Ruaha National Park.

My first impression when I landed in Ruaha National Park in Southern Tanzania was … lush and cool. I had flown in from hot and dry Lake Natron. I was about to enjoy the ‘green’ season in Ruaha.

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Lovely Ruaha.

Ruaha National Park is the largest National Park in Tanzania. It is around 12,000 sq miles – larger than Serengeti National Park in Northern Tanzania.  Though quite vast, large parts of this park are not easily accessible due to a heavy Tsetse fly population.

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Impala ladies.

The good and bad of having Tsetse flies. The good is that is allows more land area for wildlife. The bad, we can’t enjoy spending time with wildlife without being bitten. As our guide Lorenzo from Kwihala Camp told us, there are so many part of the Ruaha that are lovely to explore, you don’t really miss going to those uncomfortable areas.

Although, Lorenzo’s secret fantasy is to find a potion that keeps TseTse flies away and then set up a lovely camp in that remote part of Ruaha.

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White headed Buffalo Weaver.

Ruaha, even though larger than Serengeti has fewer lodges. What does this mean for you visiting Ruaha? Fewer people on game drives. When we were here in the green season, we saw 1-2 cars the whole day. In the busier dry season, I am sure there would be more Safari vehicles enjoying this lovely park but you would still have a large area without bumping into too many vehicles.

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Mdonya River.

The areas where the few lodges have set up in Ruaha are close to the three huge rivers that run through this large National Park – the Mwagusi, Great Ruaha and Mdonya River.

These three rivers and it’s tributaries are the life line during the dry season which is usually from June to October. During this time, the elephants come here, dig on the water-bed and bring up the water that was filled here during the wet green season. This act of kindness also helps the other animals who depend on the  water ‘wells’ created.

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Elephant herd. A few babies in the group.

Our guides Lorenzo and Leverd told us that coming here in the dry season means you are bound to see large herd buffalos coming for a drink to the river. We are talking thousands and thousands buffalos. Lions are also easier to spot because the grass around here is not too tall during that time. Apparently, you don’t have to go far from the river to spot most wildlife.

Elephant herds large and small, well thankfully they can be spotted during both dry and wet season.

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The stare!

During the wet green season, while is usually from November to May, the short and the long rains disperses the wildlife population as water is present everywhere, gets the grass tall [we are talking 3-6 ft. high depending on the area] and the bushes thick which makes spotting wildlife a much more adventurous sport. There are hundreds of lions in Ruaha and yet when we saw this lovely male lion, it was a huge treat.

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Walking Safari.

Sally, my client who joined me on Safari and I also did a walking Safari in Ruaha, a bit tricky to do in the green season. Lorenzo went to scout an area for us with more open plains. Well, that was not possible. Even though the area seemed ‘open’ there is long grass and bushes.  This made for a hair-raising walk experience which Sally and I really enjoyed but you could tell Lorenzo and Chris, our ranger, were on high alert. You can not really see what is lurking behind the bush. Will give a detailed account of my Ruaha walking Safari like I did for my Serengeti walking Safari

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Giraffe under a large Baobab tree.

There is also a good distance between the few lodges built within this large National Park so each lodge usually gets its ‘own river’ to enjoy.  Sally and I stayed in Kwihala Camp, a Asilia property and ‘our’ river was the Mwagusi River.

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Red-billed Ruaha Hornbill

Even though the wildlife spotted was fewer than what Lorenzo said we would spot during the dry season, the many many lovely butterflies and birds kept us busy and excited. Oh the lovely birds of Ruaha. From the local birds like the Red-billed Ruaha hornbill to the popular East African birds like the Lilac Breasted Roller to the birds that travel the distance – from Southern Africa and all the way to Europe. Just look up – or eye level – and get carried away with all the lovely birds.

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The small things.

For those of us who go on frequent Safaris, even the green ‘quiet’ season was special. Just to be out here, have the park to yourself and enjoy the ‘hunt’ of capturing a few wildlife, lots of birds, colorful flowers all the while enjoying the stunning landscape. This experience of my Ruaha Safari was refreshing.

Ruaha has captured my soul!

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Lake Natron Camp.

My first stop on my Safari back to Tanzania was Lake Natron Camp in middle of the Great East African Rift Valley.

welcomeAfter a beautiful drive through this stunning landscape with Paul, we arrive at the crunchy dried soda ash entrance to the Maasai ladies coming to welcome us.  The sun setting behind us was spreading the golden hour rays making Ol Doinyo Lengai and the stunning hills around the camp look lovely.

IMG_0611Cold refreshments were served in the dining + lounge tent while the manager checked us into the camp. For those interested, wi-fi is available here. Paul, who knows Ake Lindstrom, the owner of the camp, mentioned that Ake is very keen on supporting the local Maasai community. Most of the staff here are from close by Engare Sero village. Kudos!

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Spring water in front of most of the tents.

roomAfter our long drive, we wanted to freshen up so we were escorted to our tents. Not many dangerous wildlife here so walking on your own back to the dining camp does not require an escort.

Each of the 10 tented rooms are under a protective layer of black tarp to keep the inside cooler from the blistering heat of the Great East African Rift Valley especially during the hot months [December to March]. I am glad they had that layer as it was hot especially during our mid-afternoon siesta, part of the Safari Life. The poor old fan tried to help. You just have to give in and embrace the heat. In the evenings, with the fan on, it was more comfortable.

To leave minimal footprints in this region, the rooms are powered with solar. Sun is not a problem here.

bathroomThe bathroom has compost toilets which works fine for this harsh environment. There was enough water for a nice bucket shower. Additional lighting would make the bathroom comfortable especially in the shower area so you could find the bucket shower string.

diningThe dining and lounge area during my February stay could use an update. More lighting was needed at night around the whole dining + lounge tent. The chef serving area was in the dark side of the tent. Our table was outside the main area and did not feel like it was part of the dining area. The bar was not well stocked yet and seems detached from the main area.

I have seen reports of improvements since then. The food served by the chef was delicious and appropriate. From warm meals in the evening to the cool lunches during the heat of the day.

stunning_landscapeThe deal sealer here is the access to Lake Natron and its many splendors. Early morning walks to capture the sunrise over Ol Doinyo Lengai, the many hills and mirror-like Lake Natron. Golden hour moments in the evenings and finishing off with a glorious dip in the fresh water spring while enjoying sundowner [snacks and drinks before your evening meal] and maybe a tickle tilapia pedicure. Your feet and ‘soul’ will thank you.

sundowner_spotI look forward to returning back to Lake Natron Camp, located in the vast Rift Valley, the belly of the Earth.

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Lake Natron Region.

“Take all Safari expectations and throw them out. The real Africa is much better.” – Unknown.

Why go to Lake Natron Region located within the Great East African Rift Valley, an area that is off-the-Safari-grid [not for long] when on Safari in Northern Tanzania? That was what I was trying to discover with my friend, expert guide Paul Oliver. I think I know why.

Stunning landscape.

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Ol Doinyo Lengai with ash on the side.

This place is for those who want to photograph stunning landscapes. The most obvious is the glorious volcanic mountain Ol Doinyo Lengai, the mountain of God for the Maasai tribe members. The deep ridges carved from erosion, the spewed lava that comes out every 10 years or so or the depth of vegetation all reflected differently from different angles. This live mountain is very mesmerizing.

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Glorious Lake Natron in the evening.

Alkaline rich Lake Natron and it’s reflective surface, the many rock outcrops that dot the mirror-like lake, the white soda ash on the shores and the lovely reeds that create interest. The hills are alive with character. You have to see the many hills with mini peaks that are formed to release the gas from the belly of the Earth.

If you are into landscape photography with the occasional wildlife spotting, this is your place.

Walking.

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Walking to Lake Natron

The area near our camp, Lake Natron Tented Lodge is about an hour walk to the caustic Lake Natron. You have to pass through surpisingly cool water springs [it was around 90F in February], muddy patches with lots of footprints to inspect from the large zebra to the little bird prints, and then the unique, crunchy dry soda from the salty lake.

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The dry crusty crunchy earth with soda and zebra footprints.

There is also walking to a waterfall from the Engare Sero village which I missed seeing but heard from people staying at Lake Natron Tented Lodge that the trek was worth the cool dip.

Birds.
flamingosThis area is a the breeding ground for flamingos. Lake Natron is an alkaline lake with the right ph for the flamingoes to breed. I was expecting to see lots of flamingos but that was not the case as they had flown away further south to Lake Eyasi and east to Lake Magadi in Ngorongoro Region. You could hear them flying at night from my room. Non the less, getting so close to the flamingos by foot was quite special.

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Wadders flying.

Then you have the large count of migratory birds coming all the way from Europe and even Alaska. Paul, who is a birder was clicking away. Wadders were skittish around us and Paul told me about bird netting and bird poaching. Birds are facing a huge problem in many European countries like Italy, Malta to countries like Jordan. Millions of these lovely birds are served as delicacy to satisfy humans.

Of course the local birds are every present. We had fun with the Spotted Morning-thrush hanging on the branches of the acacia tree. He and Paul had a good conversation about our lovely ‘Safari life’.

Cultural stop.
hills
Historic footprints have been found here. They have calculated the age of these footprints and they are around 120,000 years old, the first modern straight standing man. This area is very close to Oldupai Gorge, where one of the first homo sapiens skull was found by the Leakey family.

I am going back to see these footprints on my return Safari to Lake Natron in 2016.

A Safari with Paul Oliver is in the works for May / June 2016. Come join us.
Fill our out our Contact Us form and we will keep you posted on the Safari.

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Back from my Safari.

I am back from my Safari in Tanzania. Sigh. The thing about going on a Safari is that as soon as you come back, you want to start planning your next Safari. I LoVe being on Safari.

Quick re-cap on my Safari where I had a few extra perks. I spent two days with professional guide Paul Oliver in the hot temperature ‘belly of the Earth’, from Lake Natron Tented Camp. The landscape here was stunning.  I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the Rift Valley, the birds and their incredible long and perilous journey, general in-depth happenings in this Maasai region, details about other National Parks – I have a lot more to see in Tanzania – and so much more.

And there is a Safari brewing with Paul as the lead guide. Details coming up.

Sunset with Ol Doinyo Lengai in the background from Lake Natron Tented Camp, my first stop on my Safari.

In Ruaha, my client Sally was waiting for me. Oh what fun we had exploring this dense because of green season, cooler in temperature, full of wild flowers stunning Ruaha. Our guides Lorenzo and Leverd from Kwihala Camp were super fun as there was not much ‘visible’ game. We just ‘heard’ the hundreds of cats. More on green season Ruaha coming up.

Lorenzo with our ranger Chris took us on a walking Safari through the tall grasses and lush bushes – adrenaline pumping experience. We witnessed a rainbow in the clouds here – one for the memory books. Can not wait to come back and explore Ruaha in the dry season.

Sally Mefi

Sally and I in Selous on our walking Safari. Can you spot the wild animal?

I finished off with Selous Game Reserve. Green season again meant patience when going on game drives but Sally and I got to witness two male lions on our walking Safari. Heart beating.

I was looking forward to experiencing boating and it did not disappoint. Sally and I enjoyed the many birds and baboons – yes, baboons are so entertaining if you watch them closely for a long time – on the way to lovely Stiegler’s Gorge from Sand River Selous. I also got to spend time in Lake Tagalala and the hot springs before I was spoilt at stunning Beho Beho Camp.

I am in the middle of editing over 2000 pictures. Digital photography does make it easy to go click-crazy especially when I had my 70-300 mm f4-5.6L on my Canon camera body.

Dreaming of being back on Safari ….. soon.

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