Tanzania's Best Kept Secret?

Trip Start Jun 12, 2011
Trip End Jun 16, 2012

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Where I stayed
Ruaha NP Campsite
What I did
Ran over lions (almost)

Flag of Tanzania  ,
Thursday, September 8, 2011

Our detour to Iringa gave me some time to formulate an alternative route, but also took us right past Ruaha National Park. Both of us had previously met travellers who'd recommended Ruaha, but I didn't expect to pass by, so hadn't really given it much thought. Darren was very keen to go so we decided to visit since fortune had placed us on the door step.

Ruaha is actually a beautiful park, with rolling hills and amazing baobab-strewn vistas. It is also currently the second largest national park in Africa (according to the plaque). And to address the recent dessication of the river the Tanzanian government has just annexed Usangu Wetlands, which is the catchment area for the river. At over 40,000 sq km Ruaha is therefore apparently soon to be designated Africa's largest national park. What makes it really amazing though, is the emptiness (of tourists). We entered the park at about 3pm and were only the fourth names on the sign-in sheet for the day. We'd been told that this would make animal sighting harder, but having Africa's largest park to yourself more than compensated.

To save money we had planned on staying outside the park, but it turned out that prices had gone up a little since LP last visited. Camping outside the park would have saved $15 in camping fees, but necessitated leaving the park by 6pm and driving 45 minutes back to the campsite in the dark. We would then have needed to do the same in reverse the following morning. Once fuel and potential problems (ie animal collisions) had been taken into consideration, it was a no-brainer to stay at one of the park campsites instead.

We spent the night at the main campsite, which has a lovely position overlooking the Ruaha River. As with all parks outside South Africa and Namibia, the site was unfenced. During the night we had a visit from an elephant (refer photo) and we could hear a pride of lions (refer sleepless night).

The next morning we were up early to try and maximise our safari time, with our main goal to track down the lions that caused our insomnia the previous night. We saw the usual plagues of impala and lots of elephants, but after a few hours it looked like cats might have eluded me again. Then we turned a corner and nearly landed Mozza right on top of one! Lying in the middle of the road was a lioness. Once our adrenaline eased off we noticed that there were actually 5 lions: 2 females and 3 males. Without another car in sight we parked up for 45 minutes and clicked away on our cameras as the pride made themselves at home around the car.

As I've mentioned previously, game viewing involves a lot of luck, but even without the amazing lion encounter Ruaha would have been worth the visit. With a new sense of Africa, we rushed out the gate just before our 24hr permit expired. We returned to Iringa via the appropriately named Never Ending Road, although to be fair it was in a much better state than the road containing all the accommodation options which we had used the previous day. Once there we stopped for a quick lunch in a local restaurant and prepared for the short (in distance only...as we were about to find out) trip to Dodoma.

[14,650km to date]
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