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First Timers visiting Selous and Ruaha in the Green Season (February 2018)


FirstTimeAfrica
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FirstTimeAfrica

After getting many helpful responses and reading inspiring trip reports, it's time to give back and write my own TR. As being the first time on a safari, I might have another perspective than the "pros" on here, however I hope the trip report will inspire other people visiting amazing Tanzania and its Souther parks. 

 

For all of those who just want to read the trip report itself, skip the rest of this first post, as it describes our process of booking and selecting the safari and the guide. I think it might be interesting for other "first timers", because booking the first safari is kind of intimidating at first and its hard to find a goos starting point in choosing the operator / guide to go with. Please not that English is not my native language, so please excuse any faults or weird grammar.

 

Before Departure

 

Having travelled many countries and remote places yet, we never really considered Africa so far (besides our holidays on Seychelles, but that doesn't count). At the end of last year we stumbled upon a Zanzibar ad and considered it a good 2 week February escape from the cold and dark German winter. After reading a bit about Tanzania, we were hooked immediately by the wild life opportunities and our interest quickly shifted from beach and snorkelling to going on safari. Moreover it sounded like a great and interesting country in general, so we thought visiting only Zanzibar wouldn't be fair.

 

After the first "oh my god a safari is much more expensive than we imagined" shock we started to check the different options and contacted some smaller agencies for offers. The northern circuit safaris were our starting point, as most agencies advertise them and you read everywhere about the fabulous Serengeti and Nrongoro NP. Nevertheless most of the offers didn't convince us, either it was group travel (which we don't like) or way too expensive (which we don't like either) or the program and lodges had a very artificial and too touristic touch (which we don't like at all). I guess this is the typical first timers frustrating experience, when you realise that you have either pay a lot of money (on top of the lot of money for the "basic" package) or you get something you're not convinced of.

 

Moreover we read more and more about how crowded the Northern parks can be and that you don't necessarily have a very remote experience there. As we love to travel on our own and visit remote and most importantly uncrowded places, we started to read more about the South and at some point stumbled across this forum. Trip reports here were very helpful so we took our decision to visit the South as it seemed to suit our preferences. We left a bit skeptical about wildlife viewing, as February is considered to be green season in TZs South and trip reports were mixed about the game viewing at this time of the year.

 

After reading recommendations about the guide Otto Mlanda here and the reports of his way of bush camping, this finally sounded like a plan to us. So we contacted him by mail and got immediate and very individual responses to our questions, which convinced us, he is the man to go with. Plus he offered a competitive price, so we booked with him. As he is just a guide doing business on his own, there's no big agency or European partner agency behind. So, to be honest, the moment when I transferred the deposit via a credit card payment provider, I had a bit of a "hopefully I will hear from this guy afterwards ever again" feeling ;).  Fortunately there was no reason at all to be worried, as the following trip report will show.

 

So my experience is, one should take the time to compare different operators, ask questions and see if their are responded individually and honestly. One should not hesitate to ask for an adaption of a proposed tour to suit your very own needs and preferences. And one should not worry about contacting smaller or local agencies (or guides directly), remaining careful of course and only book with people, who make a trustful impression. 

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FirstTimeAfrica

Overview

We had two weeks to spent in Tanzania, with the following schedule:

  • Day 1: Transfer Dar -> Selous (car)
  • Day 2: Selous
  • Day 3: Selous
  • Day 4: Transfer Selous - Mikumi (car)
  • Day 5: Transfer Mikumi - Ruaha (car)
  • Day 6, 7, 8: Ruaha 
  • Day 9: Transfer Ruaha - Mafia Island (plane)
  • Day 10, 11, 12: Mafia Island
  • Day 13: Transfer Mafia Island - Zanzibar
  • Day 14: Zanzibar
  • Day 15: Zanzibar, Flight back home

 

Arriving in TZ

We flew with SWISS via Zurich to Dar. As the SWISS flight arrives late in DAR (around pm 11), we went to a hotel right next to the airport ("Transfer Motel"), where our guide Otto should pick us up the next morning. We got picked from the airport up by the hotel's driver who brought us to the motel, which is just a 5 minute ride away from the airport. The motel itself is simple but clean with a very friendly reception lady. The surrounding is very basic with sand roads and simple huts, but gave us a great first impression of life in Africa.

 

Local life around "Transit Motel":

 

IMG_8970.jpg.b350e3abb95bb0226b289425e90a55fa.jpg

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FirstTimeAfrica

Day 1: On the way to Selous

 

In the morning, after a quick breakfast, our guide Otto arrived on the motel with an old orange painted Range Rover packed full with camping equipment, water and everything we’d need the next days out in the wild. As we had a rather long transfer to Selous Game Reserve ahead of us, we quickly started our way to the South. Traffic around Dar was fortunately not a problem and the landscape quickly got less and less populated and more natural. We really enjoyed to see local

life and the small villages passing by and would definitely recommend to go at least one way by car, as these impressions should not be missed by just „flying in“ to the National Parks.

 

Our "home" for the next 8 days:

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Typical local life in a small village on the way to Selous:

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After having lunch in a restaurant next to the „highway“ we left the tarmac road and had about 2 hours left on a dirt road to our destination „Selous River Camp“ (http://selousrivercamp.com). The camp is just outside of Selous Game Reserve in a beautiful location next to the river. The „mud huts“ with private bathroom are very clean and comfortable with an authentic interior. Having your secluded terrace with river view is amazing and close to our hut we saw this beautiful monkey (black colobus?).

 

Comfortable "Mud hut" from Selous River Camp:

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Monkey in the woods of Selous River Camp:

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After a rest Otto arranged a private boat safari on the Rufiji River for us. Nice details: he hires local people from the next village for the boat safari, to give them an opportunity to profit form tourism. The boat safari was very impressive with lots of beautiful birds and our very first hippos. Crocodiles, we saw however only very few, as the water was still high due to the season, so most crocodiles were in the water or had many places to hide.

 

It's hippo time:

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Birds, birds, birds...:

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We enjoyed the boat safari and the beautiful landscape a lot and after an amazing sundown we sailed back to the camp where an excellent dinner waited for us.

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FirstTimeAfrica

Day 2: Safari we're coming (Part 1)

 

Otto left the camp in the morning, in order to drive into Selous Game Reserve and get the bush camp ready. We started the day in a more relaxed way, with a fresh and tasty breakfast. Afterwards we got picked up from the guides for another boat Safari to bring us into the reserve by boat, where we should meet Otto after lunch. The boat Safari was amazing again, seeing more and more Hippos the deeper we went into the reserve and also a few Crocodiles and many birds of course. An impressive highlight were the Sea Eagles we could observe from very close.

 

Hippo again:

IMG_9385.jpg.4db840415621605554d3422d7b3aa53e.jpg

 

Crocodile hiding in the bush:

IMG_9356.jpg.95248e006717bb84a9d6cbb0e44859a2.jpg

 

Sea eagle and stork:

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Just before going on the river bank for lunch, we had our first „Safari Wow-moment“ unexpectedly seeing our very first Giraffes in the wild just next to the river. It kind of seemed unreal to us, to see these animals in the wild for the first time. Especially the way they smoothly walk and run is just great to watch. Being a game reserve for hunting, Giraffes in Selous are very shy and run quickly, while they behave different in Ruaha NP as we would learn later on our trip. We observed the big group of about 10 Giraffes until they moved away and had our lunch on the river bank.

 

Our very first Giraffes:

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Afterwards we continued our boat Safari and were brought to the other side of the river / lake where Otto and the orange Range Rover waited for us. We left the boat and started our first „game drive“ on the way to the camp Otto set up for us in the morning. Still being amazed of the Giraffes we saw, we were already so happy, we didn’t have much expectations for the rest of the day, but shortly after we should be proven to be wrong...

 

 

Pick up service:

IMG_9217.jpg.43bc60bc617bedfca07ead0707160861.jpg

 

 

 

Edited by FirstTimeAfrica
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FirstTimeAfrica
21 minutes ago, TonyQ said:

A great start with beautiful photos.

Thank you, I will continue the TR  tomorrow. 

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Good information for first-timers indeed! 

And very interesting for many-timers too! You are brave going camping in the rainy season but not foolish I think.

 

No trouble spotting the vehicle on the bank!

 

Black and white colobus, but black is close enough! 

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you picked a very unusual approach to Sealous and that makes it very interesting and definitely unique. how long was the drive from Dar to the river camp please? 

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Botswanadreams

Thanks for your report. It brings beautiful memories back to me. We started our first visit to Tanzania in the same way with a boot trip into Selous game reserve and continued with 4 nights camping at Tagalala Campsite. Selouse is such a beautiful peaceful place.  

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FirstTimeAfrica
10 hours ago, Kitsafari said:

you picked a very unusual approach to Sealous and that makes it very interesting and definitely unique. how long was the drive from Dar to the river camp please? 

 

It took about 6 hours. We were lucky not to have any serious traffic around dar, as we left Dar directly from the airport area, so we did not have to go in and out the city.

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FirstTimeAfrica
10 hours ago, Botswanadreams said:

Thanks for your report. It brings beautiful memories back to me. We started our first visit to Tanzania in the same way with a boot trip into Selous game reserve and continued with 4 nights camping at Tagalala Campsite. Selouse is such a beautiful peaceful place.  

 

Yes the landscape is fantastic. Some places look so beautiful, it seems already a bit "artificial" like being arranged to look this way :)

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FirstTimeAfrica

Day 1(Part 2): The first game drive

 

After leaving the boat, we started our first "game drive", though we had not really an idea, how a game drive "works". Nevertheless the open roof top was appreciated very much in the heat :)  Even though it was mid february and close to the rainy season, the sky was mostly cloudless and it was pretty hot. We both like the heat though, especially knowing about the low temperatures we just left behind us a few days ago...

 

Just minutes after our ride started, we saw the first Impalas, not knowing at this time yet, how abundant they are. The great thing is, at the beginning you're really excited about anything you see, including Impalas, which are literally everywhere. Shortly afterwards we saw a lazy Kudu, relaxing on the floor. Both animals didn't look too exotic, as they reminded us of deers. The landscape in this area could have also been heathland in Germany, so it felt more like being at home than in Africa :)  

 

Impala: abundant but beautiful

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Kudu having a rest: 

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Just minutes after the Kudu it didn't feel like home anymore at all. It's really hard to describe the feeling when we saw our first herd of elephants, grazing on a large grassland (which was also used as an airstrip I think). These animals are just so beautiful and peaceful and it made us so happy to see them calmly grazing and slowly walking around. This is a moment we will never forget. It is such a big contrast, to see them peacefully living their life in their natural area, and not being imprisoned in zoos, where they just look so sad. We watched them for fairly an hour, as we just couldn't stop. The way they move, the way the pull the grass with using their feet and their trunk together, the way the older ones take care of the young ones, just amazing. Moreover they didn't really take notice of us, and walked closely around the car, so we saw them just meters next to us.

 

They look so wise and peaceful:

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Cool technique, pulling the grass with feet and trunk:

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Beautiful setting:

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After leaving the Elephants we had a kind of „this game viewing is too easy“ feeling as we wouldn’t have even dreamed of seeing so many animals in such a short time. Compared to people knowing more about safari than us, we might had low expectations, as we thought you just see a few animals and only from far away. It still felt unreal to us and our expectations were definitely already exceeded. Plus, Otto did a great job in showing us the animals and explaining their behaviour and giving some background information. We saw several Giraffe and a few Gnus on our way to the camp

 

Another beauty in bush posing for the camera:

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About half an hour after we left the Elephants, a group of wild dogs was relaxing in the shadows right next to the track. Otto was really amazed to see them, as they seem to be very rare. To be honest, though it was interesting to watch them for a while, they didn’t nearly impress us as much as the Giraffes and Elephants did. They might be rare, but they look more or less like a wilder version of German Shepherds, so they lacked the "exotic touch" for us. Being just a few meters away we could take some close ups of them, so I post a few for all the wild dog lovers out there :)

 

 

Looking more lazy than "wild":

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Looking a bit "wilder":

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 Finally looking "wild" :) :IMG_9685.jpg.b74a5c6a57814d5992489964befbbb8b.jpg

 

On our way to the camp, we saw many more Giraffes, Impalas and a few Baboons and Kudus. We really got hooked on the "game drive" feeling, standing the whole time in the car looking outside through the open roof. The landscape in Selous is as rewarding as the animals, and what's cooler than driving off-road with an orange Range Rover and an open roof? ;)

 

Game-drive feeling on the way to our tent:

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Otto installed our tent at the shore of Lake Manze, a very beautiful location. There we could watch the Hippos and birds right from the front of our tent. The setting with the sundown and the fireplace Otto set up was just amazing. Otto prepared a very tasty dinner for us, while giving us some instructions on how to behave, as it started getting dark. Just having the small tent and no ranger or any other protection, we took his advice to „avoid any unnecessary movement after dark“ very seriously. To be honest, the first night I didn’t sleep too much (contrary to my wife). Lying just in a small tent right in the wild, hearing all these loud, unfamiliar and close-sounding noises (Hippos, Hyenas, etc.) was definitely an impressive not to say thrilling feeling.

 

Our tent:

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"Candle light dinner" the wild way:

IMG_9312.jpg.fbc8cfce36be069f9237aaabcb7e4765.jpg

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FirstTimeAfrica

Day 3: A full day of game driving

 

Early in the morning the alarm clock reminded us, that a safari is not for late risers. So we left our tent just before sunrise, while Otto already boiled some water on the fire to fill our mugs with fresh hot coffee! A full day of game driving was waiting for us, and we were curious what to expect today...

 

IMG_9308.jpg.70367d93c9e0a58160bbb9bf1c4546bb.jpg

 

 

The sun started to rise quickly and created a great atmosphere around Lake Manze:

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We saw a few Gnus in the morning light and many more Giraffse. As the are very abundant in Selous, we already started to get used to them a bit, but still being excited to see and watch them. We also like the many different patterns they have and also the heads look quite different, so there's always something new to discover. 

 

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Model:

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After driving around the reserve for a while and some stops at the river banks, we spotted our first Lions, in a very small river bed. It was a small prey of 3 or 4 animals, relaxing in the shadows. This was another great moment, seeing these mighty animals. We could get very close to them as they did not really take notice of us, maybe they are already used to humans or they were just too lazy to move away.

 

 

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Looking angry, but he was just yawning :) 

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Never forget to drink enough when it's hot:

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After watching the lions for a while we continued or game drive, being followed all the time by the red and green bird (forgot their name, see next pictures), who tried to eat insects from our car. I didn't get a good shot of them flying around, but at least one while he was eating.

 

Bon appetit:

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This day we saw many zebras, but most of the time just for a short moment, as they are very shy in Selous. You can't really get close to them, because they run so quickly. Beautiful animals and fun to watch how they mover their tail all the time.

 

You need to be quick to take a shot, because...

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... they're always running away.

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Around noon we drove back to the tent to relax a bit and take our breakfast / lunch. At 20m from the Lake's bank, we really had a "prime location". Our "bathroom facilities" consisted of a shovel and the bushes around ;)

 

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Otto had a very good telescope, allowing us to watch even Elephants and Hippos walking around the other side of the lake. 

 

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In the afternoon we went on another game drive, seeing many more of the usual suspects like Giraffes, Zebras, Impalas and also a few Elephants. Just before returning to the camp for dinner, we saw these baboons carrying their cute small children. Being exhausted of the long day and the short night before, I could easily sleep this time, despite all the sounds around us.

 

Big tusks

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Dinner time

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Edited by FirstTimeAfrica
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There is truly nothing like one's first safari. And you voiced (wrote) it so well :)   Elephants are my favorite safari animal. I can never ever get enough of them. The wild dogs are maybe my second favorite, just because they are so rare and so vulnerable- it is always a gift to see them. You have, so far, had an absolutely amazing trip. I look forward to reading more.

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Great photos, and sightings, your first safari is delivering in spades so far.

 

Really looking forward to this, you were in Selous and Ruaha about a month after myself so it will be great to see how your trip unfolded.

 

Thanks for sharing!

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offshorebirder
12 hours ago, lmonmm said:

There is truly nothing like one's first safari.

 

So true!  

 

Thanks for this informative and entertaining trip report @FirstTimeAfrica.    Southern Tanzania is on my to-visit list, so the details in your TR are very helpful.  Very nice photos you are posting!

 

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FirstTimeAfrica

Day 4 (part 1): Time to say goodbye

 

After two fully packed days in Selous it was already time for us to move on. We got up early as usually, but this time packed our stuff and removed the tent, while Otto packed all the equipment back in the car. Around 9 am we were ready to go.

 

Time to leave with a fully packed car:

IMG_9449.jpg.a7b8ca321ecc23cc07714fa59199f5c8.jpg

 

 

To sum up Selous: I think our two days in Selous are the minimum, but we were not sad to leave, as we were very curious about our next destination Ruaha. It is a very beautiful landscape and the combination of "traditional safari" with a boat safari on the rivers and lakes gives a very varied experience. The reserve is very empty (at least at this time of the year) and you only see other vehicles very few times (2-4 other cars the whole day). Giraffe and Impalas are more or less everywhere to be seen and Zebras are also very common. One will definitely see Elephants in Selous, but they are not so common and have a wide area to move around, so sometimes you only see them from far away. Regarding lions and other cats I cannot say much, as we had a single lion sighting but didn't see any other predators.

 

For us the basic bush camping was perfect, as you are so close with nature. Nevertheless after two nights and days in the heat without running water, we looked forward to a shower in the evening :) .   

 

 

As I didn't post many landscape shots of Selous, here a few more to show the very special and varied landscape of Selous. Plus two other nice pictures from the day before, I forgot to post.

 

Landscape boat safari:

IMG_9417.jpg.a85db6dd62fade68be7e53f3f7200263.jpg

 

 

Landscape central game driving area:

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Landscape Lake Manze (view from tent):

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Surfing bird:

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Angry Hippo:

DSC_8023_1.jpg.ac50ccb37d638a846c8ceeb8fe329708.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

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@FirstTimeAfrica what a fabulous first Safari experience, especially the bush camping. I loved Selous it is truly Giraffe central and for me Giraffe scream Africa. The boat Safaris are really great and I’m

looking forward to the rest of your report. Perhaps you have been bitten by the Safari bug? 

Edited by ld1
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FirstTimeAfrica

Day 4 (part 2): On the road again

 

We left Selous through Matambwe Gate (beware: tsetse area!) for our stop-over destination Mikumi. The route goes first to the north through the Uluguru Mountains until one reaches Morogoro town. Afterwards we took the TanZam Highway crossing Mikumi NP to reach our overnight location "Camp Bastian". The distance to travel is less than 300 km, though it takes a full day of driving. Quite a difference to the German Autobahn :) 

 

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About 30 minutes after we left Matambwe gate behind us, we got stopped in a small Massai village by the head of the village. He asked us for a lift to Morogoro, where he wanted to visit his mother in the hospital. As we had an empty seat left, we picked him up of course and drove him to Mrogoro town, which was on your way anyways. It was a funny contrast to see him wear his traditional Massai clothing and his wooden stick, while writing messages on his mobile the whole time. 

 

New companion:

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Again, we loved the transfer by car, as you can see local life close up and stop in small villages. Even though you „lose“ (from a game-viewing perspective) one day and a half transferring from Selous to Ruaha, I would always go this way again by car instead of plane as the landscape (Uluguru Mountains) is simply stunning and seeing the people on the road is as rewarding as the experiences inside the NPs.

 

Still a way to go:

IMG_9456.jpg.b57b5c96f710ecfc0cccc03fc84d616c.jpg

 

 

Village school or "Shule" in Swahili (like the German word "Schule"):

IMG_9486.jpg.aa24e128efb37adf28c37e97df763f41.jpg

 

 

In the area between Selous and Uluguru one can see two kinds of houses. The typical mud-huts like everywhere else but also brick-houses, which are uncommon for the country side. In most of the small villages in this area theres an oven for burning the bricks.

 

Brick-house vs. mud-hut:

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Soon after the landscape gets more mountainous and the road climbs the beautiful Uluguru mountains.

 

Simply impossible to escape Coca Cola :) :

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Beautiful setting in the mountains:

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High up in the mountains the landscape turns into rainforest and is very densely packed with palms and trees. Plus it is considerably cooler and more humid. Otto prepared a quick lunch for the Massai and us and the car served as our dining table :)  Uluguru mountains are truly beautiful and I'd love to go trekking there once, getting more in contact with nature and the people in this area. After some more driving we passed through Morogoro, where we dropped of our guest. From what we've seen Morogoro is not really a destination on it's own.

 

Lunch time in the jungle:

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Leaving Morogoro behind us we soonly reached Mikumi NP via the TanZam Highway. Mikumi is very strange, as you see Zebras, Elephants and other animals right from the highway which seems kind of unreal. Just behind Mikumi was our stop for the night, the very nice "Camp Bastian" (http://campbastian.com). It's spotlessly clean and we had a very comfortable and stylish bungalow. And the best: a shower! They arrange an excellent and atmospheric candle light dinner. Afterwards you can have a drink at the fireplace. We slept perfectly and in comfort looking forward to the next day, when we should reach Ruaha NP.

 

Passing by a herd of Zebras while crossing Mikumi NP on the highway:

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Dinner at Camp Bastian:

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FirstTimeAfrica
21 hours ago, lmonmm said:

There is truly nothing like one's first safari. And you voiced (wrote) it so well :)   Elephants are my favorite safari animal. I can never ever get enough of them. The wild dogs are maybe my second favorite, just because they are so rare and so vulnerable- it is always a gift to see them. You have, so far, had an absolutely amazing trip. I look forward to reading more.

 

Thank you, glad you like the TR.

 

Yes Elephants are the best :)   They are so social and fun to watch. To us, Giraffes or like Otto called them "models of the bush" were our second favourite as they look so beautiful and move in such a funny way.

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FirstTimeAfrica
21 hours ago, mopsy said:

Great photos, and sightings, your first safari is delivering in spades so far.

 

Really looking forward to this, you were in Selous and Ruaha about a month after myself so it will be great to see how your trip unfolded.

 

Thanks for sharing!

 

I just had a quick look on you TR and will read it in full afterwards...

You had very impressive sightings it seems, so many lions. Very lucky.

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FirstTimeAfrica
1 hour ago, ld1 said:

@FirstTimeAfrica what a fabulous first Safari experience, especially the bush camping. I loved Selous it is truly Giraffe central and for me Giraffe scream Africa. The boat Safaris are really great and I’m

looking forward to the rest of your report. Perhaps you have been bitten by the Safari bug? 

 

Selous was truly amazing and the Giraffes are everywhere :)   We definitely got hooked on safaris and this won't be our last. Though next time we'd love to try some kind of safari or trekking, where you have the opportunity to be a bit less in the car and a bit more outside. Not sure yet, how and where this is possible, but would love to get a bit more in contact with nature.

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@FirstTimeAfrica if it’s walking you want then it’s hard to beat Mana Pools in Zimbabwe. There are plenty of trip reports on Mana here on ST ranging from permanent camps, private mobile Safaris to self-drive trips. You can also do a proper walking Safari in Zambia, but I haven’t been there yet. Plenty of reports though. 

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@FirstTimeAfricaWhat an enjoyable report so far. Sometimes a road transfer has so much to offer and clearly you enjoyed your view of the real Africa.

 

You had some great sightings in Selous too. The wilddogs ARE special and how lucky you have seen them on your first trip! Even if you were not mightily impressed. :)There are many members who after several safaris have still not seen them. I, too, saw them for the first time in Selous many years ago with @Doug Macdonald who was working there at the time. Good to see they are still going strong.

 

 Re walking I agree with @ld1 that Mana is top notch for the out of vehicle/close to nature experience. However,  I also understand that there is on Camp in Ruaha that focuses on walking but as you have been there already you might prefer to try somewhere else next time!

 

Looking forward to hearing about the Ruaha section of your trip

 

 

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FirstTimeAfrica
11 hours ago, ld1 said:

@FirstTimeAfrica if it’s walking you want then it’s hard to beat Mana Pools in Zimbabwe. There are plenty of trip reports on Mana here on ST ranging from permanent camps, private mobile Safaris to self-drive trips. You can also do a proper walking Safari in Zambia, but I haven’t been there yet. Plenty of reports though. 

 

Thanks for the adivce... I'll check the trip reports!

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