2015 self-drive northern safari report

Johannes writes:

My wife, my 6-yr old son and me returned yesterday from a 2-week selfdrive journey through Northern Tanzania, and took your book with us(latest edition from May 2014 reprint). We have lived in Mbulu / Manyara for some years about 10 yrs ago, so we know the area a bit.

Thanks a lot for your book, which was very helpful for us, as it provided good and actual information! Here are some inputs, maybe you would like to include them in the next edition.

Accomodation in Karatu: we stayed in St.Catherines monastery, which I would rather sort in the „moderate“ section instead of „budget and camping“. To my knowledge there are not many alternatives in this price range in Karatu (only the high-price lodges and inexpensive local guest houses). We payed 90 US$ for a Double, including breakfast, dinner, tea/coffee and lunch box. Our son did not have to pay extra. Food is extraordinary fine, vegetables are taken from the own extensive gardens. Guests are accomodated in a tract separate from the nuns, and meals are also served in a separate room.

The location is perfect for those who are on the way to Ngorongoro and Serengeti – just 4 km before the gate, thus about 12 km west of Karatu town centre. Good especially for those who want to visit the crater only with an early morning start and return on the same day. Perfect also for those who look for a rural, quiet location and don’t have any concerns with the special, religious athmosphere.

The head nun (Sr. Scholastica) would obviously be happy about more guests. Her coordinates are: stelamatutina2002@yahoo.com, or matutinastela@gmail.com, (or the website http://www.safaringorongoro.com or tel.nr 0753-497886, as mentioned in your book.

Absolutely recommended in this price range!

Mbulu: we used to live there for 2 years, so we know the town and area very well. Only local guest houses, of which one is a little bit above the local standards: Sanu lodge, about 1 km out of town eastbound (at the old stadium). Rooms are 20-30’000 for a double, breakfast is 1-2’000 for a simple one (Chai, Chapati or toast) up to 5’000 for a complete. Meals are around 5’000. Hot water, self-contained bath rooms. Car can be parked inside.

you mentioned the „lovely setting“, which is absolutely true! We have done wonderful walks and hikes, especially in „Mama Issara“ (the highlands East of the town). A good stopover for those who are on their way to Haydom / Southern Lake Eyassi.

Self drive: I found it an attractive option, as we were absolutely independent. It’s expensive, though, and it doesn’t make a big difference to have or have not a driver.

We had good experiences with Fortes (http://fortes-safaris.com/car-hire/). We had a landcruiser with pop-up-roof, old but reliable, 7 seats, for about 170$ plus comprehensive insurance (about 30$), plus fuel, unlimited mileage.

At the end of the sort rainy seasons many routes were muddy, we never got stucked anyway. Although it is absolutely advisable to stay on the tracks, especially in the National parks where off-road driving is illegal anyway. In the NP’s but also outside the unpaved roads, especially in the morning after a nightly rainfall, can be challenging. Traffic in Arusha is annoying, but manageable. In the country side West of Arusha there’s not much traffic any more. The road until Ngorongoro is paved, same as to Tarangire (and now also South of Tarangire towards Babati).

self-organised safari: especially your information about Ngorongoro (273-274) was helpful. After depositing the exactly pre-calculated amount at the bank (Exim bank, or the mentioned Barclays bank) we did not manage to get the smart cards in the Arusha office of NCAA. For this we needed to go to the NCAA office in Karatu, which is about 2 km West of the town near Bougainvillea Lodge. There is also a Exim bank branch in Ngorongoro.

For the NP’s we also received the TANAPA cards from Exim bank, in order to avoid high credit card charges. Probably though it is easier to use the Credit card at the NP gates, as it gives more flexibility.

It was great to drive in the NP’s by ourself, without a guide. Thus we had the possibility to remain on interesting sights as long as we wanted to, and to explore remote areas – which has been sometimes a little bit „scary“ in the Serengeti, in case of a breakdown it could have taken time until someone would come for help. On the other hands we probably might have missed some „spectacular“ sights like lion prides, as the guides know where to go and communicate with each other by radio. A congestion of cars seen from far always means that there is something to see. Our best nature experiences we had though by ourselves in remotes areas, without a bunch of neighbouring cars around us.

I found little information about supplies and food in the Serengeti. We used public campsites. It’s definitely wise to stock up before, in Arusha or Karatu. There are local eateries and shops in the Serengeti (and also Tarangire and probably the other NP’s), as the rangers and their families live within the park. We were allowed to take lunch once in Ndutu lodge, and in Tarangire at Tarangire Safari Lodge.

Public campsites were much better maintained than expected. In Serengeti there were about 5 functionable in the Seronera cluster. Running water and cold showers were available. In Tarangire there are 2 public campsites nowadays, both in the northern part of the park.

 

Fred Hodgson’s updates

Flew out KLM to Kilimanjaro.  Back from Dar. Most acceptable as they could not be blamed for Manchester Airports crass inability to deal with unseasonal snow at Christmas. After all it is only on Christmas cards for effect!!

Ground Agent:- Kamakura Ltd. Arusha. www.kamakurasafaris.co.tz

Recommended. Not top end but everything worked and they performed well.

Internal flights with Coastal ARK-RUA-SEL-ZNZ and charter to Saadani.

Lodges.   In the order we travelled:-

Arusha. I misread Outpost for l’Oasis. It was fine and we had a comfortable stay with a decent meal. Soft bed with nets. Quiet. Lino floor a bit tired but we were there to sleep not dance. Cheap and Cheerful. No complaints.

Page 532. Ruaha NP.    Old Mdonya River. Everything we expected and more. Comfortable tents, excellent food, great staff and fantastic wildlife. Resident manageress a sweetie and great naturalist.

Page 503 (ish) lake Manze Tented Camp. Part of the Adventure Camps group and well up to standard.. Excellent location with Ellies wandering through camp. (I got a real start when looking up from my book I was eyeball to eyeball with one.  Nice layout and good service. Excellent Staff and management. Wild Dogs coming from Airstrip and going back did not influence my enjoyment

Page 324. Mbweni Ruins, Zanzibar.  Very comfortable in nice grounds. Friendly staff and decent food. Pleasant beach side and small swimming Pool. They happily organised transport to/from town and for excursions. I am not a fan of Ujuga but this place made it bearable. The baobab Suite is very comfortable with its own private “Roof Garden cum Patio”

Page 276. Saadani NP. Tent with a view.  We misread the location of this and thus had the drive into the NP each day. However being outside I was able to wander freely in the area birding without the hassle of needing a Ranger. Beautifully set out Tents on Stilts with enormous bath shower area at the rear. Platform balcony comes with hammock for those quiet moments and the beach is bustling with birds such as Crab Plover and Terek Sandpiper. Food was excellent to a fixed menu. Bushbabies came in the Restaurant at Dinner.

Page 243. Amani Resthouse.  We were in The Medical Research Centre Guesthouse by request.  It may be called the Amani Club. The s/c rooms with four poster type netted double beds were cosy and comfortable and everything worked. There was a TV/Bar area (with no beer so buy your own and they will put it in the Fridge.) and separate dining room with an aged book collection too. Meals were prepared to order by the caretaker/manager and were satisfactory and well cooked. They were nourishing and usually involved Spinach and Rice or Potatoes and Spinach.  Not Three Rosette Michelin but fairly priced. We liked it.

Page 231. Mkomazi National Park. Upgraded to National Park from June 2007 and definitely worth a visit. There have been some further improvements to roads since my last visit in 2007 although after rain there were problems in getting through to Kisami from the Sanje Gate end. Some clear signage would assist navigation and of course the game is still quite shy but Elephants are back and Lions have been heard but not seen. There was report of a Cheetah and cub at the time of our visit. It is so wild there could be anything out there short of Tyranosaurus Rex. There are some nice wooded areas at high elevation that repaid exploration. The camp site at Dindera dam is very nice for those self contained campers. Game are attracted here to drink and it repays a dawn or dusk stakeout. There is also prolific and very distinctive birdlife.

Where to stay?

In addition to the Campsites above there is a new Tented Camp in the upper range.

Babu’s Camp.  babuscamp@bol.co.tz  PO Box 2590, Arusha Tz. 255 27 250 3094

Fax. 255 27 254 8840 This was built and owned by George Mavroudis.

2010 Rates $195 Full board pppn sharing. $30 Single supplement. This includes $5 Conservation fee to Rhino Sanctuary Trust.

Park fees $20 per day plus $3 per day for Tz registered car. If you have no vehicle, transfer from Same is $30 each way and Game drives are $75 per half day. Fly in to Zange airstrip.

The Camp comprises 10 very spacious 10 Metre Tents. All are well appointed, with writing desk, lamps and extra sockets for those darn batteries and two chairs for the outside. There is walking room inside around both sides of the bed area with a rear annexe for dressing/washing at rear. Outside the rear zip from this are flush WC and Shower. Water is piped in but Hot water is gravity fed for shower/washing on request. Lighting is Energy Efficient with Electricity by remote inaudible Generator. There is a central Mess Tent/restaurant for meals which doubles as a reading room with a well stocked library. Food was excellent and well prepared. Fridge for those cold Beers. Adequate Wine List.. The whole set up was very impressive indeed. If it has a fault it would be the distance the tents are apart and the rough stone pathways. A long way in the dark after a couple of Kili’s.

Page 221. Same. The Elephant Motel.  Tel. 027-2758193. Fax. 255-272758885

Email. dioceseofsame@kilionline.com

Recent improvements have added some more spacious rooms which now range from $20-$50 for non residents. The $20 rooms are good value and are s/c with double bed/nets, T.V. & wardrobe. The $50 rooms are very well appointed with a spacious sitting room/lounge complete with sofa and easy chairs. These are ideal for a longer than overnight stay in order to visit the nearby Mkomazi National Park. Service and staff friendly and helpful and the small restaurant well presented.

Page 187. Tarangire Safari Lodge. Like Philip, this is a firm favourite. Location location, location does it every time. Top marks for friendliness and location. Good cuisine and excellent ‘Tents.’ Simply a nice place to be. Not exactly central in the Park but who cares? Cheapest Wine list of the trip. $15 for a ZA Shiraz.

Page 184. Karatu. We were attracted to Rhoatia Valley Tented Lodge. Built and operated by a Dutch couple this is located about 8km north of the tar road near Karatu. There is a central Restaurant/Bar/Lounge with a viewing platform overlooking the valley below. “Tents” are on platforms set well apart for privacy each with a slightly different view. Ours looked over the border into the Ngorongoro conservation area. Birds came and went and I bagged a very nice Little Sparrowhawk whilst snoozing on the ‘Patio’.

Tents inside are the usual walk in types with the offices our back. All worked well and it was very well appointed. Hot water Bottles at night at turn down were a nice touch although not needed. Electric power by Generator at set times. There were set meals from a Menu that varied daily and a fire at night. Their Lunch box was the best I have had.

Page 178. Ndutu Lodge.  Nothing has changed much since our first visit in 1993 other than the tents are now Cottages. They are set out along the frontage where you can watch the animals wander by day and night. The airy Dining room is now home to at least four Genets that hang around for handouts. Food is of a very high standard although a bit bland for my palate. This is probably an attempt to cater for one size fits all. Even the Curry was not spicy. The surrounding plains are host to the Wildebeeste hordes in December-March so booking at these times is vital. My kind of place.

Page 156. Kirurumu Tented Lodge.  OK. I am biased and have visited here five times (It is always nice to be welcomed back.) I objectively support all your book says on this charming place. Some of the linking paths were quite uneven. However, as always the cuisine and service was excellent. The place bristles with birdlife. A pair of Chinspot Batis were raising chicks right in front of the Restaurant.  Now that the ‘main road’ is tarred the 6km Access road does come in stark contrast.