Having just returned from a fascinating trip to Tanzania, I am surprised how little is known about the southern area of the mainland and a couple of the smaller outlying islands in the Zanzibar archipelago. Tanzania is best known for the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro National Parks, and Zanzibar. Well managed and fantastic in their own right, an inevitable consequence of such fame is the large number of visitors they receive each year.
But what of the Nyerere National Park (formerly Selous Game Reserve), the Ruaha National Park, and the islands of Mafia and Pemba?
Well, a treat in store. At 50,000km², Selous is the largest game reserve in Africa. Double the size of the Kruger, three times larger than the Serengeti and about 50% bigger than Switzerland; it is massive! It boasts a rich variety of habitats from tropical palm forests and open woodland to meandering rivers and lakes. At its heart is the Rufiji River which supports plentiful bird and animal life. Named after the British explorer, Frederick Courtney Selous, who was killed here during a battle between German and British soldiers in the WW1, it is only now beginning to emerge as one of most impressive wildlife areas in Africa.
Unlike some of its busier neighbours, it is still a park where you can game drive without seeing another vehicle. Helped by the fact the guides tend not to get on the radio to alert each other to a spectacular event. It was lovely to feel that each game drive I took was a true unknown, with the element of surprise keeping me perched on the edge of my seat, peering into the bush, or across the plains, to identify the signs of nearby predators. Away from the vehicles, you can explore the area on foot or by boat. We had some wonderful sunset river cruises. It is the home of traditional safaris, unspoiled by modern technology. But with some glorious lodges benefiting from up-to-the-minute luxuries to make an unforgettable visit.
Ruaha, an hour and a half’s flight to the north west, shares similar qualities of remoteness and quietness. A unique feature here is that its vegetation and habitat include species from both east and southern Africa. As a result you’re likely to encounter a real mix of wildlife and over 570 bird species. It was a joy to see the avenues of ‘upside down’ trees as the baobabs. They form an integral part of this fascinating ecosystem that is so different from the much better known Serengeti. If you have been on safari in northern Tanzania, the reserves in the south are different, but equally rewarding experience.
Pemba and Mafia Island
If you enjoy the vast remoteness of deepest Africa, without sharing the experience with other tourists, this is the area for you. With the excellent light plane services, it’s easy to combine the Selous or Ruaha with time on the beach. You can be in the bush in the morning and on the beach by early afternoon. Again, there is so much more in this coastal region than just Zanzibar.
Pemba island has the outstanding Fundu Lagoon Lodge. Only accessible by boat, which is a remarkable combination of a luxury eco-lodge with all the trimmings you could want. There is nothing like it on Zanzibar. The diving – protected by a marine national park – is world class. Reefs teeming with hard corals and marine life, including electric rays, huge puffer fish and lobsters. The same can be said for the waters off Mafia Island. Another untouched gem that has escaped the larger numbers of visitors attracted to Zanzibar. Both Pemba and Mafia are as close to Dar es Salaam as Zanzibar (just a short 30 minute flight), but so much more pristine and undiscovered than their larger, better known neighbour.