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Southern Tanzania

Swirls of opaque mist hide the advancing dawn. The first shafts of sun colour the fluffy grass heads rippling across the plain in a russet halo. A herd of zebras, confident in their camouflage at this predatory hour, pose like ballerinas, heads aligned and stripes merging in flowing motion.
Mikumi National Park abuts the northern border of Africa’s biggest game reserve – the Selous – and is transected by the surfaced road between Dar es Salaam and Iringa. It is thus the most accessible part of a 75,000 square kilometre (47,000 square mile) tract of wilderness that stretches east almost as far as the Indian Ocean.
The open horizons and abundant wildlife of the Mkata Floodplain, the popular centrepiece of Mikumi, draw frequent comparisons to the more famous Serengeti Plains.

Lions survey their grassy kingdom – and the zebra, wildebeest, impala and buffalo herds that migrate across it – from the flattened tops of termite mounds, or sometimes, during the rains, from perches high in the trees. Giraffes forage in the isolated acacia stands that fringe the Mkata River, islets of shade favoured also by Mikumi’s elephants.

Criss-crossed by a good circuit of game-viewing roads, the Mkata Floodplain is perhaps the most reliable place in Tanzania for sightings of the powerful eland, the world’s largest antelope. The equally impressive greater kudu and sable antelope haunt the miombo-covered foothills of the mountains that rise from the park’s borders. More than 400 bird species have been recorded, with such colorful common residents as the lilac-breasted roller, yellow-throated longclaw and bateleur eagle joined by a host of European migrants during the rainy season. Hippos are the star attraction of the pair of pools situated 5km north of the main entrance gate, supported by an ever-changing cast of waterbirds.

About Mikumi National Park
Size: 3,230 sqkms (1,250 sq miles), the fourth-largest park in Tanzania, and part of a much larger ecosystem centered on the uniquely vast Selous Game Reserve. Location: 283 km (175 miles) west of Dar es Salaam, north of Selous, and en route to Ruaha, Udzungwa and (for the intrepid) Katavi. .

How to get there
A good surfaced road connects Mikumi to Dar es Salaam via Morogoro, a roughly 4 hour drive. Also road connections to Udzungwa, Ruaha and (dry season only) Selous. Charter flight from Dar es Salaam, Arusha or Selous. Local buses run from Dar to park HQ where game drives can be arranged.

What to do
Game drives and guided walks. Visit nearby Udzungwa or travel on to Selous or Ruaha.

When to go
Accessible year round.
In Ruaha National Park is the game viewing starts the moment the plane touches down. A giraffe races beside the airstrip, all legs and neck, yet oddly elegant in its awkwardness. A line of zebras parades across the runway in the giraffe’s wake.

In the distance, beneath a bulbous baobab tree, a few representatives of Ruaha’s 10,000 elephants – the largest population of any East African national park, form a protective huddle around their young. Second only to Katavi in its aura of untrammelled wilderness, but far more accessible, Ruaha protects a vast tract of the rugged, semi-arid bush country that characterises central Tanzania. Its lifeblood is the Great Ruaha River, which courses along the eastern boundary in a flooded torrent during the height of the rains, but dwindling thereafter to a scattering of precious pools surrounded by a blinding sweep of sand and rock.

A fine network of game-viewing roads follows the Great Ruaha and its seasonal tributaries, where , during the dry season, impala, waterbuck and other antelopes risk their life for a sip of life-sustaining water. And the risk is considerable: not only from the prides of 20-plus lion that lord over the savannah, but also from the cheetahs that stalk the open grassland and the leopards that lurk in tangled riverine thickets. This impressive array of large predators is boosted by both striped and spotted hyena, as well as several conspicuous packs of the highly endangered African wild dog.

Ruaha’s unusually high diversity of antelope is a function of its location, which is transitional to the acacia savannah of East Africa and the miombo woodland belt of Southern Africa. Grant’s gazelle and lesser kudu occur here at the very south of their range, alongside the miombo-associated sable and roan antelope, and one of East AfricaÆs largest populations of greater kudu, the park emblem, distinguished by the male’s magnificent corkscrew horns.

A similar duality is noted in the checklist of 450 birds: the likes of crested barbet, an attractive yellow-and-black bird whose persistent trilling is a characteristic sound of the southern bush, occur in Ruaha alongside central Tanzanian endemics such as the yellow-collared lovebird and ashy starling.
Selous Game Reserve has an area of more than 45,000 sqkms, larger than many European countries, Selous is the largest game reserve in Africa. It is part of an extensive 155,000sqkms Selous Niassa ecosystem of uninhabited miombo woodland that extends between southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique. The reserve and the greater ecosystem lie at the core of the greatest surviving African wilderness, which supports a healthy and large wildlife population.

Selous ranks as one of East Africas most alluring and satisfying safari destination. With a mere handful number of lodges in a vast 50,000sqkms wilderness, Selous offers one of Africas remotest, wildest and untrammeled wilderness. The reserves natural vegetation mostly consists of miombo woodland and is bisected into two disproportionate parts by Tanzanias largest river- Rufiji, which runs through the reserve from west to east. Numerous narrow streams connect the Rufiji river to 5 pretty small lakes, and these are the areas that provide the best game viewing opportunities in the dry months.

Besides the normal species, Selous is also famous for offering the unique opportunity of viewing rare and endangered species in large numbers. Mammals such as the African wild dog and the black Rhinoceros, which are completely extinct in other parks and very few in some, are found in healthy numbers in Selous. Another interesting feature of Selous compared to other parks in Africa is about its lions. Not only they have darker coats and less hirsute manes compared to their counterparts elsewhere in East Africa, but they evidently rely on an unusual opportunistic diurnal hunting strategy making Selous the best place for witnessing a lion kill.

Game Concentration Wildlife in Selous is abundant and the areas by the river and small lakes provide the best viewing opportunities in the dry months. With elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebras and other antelopes numbering in the thousands, game viewing activities are full of excitement and very rewarding. Large predators include: lion, leopard, wild dog and spotted hyena. Other mammals include: elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, sable, roan, impala, bushbuck, waterbuck, wildebeest, greater kudu, puku, hartebeest and eland. The rivers are full of hippo and crocodile.

Selous also supports an abundant birdlife population. Some prominent species include: yellow-billed stork, white-crowned and spur-winged plovers, various small waders, pied and malachite kingfishers, African skimmer, fish eagle, palm-nut vulture, carmine and white-throated bee-eater, trumpeter hornbill, purple-crested turaco, malgasy squacco heron and fishing owl.

Time to visit
Selous is practically impossible for game drives in the rainy season and some areas of the reserve are completely inaccessible. All the lodges close down their operations in the months of March and reopen in June. The best time to visit selous are in the dry season between June and February.

Activities
Besides the normal game drives in 4×4 vehicles, the most interesting and equally rewarding activity are the boat rides along the Rufiji river. The gigantic crocodiles, skull of hippos, the characteristic water birds along the river and the herds of elephant, buffalo and giraffe coming down for water together with a brilliant red sun setting behind the tall palm and baobab trees as a backdrop, makes these boat rides one of the most exciting experiences of your Selous safari.

Other activities include Hunting, guided walks with armed rangers close to nature and fly camping, which gives you the unique experience of sleeping next to the river and lakes and where the only thing that separates you from the close by hippo, crocodile and lion- is a mosquito net!.

Accessibility
Selous is very accessible nowadays from most of the tourist points in Tanzania. Though the most convenient and viable way is flying, one can also reach the reserve by driving or by using the Tazara railway line. There are a number of short airstrips in the different parts of the reserve where light aircrafts can land. A number of small aircraft operators provide daily schedules to Selous from Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Arusha and other national parks.

Duration
Considering the logistics of the park, the important attractions and the game viewing opportunities we suggest you spend at least 3 nights in Selous. This should provide you ample time to cover most of the important areas in the reserve. However for those interested in fly camping and walking safaris, a few extras days will prove to be a good investment.

Recommendation
Selous definitely stands out amongst the game reserves that Africa has to offer in terms of abundant wildlife and untrammeled wilderness. And the fact that it is easily accessible from practically any tourist point in Tanzania, should make Selous a must place to visit in your Tanzania safari program. A few days in this reserve will give you a very different experience of what Africa, out of its unlimited natural resources, can offer. This is indeed one destination that will prove to be worth every penny you spent.
Brooding and primeval, the forests of Udzungwa seem positively enchanted: a verdant refuge of sunshine-dappled glades enclosed by 30 Meters high trees, their buttresses layered with fungi, lichens, mosses and ferns. Udzungwa is the largest and most biodiverse of a chain of a dozen large forest-swathed mountains that rise majestically from the flat coastal scrub of eastern Tanzania. Known collectively as the Eastern Arc Mountains, this archipelago of isolated massifs has also been dubbed the African Galapagos for its treasure-trove of endemic plants and animals, most familiarly the delicate African violet.

Udzungwa alone among the ancient ranges of the Eastern Arc has been accorded national park status. It is also unique within Tanzania in that its closed-canopy forest spans altitudes of 250 meters (820 feet) to above 2,000 meters (6,560 ft) without interruption.

Not a conventional game viewing destination, Udzungwa is a magnet for hikers. An excellent network of forest trails includes the popular half-day ramble to Sanje Waterfall, which plunges 170 meters (550 feet) through a misty spray into the forested valley below.

The more challenging two-night Mwanihana Trail leads to the high plateau, with its panoramic views over surrounding sugar plantations, before ascending to Mwanihana peak, the second-highest point in the range. Ornithologists are attracted to Udzungwa for an avian wealth embracing more than 400 species, from the lovely and readily-located green-headed oriole to more than a dozen secretive Eastern Arc endemics.

Four bird species are peculiar to Udzungwa, including a forest partridge first discovered in 1991 and more closely related to an Asian genus than to any other African fowl.

Of six primate species recorded, the Iringa red colobus and Sanje Crested Mangabey both occur nowhere else in the world – the latter, remarkably, remained undetected by biologists prior to 1979. Undoubtedly, this great forest has yet to reveal all its treasures: ongoing scientific exploration will surely add to its diverse catalogue of endemics.

About Udzungwa Mountains National Park
Size: 1,990 sqkms (770 sq miles). Location: Five hours (350 km/215 miles) from Dar es Salaam; 65 kms (40 miles) southwest of Mikumi.

Getting there
Drive from Dar es Salaam or Mikumi National Park.

What to do
From a two-hour hike to the waterfall to camping safaris. Combine with nearby Mikumi or en route to Ruaha.

When to go
Possible year round although slippery in the rains. The dry season is June-October before the short rains but be prepared for rain anytime.
Kitulo National Park is a protected area of montane grassland on the Kitulo Plateau in the southern highlands of Tanzania. The park is at an elevation of 2,600 metres (8,500 ft) between the peaks of the Kipengere and Poroto mountains and covers an area of 412.9 square kilometres (159.4 sq mi), lying partly in Mbeya Region and mostly in Njombe Region. The park is administered by Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) and is the first national park in tropical Africa to be established primarily to protect its flora.

Locals refer to the Kitulo Plateau as Bustani ya Mungu – The Garden of God – while botanists have dubbed it the Serengeti of Flowers, host to ‘one of the great floral spectacles of the world’. And Kitulo is indeed a rare botanical marvel, home to a full 350 species of vascular plants, including 45 varieties of terrestrial orchid, which erupt into a riotous wildflower display of breathtaking scale and diversity during the main rainy season of late November to April.

Perched at around 2,600 metres (8,500 ft) between the rugged peaks of the Kipengere, Poroto and Livingstone Mountains, the well-watered volcanic soils of Kitulo support the largest and most important montane grassland community in Tanzania.

One of the most important watersheds for the Great Ruaha River, Kitulo is well known for its floral significance – not only a multitude of orchids, but also the stunning yellow-orange red-hot poker and a variety of aloes, proteas, geraniums, giant lobelias, lilies and aster daisies, of which more than 30 species are endemic to southern Tanzania.

Big game is sparsely represented, though a few hardy mountain reedbuck and eland still roam the open grassland. But Kitulo – a botanist and hiker’s paradise – is also highly alluring to birdwatchers. Tanzania’s only population of the rare Denham’s bustard is resident, alongside a breeding colonyrua of the endangered blue swallow and such range-restricted species as mountain marsh widow, Njombe cisticola and Kipengere seedeater. Endemic species of butterfly, chameleon, lizard and frog further enhance the biological wealth of God’s Garden.

About the Kitulo Plateau National Park
Size: 412.9 sq km (159 sq miles) Location: Southern Tanzania. The temporary park headquarters at Matamba are situated approximately 100km (60 miles) from Mbeya town.

Getting there
4×4 only. From Chimala, 78km east of Mbeya along the surfaced main road to Dar es Salaam, head south along the rough but spectacular dirt road – called Hamsini na Saba (57) after the number of hairpin bends along its length – to the temporary park headquarters at Matamba, from where it’s another hour’s drive to the plateau. Basic and erratic public transport is available.

What to do
Good hiking trails exist and will soon be developed into a formal trail system. Open walking across the grasslands to watch birds and wildflowers. Hill climbing on the neighbouring ranges. A half-day hike from the park across the Livingstone Mountains leads to the sumptuous Matema Beach on Lake Nyasa.

When to go
Wildflower displays peak between December and April. The sunnier months of September to November are more comfortable for hiking but less rewarding to botanists. Conditions are cold and foggy from June to August.
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