Written by Lindstrom, photography by Boyd Horton
Book a window seat for your flight out of Dar es Salaam: below is the chaotic, exotic sprawl of the port city, and beyond is sheer spectacle.
Tanzania is not a jewel in the safari crown, it’s the whole platinum-plated, gem-studded treasury. The dilemma we face is not where to go but what to bypass in a country which boasts 200,000 square kilometres of sublime wilderness and with it the greatest herbivore migration on earth – a vast inland lake, the largest intact caldera in the world, and the unrelenting beauty of the Zanzibar archipelago.
The concept of safari has come a long way from the word’s original translation from Swahili, meaning ‘journey’. These days safari is whatever you want it to be, whether mobile, tented trip, whistle-stop tour of the luxury lodges, or walking safari in the remote Selous Game Reserve. There’s a dizzying array of bush experiences on offer now that we have ventured (albeit still khaki-clad) beyond the guns and gramophones of a Hemingway safari. The fine linen, haute cuisine, and hot showers are still there if we need them, but increasingly carbon footprints and community-based tourism have a part to play.
For safaris in areas of staggering beauty and remoteness Nomad are the specialists, and they will restore a sense of wonderment to the most jaded soul. Many camps claiming to offer the wilderness experience actually have the crowds and infrastructure of Zurich’s CBD; not so the camps established by Nomad. The incomparable Greystoke Mahale is set on the beaches of Lake Tanganyika whose white sand, clear water, and granite boulders are reminiscent of some sort of freshwater Seychelles.
The Lake, 660km long and up to 80km wide, is reached after a five-hour Cessna flight from Arusha and then an hour’s dhow ride up the uninhabited coast, past crescents of beach and forest-clad mountain slopes. The nearest track is 100km away. There is no better place on the planet to view wild chimpanzees; it was not far from here that Jane Goodall first witnessed chimps using twigs to tweak termites from their holes – thus laying waste to the notion that Man had the monopoly on toolmaking.
Equally alluring but in a wildly different set of ecosystems is Sand River’s Camp, set on a lazy loop of the Rufiji River. The Selous Game Reserve covers 50,000 square kilometres and is the biggest wildlife sanctuary in Africa, named after the great white hunter Frederick Courteney Selous (ironically, perhaps, given his predilection for slaughtering elephants in their thousands).
Sand Rivers Selous quite simply has to be the best in Africa in terms of exclusivity, accommodation, wilderness, and experience of beasts both great and small. Seen from the air the region is a tracery of dry riverbeds, grassland, doum palm-studded wetland, and baobabs on rocky outcrops – all of it alive with an extraordinary density of animal life.
Nomad’s new camp in the Selous, Kiba Point, has four airy stone-and-thatch cottages (each with its own plunge pool), which may be booked on an exclusive basis, including a guide, four game-viewing vehicles, and a boat. Guests use both camps as a base for four-day walking safaris, or simply as a tranquil safari retreat.
Farther north, the kopjes and rolling vistas of the Serengeti have inspired film-makers, writers, and naturalists for decades and, thanks largely to National Geographic and Disney, this is one of the most recognisable landscapes on earth. The annual phenomenon of the Great Migration of over two million wildebeest and other herbivores across the Greater Serengeti thus probably needs no introduction. Given that the igration is rarely ever the same in terms of precise timing and direction, planning ahead to witness this greatest show on earth can be tricky, so keep track of wildebeest mega-herd movements on www.wildwatch.com/great_migration.
A leader in flexible, tailor-made itineraries for this (or any) photographic safari is Craig Doria, who has guided a number of expeditions for Discovery and National Geographic film crews, plus zoo and university groups. Craig has written books on snakes and authored several journal articles on conservation but is anything but a dry academic – and likely to induce khaki fever in the most myopic maiden aunt.
Conclude your safari on a surreal note in the Ngorongoro Crater. Covering a mere 260 square kilometres, the towering primordial walls are haven to a permanent population of around 30,000 animals, and is one of the few places on the continent where you stand a good chance of seeing the ‘Big Five’ in the course of a game drive. There are around 70 lions in the crater, about 15 black rhino, and the Lerai forest is a great place to spot leopard; added to the mix are herds of Maasai cattle, often watched assiduously by an attendant predator. For a lodge to match the prodigality of the landscape, Ngorongoro Crater Lodge outclasses any competitors. Three separate and secluded camps, inspired in design by Maasai manyattas, offer views of the caldera below, and no description can do justice to the extravagance of the dйcor within, though ‘ethnic baroque’ might be a good start.Wash away the last vestiges of dust on the squeaky-clean beaches of Mnemba, a simply gorgeous private island some 20 minutes northeast of Zanzibar. The warm, calm waters around Mnemba are set within a marine reserve offering superb snorkelling and diving amongst the coral. Turtle season is December-May when tiny hatchlings totter down to the waterline.
If you can bear to drag yourself away from this state of aquamarine sublimity, Stone Town on the Spice Island of Zanzibar is a boat-ride away; here, labyrinthine streets of coral rag houses, mosques, hidden courtyards, and intricately carved doors have recently been declared a World Heritage Site. Buy smoked octopus from the street vendors, watch dhows unloading in the harbour, or fruit bats streaming from their roosts behind the Sultan’s Palace at dusk, and be transported to another world, another time.
www.nomad-tanzania.com, www.ccafricasafaris.com, www.craigdoriasafaris.com
While spotting the Big Five of African wild animals is on most adventurers’ tick list, the coastal waters off the coast of Zanzibar are home to another layer of pristine wildlife, whose numbers, colours, and timeless cycle of predator and prey equals that played out at the game reserves.
Charter a catamaran and explore the protected Menai Bay islands in the Southern Fumba Peninsula.
Glide past the baobabs on Chapwani island, where flocks of white egrets rest from neighbouring Snake Island, habitat of the Aldabra giant tortoise, whose carapace averages 120cm in length.
Mnemba atoll is a haven for snorkelling and diving. Although excellent year-round, December-March sees the waters and aquatic life at their finest (15-30m visibility). Whale sharks migrate in August-November and again in February.
Easily recognisable in style and uniquely Tanzanian, the Tinga-Tinga paintings of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar are an exuberant mix of humour and brilliant colour.
The highly stylised scenes of anything from village life to wildlife swirl from the surface of the canvas, and are affordable and collectable. Tinga Tinga painting began with Edward Saidi Tingatinga, who was born to a family of poor farmers in southern Tanzania and drifted to Dar in search of work in the 1950s.
After several false starts, he tried his hand at painting for a living using scavenged materials, usually the dregs of bicycle enamel paint and bits of discarded ceiling board. He soon developed a unique, albeit naпve, style that proved very popular with tourists. Soon, members of his family were enlisted to help, and an urban art form was born. Even today most Tinga Tinga artists uphold the tradition of painting in bicycle enamel paint.
eco-tourism: leave only paw-prints
Hoopoe Safaris will ease any eco-conscience whilst providing a great safari experience: they won the Condй Nast Award for Best Ecotourism Company in the World in 2004. Hoopoe’s tented camp Kirurumu overlooks the dense woodland and soda expanse of Lake Manyara – an area renowned for its elephant population – and the lodge seems to dissolve into the landscape of the Rift Valley. Energetic and grizzled Peter Lindstrom, and his Maasai business partner Steve Laiser, have also established a successful conservancy with the local Maasai at their tented camp in the Mount Kilimanjaro heartland, a vital refuge for elephants. The company also offers a variety of treks up Kilimanjaro itself, with six routes allowing climbers access through the Forest Reserve. Do not be misled by the benign look of the slopes: any ascent is tough and requires preparation, not something to be tackled on impulse! www.hoopoe.com
the ‘big five’
Lion, Black Rhino, Leopard, Cape Buffalo & Elephant.
But why not the cheetah, hyena, hippopotamus, or giraffe? These are just as rewarding when seen in the wild. The term‘Big Five’ was first introduced by early big game hunters, referring to the difficulty in hunting these five large animals; and how dangerous they are when cornered, surprised, or indeed, shot at.