Monday, May 26, 2008

Tanzania: Call of the wild

It's official; you can't get more Out of Africa than Tanzania. With one of the world's largest and wildest animal populations, it offers some of the best safari opportunities on the African continent. Zebra, lion, elephant, antelope, flamingos, wildebeest, giraffe, cheetah – you’ll find them all here.

When it comes to game parks in Tanzania (or Africa for that matter) nothing compares to the Serengeti. The star of the country's Northern Safari Circuit, the Serengeti covers a mammoth 14,763 square kilometres and supports over three million different types of mammals including the Big Five. From experience I can tell you that there is nothing more mesmerising than watching the mass migration of thousands of wildebeest and zebra as they trek across its vast open plains, but as Dan and I have discovered the untrammeled games parks of Tanzania's Southern Safari Circuit also offer an interesting and stimulating safari experience. Fortunately my hectic research schedule allowed for two brief game park visits.

Our first stop was Ruaha National Park. Covering 12,950 square kilometres, it is the second largest national park in Tanzania after the Serengeti. Yet it remains one of the country’s wildest and most undeveloped game reserves. When you consider that the park is home to more than 12,000 elephants as well as large populations of buffalo, zebra, giraffe, lions, kudu and antelope it is easy to see why those in the know consider it to be one of Tanzania's best kept secrets.

While we easily spotted numerous giraffe, zebra, kudu, impala and elephant we struggled to spy the any of the park’s lions in spite of the fact that the other guests at the lodge had seen a pride of 27 lions the previous two days before we arrived. When we finally happened across three lone lions, our driver managed to scare them off before we had photographed them properly. He also managed to irritate a very large bull elephant by barrelling through the middle its herd. I'd never actually seen a riled-up elephant charge at full speed before nor seen a driver that scared!

The next and final stop on our abbreviated tour of the southern game parks was the much smaller 3,230 kilometre square Mikumi National Park. Located near Dar es Salaam it make the perfect weekend getaway, so you'll generally find a few more tourists here. Though still nothing like the crowds in the northern game parks.

While only a small section of the park has been developed for tourism, a typical game drive will reveal elephant, hippo, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, warthog, wildebeest and impala all in impressive numbers. What’s more with the Tanzam Highway running straight through the centre of the park, you don't even need to enter it to start your game viewing. After spending two days driving around the park hoping to spy a lion, we actually found one casually crossing the main highway just as we'd given up and left the park!

So if you want a safari experience away from the crowds Tanzania's Southern Safari Circuit is the place to head to.

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