Cat House

Nancy Vandermey, Author
Tanzania Trip July 2015

The main impetus for this trip was to visit Ruaha, Tanzania's largest national park. In researching accommodations I found Authentic Tanzania's private tented camp near Kimilamatonge Hill, and we booked that for a full week. The rest of the trip filled out like this:

  • July 3 depart Los Angeles
  • July 4 arrive Dar es Salaam via Amsterdam
  • July 5 drive to Mikumi National Park
  • July 6 walking safari and drives in Mikumi
  • July 7 drive to Ruaha
  • July 8-13 full days in Ruaha
  • July 14 fly to Northern Serengeti, Lemala Kuria Hills lodge
  • July 15 Northern Serengeti, Lemala Kuria Hills lodge
  • July 16 drive to Central Serengeti via Lobo, Serengeti Sopa lodge
  • July 17 Central Serengeti and drive to Ngorongoro, Ngorongoro Sopa lodge
  • July 18 Ngorongoro Crater and then drive to Kilimanjaro Airport for evening flight home

    Video at YouTube

    It was an ambitious itinerary, with little downtime, although the drive from Mikumi to Ruaha was much longer than I expected. The flights were made more bearable by paying for seats with extra legroom. We were first to the visa counter, which was a slow process. Mubu from Authentic Tanzania met us and drove us to the Alexander Hotel. I wouldn't want to try driving around Dar myself, there are no street signs! In the morning J4 (Jumanne, which is "Tuesday" in Swahili), our guide for the next 9 days, picked us up in a standard 5 seat pop-top land cruiser. Even being a Sunday morning the streets were crowded with buses, tatas, and trucks. We saw lots of markets, and farming as we left town. We arrived at Mikumi National Park at 2:30 pm, with a quick walk through the sad dusty museum. Only the north side of the park gets visited, as tsetse flies are bad south of the road. The main road crosses the park, it's VERY busy and noisy. Signs warn of fines for hitting animals ($3500 US for lion, $15,000 for giraffe or elephant). Weird to see elephants and giraffes next to a busy freeway! Another sign says that no free wildlife viewing or photos is allowed form the highway, you have to pay the park fees. The country plans to reroute the road but that could be years away. On entering we see impala, wildebeest, eland, elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, reedbuck, warthog, black backed jackal, and lots of birds. There are lions, but they eluded everyone.

    Viewing is done in the north side of the park, too many tsetse flies in the south
    Entrance to Mikumi
    Baobab with fruits


    We loved the hippo pool as a momma with a very young calf was protective and mock charged a few times. Also crocodile and monitor lizard and malachite & pied kingfisher and bushbuck.

    Malachite kingfisher Crowned plover

    On our way out we found many impala alarming and some ground hornbills had just flown up into a snag, but we couldn't find the likely predator hiding in the bushes. We stayed at the nearby Tan-Swiss hotel, and enjoyed some Savannah cider with dinner. Out early for a walking safari with ranger Robert, went about 5 km and saw impala, zebra, giraffe, and buffalo. We drove around the park afterwards, having lunch at the Tamarind Grill in the park headquarters area. Lots of elephant and more jackals that evening. The Tan-Swiss vehicle left just before us and were lucky to see a leopard cross the highway.

    Ground hornbills Marabou stork

    It was an early departure as the drive to Ruaha took 8 hours with a few stops. It was wet in the Udzunga Mountains and we saw 3 trucks that had gone off the road. There is a planned road widening project and many buildings (houses, markets, mosques, churches) were marked with X's as they were too close to the road and will have to be torn down. Again, at some future time. The final 100 km or so is dirt, and very slow. It will be great for the park when that is paved. Large nice building at park entrance, joke of a curio shop (2 poor quality T-shirts and some drinks for sale). Tsetse flies on the way in, plus some giraffe and kudu sightings. We spent time at the bridge over the Ruaha River, many hippo, crocs, baboons, some waterbuck, impala, elephants, and of course birds. Quick glimpse of 2 bat-eared foxes, the only we saw on this trip. Then to camp (J4 laughed when the "sable antelope" signpost got us), nice Meru tents with attached chemical toilets and bucket showers. 3 camp attendants (Simon, Rashidi, and Zed) just for us and J4. We set up our camera trap overlooking the waterhole dug into the dry Mdonya riverbed. As I was sitting on our porch before dinner I saw a dark feline shape walking up the riverbed, and grabbed my camera to run to the path leading to the waterhole. I took several flash pictures of the lioness drinking there without the camp guys coming over to ask what I was doing so I told them about the lion. I guess I shocked them at how calm I was about standing 40 feet away from a lion on foot. Plus, there's a camp small-spotted genet to take pictures of, very cute! Eric missed this excitement as he was napping (I did try to wake him briefly but I was too excited to run over to the waterhole). I waited at the dinner area with Simon as I could hear Eric exiting the tent to walk over, then we told him about the lion. She growled once when the fire was stoked. She ended up spending the night across the riverbed calling for her friends. Camera trap got jackal that night.

    We were up early Wednesday, departing at 6 am in the dark. We found a lioness walking on the road near the concrete bridge over the Mdonya. This was to be a productive area for us, with lion & leopard multiple times. This lioness was calling quite often, looking for her pride. We spent 45 minutes with her alone, love this park for the lack of tourists! Then we drove along the Kimilamatonge Hill looking for leopard, finding only tracks. There are many rock areas, most with rock hyraxes in & around them. We went down to the Mwagasu River, which still had a trickle of water. General game like impala and kudu and giraffe and dikdik are common in the park, but there are long stretches that are just dry looking. Baboon and elephant at the river, at the named "breakfast picnic spot". Nice flush toilets with paper and hand soap. We returned to the lioness and she had 2 companions now. One spotted an impala downriver and tried to hunt it but was spotted. The cats went flat so we headed in to camp. We alternated between full-day drives with a picnic lunch and "half-half" days with a siesta in camp. Back out at 3:30 pm and now there were 4 lionesses. We spotted them from the east bank but on driving over to the west bank via the concrete bridge J4 always checked out the cul-de-sac loop, and on this occasion he spotted a dark feline shape in the distance. He didn't tell us this, he just stopped and asked to borrow our binoculars but I got mine up first and found a leopard resting in the shade. We watched him for 45 minutes, he was yawning a lot and flat-stetching which meant he was getting ready to get up. Finally he did, with a big stretch he disappeared across the riverbed. Finally we drove over to the 4 lions who were mostly flat. We headed in for a great chicken dinner from Zed the cook. Hyena and leopard visited the waterhole.

    Thursday we took a picnic lunch for an all day drive. We had breakfast first and departed at 7:30 am. No lions where the girls were, check the hillside for leopards, then headed to the Ruaha river area, with a stop at the curio shop to buy T-shirts. Cute jackals, some of the usual game, plus hippo, crocs, and waterbirds on the river. Lunch at Mbuni picnic spot, Eric notices a short man in another group, it was Vern Troyer, "mini-me" from the Austin Powers movies. We ran into his group a few times that day and next. It's a big park, but the back areas aren't visited much. 3 other vehicles searched for lions near a herd of 100+ buffalo, lots of back and forth, then 2 younger males lions cooperated by coming out of deeper bush. They were both maybe 3-4 years old, developing manes but still spots on the legs & belly. An elephant in the bushes chased out a lioness, then the 3 lions laid in the shade. There were probably more nearby, there are many large prides in this park. We're a long way from camp so we head in, with a detour to check some circling vultures, and get our only flat tire of the trip. At a view point we see one fat sleeping lioness and hear there's more and a zebra carcass in the reeds. As usual on the way home we check the hill as it's known for leopards, and there she is, a female with one other vehicle following her. One more vehicle joins us as we enjoy watching her begin her evening. We get back to camp just before 7 and have another tasty dinner and enjoy the fire. At night we hear hyenas, closer than the other nights. Civets and porcupine from the trail camera.

    Page 1 - Mkumi and Ruaha part 1
    Page 2 - Ruaha part 2
    Page 3 - Serengeti
    Page 4 - Ngorongoro