Tanzania’s secret spots
Tanzania is one of the easiest East African countries to explore. Most tourists head straight to Ngorongoro and the Serengeti in the north, but that part of the country is also home to five smaller parks where you can lose yourself to the beat of the bush
Amani Nature Reserve
This small reserve helps to protect some of the last remaining natural forests in the Eastern Usambara Mountains. It offers refuge to a host of rare endemic birds, butterflies, frogs and chameleons in a landscape unlike anything you’ll have seen before. It is an easy but adventurous drive to Amani. We left the tar road at the town of Muheza and followed a winding gravel road for 30 km (pictured) until we reached the reserve gate. From there, the road became narrower as it climbed into forest-clad mountains – the annual rainfall in the reserve is up to two metres! We stopped at the overgrown botanical garden near the gate. In 1902, Germans settlers planted trees from all over the world in an effort to see what might be grown profitably in their new colony. Eventually we reached Amani Forest Camp (previously known as Emau Hill), which lies at a misty height. I climbed out of the Fortuner and breathed in the wet, rich smell of the rainforest. Alice and I were surrounded by trees more than 30 m tall. What a place! Amani is best explored on foot and preferably with a guide. One night we set out with Husein Mohamed on a quest to find rare chameleons. Husein is an old hand and soon his torch found an enormous Usambara giant three-horned chameleon (opposite page). Huge silvery-cheeked hornbills swooped over our campsite during the day, and we also saw Tanganyika mountain squirrels and black-and-white colobus monkeys.
Mkomazi National Park
Mkomazi is far from the major safari routes in northern Tanzania. There are no lions in the park, which probably helps to keep the masses away. I couldn’t care less: I went to Mkomazi to see one of Africa’s most elegant antelopes – the gerenuk, a long-necked creature also known as the giraffe gazelle. (I wish I could report that we actually saw one, but we didn’t, so you’ll have to go and google a picture yourself.) However, we did see the equally beautiful lesser kudu, just minutes after I took this photo at the Viteweni viewpoint. (That’s Kenya in the distance; the border is barely 15 km away.) The lesser kudu bounded across the road, right in front of the Fortuner, but it vanished again before Alice or I managed to raise a camera. Still, we saw it! We also saw wild dogs with pups, eland, topi, Harvey’s duiker, Coke’s hartebeest and Bohor reedbuck. Our East African bird list grew significantly, with sightings of African orange-bellied parrot, D’Arnaud’s barbet, white-bellied go-away-bird, superb starling and Von der Decken’s hornbill. Camping in Tanzania’s national parks is expensive, so we stayed just outside the park in the town of Same at a neat and inexpensive place called Elephant Motel (see sidebar).
Arusha National Park
From Mkomazi we followed the tar road north to the town of Moshi. Along the way, the vast outline of Mount Kilimanjaro (5 895 m) came into view. We turned west at the foot of the mountain, now shrouded in cloud, until we reached Arusha National Park. Here, Mount Meru (4 566 m), dominated the skyline – you can see it in the background of this photo. After Mkomazi’s tinder-dry bushveld, Arusha was a tropical treat. We spent a full day exploring the park: We visited the Ngurdoto Museum (past its prime – beware the horror taxidermy), we peered over the edge of the Ngurdoto Crater and we marvelled at thousands of flamingoes at the Great Momella Lake. We didn’t have to drive great distances, so we took our time at bird sightings, which included an Augur buzzard (pictured), an African crowned eagle and Hartlaub’s turacos playing hide-and-seek in the branches of huge ironwood trees. Once again, we camped just outside the park. From the viewing deck at Meru Mbega Lodge we could see Kilimanjaro in the distance, its summit cloud-free for once, and Mount Meru much closer. I promised myself I would climb Meru the next time I visited…
Tarangire National Park
After doing some admin in the busy town of Arusha (want to know where to fill a Cadac gas bottle? Ask me!), we drove further west through arid plains where the Maasai were somehow managing to keep their herds alive until the first summer rains. We found a campsite called Wild Palm, about 20 minutes from Tarangire National Park, and set up camp just before dark. Tarangire was impressive, with great wildlife sightings like Grant’s gazelle, lions, cheetahs and lots of elephants. At times, the plentiful baobabs (pictured) reminded me of parts of the Kruger Park. The birding was superb, with sightings of everything from the familiar (bateleur and spoonbill) to the unfamiliar (ashy starling, yellow-collared lovebird). We visited during October, probably the driest month of the year, and many animals congregated wherever there was water. We again searched in vain for a gerenuk, and for a fringe-eared gemsbok – like our gemsbok, but with floppy ears. We explored the park for two days and a memorable scene played out one afternoon as we were leaving the picnic site overlooking the Silale Swamp. A big herd of elephants calmly walked into the swamp until they were half submerged, then they started eating water plants. Sun-baked plains shimmered in the distance. It was a picture of wilderness that justified the long trek to this wonderful park.
Lake Manyara National Park
Like Tarangire, Lake Manyara is one of the smaller parks on the Arusha safari circuit. But most foreign tourists head straight past on their way to Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. Don’t make the same mistake. As its name suggests, Lake Manyara National Park is all about the lake, which lies in a depression in the Great Rift Valley. (There are many wonderful lakes in the area; I regret not having had time to visit Lake Natron further north.) Manyara’s main game-viewing route follows the shores of the lake, dipping occasionally into bushveld and even some patches of rainforest. We drove as far as the hot springs, where a boardwalk allows you to see the muddy, algae-coloured water from above. We saw plenty of greater and lesser flamingoes at the springs, and pelicans elsewhere (pictured). Other birds we saw included Rüppel’s starling, blue-naped mousebird and cheeky red-and-yellow barbets. Manyara is famous for its pride of tree-climbing lions, but we didn’t see any up a tree or beneath one. We did see elephant, however, as well as dikdik, zebra, impala, bushbuck, baboons and blue monkeys.
From Lake Manyara, Toast headed to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (see go! #131) and Serengeti National Park ( go! #132).
FAST FACTS Park fees: TZS20 000 (R114) per person, plus TZS50 000 (R286) per car per day. Stay here: Camping at Amani Forest Camp costs US$10 (R132) per person in your own tent, or US$40 (R526) per person in one of their tents, breakfast included. Chameleon night hike US$15 (R197) per person. amaniforestcamp.com
FAST FACTS Park fees: US$30 (R395) per person, plus US$40 (R526) per car per day. tanzaniaparks.go.tz Stay here: Elephant Motel in Same is close to the tar road and the campsite offers shelter and shade. US$10 (R132) per person to camp; rooms from US$55 (R724) per night for three people sharing, with breakfast. The staff members were friendly and we had a good meal at the restaurant. elephantmotel.com
FAST FACTS Park fees: US$45 (R593) per person, plus US$40 (R526) per car per day. tanzaniaparks.go.tz Stay here: Meru Mbega Lodge is just outside the park gate. Camping costs US$10 (R132) per person; other accommodation from US$127 (R1 674) per night for four people sharing, breakfast included. mt-meru.com
FAST FACTS Park fees: US$45 (R593) per person, plus US$40 (R526) per car per day. tanzaniaparks.go.tz Stay here: Wild Palm is a rustic campsite, but the staff were very helpful. TZS15 000 (R88) per person per night. You don’t have to book. GPS: S3.68157 E35.94791
FAST FACTS Park fees: US$45 (R593) per person, plus US$40 (R526) per car per day. tanzaniaparks.go.tz Stay here: Panorama Safari Camp is a five-minute drive from the park gate, with a view of the lake. Mind the baboon raids. Camping costs US$10 (R132) per person, or stay in a cute little igloo for US$25 (R330) per person. panoramasafaricamp.com