Manze and saw a lot of beautiful birds, but no dogs. When passing Lake Manze we heard that lions were spotted so we drove on to have a look. Two males were resting in the shade. It didn’t look like they planned on getting active so we drove on and had lunch. After lunch we drove back and found the lions with a kill. Out of nowhere there were a lot of vultures, waiting for leftovers.
Back at Jimbiza we had a lazy afternoon and tried to capture dundown again. At diner we had another visit from the bush babies and this time we came prepared with the right camera equipment.
After dinner we were invited to watch the staff performing traditional dances. This was fun as it didn’t feel like a slick performance for tourist. Maybe the activity was new or maybe because it was start of the season.
Game drives, check-in at Lake Manze Camp and finally we see Wild Dogs!
Today we check out at Jimbiza Camp at 7am and while waiting for the driver we spot a Böhm's Bee-eater. This is a small but very elegant bee-eater. It’s green with rufous crown and orange throat. It has a blue narrow stripe on the cheeks and long tail streamers.
While waiting for check-in at the Mtemere gate we walk around a bit. A Vervet Monkey is telling us to keep our distance by showing his teeth. On look at his teeth and we get the message, loud and clear!
Next we spot a tower of giraffes. Red-billed oxpecker are all over them, cleaning them of parasites and ticks. A family of warthog is feeding. Front feet bend backwards they move around on their wrists. Some say they are ugly but we think they look cute and they are fun to watch.
Later on we find a huge herd of Eland, the largest antelope of the region. Males can reach a shoulder height of 1.7m and can weigh up to 900kg! Despite their massive size they are very shy and keep their distance.
Next we see a Red-necked Falcon catching a dove and landing in a tree close-by. We stop the car and watch for about 20 minutes. The Falcon drops the dove and it falls on a lower branch. Lucky for us this new spot gives us a better view.
There are a lot of Striped Bush Squirrel, but they are hard to photograph as they quickly run up a tree and disappear. We see a couple of them entering a hole in a tree. We wait for a bit and are rewarded when three curious little squirrels come out to see what we are up to.
After we ate our lunch on the shores of one of the lakes we head to Lake Manze Camp where we will stay two nights. We look forward to staying here as it is a small tented camp right in the middle of nature. We check-in and sit outside our tent watching impala and baboon stroll by. There are also many birds some of which we haven’t seen before. We set up the camera-trap again and hope to catch some nocturnal animals.
In the afternoon we hear the wild dogs are around. We get directions from other cars but can’t find them. Then another guide tells us to follow his car and finally we see them! We count 12 individuals, resting before the next hunt. They are blotched black, white and brown and all have a black stripe from between the eyes over the top of the head. The colour pattern of each dog is unique. The way they yawn, stretch, roll on their backs is very much like our own domestic dogs. We stay with them for 45 minutes and then have to hurry back to camp.
The dinner-table is set under the stars, just the way we like it. We are seated next to an elderly British couple and exchange travel stories. After a delicious meal we are escorted back to the tent by a Maasai guard.
Morning game drive and an afternoon boat cruise
We ordered a wake-up coffee at the tent and get up at 6am, in time to see the sun rise. The speed in which darkness makes room for daylight is amazing. At Lake Manze Camp breakfast starts at 7am so we head out with a bush breakfast. We head out to the spot where we saw the wild dogs yesterday. Not surprisingly they are no longer here. We see lots of birds and a mob of mongoose. Finally our driver stops, only just in time, before they all disappear. Apparently he doesn’t understand why I get excited everytime we see these creatures.
There are a lot of different bee-eaters in Selous Game Reserve. We watch a family of Northern Carmine Bee-eaters for about 10 minutes. The parents fly on and off with insects for their young. On the shores of Lake Nzerakera we watch a flock of White-faced Whistling-Duck. A croc swims by and there are plenty more on the shore. Add some hippo and this Lake does not look invitingly for a swim!
We drive away from the lakes onto the savanna plains. Here we see a group of Blue Wildebeest. They seem lighter on their hindquarters then the ones we’ve seen in Northern Tanzania. [looked this up at home and the seem to be another subspecies - Johnstoni and not the Albojubatus we’ve seen in Serengeti) We find a lioness nearby, resting in the shade. Another car arrives at the same time and not liking the crowd, see heads into the sand river. We find a spot where we can still see here resting in the sand. The other car drove around and is trying to clear a path through the bushes. We hear the engine revving and branches breaking. So much for silence in the bush. Finally tired of it, the lioness moves off again, out of sight.
Back at camp we have lunch and retire to our tent. After a hot shower and a quick nap we enjoy wildlife from out veranda. Young baboon are running around playful and are a joy to watch. We check our camera-trap to see what passed by during the night. And guess what, only 45 minutes after we went to sleep a lion walked past our tent. Not in the distance, it actually walked the path to our tent. This is exactly why we bought the camera-trap in the first place. Many times at breakfast people asked us, did you hear the lions roar? Did you hear the hyena laugh? We never do. We sleep like a baby in the African bush and miss all the nocturnal fun. But now we have proof that indeed the lions walk though these unfenced camps at night.
This afternoon we have a boat trip on the channel connecting Lake Manze to the Rifiji River. We spot a Malachite Kingfisher that just caught a shrimp. We see many other birds like Openbill, Great White Egret, more Kingfishers.
A little further we spook three giraffes. A lot of splashing and trampling as they run away through the muddy banks of the channel.
We see Waterbuck, Buffalo, Grey Heron, Cattle Egret. And then we spot a Green-backed Heron. This bird is common but rather secretive and it’s the first time we can have a real gook look at it. This is what makes a boat cruise so special, being able to approach animals that otherwise fly or run away. You also feel more free in an open boat and at a perfect level to see wildlife.
There are a lot of Fish-Eagles around. Probably some young begging for food. The channel widens and our guide points to the water, Terrapin. As soon as you located one it dives down again and it’s very difficult to get a decent picture.
We see plenty more birds. Pied kingfisher, Brown-hooded kingfisher, Little bee-eater. White-fronted bee-eater nesting in the banks of the channel.
As we head back to camp we enjoy the sunset. The sky is beautiful blue-yellow and reflects on the water. Add palm-fringed shores, a warm wind on your face and life doesn’t get any better than this.
Back at camp we enjoy the delicious sundowner snacks of Lake Manze camp and of course our chilled white wine. We have another dinner under the stars and this evening we are seated next to another british couple. They have travelled a lot and get us excited about a self-drive trip to Namibia, especially the Zambezi (Caprivi) region. After starters elephants walk past us, maybe 20 meters away from us. Everybody is quiet and probably feels as privileged as we do. A perfect last evening in Tanzania. Of course we do not want to go home yet, Lake Manze is a really special camp and if we could reschedule our flight, we surely would stay longer.
Morning boat cruise on Lake Manze and travel to Dar es Salaam to catch flight to Amsterdam
Our boat cruise on Lake Manze leaves at 8am so we have plenty of time to enjoy our coffee in front of the tent. We are treated to a special sight as a herd of elephant walk past. Today we cruise on the lake. The main feature here is hippo, they are everywhere. They groan and moan and make their special a-a-a-a sound. We take it all in and enjoy africa’s wildlife one last time. Back at camp it’s time to get ready to leave for Dar es Salaam. The trip to the airport is uneventful and the plane leaves on time. We have had a great time and decide there and then, our next safari will be longer!