KATAVI NATIONAL PARK

Katavi national park in Tanzania is one of the Isolated, untrammelled and seldom visited national park among all big game national parks in Tanzania, Katavi is a true wilderness, providing the few intrepid souls who make it there with a thrilling taste of Africa as it must have been a century ago.

Katavi national park is Tanzania’s third largest national park, it lies in the remote southwest of the country, within a truncated arm of the Rift Valley that terminates in the shallow, brooding expanse of Lake Rukwa.
The bulk of Katavi supports a hypnotically featureless cover of tangled brachystegia woodland, home to substantial but elusive populations of the localised eland, sable and roan antelopes. But the main focus for game viewing within the park is the Katuma River and associated floodplains such as the seasonal Lakes Katavi and Chada. During the rainy season, these lush, marshy lakes are a haven for myriad waterbirds, and they also support Tanzania’s densest concentrations of hippo and crocodile.

It is during the dry season, when the floodwaters retreat, that Katavi truly comes into its own. The Katuma, reduced to a shallow, muddy trickle, forms the only source of drinking water for miles around, and the flanking floodplains support game concentrations that defy belief. An estimated 4,000 elephants might converge on the area, together with several herds of 1,000-plus buffalo, while an abundance of giraffe, zebra, impala and reedbuck provide easy pickings for the numerous lion prides and spotted hyena clans whose territories converge on the floodplains.

Katavi’s most singular wildlife spectacle is provided by its hippos. Towards the end of the dry season, up to 200 individuals might flop together in any riverine pool of sufficient depth. And as more hippos gather in one place, so does male rivalry heat up – bloody territorial fights are an everyday occurrence, with the vanquished male forced to lurk hapless on the open plains until it gathers sufficient confidence to mount another challenge.

Size

  • Size: 4,471 sq km (1,727 sq miles).
  • Location; Southwest Tanzania, east of Lake Tanganyika.
  • The headquarters at Sitalike lie 40km (25 miles) south of Mpanda town.

Accessiblity

Charter flights from Dar or Arusha.
A tough but spectacular day’s drive from Mbeya (550 km/340 miles), or in the dry season only from Kigoma (390 km/240 miles).
It is possible to reach Mpanda by rail from Dar via Tabora, then to catch public transport to Sitalike, where game drives can be arranged. If travelling overland, allow plenty of time to get there and back.

ACTIVITIES

Walking, driving and camping safaris.
Near Lake Katavi, visit the tamarind tree inhabited by the spirit of the legendary hunter Katabi (for whom the park is named) – offerings are still left here by locals seeking the spirit’s blessing.

SEASONS TO VISIT

  • The dry season (May-October).
  • Roads within the park are often flooded during the rainy season but may be passable from mid-December to February.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Two seasonal luxury tented camps overlooking Lake Chada. A resthouse at Sitalike and campsites inside the park. Basic but clean hotels at Mpanda.

MAHALE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

Famous for containing some of the last remaining wild chimpanzees in Africa, the Mahale Mountains National Park was gazetted in 1985, covers an area of 1 613 km² and is located about 128 km south of Kigoma town on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. The western boundary of the park protects an adjacent 1.6 km wide strip of Lake Tanganyika’s waters.

The land in and around Mahale is the traditional homeland of the Watongwe and Waholoholo tribes. Japanese primate researchers began exploring along the shore of Lake Tanganyika, south of Kigoma as early as 1961. In 1965, the researchers established their first camp, ‘Kansyana’, in Mahale and began habituating chimpanzees.

The terrain is mostly rugged and hilly, and is dominated by the Mahale Mountains chain that runs from the northwest to the southeast across the park. The highest peak (Mount Nkungwe) rises to 2 462 m above sea level.

 

Accessiblity

Charter flights from Dar or Arusha every Thursday and Monday

By road using 4×4

ACTIVITIES

Mahale offers a number of outstanding attractions for visitors, from tracking wild habituated chimpanzees, to mountain climbing, snorkelling, fishing, kayaking and relaxing on deserted, pristine, white, sandy beaches.

  • Walking safaris in the beautiful, lowland forest allow close encounters with a vast array of birds and animals, including a group of habituated chimpanzees. The opportunity to track chimps in their natural habitat is Mahale’s foremost tourist attraction.
  • An ascent of the highest peak in the Mahale Mountains ridge, Mt. Nkungwe, is one of the most spectacular activities available to tourists. It takes 2-3 days to reach the summit, and the best time for climbing is during the dry season (May – October). Whilst camping on the mountain at night, it is often possible to see the spectacle of ‘fishing fire’, as the kerosene lamps carried by small fishing boats light up across the Lake.
  • Lake Tanganyika contains more than 250 species of fish found nowhere else on Earth, many of which can be viewed by snorkelling in the shallows along Mahale’s shoreline.
  • Long walking trips can be arranged for viewing big game such as lion, elephant, hippo, buffalo, giraffe and leopard. These safaris may require up to 7 days.
  • Sport fishing on the fresh waters of Lake Tanganyika is possible under special licences available to visitors.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Two seasonal luxury tented lodges and a resthouse

GOMBE STREAM NATIONAL PARK

An excited whoop erupts from deep in the forest, boosted immediately by a dozen other voices, rising in volume and tempo and pitch to a frenzied shrieking crescendo. It is the famous ‘pant-hoot’ call: a bonding ritual that allows the participants to identify each other through their individual vocal stylisations. To the human listener, walking through the ancient forests of Gombe Stream, this spine-chilling outburst is also an indicator of imminent visual contact with man’s closest genetic relative: the chimpanzee.

Gombe is the smallest of Tanzania’s national parks: a fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat straddling the steep slopes and river valleys that hem in the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika. Its chimpanzees – habituated to human visitors – were made famous by the pioneering work of Jane Goodall, who in 1960 founded a behavioural research program that now stands as the longest-running study of its kind in the world. The matriarch Fifi, the last surviving member of the original community, only three-years old when Goodall first set foot in Gombe, is still regularly seen by visitors.

Chimpanzees share about 98% of their genes with humans, and no scientific expertise is required to distinguish between the individual repertoires of pants, hoots and screams that define the celebrities, the powerbrokers, and the supporting characters. Perhaps you will see a flicker of understanding when you look into a chimp’s eyes, assessing you in return – a look of apparent recognition across the narrowest of species barriers.

The most visible of Gombe’s other mammals are also primates. A troop of beachcomber olive baboons, under study since the 1960s, is exceptionally habituated, while red-tailed and red colobus monkeys – the latter regularly hunted by chimps – stick to the forest canopy.

The park’s 200-odd bird species range from the iconic fish eagle to the jewel-like Peter’s twinspots that hop tamely around the visitors’ centre.

After dusk, a dazzling night sky is complemented by the lanterns of hundreds of small wooden boats, bobbing on the lake like a sprawling city.

Size

  • Size: 52 sq km (20 sq miles), Tanzania’s smallest park.
  • Location: 16 km (10 miles) north of Kigoma on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania.

Accessibility

Kigoma is connected to Dar and Arusha by scheduled flights, to Dar and Mwanza by a slow rail service, to Mwanza, Dar and Mbeya by rough dirt roads, and to Mpulungu in Zambia by a weekly ferry.
From Kigoma, local lake-taxis take up to three hours to reach Gombe, or motorboats can be chartered, taking less than one hour.
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What to do

Chimpanzee trekking; hiking, swimming and snorkelling;
visit the site of Henry Stanley’s famous “Dr Livingstone I presume” at Ujiji near Kigoma, and watch the renowned dhow builders at work.

When to go

The chimps don’t roam as far in the wet season (February-June, November-mid December) so may be easier to find;
better picture opportunities in the dry (July-October and late December).

Accommodation

1 new luxury tented lodge, as well a self-catering hostel, guest house and campsites on the lakeshore.