This 7th episode of our trip gets us very close to a rather romantic imagination of Africa. Dreamlike landscapes where elephants come down to the mighty rivers of Luangwa and Zambezi and where blue mountains are shining on the horizon. Gin Tonic, campfires, waking up in the middle of the night by grumbling hippos and all this kind of stuff. Looking back (sitting in Germany on a grey and rainy sunday) this appears much like a cliche - but we remember how amazing it was being right in the middle of that all.
5.8.2009: Arrival in Arusha
We arrive in Arusha on 6:00 AM and Manfred picks us up at the airport. We have to try not to be too disappointed by the weather: it is quite cold dark and rainy! That's exactly what we tried to leave behind us in Germany. It is August and in sub-equatorial Africa this means "winter". Winter is supposed to be dry (!) and warm, while summer (our winter) is normally hot and rainy. OK, we are dead-tired anyhow. Maria and Manfred Lieke where we stored our car for the last 6 months are really fantastic. They have two more couples that have just arrived and the day starts with a Champaign breakfast. In the afternoon we replenish our food stocks in the Shoprite supermarket and then spend a lovely evening with Liekes & friends.
6.8.2009: From Arusha to Dodoma
The one-million-dollar question: what's the name of Tanzania's capital? Earlier I would have guessed: Daressalam (at best). When we prepared our trip we had to learn that the capital of Tanzania is "Dodoma". We never heard about that city before and when we finally arrived there, we knew why. It is in the dusty centre of Tanzania connected with the Harbor of Daressalam by a good tarmac road and to Arusha in the North by a 440 km long dirt road. That's the road we take. We could have taken the tarmac road (B1, B127) that makes a big bow towards the Indian Ocean and then back upcountry but decided to take the direct connection as recommended by Manfred. It is a 2 days trip of appr. 750 km with the first stop in Dodoma. Tarmac ends short behind Arusha and we started to regret our decision. After Babati the road is dusty rocky and the corrugation slowes us down to 40 km/h. Behind Kondoa, however, the road starts getting better and we can make 60 km/h. The landscape is magnificent. After 9 hours and 445 km we arrive in Dodoma where we chose the "Dear Mama" hotel for the night. A decent meal in the hotel restaurant, a power blackout, humming of generators, a petroleum light in our tiny room: we have finally arrived in Africa. PS: the weather in Dodoma is sunny :-)
7.8.2009: From Dodoma to Iringa
Iringa is our base for the Ruaha Nationalpark in the South of Tanzania some 300 km south of Dodoma. The A104 starts as a decent road but gets worse about 80 km before Iringa. We climb up the mountains around Iringa on an incredible pass road. The city is very nice and well organized. A lot of road construction is going on with local engineers (normally one sees Chinese or Japanese). We camp in the Riverside Camp which is a very nice place and meet Gerhard and his wife who are in week 7 of their one-year trip. Our first outdoor cooking with burgers and campfire. 291 km.
On our way to Ruaha National Park
8.8.2009: Ruaha National Park
Iringa lies between two major National Parks in southern Tanzania: Selous and Ruaha. We decided to go for for Ruaha because Selous is that kind of big and wild that it would take a longer time to really appreciate the park. Our focus on this trip is, however, more Zambia than (again) Tanzania. We start early in the morning (7:15 AM). Tarmac leaves us after 10 km and the rest of the road appears to be OK. Some 30 km in front of the Park we arrive at a road junction: both ways lead to Ruaha both are of equal length. We decide to take the left road which turns out to be a horrible mistake. Severe corrugation slows down our speed to 20-30 km/h. The car sounds like it would fall into pieces the very next minute. (On our way back we take the other road which is a nice smooth sand road that allows for 60 to 70 km/h). The park is dry bushveld landscape, mountains and the river. The river is magnificent and our camp is right on the banks. We see oodles of crocodiles, many birds, elephants, hippos, Kudu, Zebra, and different kind of antilopes.
In the camp that lies on a bluff overlooking the river, we can see fish building (and defending) their nests just below us.
Fish breeding in the shallow water
For dinner we have noodles with vegetables and penuts at the campfire. It gets dark very quickly and soon we can not even see our car that is parked 5 meters away. Then like fire on the horizon the full moon rises and we can see the mountains 2 kilometers away. Spectacular! 205 km.
Crocodile at Croc Pool in Ruaha NP
9.8.2009: Ruaha and and back to Iringa
Gamedrive in the early morning and breakfast on the rooftop
We stay for the night in the very nice Kisolanza Farmhouse. They sell excelllent T-Bone Steaks which we grill for dinner after a driving day of 245 km.
10.8.2009: From Iringa to Mbalizi
Mbalizi is our last stopover in Tanzania. It's a small city just south of the bigger city of Mbeya. We stay at the Utengule Coffe Resort. The funny thing about this is the fact that Utengule seems to be not designed for camping. It has a beachvolleyball place, a squash court, a big pool and a nice restaurant. On top of this, the resort has a big heliport - which serves as our campground ("we know 2 days in advance when a helicopter arrives"). All in all a quite relaxing day.
Camping on the heliport of Utengele Coffee Resort in South Tanzania
11.8.2009: Crossing the border to Zambia
From Mbeya it's a short drive to Tunduma the border post to Zambia. It's a little bit complicated like always to find out where and when to check out, clear customs for the car, immigrate, pay road tax, carbon tax, council tax, etc. All in all it takes about 1,5 hours and we are done. The only tricky thing comes along with our insurance. We had bought a so called "Comesa" in Arusha which covers Tanzania and Zambia. The border soldier at the gate would not accept that, saying we need a dedicated Zambian insurance and that the police controls in Zambia would not accept our Comesa. That's of course pure nosense. But: he's the man with the gun and it takes quite some efforts to convince him.
We fill our tank in Nakonde the Zambian side of the border post and also fill our two canisters because there are only few opportunities to replenish ahead of us before we arrive in Lusaka. The "Great North Road" is excellent tarmac except from occasional wholes that will inevitably break your axle when you fall into them. We reach the Campsite at the North Luangwa Mano Gate after 488 km (last 43 km on good dirt road). It's a nice bushcamp with hot bushshowers. We meet Didi, a German tour operator who lives in Zimbabwe and organizes trips in the south-eastern countries with two clients (Horst and Inge) for a beer at the campfire. Pretty cold night (down to 7°C).
Bush shower: the water is heated by a fire and flows via a tube straight to the shower (above)
12.8.2009: The legendary North Luangwa National Park
North Luangwa has always been a special place for us. 5 years ago we explored Zambia coming from South Africa. At that time we only made it to South Luangwa NP which was the most amazing place we had ever seen. North Luangwa NP was said to be even wilder. Now we have to learn that North Luangwa is rather a legend. The park has been grouped into different sectors and the only attractive areas (Mwaleshi river an big parts of the Luangwa river) have entirely been passed into private hands. The luxury lodges (self catering starts at 95 ++ USD per person per night, a couple can easily spend 1.000 € per night) hold exclusive permission rights to that areas. On the transit route that self-drivers like us may take, the most spectacular thing to mention are the attacks of thousands of tse-tse flies in the filthy scrubs. The whole thing starts getting interesting only at the end of the transit route. Having passed through a huge field where elephants and lack of water have killed all vegetation the track hits the Luangwa river which forms the natural boundary of the National Park.
Chifunda Camp lies on the other side. A ferry is operating composed of barrels covered with wooden planks. We decide to drive right through the river after having asked a ranger. He shows us a marked position where the river is shallow enough to make it: Exciting!
The camp itself is (unlike in 95% of all high interest areas) operated by local Zambians within the COMACO non-profit organization. They operate a number of camps in the Luangwa valley under the brand "It's wild". Very basic - extremely nice! Actually it's an initiative that offers former poachers ("Wilderer") a new opportunity to earn their livings.
It is absolutely wonderful. Sitting right at the banks of Luangwa, opposite of the North Luangwa National Park and relax. In the afternoon we start a walking safari together with Horst and Inge. A hot bush shower and a campfire completes the day. PS: we share the camp with Didi, Horst and Inge again and will stay travel companions for the next coming days.
For dinner Maren cooks pea soup with German sausage - an all-time classic that we have once (that's enough) on all our tours. Compared to the night before the temparature here at the bottom of the escarpment is much higher - a lovely evening after 77 km driving distance. The night is full of roaring lions and trumpeting elephants. That's at least what the others tell us on the next morning. Maren and I slept like babies.
Luambe National Park is a small park that lies between North- and South Luangwa National Park. Driving through the Luangwa valley is a highlight as such. Including fotostops we need 4,5 hours on a lovely track to arrive in Luambe National Park.
We spend a lazy afternoon on the small campground that is rather crowded with 4 cars. As everybody shares pretty much the same interests, it is a nice experience. There is Didi, Horst and Inge our travel companions, Gernot (from Graz/Austria) and his wife Lenka (Czech) with their son Oscar on their trip from South Africa to Europe, and Jonathan & Therese Livingstone from South Africa on a holiday trip with their two teenage daughters. We will meet all of them on later stages. Later we have a beer as sundowner at the lodge bar. For dinner: rice with maize (my favorite), 120 km.
14.8.2009: Through the valley to South Luangwa
We start at 8:15 AM to cross the second part of the valley. Since we are having enough time we make a small detour on our way out of Luambe National Park. On a small track we follow the Luangwa river. Suddenly a single elephant appears and really chases us. The lodge staff had informed us the other day that one male elehant "in must" was rather aggressive the night before. He is in front of us on a tiny track, not willing to give in or let us pass. So we decide to drive back. Reversing the car on the tiny track, however is not easy. Somehow I miss a small peace of a broken tree that gets stuck below the bumper - we are stuck. A few minutes later Didi arrives with his Landcruiser. We free the car with his axe just to see one minute later that his front tyre is pretty deflated. It takes another 10 minutes to pump it up again with our compressor. In the meantime the elephant has disappeared. He has knocked over a tree that now blocks the track on which we want to proceed. We remove this hurdle with combined forces and finally arrive back on the main road after 2 hours.
Within the next 4 hours we cross beautiful landscapes and the Nsefu sector of the South Luangwa National Park. After 115 km we arrive in Mfuwe the gateway to the park and decide to check in in the Croc Valley Camp. Gernot is already there while Didi and Jonathan arrive a little later. Elephants that have crossed the river walk through the camp - lovely!
We start the day at 5:00 AM because we have booked a "walking safari". This kind of exploring nature on foot together with one guide that walks ahead and one ranger with a rifle has been invented here. First we drive to a spot where a pride of lions had been seen the other day. They are still there - a group of some 15 lions with cubs: very peaceful. Not very much more than 2 kilometers away we start our walking safari.
We are walking together with Horst & Inge and Lenka in a small group. The guide explains us small things like animal shit in great detail, tracks, trees, termite hills, animal behavior, etc. Walking through the bush is really a different experience compared to driving.
Back in the camp we wash down the dust with a couple of beers discussing our impressions with Horst and Inge. We all agree: without the leopard the whole thing would have been crap.
In the night elephants come into the camp and walk around between the camp eating from the trees. We sleep like babies and only notice them as we get up in the morning. Meanwhile also the lodge staff has become aware. One guy throws a stone at a big bull who stumbles backwards and almost into Didis tent.
We spend the morning in the park with our Landy which is definitely the nicest way of experiencing the wildlife. We see a lot and realize that our interest seems to shift from the "Top 5" to less spectacular animals, especially birds.
Breakfast in South Luangwa National Park
Bee-Eater and Grey Fisher
At noontime we are back in camp and spend some time at the pool. For the sundowner we drive back into the park - the light is amazing. Back in the lodge we meet Gernot, Lenka, Didi, Horst and Inge for some farewell beers in the lodge bar. 83 km in the Park.
Maren and I have to reconsider our travel route. The escarpement of the Rift Valley separates the plateau from the valley. We had climbed down some 700 meters in the North Luangwa Park and wanted to climb up again here in South Luangwa. This, however, turns out to be impossible as the Mupamadzi River, which we would need to cross is still too high. We decide to drive back to Luambe, take a "pontoon ferry" over the Luangwa River and climb up the escarpement there.
We reach the Luambe campsite in the early afternoon and have the chance to watch a Hippo performing two rolls in the water (with all four legs in the air!) right in front of us. A very relaxed day with 111 km.
Not far away from the camp the pontoon-ferry takes us to the other side - a little shaky but big fun.
The earth road to the escarpement starts nice but gets increasingly rocky. Bush fires are burning here and there. The Escarpement is impressive but climbing up appears to be no problem for our Landy.
Up on the plateau we finally arrive on the Great North Road on which we drive 35 km until we reach the junction to Mutinondo Wilderness our destination of today. The landscape in this private 10.000 hectar game reserve simply blows us away. Lava hills shining in the afternoon sun, rainforest and waterfalls and natural pools - it is really amazing. We climb up one of the hills to enjoy our sundowner and cook rice with maize for dinner. A terrific day, 215 km, thereof 35 tarmac.
PS: Maren had a "traumatic" experience today. Trying to kill one of the thousands of tse-tse flies that enter the car immediately once you open the window, she hits the windscreen so hard that both tse-tse fly and windscreen take a serious harm. The tse-tse was sitting on a small dent in the windscreen that now becomes a crack that stretches from one end almost to the other. She really feels bad about it :-)
Mutinondo is a unlike other reserves and parks a place for activities. The absence of big animals makes it a great place for hiking. Waterfalls form natural pools that invite for a swim (no crocodiles or hippos). Canoeing and riding are provided by the lodge. We make a 2 hours hike before we leave this wonderful place.
At noon we arrive in Kasanka, the smallest National Park in Zambia. The park is managed by the Kasanka Trust that was founded on private initiatíve in order to raise funds and protect the wildlife from being defeated by poachers. Today the trust operates the 2 (basic) Lodges and a handful of Campsites in prime locations. What makes the park extremely attractive is it's landscape consisting of miombo woodlands, swamp forest, grasslands, and floodplains. The wildlife is spectacular in a very peculiar way. The "Fibwe Hide" is a wodden platform in 15 meters heigth and probably the best point to see the endangered Sitatunga antilopes in Africa. We have our sundowner here watching a dozen of the shy animals grazing in the swamps. In our camp a "caretaker" brings a bucket with warm water for the shower and firewood. We enjoy a Noodle Salad with Tuna and Cheese. 251 km.
It's pretty cold when get up. We start our gamedrive early and see six Roan Antilopes near the airstrip which is really amazing and the first time in 10 years that we see these animals. Later we visit a group of three girls, young German biologist of the University of Bonn. They are here for 3 months doing research about the Puku (antilope) which is quite abundant in the large floodplains. In order to get there we have to cross the Kasanka river on the small pontoon next to our camp. Then we proceed to the basic lodge from where we have a nice walk along the river banks and finally get back to our camp. Late after dinner a group of South Africans arrives in camp with their 6 cars. Tranquility and campfire turns into the opposite while they are erecting their typical corral for the rest of the night. We sit back in our campchairs and enjoy this "movie" that has quite some funny scenes: guy looks desperately for water tab (not provided in camp) guy looks desperately for power socket (not provided in camp). 90 km.
Fibwe Hide: 15 meters high in a big tree: best place for Sitatunga watching in Africa
Basically a driving day: 561 km on the Reat North Road. We stay at Pioneer Camp and have a nice piece of cake at the Mandala Shopping Center.
Again driving, 535 km on the road (with big construction sites around Livingstone; the entire city is being refurbished). We check in at Maramba River Lodge, a place that we know from 5 years ago. Much has changed since then. We enjoy a nice dinner in the new restaurant at the river.
The last two days are pretty relaxed. We visit the falls, have our car cleaned, enjoy the lodge (again visited by elephants) and finally take our car to Foley's where we store it for the next 6 months. Then it's over once again and we start planning the next trip while sitting at the airport.
Some statistics of the fun we had: 4.290 km driving (more than 2.000 km on dirt roads), 406 liters diesel, 70 beer cans, 2 bottles of Gin, uncountable tonics, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, and many, many nice people that we met on our way. Zambia somehow touched us when we were there in 2004 and it happened again. North Luangwa was a little disappointing as the park is more or less closed for "budget tourists" like us. Mutinondo Wilderness and Kasanka NP, on the other hand side, were unexpected highlights showing us entirely new facets of this spectacular country. Tanzania and Zambia are forever on our list of favorite countries in the world.
Kudu in Ruaha NP/Tanzania
Evening at the Luangwa River near Mfuwe
Typical village in Luangwa valley
Lions in South Luangwa NP
Have-to-look-in-the book-for-the-name bird
Leopard spotted on Nightdrife in South Luangwa NP
Pontoon Ferry over Luangwa River in Luambe NP
Sitatunga in Kasanka
Sunset with Maren and (disappearing) Hippo
Elephant visit during breakfast at Maramba River Lodge
Visa for Tanzania (at the Arusha Intl. Airport): 50 USD p.P.
Dear Mama Hotel; Dodoma
Old Farmhouse Kisolanza
Riverside Camp; Iringa
Ruaha National Park
Utengule Coffee Resort; Mbeya:
Entering Zambia by car (Tunduma/Nakonde border post)
Chifunda Campsite; North Luangwa
Luambe Wilderness Lodge Campsite; Luambe National Park(http://www.luangwawilderness.com)
Luambe National Park
Croc Valley Camp; South Luangwa NP (http://www.crocvalleycamp.com/about.html)
South Luangwa National Park (http://www.zambiatourism.com/travel/nationalparks/sluangwa.htm)
Kasanka National Park
Pioneer Camp; Lusaka