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Safari car at sun­set in Miku­mi Nation­al Park

Rel­a­tive­ly spon­ta­neous­ly we decid­ed this year to vis­it south­ern Tan­za­nia, the so-called “South­ern Cir­cuit”. Unfor­tu­nate­ly we only had 2 weeks vaca­tion this time, so we booked an 11-day safari. We, that were this year my wife, my 15 years old daugh­ter Luise and me. We booked the trip again indi­vid­u­al­ly with our own safari car and driver/guide via Sun­world Safaris in the approved man­ner and again every­thing worked out per­fect­ly - thank you very much, Mr. Nowak!

August 8th 2016 - Düsseldorf to Dar es Salaam

This year we flew with Swiss via Zurich to Dar es Salaam (the locals only say Dar) and arrived there at 21:05 local time. In Dar we were wel­comed by our guide, Rajabu, who accom­pa­nied us the whole tour com­pe­tent­ly and always friend­ly, after very slow com­ple­tion of the immi­gra­tion paper­work (about 1 1/2 hours). We spent the night in Dar es Salaam at the Hol­i­day Inn and the next morn­ing we left at 7:30am in our Toy­ota Land­cruis­er with Rajabu to our first des­ti­na­tion, the Miku­mi Nation­al Park.

Toy­ota Land­Cruis­er

Although the dis­tance was only about 280km, the trip last­ed until the ear­ly after­noon. The roads are very bad, the truck traf­fic is slow, the speed lim­it is 80kmh and this has always been respect­ed since the new gov­ern­ment has been strict­ly con­trol­ling speed vio­la­tions.

August 9th to 10th - Mikumi Nationalpark

The Miku­mi Nation­al Park was found­ed in 1964. With an area of 3230 km² it is the fourth largest nation­al park in Tan­za­nia. The park is locat­ed in the north-west of the Selous Game Reserve and forms with it an ecosys­tem of almost 60,000 km². We were accom­mo­dat­ed for two nights in Stanley’s Kop­je Camp. The camp is beau­ti­ful­ly sit­u­at­ed on a rocky hill and has 12 tents which are arranged in a cir­cle around the hill. The main build­ing with restau­rant, bar and pool is right on top of the hill with a beau­ti­ful panoram­ic view over the sur­round­ing plains.

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Stan­leys Kop­je, Miku­mi NP

We stayed in our tent there

Zelt im Mikumi NP
Our tent in Miku­mi NP

and did our first late after­noon gamedrive with Rajabu. We saw sev­er­al groups of ele­phants, wilde­beests, warthogs and a very beau­ti­ful sun­set.

On the sec­ond day of our stay, after a very good break­fast, we under­took a full day game dri­ve. This time we watched a group of lions, sev­er­al antelopes, many birds and in the evening we had again a very beau­ti­ful sun­set. Lunch was served from a lunch box at a pic­nic area under a spec­tac­u­lar baobab tree. In the after­noon we also dis­cov­ered a young leop­ard on a tree - unfor­tu­nate­ly too far away for pleas­ant pho­tos.

August 11th to 13th - Ruaha Nationalpark

After a very ear­ly break­fast in the morn­ing of August 11th, we went on to our next stop, the Rua­ha Nation­al Park. Again it was a very long dri­ve of more than 400km, so we arrived at our lodge in the late after­noon.

The Rua­ha Nation­al Park is with an area of about 20,226 km² the largest nation­al park in Tan­za­nia and in the whole of East­ern Africa since an exten­sion in 2008 and even sur­pass­es the Serengeti Nation­al Park in size. It lies in the course of the great African rift val­ley. We spent 3 nights here in the Rua­ha Riv­er Lodge. This lodge with its 24 guest hous­es (in Swahili “Ban­da”) is locat­ed direct­ly at the Great Rua­ha Riv­er. From the ter­race of our Ban­da we could look direct­ly at the riv­er and observe the local wildlife. From time to time groups of ele­phants roamed through the whole lodge area.

Terrasse mit Flussblick in Ruaha
Ter­race with riv­er view of our Ban­da at the Rua­ha Riv­er Lodge

The next morn­ing we start­ed already before sun­rise with packed break­fast. After a beau­ti­ful sun­rise over the Rua­ha Riv­er we dis­cov­ered among oth­er things a pair of lions in the “Hon­ey­moon”, which we met again in the after­noon on the sec­ond tour. On the third day we drove to a hip­po pool, when Rajabu sud­den­ly stopped at full speed and whis­pered “Leop­ard”. Actu­al­ly there was a leop­ard stand­ing in the grass about 4m next to our vehi­cle, which was star­ing at us irri­tat­ed. After a few sec­onds it con­tin­ued its way, crossed the track behind the car and dis­ap­peared again on the oth­er side in the high grass. But thanks to the safari rule “always be pre­pared” the cam­era was ready and some nice pho­tos could be tak­en. Apart from that we saw some ele­phants, jack­als, var­i­ous antelopes and many birds. The land­scape in Rua­ha Nation­al Park is very vary­ing.

August 14th - Udzungwa

In the ear­ly morn­ing we went on after break­fast. Once again the tour was very long (about 420km) and the last route was also very bad, so that we did not arrive at Udzung­wa Falls Lodge until late after­noon. Unfor­tu­nate­ly too late to vis­it the park itself. Nor­mal­ly you can do guid­ed hikes to the Udzung­wa Falls, which gave the lodge its name, but unfor­tu­nate­ly we did­n’t have the time because on the next day we had anoth­er long tour into the Selous wait­ing for us. If you want to do the hikes, you should def­i­nite­ly plan 2 nights here.

The lodge itself is nice­ly sit­u­at­ed in the moun­tains, the rooms in small sep­a­rate hous­es are okay. But unfor­tu­nate­ly we had prob­lems with the water here: first we only had cold water, the next morn­ing it was com­plete­ly gone. The food in the restau­rant was very good, but the staff seemed to be a lit­tle over­strained - although there were only very few guests.

August 15th to 17th - Selous Game Reserve

Ear­ly in the morn­ing after break­fast we start­ed for anoth­er dri­ve. Again the jour­ney took very long. We reached Matamb­we Gate, the access to the Selous Game Reserve, in the late after­noon. From here we had anoth­er 74km to dri­ve to our camp, the Rufi­ji Riv­er Camp.

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Rufi­ji Riv­er Camp

The Selous Game Reserve cov­ers more than 50,000 square kilo­me­tres (larg­er than Switzer­land) and stretch­es across sev­er­al regions of Tan­za­nia, cov­er­ing about five per­cent of the country’s total ter­ri­to­ry. It has been a UNESCO World Nat­ur­al Her­itage Site since 1982 and is the largest con­trolled game reserve in Africa. About one tenth of the area north of the Rufi­ji Riv­er up to the TAZARA rail­way line is open for pho­to safaris and eco­tourism. The remain­ing part is still used for reg­u­lat­ed big game hunt­ing.

Rufi­ji Riv­er Camp, as the name sug­gests, is locat­ed direct­ly on the Rufi­ji Riv­er with less than 20 tents. But the term “tent” does not do jus­tice to what is offered here: The tents have a size of about 40 square meters with bath­room and toi­let, hot and cold run­ning water and are locat­ed under a big bam­boo roof. In front of the tent there is a ter­race, next to the tent there is anoth­er ter­rasse with a lounge seat­ing area.

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Our “tent” at Rufi­ji Riv­er Camp

The cen­tral build­ing with restau­rant, bar and a large ter­race over­look­ing the riv­er with a fire­place is gen­er­ous­ly built of wood, typ­i­cal for the coun­try. After the late arrival we at first could not move into our tent num­ber 3, because there was a group of ele­phants on the way, which were eat­ing the bush­es in peace. So we had to wait with a cool wel­come drink until the group moved on.

Since it was already get­ting dark, we let the first evening at the camp­fire (“Bush­man-TV”) end with a Gin-Ton­ic and after­wards a very good din­ner.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing after break­fast we booked a 5 hour boat safari on the Rufi­ji Riv­er. It was a great expe­ri­ence and we can high­ly rec­om­mend it. It is very impres­sive to be able to watch large groups of hip­pos and croc­o­diles up close and at eye lev­el. We also had the chance to watch many birds such as herons, king­fish­ers, bee-eaters, storks…

After lunch we went on our first gamedrive with Rajabu. The fol­low­ing days we were again on the road and observed among oth­er things sev­er­al lion groups, var­i­ous antelopes, giraffes, ele­phants, zebras and many birds at the lakes.

August 18th 2016 - Back to Dar es Salaam

Our last day in Tan­za­nia came much too fast again. After a morn­ing gamedrive we drove back to Dar at 11am and arrived there in the late after­noon. Our return flight start­ed on sched­ule at 22:20 and after chang­ing planes in Zurich we also land­ed on time in Düs­sel­dorf the fol­low­ing morn­ing. It was again a great time in Africa. But: after Africa is before Africa. The next trip there is already in plan­ning once more.

Epilogue

It was anoth­er very nice trip, full of great moments. But what we under­es­ti­mat­ed were the enor­mous dis­tances and the long dri­ving times. It was a par­tic­u­lar pity that we arrived in Udzung­wa so late that we could not vis­it the park.

For a safari in south­ern Tan­za­nia you should either have much more time or you should fly between the parks, which would be dif­fi­cult to do with our pho­to equip­ment due to the weight restric­tions of the small planes. In addi­tion, you would have to get used to new guides in each camp. Again, we appre­ci­at­ed it very much to have Rajabu with us for the whole time. He was a very com­pe­tent guide and adapt­ed very fast to the wish­es of his pho­to-crazy tourists.

The parks in the south were indeed much less fre­quent­ed by tourists than the north­ern parks or the Kenyan parks, where some­times (for exam­ple dur­ing a river­cross­ing at the Mara Riv­er) 50 safari vehi­cles stood side by side. At the Gamedrives you rarely met oth­er vehi­cles. This advan­tage, how­ev­er, had the dis­ad­van­tage that you had less ani­mal sight­ings. In addi­tion, the ani­mals were much more shy, their escape dis­tances longer than we were used to in the Serengeti and espe­cial­ly in the Masai Mara. In the Serengeti or Masai Mara, you can rec­og­nize inter­est­ing places already from a dis­tance by the fact that there are sev­er­al vehi­cles around.

The camps were all won­der­ful and very com­fort­able, the food tast­ed deli­cious.

Equipment

For the first time on this trip I had the CANON EOS 5DS R with me. In addi­tion, I also had the EOS7D Mk II and the Sony Alpha 7R with Metabones adapter with me. The Sony 7R was almost exclu­sive­ly equipped with the Canon 16-35 f4L. On the oth­er bod­ies I main­ly used the 400 f2.8L IS and the Sig­ma 150-600 f5.0-6.3 Sport lens­es. Also avail­able were the 70-200 f2.8L IS II, the 50mm f1.4 and the 1.4x and 2.0x con­vert­er. Spread over 3 back­packs, the equip­ment bare­ly met the SWISS hand bag­gage lim­it of 8kg (well, not quite, but thank God the lady at the check-in in Düs­sel­dorf turned a blind eye - the hand bag­gage was actu­al­ly weighed).

The pic­ture qual­i­ty of the 5DS R is extreme­ly impres­sive. So impres­sive that this time 80% of all pic­tures were tak­en with it. The very high res­o­lu­tion allows for the crop­ping of parts with­out any sig­nif­i­cant loss of qual­i­ty dur­ing post-pro­cess­ing. Even if a por­trait for­mat pic­ture is cut out of a land­scape pho­to, it still retains a res­o­lu­tion of 22 megapix­els, which eas­i­ly allows large for­mat prints. In total, I took near­ly 6000 pho­tos this time.