Back in 2015 the Kimbrough family got in touch with us about a visit to southern Tanzania. Some members of the 10 strong group are great supporters of the Ruaha Carnivore Project and so we designed the safari around an opportunity to learn about their work first hand.
After some serious shopping time in Istanbul on the way from the States, I met the group at Dar airport and we made our way back to the hotel for a recuperation day whilst we waited for the last few members to join us. An early start the next morning got us to the domestic airport well in time for our flight to the Selous Game Reserve. Texans like coffee so fortunately there was plenty of time for that, despite forewarning about the small planes. Luckily it’s only a short flight with plenty to look at, flying over the beautifully meandering Rufiji River, and a still green and lush Selous landscape in July (2016).
We were met by the team from Sand Rivers at the airstrip and bumped into three lionesses on the way back to camp, a great start to the safari. Despite hungry bellies everybody was very impressed with their rooms and didn’t waste any time coming down for lunch, hippos honking away to welcome us. In a recurring theme, the food was really fantastic.
The next morning after an early breakfast we were straight out onto the Rufiji River for a boat safari. I had personally been really looking forward to this and it didn’t disappoint. Racing along the river is a great feeling, hundreds of meters wide in places, with wild forests lining the banks. There is no shortage of hippos and crocs, some grumpier than others, and we were lucky enough to find an elephant on a wide sandbank. The boats are great for a different safari perspective; birders will really enjoy it. We saw fish eagles diving, a goliath heron spear a catfish and blue monkeys amongst the rock cliffs. At Steiglers Gorge there’s a chance for a cold drink and a stroll on the sandbanks.
Sand Rivers is an outstanding camp by any standards; the service, the food and the location are all excellent. Selous makes a very interesting contrast with my usual stomping ground in Ruaha, with the river, the lakes and a host of different species around. I was pleased to find one of my favorite trees, the Leadwood, which I hadn’t seen since my days in Kruger. After persuading everybody in the group to come along, another highlight at Sand Rivers was the fly camping. This is really top end ‘glamping’ stuff, with a whole team going out the day before to set up camp for us. We walked in via a short walk to the camp, beautifully positioned on the banks of a lake, fire going and cold drinks served. There was some apprehension at the sleeping arrangements but everyone was pleasantly surprised by the very comfortable mesh tent, great for seeing the stars, but not so great if you happen to be next-door to a snorer! The staff laid on a very tasty BBQ dinner, 5 star treatment and surely the best way to spend a night out in the bush.
It wasn’t long before it was time to make our next flight over to Ruaha National Park. Our home for the next two days was Tandala Tented Camp, just outside the park boundary and the perfect base for breaking out of the safari bubble and visiting the local communities around Ruaha. On the first afternoon the Ruaha Carnivore Project staff made us very welcome at their camp and gave the group a breakdown of their work. We learnt about camera trapping, identifying lions in the park and met some of the Anatolian sheep dogs. I particularly liked the new camera trap initiative in the village land that uses a points system as rewards for communities depending on what animals they have passing through, top score for wild dogs! The next morning we made our way to a Maasai boma to meet the residents and get a glimpse at life first hand in the bush around Ruaha and how people live with wild animals. We saw the wire fences RCP are using to protect livestock at night and were lucky enough to go for a short walk with the Lion Guardians who monitor predator activity in the village areas with spoor counts. It was wonderful to be with these guys who have a real knack for the bush, even if they did miss the huge lion print twenty feet from the car!
Having seen and learnt so much about life around Ruaha, it was with much anticipation that we made our way into the park and up to Ikuka Safari Camp. Ikuka is the newest property in Ruaha and preparations for the opening and our arrival were a mixed bag to say the least, with a heavy dose of El Nino thrown in earlier in the year. But it’s safe to say that Ikuka more than delivered and upon seeing the incredible view, everyone was very pleased they stuck with it. Our first game drive was one for the ages. Owner Mark and myself were feeling very pleased with ourselves sitting at a wild dog sighting when a leopard walked out across the sand not two hundred metres away! Needless to say sundowners were postponed that evening, with high fives all around as we rolled back into camp, some members of the group were even rendered completely speechless (Texans don’t forget!). Things were so comfortable in fact that spilling the sausages at bush breakfast one morning threatened to install panic amongst the ranks. Mercifully a herd of buffalos wandered out into the clearing behind us and rescued the situation. Exciting times lay ahead for Ikuka as they look to raise the bar of excellence in Ruaha.
After being dragged away from Ikuka, it was down to Ruahas classic camp Mwagusi for the final leg of the safari. We stocked up on lion sightings and saw plenty of Ruahas other great hallmark, elephants. Over our ten days in the park we fell into the delightful rhythm of Ruaha, early morning game drives, afternoon siestas (I challenge anyone to stay awake for more than two minutes in those hammocks!) reading that book you never got to and evening sundowners. Dinners were taken in the sand river itself, lit by kerosene lamps along the rocks. One evening a hyena came to see us a little early and wandered right up to the table. On our last night we were treated to drinks around the fire and a private dinner under the tamarind trees as the full moon rose.
A special thanks to a special group for making it such a fantastic safari, and of course all folks along the way, Slipway Hotel, Coastal Aviation, Sand Rivers, Ikuka Safari Camp, Mwagusi and Ruaha Carnivore Project.
"A 2-week, 4 camp photographic safari"
Paul did a great job in creating, organizing, and guiding our safari. He dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's. No detail was left unnoticed. Our sixth safari to Africa and Paul was the best. Richard Kimbrough, USA
"The experience with Paul Tickner Safaris was Awesome"
We advised Paul of the region in southern Tanzania in which we were interested. Paul suggested various safari lodges and the time to spend at each lodge. Although, we are in Texas and Paul is in Tanzania with an eight hour time difference Paul was excellent in his timely communications back and forth to all of our questions even the silly ones from the ladies about hair dryers!
The lodges that Paul selected were each different in a way, but all of the choices were excellent and we enjoyed every safari lodge. We got to know Paul so well through all of the emails that we asked if he could join us for the entire journey, which he did for a certain fee. Paul joining really added to our trip. Paul was with us when viewing animals and he is so knowledgeable, he should be a safari guide! We arrived in Tanzania at about 3:30 am and Paul was at the airport to greet us with transportation to the hotel, which he had selected for us. Besides making sure every detail was perfect getting from lodge to lodge, Paul scheduled our day trips and animal viewing which was superb. The trip was more than my dreams could imagine...luxurious lodging, delicious food, good wine and wonderful animal viewing. And Paul's fun personality really added a sparkle to the trip of a lifetime!! Charlie, USA