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

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