OTHER NATIONAL PARKS IN TANZANIA
There are various other national parks in other regions of the country, mainly in the Western region of Tanzania. Close to the embankments of Lake Tanganyika are the Gombe Stream and the Mahale Mountains creating an extremely graceful landscape.
A visit to the Katavi National Park will allow you to experience the vast wilderness consisting of lions, leopards, hippos and the Cape buffalos. Katavi is typically a dry season conservation area with large portions of Miombo woodland that are met by a number of rivers, each with expansive floodplains. Between April and November, these open floodplains entice ample amounts of wildlife.
GOMBE NATIONAL PARK
52 sq km (20 sq miles), Tanzania’s smallest park.
16 km (10 miles) north of Kigoma on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania.
Kigoma is connected to Dar and Arusha by scheduled flights, to Dar and Mwanza by a slow rail service, to Mwanza, Dar and Mbeya by a slow rail service, to Mpulungu in Zambia by a weekly ferry. From Kigoma, local lake-taxis take up to three hours to reach Gombe, or motorboats can be chartered, taking less than one hour.
Chimpanzee trekking, hiking, swimming/snorkeling, visit the site of Henry Stanley’s famous ‘Dr Livingstone I presume’ at Ujiji near Kigoma, and watch the renowned show builders at work.
The chimps don’t roam as far in the wet season (February-June, November-mid December) so may be easier to find, better picture opportunities in the dry (July-October and late December)
KATAVI NATIONAL PARK
4,471 sq km (1,727 sq miles).
Southwest Tanzania, east of Lake Tanganyika. The headquarters of Sit alike lie 40km (95 miles) south of Mpanda town.
Charter flights from Dar or Arusha. A tough but spectacular day’s drive from Mbeya (550km/340 miles), or in the city season only from Kiowa (390 kms/240 miles). It is possible to reach Mpanda by rail from Dar via Tobora, then to catch public transport to sit alike, where game drives can be arranged. If traveling overland, allow plenty of time to get there and back.
Walking driving and camping safaris. Near Lake Katavi, visit the tamarind tree inhabited by the spirit of the legendary hunter katabi (for whom the park is named) – offering are still left here by locals seeking the spirit’s blessing.
The city season (May-October). Roads within the park are often flooded during the rainy season but may be passable from mid-December for February.
Isolated, untrammeled and seldom visited. Katavi is a true wilderness, providing the few intrepid souls who make it there with a thrilling taste of Africa as it must have been a century ago. Tanzania’s third largest national park, it lies in the remote southwest of the country, within a truncated arm of the Rift Valley that terminates in the shallow, brooding, expanse of Lake Rukwa.
The bulk of Katavi supports a hypnotically featureless cover of tangled brachystegia woodland, home to substantial but elusive population of the local eland, sable and roan antelopes. But the main focus for game viewing within the park is the Katuma River and associated floodplains such as the seasonal Lakes Katavi and Chada. During the rainy season, these lush, marshy lakes are a haven for myriad water birds, and they also support Tanzania’s densest concentration of hippo and crocodile.
It is during the dry season, when the floodwaters retreat, that Katavi truly comes into its own. The Katuma, reduced to a shallow, muddy trickle, forms the only source of drinking water for miles around, and the flanking floodplains support game concentrations that defy belief. An estimated 4,000 elephants might converge on the area, together with several of 1,000-plus buffalo, while an abundance of giraffe, zebra, impala and reedbuck provide easy picking for the numerous lion prides and spotted hyena clams whose territories converge on the floodplains.
Katavi’s most singular wildlife spectacle is provided by its hippos. Towards the end of the dry season, up to 200 individuals might flop together in any riverine pool of sufficient depth. And as more hippos gather in one place, so does male rivalry heat up – bloody territorial fights are an everyday occurrence, with the vanquished male forced to lurk hapless on the open plains until it gathers sufficient confidence to mount another challenge.
MAHALE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
1,613 sq km (693 sq miles)
Dry season (May-October) best for forest walks although no problem in the light rains of October/November.
Chimp tracking (allow two days), hiking camping safaris, snorkeling fish for your dinner.
Western Tanzania, bordering Lake Tanzania
Charter flight from Arusha, Dar or Kigoma. Charter private or national park motorboat from Kigoma, three to four hours. Weekly stemmer from Kigoma seven hours, then hire a local fishing boat or arrange with park HQ for pickup in park boat, another one or two hours.
Set deep in the heart of the African interior, inaccessible by road and only 100km (60 miles) south of where Stanley uttered that immortal greeting “Doctor Livingstone. I presume”, is a scene reminiscent of an Indian Ocean island beach idyll. Silky white coves hem in azure waters of Lake Tanganyika, overshadowed by a chain of wild, jungle-draped peaks towering almost 2km above the shore: the remote and mysterious Mahale Mountains.
Mahale Mountains, like its northerly neighbor Gombe Stream, is home to some of Africa’s last remaining wild chimpanzee, a population of roughly 800, habituated to human visitors by a Japanese research project founded in the 1960s. Tracking the chimps of Mahale is a magical experience. The guide’s eyes pick out last night’s nests – shadowy clumps high in a gallery of trees crowding the sky. Scraps of half-eaten fruit and fresh dung become valuable clues, leading deeper into the forest. Butterflies flit in the dappled sunlight. Then suddenly you are in their midst: preening each other’s glossy coats in concentrated huddles, squabbling noisily, or bounding into the trees to swing effortlessly between the vines.
The area is also known as Nkungwe, after the park’s largest mountain, held scared by the local Tongwe people and at 2,460 meters (8,069 ft) the highest of the six prominent points that make up the Mahale Range. And while chimpanzees are the star attraction, the slopes support a diverse forest fauna, including readily observed troops of red colobus, red-tailed and blue monkeys, and a kaleidoscopic array of colorful forest birds.
You can trace the Tongwe people’s ancient pilgrimage to the mountain spirits, hiking through the montane rainforest belt – home to an endemic race of Angola colobus monkey – to high grassy ridges chequered with alpine bamboo. Then bathe in the impossibly clear waters of the world’s largest deepest and least-polluted freshwater lake – harboring an estimated 1,000 fish species – before returning as you come, by boat.