BEST OF SOUTHERN TANZANIA, SEP 2019 by Jenny Barnes

28 January 2020

In September this year my husband Terry and I joined two of our long-term friends Johan and Welna Steenhuisen in Southern Tanzania for a greatly anticipated holiday.  After living in South Africa for 35 years it was one of the African countries we had never travelled to and we really looked forward to explore Ruaha National Park and Selous Game Reserve.

I look back on this amazing holiday with amusement at my expectations of Tanzania.  After living in New Zealand for 25 years and convinced that Kiwis are the nicest people on the planet it was such a pleasant surprise to realize that the Tanzanian people are some of the most amazingly friendly and hospitable people I have ever met. We just loved everyone we came into contact with.

Another huge surprise was the amazing food and produce that the Tanzanians grow in their beautiful country.  The fresh fruit and vegetables were world class, the coffee was the perfect caffeine injection and the meat and dairy were really good. We did not have a single bad meal in the three weeks we were there.

The lodges we stayed at were immensely impressive.  They ranged from staggeringly luxurious to very close to nature but very comfortable as well. All of the staff were extremely professional and friendly and very hard working. One of the traditions that a lot of them practice is to form a welcome party when you first arrive. It is just so special and flattering to arrive at a lodge to a line of up to eight people standing with huge smiles on their faces, a lovely cold drink and ice-cold wet towels to freshen up with!

The game drives were exhilarating, and the ranger’s local knowledge of birds and animals was immensely impressive. One word of warning – the public toilets in the parks are the squatting type.

We saw 50 lions in Ruaha National Park alone and two lots of them were mating.  The first lot consisted of two male lions and one female. So, the one lion was doing his best for the lion population of Tanzania while the other poor guy had to lie a few meters away looking very sorry for himself. We all felt quite bad for the poor loser who was also smacked about by the Alpha male a couple of times.

The second pair of mating lions were a couple of meters away from our vehicle with a very spirited and energetic lioness and a totally exhausted and fed up looking lion. Every fifteen minutes for a few days sound like a lot of fun until you have to do it!

Selous Game Reserve was amazing! All of the lodges we stayed at were on a massive river called the Rufiji River.  It is teaming with hippo and crocodiles and we would often take a lodge boat out at sundowner time and get spoiled rotten by the skipper with canapés and G&T’s while looking at amazing bird life and hippos a few meters away from the boat. There is no sunset to equal an African one – they are unbelievably beautiful!

Another amazing Selous lodge was Lake Manze Camp that had three bull elephants right outside the dining / lounge building.  We arrived at lunch time and went straight to the dining room and then proceeded to wait a very long time for lunch as the poor staff could not get the food from the kitchen to the dining room without being charged. The good news is that the bar was in the dining area, so all was not lost!  We spent a long time watching the boys fooling around with one another and mock charging like naughty schoolboys!

One of the activities we really enjoyed were the game walks that were done with an armed ranger and another guide. You see so much more on a walk than from a vehicle – like plants, trees and insects, not to mention spoor. We fell in love with the Whistling Ant Acacia tree that has the most amazing symbiotic relationship with ants. This is a tree with the longest thorns I’ve ever seen on any Acacia that have a large bulbous part of the thorn close to the tree branch.  A colony of ants moves into the tree and they live in the bulbous part of the thorn and live on sap that the tree secretes.  When an unsuspecting giraffe comes along to eat the leaves of this tree the ants all rush out and attack the giraffes face. So, tree happy and ants victorious!

At Kichaka Expedtions Camp in Ruaha we went on a walk with the owner whose name is Moli and is one of the most interesting and entertaining characters I’ve met in years. On our walk with Moli we came across a bull elephant that looked about the same size as the Hindenburg and then proceeded to mock charge us! I’ve never had a better or stiffer G&T like the one after that walk!

Of course, it’s not a trip to Africa without a few altercations with Tsetse flies! At Mdonya Old River Camp we soon realized that they have a huge problem with these pests.  The environment was full of Tsetse fly traps that are tablecloth sized black and navy-blue fabric flags that kill them when one lands on it.  The hilarious local solution to the problem is to burn a large container of elephant dung on the back of the Land Rovers that proceeds to smoke and stink the vehicle out – not to mention asphyxiating the passengers! Every half an hour the guide would stop the vehicle, get a spoon and mix the dung around to keep things active. So funny to see these wonderful historic Land Rovers surrounded by a thick cloud of noxious elephant pooh!

In all our years of travelling Terry and I are always so happy to get home to our wonderful NZ. However, this time we left Tanzania with a heavy heart as we had fallen in love with this beautiful and very special part of Africa and felt there was so much more we wanted to see and experience. We will most certainly be going back in the future as it is a very large country with many more game reserves to see!

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