FISH AND CHIMPS
Out to the far west of Tanzania lies 4,500 square kilometres of undiscovered wilderness, a piece of rugged country that is home to Africa’s animal giants. It is dominated by some of the greatest populations of elephant, buffalo, hippo, crocodile, and giraffe in East Africa. It is almost like a lost world, a land of legend and epic.
Katavi is made up of floodplains, mixed woodland, river valleys, rugged escarpments and forests of borassus palm; features such as Chada floodplains, Paradise Plains, and the Katuma River add character and personality to this wondrous landscape. Wildlife viewing in Katavi National Park is exhilarating, reminiscent of the days of old when the intrepid journeyed into lands unknown and unspoilt, and were able to witness the wildlife living as it had evolved, in total freedom and without interference from homo sapiens. After searching for the giants of the animal world, it’s possible to relax in one of the most charismatic and authentic safari camps remaining in East Africa.
While many chase plaudits by installing gadgets and expensive fittings, Chada Katavi achieves a feeling of supreme luxury via the combination of a sublime location in a grove of huge tamarind trees, and well-spaced and superbly designed tents. The furniture is classic safari style, solid, attractive, restrained and entirely usable. The dining and lounge tents add to its appeal and feeling of luxury, both again superb examples of form being led by function, but executed with great panache. This is a truly magnificent safari camp by any measure.
A personal wildlife highlight during my stay in Katavi was witnessing one of the many large crocs in the Katuma River catch and eat the catfish which form the bulk of the croc’s diet; no migrating wildebeest for them here.
Mahale Mountains National Park
The Mahale Mountains National Park is even more remote than Katavi, just over one hour away by air, with no option to drive as roads can’t penetrate these stunning forest-clad mountains that plunge down into the clear waters of Lake Tanganyika. The lake is the world’s longest and second deepest, and has a remarkable natural history of its own with hundreds of species of cichlid fish that live nowhere else on earth. Many people draw on its riches to make a life for themselves in remote communities strung along the lakeshore. Lake Tanganyika also has a major part in Africa’s more recent history with Ujiji being the place where Stanley found Livingstone.
The MV Liemba is a ship made in sections in Germany, shipped out by sea to Dar Es Salaam, overlanded to the lake by rail and wagon, and then assembled at Kigoma in 1913, only to be scuppered in Kigoma Harbour to prevent it from falling into British hands at the outset of the First World War. The Brits refloated and refurbished her in 1920, and she still sails the full length of the lake weekly, providing the only link with the outside world for numerous lakeshore communities. Snuggled into a tropical beach in the shadow of the mountains is Greystoke Mahale one of the most romantic and beautiful of all African camps. The theme is boats, with the six rooms containing many items constructed from ancient dhow timbers, and sections of old dugout canoes.
The rooms all have steep thatched roofs and upstairs relaxation decks, while the camp’s main building is modelled on the traditional two storey houses built by the local people. It is a most iconic and distinctive safari lodge with its winged appearance, shaggy thatch, and open sides. It is a magnificent piece of architecture, lavish, rich, homely, and welcoming, and has a matchless setting with a backdrop of rampant greenery and towering mountains.
Greystoke’s big draw is access to the family of wild chimpanzees called the M group who live in the nearby forest.
Guests are able to accompany highly experienced and amazingly knowledgeable guides and trackers into the forest to find the group and spend an hour with them as they go about their daily lives. This is an extraordinary experience, like watching a real life version of Big Brother but with attractive and intelligent participants. The chimps pay us no heed whatever, and we make way for them whenever they wish to pass on a narrow jungle path. They groom each other, search for food, challenge each-others’ standing in the establishment hierarchy, and offer love, affection, sympathy or hostility to others as each situation or chimp deserves. We are so much alike in so many ways, but the way they can move through thick jungle, up and down trees, and the speed with which the mood can change is intensely exciting.
Greystoke offers the perfect foil to the adrenalin of the jungle, with impeccable service, superb food and beautiful, comfortable rooms. One week split between Chada and Greystoke in this wild, remote and stunning corner of Tanzania is one of the most exhilarating, authentic and adventurous safaris available in Africa today. It really is an antidote to the modern world.