Katavi Wilderness Camp delivered the ultimate safari experience, a pristine African environment unchanged for millennia, teeming with game and mine alone. The camp was an intimate enclave of comfort and gracious hospitality deep within the Katavi National Park, in the far western reaches of Tanzania. It took determination to reach Katavi, its main link to the 21st century being a twice-weekly light airplane connection with the Ruaha National Park. Road travel, for the daring souls who might consider it, was assessed in days. Which explains why despite its reputation for pristine wilderness and exceptional game viewing the 1,7270 square mile (4,471 square kilometer) park, the third largest in the country, only receives a few hundred visitors per year. The privilege of being one of them was obvious to me by the time I reached the camp.
Strung along the rocky bank of the river that gave it its name, Ruaha River Lodge was one of only a handful of permanent accommodations within the rugged immensity of the Ruaha National Park, in the highlands of central Tanzania. The 3,980 square mile (10,300 square kilometer) park is the second largest in the country after the Serengeti. It is reputed for its craggy scenery as well as the abundance and variety of the species that can be found there. Yet visitors are relatively few so that the park retains a great wilderness atmosphere.
Stretched along a bluff overlooking the Rufiji River at the especially scenic eastern tip of the famed Selous Game Reserve in southeast Tanzania, the Rufiji River Camp delivered an outstanding variety of game viewing opportunities. First identified as a protected area over a century ago, Selous expanded over time to become the largest faunal reserve in Africa. In 1982, it was designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for its wildlife concentration and diversity and its undisturbed environment. The profusion of wildlife was obvious even as I made my way from the airstrip, turning the relatively short distance to the camp into an extended game drive.
Named Sasakwa for a local chief who used to live on the hill on which the lodge is located, the stately family friendly property offered many advantages for luxury oriented game viewing enthusiasts. In spite of its remote location in the Western Corridor of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, bordering the Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania, Sasakwa offered guests a level of luxury and many creature comforts other properties only dream of having. Sometimes small touches say as much as the widely advertised features. We were impressed with the fresh roses in our cottage, fresh flowers throughout the property and freshly baked butter welcome cookies in our well stocked minibar.
Chomp, chomp, chomp … just before dawn on our first night at Selous Safari Camp we woke to persistent chewing so close it seemed to be next to our bed. Hesitant to disturb the chewing beast, we remained sitting and listening intently until the dark of the night morphed into a soft gray. Eventually we peeked out of the folds of our tent to see the profiles of several huge animals grazing contentedly. We continued listening as the sound of hippos feeding faded toward the still water of the nearby lake. Moments like these are the reason we travel long distances across land and sea in search of game viewing experiences.
A two hour morning flight from Ruaha National Park on a Cessna 13-seat plane found us at the Mtemere airstrip, a half hour’s boat ride from Selous Impala Camp. Musa our guide for the duration of our stay, and a boat driver greeted us at the airstrip. After brief introductions and the customary jambo greeting in Swahili we walked to the small motor boat on the Rufiji River banks on which we made our way to camp.