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backpacking Serengeti, Katavi, Mahale, game driving Serengeti


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After a little reorganization of gear between trucks… and a realization the cold beer was back at camp, not in the trucks… we loaded in and headed back along the Mara, past the Kogatende air strip to a beautiful spot along the Mara dedicated to walking safaris; Wayo has one of their camps there. After bucket showers (luxurious after rinsing in the Bologonja) and a full fresh lunch w/cold beer, we spent a good part of the afternoon sorting gear; some would continue with us to Katavi and Mahale, some would stay behind to be picked up on our return, and some would stay with Wayo. Before dinner we took a nice long walk along the Mara:







Up early for breakfast and off to the airstrip for part 2 – Katavi.



Saying good bye to Jean and Sarah was not sad; they were no longer just our guides and hosts, they were friends. We know we will both visit as friends and travel as clients in the future.



Snacks in hand we boarded our flight for Katavi



If you have now or develop an interest in backpacking safaris we can recommend Jean and Wayo without reservation. Jean pairs professionalism with an insatiable appetite for exploring and adventure.


While we spent just one night at their walking camp we can say with confidence they provide a comfortable, clean, and well organized camp with a very attentive staff. We didn’t ‘want’ for food on the trail, but the variety of food in camp along with the fresh vegetables and salads was quite welcome and stacked up to some of the higher end luxury camps we've enjoyed. If walking coupled with game drives is a little more your style, it was clear from our brief stay in camp that Wayo strikes a great balance between comfort and adventure and would be well worth your consideration.


Thursday, September 24th, 8:20 am we boarded our flight from Kogatende to Katavi via a refuel in Tabora.


We arrived in Katavi around noon and met Sammy, our driver/guide for the next 7 days. Sammy, a Masai Warrior, was knowledgeable, tireless, accommodating, personable, open… We particularly enjoyed and appreciated learning about his life, what it is like transitioning from guide to warrior and back again when visiting his village and family, the dynamics of family and village politics, and how he is contributing to the survival of their way of life. Though he would not put it that way, there is little doubt his respect for tradition coupled with his understanding of the realities of pressures from the outside guide his efforts to strengthen and sustain their future. We also appreciated his honest enthusiasm. When he was excited, he showed it. When things didn’t quite go as planned he maintained his spirit and methodically worked through what needed doing… As example; the need to push start our vehicle a mere 8 - 10m from Joseph (Chada Pride male) and one of his lady lionesses; but more on that later.


It is about a 40 minute drive from the airstrip to Chada Camp. We arrived a little before 1 and were met by the ever enthusiastic and consummate host, Julien Polet. There is much here on ST and elsewhere about Chada and all of it is true; tents are set individually and private, are impeccably maintained, have views out to the Chada Plain; the lounge, dining room, and community deck are comfortable and well kept; drinks, food, sun downers, attentive service... all was top shelf. Attitude makes the difference between good amenities and creating an experience other camps can’t begin to approach: Julien’s personality, attention to details, effervescence, tireless enthusiasm and excitement about every experience is infectious and permeates through to the staff! He balances high energy attentiveness with giving guests space to enjoy their solitude, a unique gift!


After dropping bags in our tent we joined the other guests for lunch. This was our first experience with other guests. On our previous safari we were the only guests in most of the camps and the others had separate dining. What a wonderful experience meeting, hearing about recent and previous exploits, and watching the good hearted competitive pride each had for their team in the Rugby World Cup… Our fellow guests came from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and UK… not to mention Julien from Belgium so they all had a rooting interest. A thoroughly enjoyable and engaging group.


After lunch it was typical to have a couple of hours to ourselves. Then, 4 o’clock tea before heading out for the evening drive.


Chada Camp is on a bit of a woodland peninsula that extends out into the Chada Plain. As such, the first few K in and out are almost like a long driveway and a perfect time to shift from camp mode to/from game drive mode. There were times when we’d see animals on this stretch but it was when we came to the first fork, one heading into the woodland and the other skirting the Plain, that we were reminded to have everything ready; Every morning and most evenings there would be a host of monkey's hanging out in the same tree, playing, and perhaps posing for pictures.


This was our first time in an open vehicle. In some ways we enjoyed and appreciated the open sides; no doubt the canopy provided critical shade from the intense sun and the open sides allowed a low angle for pictures. At the same time we missed the use of the roof and roll bars on closed vehicles, where use of a bean bag for stabilizing larger lenses really comes in handy: Any suggestions on how to mitigate this in an open vehicle would be much appreciated for future trips. Only once did I feel a little uncomfortable with the open sides. It was when we first saw Joseph, the Chada Pride male. He is massive. He was just snoozing and we pulled up rather close. It was at that time I thought he could quite easily rise, leap through the vehicle collecting Terese and me in each front paw, pin us to the ground on the other side, and proceed to chastise us for interrupting his evening nap... All before we realized what had happened! But he slept and we moved on without incident:-)


Following are a number of pictures from our first evening out:








Friday, September 25th, our first full day in Katavi. We had wanted to go out for a full day. That is how we had done it on our first safari in the Serengeti several years prior. But, there is a semi-fixed routine at Chada Katavi. The routine exists for good reason and I believe for 90% of guests it is best to follow the plan:

  • 6ish meet for breakfast or load into your vehicle with a box breakfast.
  • Noon back in camp for 1pm lunch, break, and 4pm tea
  • 4:30 back in vehicle for evening drive
  • 6:30 back to camp for 7pm sundowners and dinner.

This schedule makes sense as the afternoon heat does become oppressive and most of the animals are inactive. We accepted this schedule, somewhat begrudgingly at first. In retrospect, we were happy with the routine and also understand we could/should have been clearer about our desires to stay out all day. We did get those “all day” drives later.


Following are a number of pictures from our morning drive:






We also saw lion, hippo, giraffe, impala, fish eagles, herons, cranes, crocs… But Togo the 3 year old leopard was the standout prize of the morning.


In the evening we headed back to where Togo was and sure enough, she was still in the tree. Just as well we went back for lunch, break, and tea. Otherwise we might have sat there under the tree for hours waiting for her to come down! Routine does have its place. In addition to seeing Togo again we saw lion, hippo, giraffe, impala… Of particular interest was watching a couple of hippos trying to figure out how to get past several lions.




Saturday, 26th

One of the true, routine luxuries was the morning coffee wakeup call. Set on a table on the deck just outside our tent it included juice, coffee, and biscuits. I’m sure they would have included anything we requested, but we’re not much for breakfast and were quite content. The view in:



The view out



Out for our morning drive. For the most part guests are there for 3 or 4 days and the routine to fill those days is, for the most part, set up to reduce going back over the same tracks any more than is necessary. This second morning out seemed to follow the routine, which was fine with us as we were still getting adjusted to Katavi. We skirted the edge of the plain, crossed the Katuma (while there was more water than expected for this time of year there were more places to cross than not). We saw fresh lion tracks in the dust of the track, kind of cool. A little later we saw a lioness lackadaisically walking along the river bed in our general direction. She was far enough off that we had time to re position our truck and settle in. Sure enough, she weaved in and out of sight as she came toward us. Just after passing us it was clear she got focused in on something and started a series of crawls in the grass, down into the drainages, peaking up over the bank, crawling… It was fascinating to watch her on the hunt. And then, much to our dismay, one of the few other safari vehicles we saw came in from the other bank, barreled down the riverbed and came to a stop between the lioness and whatever it was she was stocking… end of hunt. This was the first of several inexplicable guiding 'misbehaviors' we experienced on this trip and we’ll call out the worst offending guide service later. Such a disappointment to be in such a remote park, known for few visitors and animals less habituated to humans, only to experience this.






After watching the lioness, Sammy suggested we head over to a watering hole out past the airstrip that might attract Roan Antelope. We headed there, set up our breakfast table, watched some buffalo come in for a drink and go, and then the Roan. How special this was to watch them come in ever so slowly, some drinking while others watched the surrounding brush, and then they were spooked and off they ran:






On our way back for lunch we came across elephant, banded mongoose, impala, giraffe… and hippo and croc…






On our evening drive…








Katavi walking and fly camping on the next post…

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@GBE Great trip report so far, particularly like the croc in the den. The walking and camping sounds like a fantastic adventure. We'll be doing 3 days of waking with Wayo in the central Serengeti in May and can't wait.

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@@anthracosaur - Thank you for your feedback. We didn't see as many caves as we'd hoped but what we saw was great. Just reviewed your earlier post and inquiries. Cool that things worked out for you and Wayo; that you're with a single TO for your trip will make things smoother. Having spent time with Wayo I can say first hand they will take great care of you, your wife, and parents(?). Looking forward to hearing about your safari on your return.

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This looks like a really great trip and you got some tremendous croc shots. I've been interested in traveling with Jean for years since I saw his Serengeti documenteries and it sure looks like he was a great guide for you.

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@@dlo - What you see in the documentaries is what you get when with him. I think the biggest 'take' we had from spending time with Jean and why we will take future trips together is that he loves to explore and he loves adventure; and he loves sharing that with clients.

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Really cool pictures. Like the laying down in the water and the line of wildebeest on the first page.

The fishing marabou is a great catch here, no pun intended.

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@@Marks - Thanks, and I have to smile about the laying in the water. I've used the term "bio rich" to describe the Bologonja. Prior to the trip I couldn't have imagined putting bare feet in such water much less immersing myself... let along filtering, treating, and drinking. But being there it was the most natural thing to do... laughing about that dead buffalo we knew about and who knows what else was contributing to that wonderful bio richness; and then getting in to cool off. I still get a chuckle out of it but wouldn't change a thing. In time I'll edit the videos we have; I'm pretty sure we have the Marabou catching and swallowing. It was fascinating watching thr relationships in the Katuma. The crocs and hippo seem to exist despite each other. Most interesting was the interplay between storks, cranes, and crocs. The birds work the shallow water as close to the crocs as possible without being in striking distance. They do this in anticipation of the crocs moving and stirring/scaring up the fish. The fish then 'touch' the beaks in wait and voila, a catch. Of course, some birds work the backs of hippo... I suppose safer in some regards. Next time we are in Katavi we'll plan to spend more time just sitting and watching.


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Sunday, 27th was a leisurely start kind of day. Today we set off from camp at about 7am for a walk along the edge of the Chada Plain, past the picnic area, to a prearranged pick up point. It was a nice departure from the vehicle and reminder of how enjoyable it can be on foot, looking at the little things and letting the senses, earing and smell in particular contribute to understanding what’s happening all around. We had some nice views of giraffe, topi, water buck, a python in a tree, lots of bones and then breakfast at the pickup point. We were back to camp a little before noon and spent the afternoon exploring in and around the camp. Resident monkeys and a pair of bushbuck provided good entertainment.

Heading out for our evening drive we’d been informed of an elephant carcass near the airstrip. Rangers had removed the ivory and while located where vehicles weren’t typically allowed, they weren’t enforcing for the time being. The sheer number of vultures in the area was awe inspiring.



Later the hippo roll…



An active/agitated hippo pod…



And a sun downer to the dulcimer tones of hippo



Sunday evening we said our good byes to our campmates as most were moving on to Mahale the next day. We’d see some of them at the Mahale air strip the following Thursday. They were a splendid group and we were sorry our time with them was so short.


Monday, 28th started off early with plans for breakfast near the river. Admittedly we had trouble getting used to the whole rigmarole of setting up a table and chairs and laying out a spread. We’d have been quite happy with a box on our lap eating in the truck. But, who are we to break tradition.

Our breakfast and sights from the table…






Katavi is known for its concentration of croc, hippo, elephant, giraffe, buffalo, et al. And it has that. What struck us was the concentration of diversity. It was as common, if not more so, to have multiple species in our field of vision as it was to see many of just one. Like this with hippo, croc, fish eagle, yellow billed stork, elephant, and various palm, grasses, pools…



Not far from where we enjoyed breakfast we took up position along the Katuma and watched groups of elephant from as few as 2 and 3 up to 15 – 20. Scanning 360* but primarily for as far as we could see up and down the river they were moving, crossing, digging their own water holes, slinging mud, rubbing on termite mounds; well over 100 elephant spread out in this little part of Katavi.






Then off to the famous Katuma hippo pool



And then, on our way back for lunch Sammy spotted Togo deep in the brush… Really deep. With a little zigging and zagging we did maneuver close enough to enjoy a time watching her on the ground before other vehicles arrived; there weren’t many other vehicles to see in Katavi and it turned out these two were carrying new Nomad guests transferring from the airstrip to Chada camp.





Back to camp, lunch, and then gathering together some of our gear for 2 nights fly camping. One of our major interests was to explore more of Katavi. This was a major point with our TO and included 2nd hand conversations up the line at Nomad… This extra effort is what tipped the scales to Natural High Safaris over the other TO we were considering. We ARE VERY HAPPY with the fly camping we did. The Nomad team on the ground was great. Any dissatisfaction you read/sense here is based on what we wanted but now understand is not something Nomad is designed to provide. We let what we wanted cloud our understanding of what we were getting. Having read trip report “Roughing it through Ruaha and Katavi” by @@Africalover we have an actual example of how we would like to plan our next Katavi safari. Last note/caveat: Vanessa at Natural High Safaris was always up front and honest about what was possible, what wasn’t possible, and what alternatives might be available.


We left Chada a little after 4 like the previous evenings, skirting along the edge of the Chada Plain toward the Katuma. It can be a real challenge to shoot impala in Katavi. While they seem to graze while vehicles are moving, as soon as we stopped for a picture they were off. Kudos to Terese to be ready for these shots.





And then a surprise coming around what turned out to be another’s evening snack…



A little closer than any of us was comfortable with. Lionesses, warthog, waterbuck, giraffe; all in all a nice evening’s sightings as we continued around the Plain to a spot almost directly across from Chada Camp. While our fly camping didn’t contribute to exploring deeper into the park, it certainly provided a unique, at times enchanting, worthwhile experience. It really is ‘over the top’. 5 – 8 staff at times to support just the two of us. Bucket showers, private loo, wash basins outside our tent, full bar, full dinner setting, full menu… worth the price of admission and we recommend it should the opportunity arise.

Our sleeping tent was little more than netting to keep the bugs at bay but allow for full views around and above.




A table with a few, thank you…




Tuesday, September 29 – a leisurely morning with full breakfast. At Chada we were anxious to get going so always took a box breakfast. Here, on the other side of the Plain we sat to a formal breakfast with omelets, bacon, sausage, fruit… anything and everything you might want. Then we were off.



After leaving the Chada Plain we went through a brief, brittle dry woodland where we saw small groups of buffalo and waterbuck. This opened onto the Duma Plain. The combination of controlled fires, being late in the dry season, and the heat of late morning contributed to this being the most desolate, inhospitable area we’ve seen. This gave way to a palm forest. Very, very cool to see the dramatic changes in relatively short distances. Soon the dry, grey edges of the forest became vibrant green with young and mature palms, green grasses, and a host of animals.



We knew there must be water near…






This relative oasis opened up to one end of Paradise. Aptly named, Paradise is a large, several K long and perhaps 1 – 2 k across in places, green emerald in an otherwise parched environment. We drove along the right/south? edge where the plain is about 3 – 5m lower and separated from the higher, dry side by a narrow swath of palm. The contrast between grey and brittle brown on the high side and lush greens and yellows on the Paradise side was dramatic.









The track is mostly on the dry side where we saw hyena, giraffe, Lichtenstein hartebeest, and buffalo. We’d see through the palms or drive down to the Paradise side for views of topi, zebra, hippo, baboon (scattered throughout the palms). The fly camp is no longer in Paradise. We were told the rangers closed it as a location ‘because no guests would want to be there.’??? Granted, the spring fed pool/mud hole is dry and the activity is likely dramatically reduced; but for the rangers to move the camp to a dry spot along the Chada Plain seems odd. Seems more likely Nomad found it logistically easier to have the fly camp closer to Chada. Regardless, when we return, part of our plan will be to spend a day or two at Paradise and toward the escarpments. We got a taste of both and see tremendous potential. We’d been warned about Tse flies in Katavi in general and out toward Paradise and the escarpments. While annoying, they were not the swarms we’d been warned about. To a certain extent we think the Tse is used to dissuade travel too far from camp… Maybe on our next trip we’ll get swarmed and I’ll regret this view.


On we drove out the other end of Paradise into ever thickening brush and woods. At one point losing the track and finally having to back out to find the track. Easy to get disoriented. Four sets of eyes, along with Sammy we had a ranger with us, and we still got turned around. After insisting we were following the track back to Paradise instead of the escarpments both Sammy and the ranger acquiesced and turned us around and back on track. Out of the thickets and into an immature palm forest. Very cool to be where most of the trees were palm only about 6 or 7m tall with fronds to the ground. Then dappled open areas, brush, clusters of trees and then to a nice lunch spot next to a river. This too would have made for an excellent camp from which to explore the escarpments.




Some of the tracks in and out of this end of Paradise…




A Marshal Eagle…



Back to Paradise…





Drive from Paradise to Katsunga Plain: At times very rough and then to where they were actively re grading. Beautiful scenery and variety of open, brush, woodland, palm…




Elephant greeted us at Katsunga. We skirted along the plain past a tented camp or two, across the Katuma, past the air strip, and as the sun was getting lower in the sky we came across Joseph and one of his ladies. It definitely appeared they were into the mating cycle; though we only witnessed her rebukes of his advances… so maybe not yet.




Nice they settled down to simply observe… us. As Sammy turned the key to start the truck, nothing. Again, nothing. Sammy leaned over to the ranger and they chatted a bit. Then the ranger slung his AK 47 over his shoulder, climbed out behind Sammy and started rocking the truck. No way was one person going to push this beast of a vehicle. So, Sammy asked Terese (sitting directly behind him) to lean over the seat to steer so he could get out and push. Not going to happen with even two pushing. So, after several offers Sammy agreed to have me get out. 3’s a charm and we got it rolling enough for Sammy to jump in and turn it over. Engine going, truck rolling, lions watching, the ranger and I trotted along jumping in as we could and away we went. We’ve had much fun suggesting how scary and dangerous it was but in reality, we never felt threatened. I can only imagine what the lions were thinking… Brings to mind Far Side cartoons “the one on the right looks taste but the others are too skinny to bother”.


On to camp and a spectacular sunset over the Katsunga Plain.



Wednesday, 30th up and out early. We had a long day ahead as we planned to drive around Katsunga, out to Lake Katavi, and then back to Chada camp for our last night. Katsunga is huge. There are places where the track has seen little traffic; the ranger thought we might be the first of the season. Similar to Paradise we didn’t see another vehicle all day with the exception of when we went by the park HQ. The track is rough enough that we barely moved at a walking pace for a couple of hours at a time. Monotonous and jarring but also extraordinary views.






The track…




In the morning we came across a herd of Sable Antelope. Very skittish and a challenge to position for viewing much less pictures. While difficult, Sammy and the ranger were so excited about seeing them that we spent a considerable amount of time and maneuvering to get some nice views; truly magnificent aninmals…



Lake Katavi is all but empty this time of year. While the buffalo herd was massive, it was far, far out in the middle where there was still a spot of water. Impressive empty, we look forward to returning at the end of the wet season to see it full. We understand the birding is outstanding then.



And hippo…



We saw Roan, Yellow Baboons, smaller groups of buffalo all along the lake. Giraffe joined us for lunch. And then it was back through the HQ and the horrible main road for a brief period. While we could have stayed on it we opted to loop back to the track we came in on… even knowing there were some very bumpy sections it would be preferable.

We were treated to some great elephant views…




We counted well over 100 elephants crossing the plain in the evening. It was quite surreal in the evening haze.



And on to Chada Camp for our last evening in Katavi.

Next post we’ll leave Chada and Katavi for Mahale and Greystoke… From one extreme to another.

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Love the hippo shots they capture what I feel Katavi is all about even though I have never been. Scenically the park is really quite nice.

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Thank-you for this - I'm enjoying both the writing and the images - such a varied trip. I was amused by your account of late departures from the camps on the treking section as I have done a few trips in the mountains and don't think we ever managed the target time for leaving but as you commented there is something very relaxing about enjoying the second cup of coffee in the early morning peace.

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Brings back memories of a fantastic trip. Great TR, pics. Good to see Togo again and that she is doing fine.

Thanks for sharing.

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@@Marks - Thanks, and I have to smile about the laying in the water. I've used the term "bio rich" to describe the Bologonja. Prior to the trip I couldn't have imagined putting bare feet in such water much less immersing myself... let along filtering, treating, and drinking. But being there it was the most natural thing to do... laughing about that dead buffalo we knew about and who knows what else was contributing to that wonderful bio richness; and then getting in to cool off. I still get a chuckle out of it but wouldn't change a thing. In time I'll edit the videos we have; I'm pretty sure we have the Marabou catching and swallowing. It was fascinating watching thr relationships in the Katuma. The crocs and hippo seem to exist despite each other. Most interesting was the interplay between storks, cranes, and crocs. The birds work the shallow water as close to the crocs as possible without being in striking distance. They do this in anticipation of the crocs moving and stirring/scaring up the fish. The fish then 'touch' the beaks in wait and voila, a catch. Of course, some birds work the backs of hippo... I suppose safer in some regards. Next time we are in Katavi we'll plan to spend more time just sitting and watching.



Haha, if you stop and think about it, you may second guess the exposure, but it seems like the thing to do! Plus, the motivation to cool off can be powerful...

Agreed that just sitting and watching can yield some of the most memorable moments...something I need to keep in mind, too. Hope you get the videos sorted!








Just wanted to point out how much I admire the perfect S curve of trunk and mud here.

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A fantastic view of Katavi. Your writing is very engaging and I am loving your photos.

The hippos in the pool are amazing, and that is a beautiful leopard.

It looks like a beautiful place. I can imagine the lions watching you trying to get the car started!

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@GBE Your Katavi section is making me jealous that we won't be going there! Really nice to hear that your trip went so well. We are happy to be going with a single operator, and your information on your experiences booking with Wayo were helpful when we made our decision.

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This trip report is a joy to read, thank you. Love the photos which really show off the environment.

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I'm really enjoying your report. Such a unique and memorable safari. Look forward to more!

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@@GBE great report and some stunning photo's.

I like post 28 with the heron (blue crane?) standing on the hippo's back with the croc in it's den in the background.

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Only just catching up with this, your trip report is really interesting and some great photos. Really nice to see the how it looks with you doing a lot of the safari as bush walking.

You appear to have had better wildlife sightings in Katavi than we did.

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It was overcast as we pulled out of Chada, but the sun was straining to break through the cloud cover and we were hoping for some great sunbeam/sunrise shots. It’s worth noting here that every night we heard hippo and lion out on the Chada Plain. The past night there was considerable lion activity and Sammy suggested we drive along the Plain to see if there was any feeding activity. That was fine with us as this would give us the best view of the sun breaking through. What came next had us all uncontrollably belly laughing: Sammy was going on and on about the lions. Meanwhile, Terese and I were excited about how the sun was streaming left and right out of some holes in the clouds. We asked Sammy to stop so we could watch and be ready for the shot… as we’re adjusting our cameras, Sammy was going on about the lions. The sun broke through another hole and was now streaming left, right, and straight down. I started with a narrow angle shot, opened up the field of view and shot again. I did this several times until fully wide angle. Through the lens I then see Joseph lying not 3m from us! I exclaimed something about there being lions close to us. As I’m sure you’ve surmised, Sammy wasn’t looking at the sun streaming through the clouds and thought we were taking pictures of the lions… Once we all figured out the disconnect we broke down laughing; Just goes to show you can become so focused on seeing one thing that you completely miss something else altogether. This also showed how comfortable and familiar we had become over the past week.



On we drove to the Katuma and followed it toward the airstrip. We never tired of seeing life along the Katuma.








Sit for any length of time watching hippo packed into the limited pools and the relative tranquility erupts, while most often for just a few seconds it is enough to demonstrate their power.




We came upon a group of elephants that were quite curious about us, trunks up and sniffing in our direction. This went on for quite some time with one or two advancing toward us and then backing off. They didn’t seem agitated, just curious. And we never felt threatened, though they did get rather close at times.



Then out to the Katisunga…



And a brief glimpse of part of the Katisunga pride. It was late morning and with the heat starting to build they clung to what little shade was available.


And with a final few turns through brush and trees, across the Katuma, and to the airstrip it was time to say good bye to Katavi and Sammy.


And what a different view of the Katisunga Plain from above…


At the end of this report we’ll do some ‘nuts and bolts’ camp reviews. Suffice to say at this point that Chada is everything you’ve ever read or heard. Location, infrastructure, food, service, and hospitality was outstanding in every way. And Katavi… WOW! Put the two together and it’s an extraordinary experience.


From the dry of Katavi to the shores of Lake Tanganyika… A bit of a shock to the system. While still quite warm there is no mistaking the moisture in the air. The airstrip at the north end of Mahale has some very nice facilities for relaxing while paperwork is completed. After a brief wait we met our guides (Mathias and Battuti (sp?)), walked the length of the airstrip to our dhow, and the relaxing cruise south along the lake shore to Greystoke.



We were treated to Colobus monkey’s leaping though the trees.



A calm day, smooth water, blue sky dappled with a few billowy white clouds, the Mahale Mountains, and lush jungle down to the water’s edge or a thin strip of white sand… After 5 days in the Serengeti and 7 in Katavi, this was just plain crazy!



And then seeing firsthand what every guest must have seen online and dreamed of for years, months, weeks, and days prior to this moment; coming around a point and… Greystoke


Nothing we read prepared us for our time at Greystoke. I’m not sure pictures, videos, and the finest of prose can adequately capture and convey the experience that is Greystoke and the hospitality of Cam and Kate. The hour + dhow cruise is an essential part of preparing the mind for the utter and complete shift from the intensity of game drives to… Hmmmm, I’ll need some time to come up with words to describe the intensity of Greystoke. But for now I’ll leave you with the view from our Banda


Our walk to dinner…



Nestled upon shore rockery, surrounded by jungle, comfortably seated in our own private alcove, sundowners in hand… Not sure it gets any better than this.


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A calm day, smooth water, blue sky dappled with a few billowy white clouds, the Mahale Mountains, and lush jungle down to the water’s edge or a thin strip of white sand… After 5 days in the Serengeti and 7 in Katavi, this was just plain crazy!


It sure looks like a dramatic change of scenery!

Those hippos make an impressive spectacle.

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Love the walking part - just finished that. Now for the rest..........

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More Superb photos and a really interesting report, really enjoying it.

I think we met you on the airstrip at Mahale - you were leaving Mahale and we had got off the plane to stretch our legs ( being on route to Serengeti Mara from Katavi.)

Reading carefully through your Katavi report you obviously met the New Zealand couple half way through your stay at Katavi - Peter and Jenny - who were there for a week and who we got to know well as they were one of the two couples sharing the vehicle we were in.

We never had the option of bush breakfasts- it would not have possible to get everything in the vehicle with six of us crammed in ours,including one guest having to sit next to the driver/ guide.


Likewise,I dont understand why they dont do full day game dives, or fly camping at Paradise - seems its all about costs/ practicalities ( eg no need to provide packed lunches if no full day drives). Disappointed with my first experience of a Nomad camp.


I also found it strange that in the Selous it seemed none of the camps did full day drives and , even though its not a National Park and they could do night game drives, when I asked about night drives the guides saud the animals were skittish and the night drives would be expensive - - semed a poor excuse.


In Katavi the tsetse flies are more of a problem in the middle of the day , but again I think its a poor excuse not to offer full days out.

Ruaha ( Mwagusi in our case)was perhaps justified in not doingfull days out ( although if we really wanted to I believe they would have provided it) - it was just too hot to be out in the early afternoon.


Possibly southern and south western Tanzania wildlife tourism is still so limited( possibly a good thing) that the camps feel they can dictate what they provide as competition is so small.

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@@Julian - yes, we met at the Mahale airstrip and shared the charter through Tabora to Kogatende.

Yes, we met Peter and Jenny. Seemed like a very nice couple. Sharing a vehicle isn't something we've done and for the very reasons you described. While it does cost a bit more for exclusive use of a vehicle I think we'll continue doing this to maximize all our options from staying to view, abandoning a view, packing gear for meals out on the drive, but mostly so we can spread out all of our camera gear and optics and have full viewing. Terese almost always sits in the seats directly behind the driver and I take the back seats.


I understand the standard morning and evening drive schedules. For shared vehicles this makes good sense. We did get two very full days out while fly camping in Katavi. We also 'insisted' on a full day drive in the Serengeti on our last segment. This was with Nomad... I'll share more in that part of the trip report. We would be happy with box lunches and eating in the vehicle. This is what we did on our first safari back in 2013. We even suggested this to our guides but I don't think they have the option. Silly as this sounds, we finally got used to and enjoyed the full setup of table and chairs for eating out on the drive. As we gain experience these are details we'll ask about before making final camp/TO decisions.


I've perused your trip review but haven't had time to read in detail yet. Just trying to get through this report and then will dive in. Selous and Ruaha are on our list and I look forward to reading about your experience.



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Chimps, Mahale, and Greystoke were the primary focus around which all other parts of our trip were arranged.


The Mahale Mountains reach directly out of the crystal waters of Lake Tanganyika. But for an occasional strip of white sand beach the rich green, dense and lush jungle reaches from water to the mountain tops. Capped by clouds, shrouded in mist, or bright like a giant, many faceted emerald jutting out of the lake on a clear day it is an amazing sight. Viewing from the Dhow, from the beach, or from within it was everything we’d imagined of an African jungle.


Greystoke is well reviewed, almost universally 5*, and justifiably so. From the moment we disembarked the dhow and met Kate, Cam, and the staff it was clear this camp was very, very different. Yes, there are schedules to be followed, activities to be enjoyed, and rules to follow. On paper they are very similar to other camps, but the execution and attitude de-emphasize structure and impart a “don’t worry, be happy” attitude. As Julien’s high energy engagement sets the tone at Chada, Kate and Cam’s relaxed serenity set the tone at Greystoke. The staff take on this same relaxed, familiar, welcome to our little slice of paradise approach. And yet, everything gets done and there is no wanting or waiting for anything.


Friday morning we woke to wonderfully cool breezes off the lake and overcast skies. Coffee service as a wake-up call around 6:30. Wrapped in robes, sitting on the deck of our Banda we let our eye’s soak in the view and our minds sink deeper into the rhythm of Greystoke. Dressed for trekking, gear sorted and packed, we headed off for breakfast and news of when we may start off into the jungle for our first view of chimps. – Dressed for Trekking is really about long sleeve shirts, long pants, sturdy shoes… which most of us had but… The clothes drier at Greystoke wasn’t working and this wasn’t discovered until virtually everyone’s clothes had been washed. The humidity combined with the overcast skies precluded hanging out to dry. This pretty much left all of us with just the clothes on our backs. Being our first morning, the excitement of our first trek, and enjoying the relative moistness compared to a week in Katavi it didn’t “dampen” spirits.


The routine in the morning is to meet for breakfast between 7:30 and 8:30. While enjoying breakfast we wait to hear from the ‘trackers’. Trackers are spread out through the jungle looking and listening for the chimps. When found they follow them for a bit and then radio down to Mathias and Butati, our guides. The time it takes to find the chimps is different each day. This morning we heard by about 9 that the chimps were about an hour’s walk away. With a few final protocol reminders from our guides and shouldering of water bottles or packs the 12 of us along with our 2 guides and a ranger headed into the jungle.


Initially the trail is broad and flat and we can still feel the breeze from the lake.



15 minutes in the trail angles up a bit, narrows, the breeze is gone, the humidity begins to take effect, and we’re all pretty wet from sweat.



30 minutes in it starts to sprinkle a bit, not enough to worry about and in fact it provide a certain amount of cooling; besides, we are pretty wet already from sweat. And then it started to rain. And then it really started to rain. Yes, it then really, really started to rain. Prepared, the guides passed out large plastic bags for cameras. It was almost comical how wet we were… crossing streams it made no sense to hop from rock to rock as walking through the water couldn’t get us any more wet. Some rain made it through the canopy but I think most of what we felt was consolidated on the large leaves and then fell in 1” long, ¼” thick droplets.


About an hour in, soaking wet, the trail getting steep both up and down as well as crossing small streams. The guides let us know we were getting closer and that we’d be splitting into two groups; a faster group to forge forward with Mathias and those preferring a slower pace remaining with Butati. Adrenaline driven we join the faster group scrambling up a steep section of trail and down into a bit of a ravine… up again and a pause to listen. A squawk on the radio and we break off the trail into the brush. Deliberate in our steps but moving at a good clip, the excitement is building. Mathias pulls his face mask up over his nose and mouth instructing us to do the same. The machete comes out and Mathias hacks a way through the tangle of vines, we push forward half looking where we’re stepping and half rubber necking to see through the chaos of trees and brush… and then our first glimpse









We had 1 hour for viewing. They were in the trees, on the ground, and moving between. Mostly adults today but with glimpses of babies clinging to their mothers. For the most part today they ignored us and went about their business of eating and grooming. Between the two of us we took a little more than 250 stills and about 30 minutes of video (hope to edit some video and post in the future). And yet, we also took time to put the camera down and simply sit and watch. It’s hard to gauge the hour we had. It was as though time stopped while viewing them and in some respects it was an eternity and in other respects it was but a blink of the eye.


When our time was up we worked our way back to a trail and shared our amazement and ‘did you see…’ and ‘that was so cool…’ and ‘wow’, ‘amazing’… We hung there for a bit as the other ½ of our group finished up their viewing. We had the option of walking an hour + back to camp or about 15 minutes to a point along the lake that the dhow could pick us up. We opted for the later and were back at camp a little after noon.


The afternoon was spent wringing out clothes and hanging them to dry as much as possible. The rain had stopped and though it was still overcast the breeze helped to get them as dry as could be expected in such humidity. There are kayaks available for paddling. The guides are available to lead walks in the jungle. And at about 4 each day they take the dhow out for some swimming, fishing, and simply enjoying the views. This day Terese and I opted to stay in camp, explore along the beach, and really just relaxing. We spent time getting to know Big Bird.



If you don’t know the story of Big Bird you should watch the video(s). Just google ‘big bird Greystoke Mahale’. There are several videos. Essentially domesticated, fun, and engaging Big Bird is a permanent resident of Greystoke.


After a relaxing afternoon we headed to the bar for sundowners and watching the sunset. The other guests returned with their catch that was served sashimi style along with other taste treats. Mathias and Butati joined us to review the day, answer questions, and review plans for the next day. Then to dinner and off to sleep. Cloud cover precluded any sunset pics…

Stairway to heaven (the rockery bar)


One of the sitting areas


View back to camp



Up Saturday morning at about the same time as yesterday. Putting on damp clothes was a little tough but we also knew they’d be drenched later anyway, so not a big deal. Still mostly overcast we were hopeful the sun would break through.


Word from the trackers came early. The chimps were low but moving so we waited in camp awhile; waiting to know which system of trails would be the best to find them. While we started off as a group of 12 we split into 2 groups fairly early on. It was a fairly long trek with a fair amount of elevation gain. Word was the chimps were moving up the mountain and there was a sense of urgency to keep moving and at pretty good clip. Sun was breaking through the clouds turning the jungle into a steam room. We were thankful for the canopy providing shade but were still soaked by sweat. About 1 ½ hours in we came upon the first group of chimps. Not far off the trail and in a relatively open area we had very good views of a couple of pairs of chimps grooming…







We were with these chimps for about 15 minutes when the other ½ of our group arrived. We headed on up the mountain in search of the rest of the chimps while the others had their chance to watch. I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave, after all we had chimps here and looking for more up the mountain wasn’t certain to work or provide better sightings. But up we went taking spur trails for a bit and then back tracking and up other spurs. Lots of radio contact and stopping to listen for chimps. Up, up, up we went onto a ridge line dropping steeply to either side but providing some spectacular views.





It’s easy to get disoriented in the jungle. While we were on a trail and presumably we could follow it back down, there were so many spurs and ravines this far up that there would be no certainty we could find our way back without guides. So, it was a bit disconcerting when Mathias dropped down off the trail a bit and then called back to us to just wait there… then he was gone and out of sight. Shortly he returned and much to our dismay he told us to follow him. Following him was down an extremely steep, slick, root and vine tangled hillside. It required a combination of slipping, sliding, swinging on branches and vines… IT WAS AWESOME! This is what you dream about as a kid having grown up watching Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan. Down to the bottom of the ravine and then back up an equally steep slope, a bit of a side hill traverse, and then the motion to put on our face masks.


The initial sightings were less than satisfying. Single chimps on the ground virtually concealed by the underbrush or high in the trees. And in the trees the sky was so bright it was difficult to see them in the dark of the canopy much less snap any pictures. However, the upside was that we didn’t even try to take pictures and simply watched them moving through the trees and along the ground. We, too, continued to move and were soon richly rewarded for our efforts. Still very much on a steep hillside and in thick brush we came upon upwards of 10 chimps split off into two groups but viewable from our position. Technically we only had 45 minutes left on our 1 hour time limit with the chimps… but we were on Mahale time and I suspect the ranger accompanying us was enjoying the experience as much as we were. One of the groups was off to the side with few photographic viewing alleys through the brush. But we were able to watch several adolescents playing a game most of us humans played when we were small. We watched them rolling down the hill, scampering back up, and rolling down again. There were all kinds of rumble, tumble antics between them as they clearly tried to ‘one up’ the other. At the same time they were attracting our attention we also had a group directly in front of us that were doing their own thing from parents resting but clearly keeping an eye on the younger, adolescents being mischievous, and babies demanding attention and suckling…






After a good hour the other ½ of our group arrived and we headed out but with one last view before scrambling up to the trail. Not sure what blue fruit he was eating…



Back out onto the trail and all smiles for such a great time seeing so much ‘human’ play, parental supervision, youthful antagonisms… It was a long walk back to camp but filled with ‘can you believe’ and ‘that was so funny’ and ‘that one little guy’…



We got back to camp around 1:30. While still slightly overcast it was very warm and we were soaked to the skin. I’d signed the indemnity form for swimming from shore so, with barely a pause to drop my pack I walked straight into the lake, fully dressed and shoes on. Couldn’t get any more wet and the lake both cooled me off and rinsed my clothes. This was repeated the next day as well.


This afternoon we went out on the dhow to fish, swim, and watch the sun set before returning for sundowners and dinner.




Day 3 of trekking started off very similar to the previous 2 mornings. Except this day only 4 of us went trekking. The previous two days really took it out of the others and some wanted to go to the local village. So off we went with Mathias and in little more than 45 minutes we were with the chimps. Initial sighting was of individuals and mothers with babies feeding in the trees or on the ground.




We then moved on to a group that was directly above us racing around the canopy in what appeared to be a game of tag though we’re not quite sure if it was all in fun. Next they began shaking the branches so violently that big yellow fruit started dropping like bombs. We got some extraordinary video of this to post later. Then we came upon smaller groups grooming on the ground.




In time they all moved on and we were faced with following or calling it a day. We had another 10 minutes on the clock but felt we’d really had a good day and it was OK to head back. But then the trackers said they found a chimp fishing… so off we went. Here you can see him with a twig inserted into a hole in the branch and in another inspecting the twig on removal.




And just hanging out



And then we had to call it a day and head back to camp. Or did we? Quite by chance as we were walking the trail back we saw a very shy mother and baby. We simply couldn’t help but watch for a few more minutes… again, I think we were on Mahale time…





Thus ended our time with the chimps. We had 3 very different viewings each day ranging from docile grooming to animated shows of submission, mothers caring for their babies, adolescents playing, foraging, eating, walking along trails and romping through trees. It was utterly and completely satisfying, mesmerizing, and fulfilling… It is a very, very special experience.

Back to camp before noon. Into the lake for a fully clothed swim and rinse. The sun was out so all clothes were hung to dry… what a luxury to have bone dry clothes to wear once again. A little time with Big Bird. Back out onto the lake for a swim and some fishing. And another glorious sunset before dining on the beach under the stars.





Monday morning was very similar to the previous three except we weren’t organizing to trek. We were organizing to leave. The other guests had earlier flights out so left just after breakfast. Terese and I had a later flight and had time to relax a bit and enjoy the relative private time at Greystoke before departing. A final look back to Greystoke, Mahale, and a conversation with Mathias as we cruised back to the airstrip on the north edge of Mahale NP.




We’ve backpacked the Bologonja, spent a week in Katavi, and just finished up 4 nights in Mahale.

Next up – Game drive in the north Serengeti.

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