The No 1 Safari in the World – Tanzania – The Essence of Africa
We had been impressed with our friends’ recollections of their African experiences after visiting Tanzania. We started thinking about a safari in Africa. Where to start? The choices were huge. In Swahili safari means ‘journey’. We had been planning ours for a long time and had heard of Tanganyika Expeditions repeatedly. I wanted ours to be special. Memorable.
Having researched further, we realised that Tanganyika Expeditions was an excellent company with outstanding itineraries. They had registered under the name of ‘The No 1 Safari in the World’. A bold statement. I liked that. I was keen to find out…
Specialising only in Tanzania meant they had built up a formidable reputation and had superb people working with them. We planned to fly out to Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania and visit this wonder-of-the-world. Very few countries have set aside, preserved and conserved so much of their land for future generations.
Our journey was to take place in late January and early February. We had spent many months planning and organising our adventure before finally making a choice for an 11 night safari spread over 13 days (if we included overnight on the plane from Thailand).
Our travel companions were African specialists, Allan and Pasit. Regrettably Pasit later had to drop-out due to family commitments. So we were three. Myself (British); Pichai (Thai) and Allan (South African). We had all become close friends after a number of adventures together. Most recently two exploration trips to Bhutan. Allan and I are both Skal members. Allan is linked to tourism and hospitality through his work with the South African Thai Chamber of Commerce. So all three of us have tourism as our common denominator.
We were delighted to be also working with Kenya Airways, our airline of choice from Bangkok. On receiving our travel documents their Pride of Africa tagline seemed fitting for our journey. Firstly to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport, then a short international hop of one hour from Kenya to Mount Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania, for the start of our safari. Hemingway fans may recall his short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro and the film of the same name starring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward.
Were we travelling in the foot steps of Ernest Hemingway? Well yes and no…
Like Hemingway we travelled to Kenya and Tanganyika (Tanzania today). Unlike Hemingway we hoped not to suffer any plane crashes in Africa nor contract dysentery. Neither did we plan to kill any animals as trophies.
Certainly his story was exciting and unique and in this aspect our expedition was going to be a journey of a lifetime and I was sure that the memories and images I would see on my first visit to Tanzania would shape my impressions of this immense continent for the rest of my life. From this point of view I had much in common with Hemingway. I was about to learn much of what is the essence of Africa.
We departed from Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok on 27 January flying with Kenya Airways on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner to Nairobi. The journey of nine hours was comfortable and the lie-flat beds in business class made a great start for the expedition. Although excited we were all able to get a few hours sleep ahead of our busy first day for our African adventure.
Our transfer from Nairobi was on a new Embraer 190 jet. It was a short flight to Kilimanjaro Airport, taking less than an hour.
After a short wait to obtain our Tanzania visa-on-arrival ($50) and showing our ‘yellow book’ with details of our yellow-fever inoculations we quickly retrieved our luggage and were met by Christopher who was to be our driver/guide/mentor/teacher and all round good guy for the next 12 days. We all warmed to him immediately and over the coming days we’re grateful for his encyclopaedic knowledge. He also taught us a few words of Swahili – Asante (thank you) Karibu (welcome) and Pole Pole (slowly, slowly). Christopher had amazing eyesight too – being able to spot distant animals with radar-like precision.
Our vehicle was the impressive Toyota Land Cruiser. A 7-seater vehicle, a cross between a Land Rover and an Hummvee. It was huge inside and out. An all terrain 4×4. We had shovels, deep water snorkels and massive tyres. It stood high and proud above the dirt. It was the safari workhorse of choice – reliable and rugged. It had good height and visibility. With a removable roof and protective sun-canopy making for perfect 360° photo shooting. A fridge for ice cold soft drinks, along with electrical sockets to charge phones and camera batteries.
We quickly left the airport compound and were on the main highway to Arusha in no time before heading into the bush and the Tarangire National Park.
It was just as I imagined. Huge great Baobab trees (the Upside-Down tree or Bottle tree), Acacia trees and the aptly named Sausage tree. The first animals that we spotted were zebras and a herd of elephants. Then later gazelles, wildebeest and giraffes. The landscape was just extraordinary.
The first animals that we spotted were zebras and a herd of elephants. Then later gazelles, wildebeest and giraffes
The sheer number of wildlife and birds was amazing.
Our first night was spent at Maweninga Camp which sits high on the escarpment atop of a very impressive granite boulder area. This camp is located in the heart of Tarangire National Park with great views over Lake Manyara and Lake Burunge.
After a long first day leaving home in Bangkok at 21.00 hrs the day before we arrived at the camp at about 15.00 hrs local time 22 hours later.
We spent two nights here. The camp has free Wi-Fi in the public areas and all electrical power in the camp is provided from solar panels located within the campsite.
All 16 tents are equipped with very comfortable beds, patio furniture and ensuite facilities. Camping just became glamorous! There were stunning views of the park and our two nights here made our African adventure unforgettable.
More so for Allan. At breakfast he explained he had a visitor in his tent last night. A small Hyrax – about the size of a baby pig. It’s actually related to the elephant but you’d never guess. Allan’s visitor sneaked in the zipped-up tent somehow and startled him at 03.30 am.
Our Massai night watchman told us that the camp also had a leopard visitor in the night but it just walked through the camp…no dramas!
After breakfast we left the Maweninga Tented Camp. Our first night was comfortable with temps about 32-35°C day time dropping to a much cooler 14°C at night time.
During our second day Safari drive down near the river, we came across an incredibly rare pack of wild dogs. Fantastic! They had been hunting and unlike the Mad Dogs and Englishmen of Noël Porters song, these dogs were resting in the mid-day sun under the shade of an Acacia tree, within sight of the wet marshland beyond.
Christopher explained that Tarangire National Park comes into its own at this time of year with the almost permanently flowing Tarangire River a haven for elephants with young, moving amongst the spectacular Baobab trees and dry-land shrubs, and many different antelope and large buffalo herds are seen. It is also renown for sightings of cheetah and leopard.
We had easy access and the 4×4 tracks wound in and out of copses of riverine trees and out across grassland habitat.
We noticed a huge flock of vultures in a nearby tree. Christopher thought there must be a kill nearby. We later found a large dead Eland (a savannah and plains antelope found throughout East and Southern Africa) and not far away a female leopard in a nearby tree looking-out over its recent kill.
She was not entirely comfortable with our presence showing signs of agitation and annoyance. We kept very quiet! The vultures had also sensed the leopard’s presence and were waiting to join in the ‘feast’.
This was Africa! Our first few days sightings of Africa’s wildlife had so far exceeded my expectations.
It was a wonderful day and we had a picnic lunch down by the river not far from the leopard in a tree. Later that afternoon we saw a pride of four lions sleeping under a distant tree. Wonderful!
On the third day we left camp and headed towards Lake Manyara in bright sunshine.
It had rained late yesterday for a short time, a surprise and welcome relief for the locals after a particularly long dry spell. There was however, little evidence of ground water on the roadway. We came across buffalo and elephants in abundance as we headed down the escarpment to lower ground.
The river crossing
We exited the Tarangire NP at the Sangaiwe Gate and headed north to the lake. It soon became clear that the Sangaiwe Hills had received a lot more water from the recent rains, than we had at the camp. A flash flood blocked our way. What was once a substantial road was now a 100 metre wide waterway with fast flowing water. Christopher took it all in his stride. With the locals all watching and offering their opinions he quietly ignored the hullabaloo and battened down the hatches and lowered the sun-canopy and closed the roof. He told us also to close all the windows and hold-on!
He revved the engine and set-off at speed. He clearly felt forward momentum would be advantageous. Thankfully the water was only a few feet deep and Christopher was able to safely drive (sail?) across. We all cheered when we reached the opposite side and regained the high ground.
Privately I think we were all relieved. Had it be luck or experience? We’ll give Christopher the benefit of the doubt on that one…
Lake Manyara National Park turned out to be amazing. Awesome bird life around the warm waters of the lake fed by underground hot springs.
The springs provide the lake with a year-round supply of water, nutrients and minerals for plant growth, making for a bird lovers paradise. The alkaline waters favour pink flamingoes.
We had a picnic lunch once more and marvelled at the thousands of birds flocking the shores. As well as flamingoes, we saw storks, cranes, pelicans and so many more…
Bashay Rift Lodge
Bashay Rift Lodge was our next home for two days. It was beautiful! Lush green manicured lawns; colourful bougainvillea everywhere and a swimming pool. Our accommodations were wonderful. We had a gorgeous suite with a four-poster bed. An ENORMOUS bathroom and heaps of hot water and power showers. Tents are good but this was heavenly. Bashay Rift Lodge was a pleasant surprise and one of my favourites.
Dinner was under the stars and delicious. The Lodge grows all their own vegetables. We were getting used to 4-course meals. Soup was very much in vogue in Tanzania. With excellent African wines, we had a most pleasant evening.
We all turned in reasonably early after a night cap in the bar.
Tomorrow, Allan had elected to stay in camp and catch up on his work, but Pichai and I had an early start. We were off to meet the Hadzabe tribe!
Safari Expeditions represented in Thailand and Asia by Allan & Pasit Tours. For full details and sample itineraries please contact email@example.com
About the author – Andrew J. Wood
Andrew was born in Yorkshire England, he is a professional hotelier, Skalleague, travel writer and director of WDA Co. Ltd and its subsidiary, Thailand by Design (tours/travel/MICE).
Andrew has over 35 years of hospitality and travel experience. He is a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh.
Andrew is a former board member and Director of Skal International (SI), National President SI THAILAND, President of SI BANGKOK and is currently Director of Public Relations, Skal International Bangkok. He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Thailand including Assumption University’s Hospitality School and most recently the Japan Hotel School in Tokyo.