Parks and Reserves of Tanzania
Text and photos by Canadian wildlife photographers M.-F. and D. Rivard
The approach to safaris in Tanzania is centered on small groups for a more personal and enjoyable experience. In August 2005, we visited parks and reserves of Tanzania through a travel agency specialized in world expeditions. Camping was an option and, while we are not avid campers, we decided to give it a try. In addition, this was our first African safari.
During this tour (see itinerary), we visited Lake Manyara Park, the Serengeti, the Tarangire National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater. We camped in “special” camp sites, i.e. isolated camp sites specially assigned to your group. As these camp sites are in the parks or very close to them, you are completely immersed in nature and you never have to go too far to see wildlife in action.
In so far camping is concerned, it was quite comfortable thanks to our guide, as well as to our camp master and our cook who travelled in a separate vehicle to set up the camp in various locations ahead of our arrival. For our party of 6 people, this expedition style tour provided a good environment for discovering nature and wildlife of Tanzania. Each day, the camp master would go ahead of us to set the tents, a portable toilet, a separate shower stall ("bucket" style) and a dining area while the cook would get busy preparing the food. At the end of the day, they would arrange to boil water so that each of us could have a warm shower before dinner. Our guide spoke French, English and Swahili. Ironically, while we always travelled on dirt roads, the truck was always clean due in part to the dry conditions but also to the diligence of the supporting team.
We spent the first night in Lake Manyara National Park, known for the lake of the same name. We arrived at camp Bagayo 2 at sunset. When we retired for the night, we asked the guide who would take the first guard for the night. He quickly replied that nobody would take guard and that they were careful enough to spread the tents so that the elephants would not get entangled in the tent lines should they decide to pass between them. The next day, after breakfast, our guide brought our attention to fresh tracks in the sand, those of a lion. He suggested that we get set for the morning safari, with the aim of finding the lion which, he thought, was certainly very close. We indeed found a lioness, a few meters from the camp area (all our camp sites in Tanzania were open to the wild, i.e. not protected by fences or otherwise).
The Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater are places that must be seen with their populations of wildebeest, zebras, gazelles, elephants and much more. En route for the Serengeti National Park, we asked our guide to stop at a traditional Maasai village for a short visit and continued to the Serengeti to set at our camp called Lobo 2.
The Serengeti plains hold their name from a Maasai word which means “endless plains”. This is indeed the first impression that you get when entering the park. One day as we were finishing lunch at our camp, we saw that all animals in the plain were all looking in the same direction. It did not take us long to realize that a young elephant had ventured away from the herd and that three lions were manoeuvring to attack him. An adult elephant came to his rescue and, through a series of threatening manoeuvres, was successful in bringing him back to the herd. To our surprise, the herd proceeded in line towards us and passed a few meters behind our camp where we were setting up for a mid-day nap. When we went to sleep that night, we felt privileged to be there in the Serengeti to be able to witness such events.
It got very cold on the night we set camp on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. The next day, we walked to the Munge Falls where the morning mist left us with an impression of being in an enchanted forest. We quickly forgot about possible encounters with Cape buffalo or other creatures, in part due to being accompanied by a local ranger who carried a gun (or what looks like a very old gun). The Ngorongoro Crater is a volcanic caldera, i.e. a large depression (or crater) created by a volcano which collapsed on itself. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is known for its large herds of wildebeests and zebras. The wildebeests offer quite a spectacle as they move by the thousand between water and feeding areas.
In the Tarangire National Park, we set camp at Camp Kanga. The landscape in the Tarangire Park is famous for its baobab trees. We were happy to see that our tents had been set close to a large baobab tree until we realized that the camp site was also occupied by an unusually high amount of bees. The bees quickly found the water in the bowls that had been conveniently put up for use to clean our hands before dinner. When we asked our guide what to do about this, he simply said to gently push them aside while making sure not to disturb a single one in the process. When asked what would happen if one was disturbed, he did not answer... ! One of us proceeded to the shower which had been set with warm water as usual. However, as soon as the water started to flow, the bees rushed in… The shower was short on that day and the others declined their turn at the shower stall. As soon as darkness settled in, all bees disappeared in the giant baobab tree which continued to buzz for a little while. We had dinner outside by the fire as usual undisturbed by the resting bees. Wildlife around the Tarangire River is abundant and the daily parade of elephants in Indian file to return to the river at the end if each day is spectacular.
We saw 140 species of birds during our expedition, including the yellow-necked spurfowl, the lilac-breasted roller and the Hildebrandt’s starling to name only a few.
We finished the expedition on Zanzibar Archipelago (also known as Ungula Island from its Swahili name). The island is rich in history and is often referred to as “Iles aux Épices” for its production of clove, pepper, cinnamon, and more. A tour aboard a dhow (sailboat) build by a local community allowed us to meet local people, to snorkel on an offshore reef and to enjoy sunset while sailing back to port.