"At two in the morning, I am woken by the haunting roar of lions which seems to to be coming from the very end of of my bed. The bush goes silent except for the constant static hum of cicadas who had done their best to keep me from sleeping before the lions took over! Katavi is one of the country's least visited national parks, and even when camp is full there is a very good chance that you will be one of only twelve guests within a 4,500 square km radius. This remote corner of Tanzania is wild beyond belief and is one of the richest game areas in Africa with large herds of elephants and buffalo, numerous lion prides, overflowing hippo pools and a healthy population of leopard.
After an amazing first game drive which featured leopards in trees and sleeping lions, our guide took us to a beautiful spot beside the Katuma River overlooking the largest hippo pool I have ever seen. Hesitantly, we climbed out of the vehicle for a closer look. Completely at ease with our presence, the hippos continued to wallow in their mud bathtub, although the occasional grunt or giant yawn (revealing their almighty teeth) reminded us who was in charge. Once we were at ease too, we sat down to a cooked breakfast and an array of delicious fresh fruit - we may have been in the wild, but there was no stinting on the bush luxury!
Whilst sipping coffee and enjoying the riverside views, one of the more alert members of our group pointed downstream and whispered ‘elephant'. Not just one, but a fifteen strong herd moving at a fairly determined pace towards us. Unruffled cool personified, our guides told us to stay where we were and to watch and wait. So we did as were told and watched and waited, while the elephants continued their steady progress in our direction. It wasn’t until they were twenty meters away that they stopped at a hidden pool of water to quench their thirst, before a female and her young calf headed on straight past us followed soon after by the other elephants. Despite weighing five tonnes and being no more than ten meters from us, each of these giants moved in near total silence, except for the occasional communicative rumble. We stayed pretty silent too!!
After three days of this, I thought that Katavi was going to be a difficult act to follow. I was wrong. Flying on west the next morning to the shores of Tanganyika, I switched light aircraft for traditional wooden dhow and sailed across the world’s second deepest lake to Greystoke Mahale, a paradise of crystal clear waters fringed by the tropical forests of the Mahale Mountains that was to be my home for the next four nights.
Time at Greystoke can be easily spent relaxing on the white sandy beaches, dhow fishing, kayaking across the shallows of the lake or swimming in the deeper waters offshore and away from the hippos and crocodiles that are known to patrol nearer to land. But Greystoke is so much more than just a beach. Behind and beyond the wooden chalets of the camp lie the forested mountains of Mahale, home to some of the last surviving wild chimpanzee populations on earth. And it is no simple exercise to find them!
After several hours of steep trekking through the thick forest, we eventually reached a clearing to find a group of eight chimps going about their daily routine, sheltering from the sun beneath the forest canopy and grooming each other. We sat and watched in silence as their near-human characteristics, personalities and relationships unfolded before us, a ‘shiver down the spine’ reminder that they are our closest relatives in the animal world.
Beautiful views and sundowners were part and parcel of each and every day of my time in the ‘wild west’ of Tanzania, but it is those close encounters of an animal kind that I will remember and treasure for a very long time to come."
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N.B Victoria no longer works at The Ultimate Travel Company, but any of our other Africa experts would be delighted to help you.