Above: The rare African Wild Dog in the newly created Nyerere National Park carved out of Selous Game Reserve, southern Tanzania. Copyright Rupi Mangat
Published: The East African 11 – 17 January 2019
On the banks of the great Rufiji, the earth-brown river flows past little isles and sand banks on her way to the Indian Ocean. It’s overcast during the December dipole with a light rain but the views from the secluded camp on the Rufiji are to die for.
“I like to do the areas that no one does,” states Leina Lemomo showing off the grand space. “And l’m the first African woman to start a mobile camp in Selous.”
And she’s Kenyan like me which calls for a sisterly hug some 1000 kilometres away from home i.e. Nairobi.
The travel bug hit Lemomo as a nine-year-old brownie on her first camping trip in a forested glade in Nairobi. “I stayed awake looking at the stars something we didn’t do at home.” Camping became her escape from the brick jungle, criss-crossing Africa to lands as far as Timbuktu to see the Great Mosque of Djenne and living in Malawi for seven years.
Twenty years ago, while on a two-year stint in Tanzania she discovered the secluded Selous and southern Tanzania.
“It’s unique,” she states standing under the canopy that serves as the lounge cum dining area overlooking the river. “I wanted to start in a place that was not crowded with mass tourism. And southern Tanzania is like that whereas the northern circuit with Manyara, Ngorongoro and Serengeti is where everyone goes to.”
With her immense knowledge on African travel, Lemomo and her then partner started luxury camping long before ‘glamping’ came into fashion. She’s organized safaris into northern Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia because of the easy connectivity. One of her favourite tours is the Tazara train journey from Dar es Salaam to Zambia covering 1,860 kilometres. “It’s amazing landscapes you pass through,” she tells including chugging past Selous and getting to see it’s wildlife for free. “I’ve actually watched a lion hunt from the train,” tells Lememo.
“Travelling the continent is easier today because we don’t need visas to countries like Tanzania or Malawi. Also the roads are better though air travel is still a challenge.
Glamping at Nje ya Selous
We’re the only family in the exclusive, one group at a time camp.
In the forested grove, butterflies that l’ve never seen flit on the indigenous plants and scores of golden weavers rent the air. The serenity is suddenly broken when a crocodile leaps out of the opaque water to grab a bird in its jaws. It’s an OMG moment.
“Selous has everything,” tells the itinerant traveller cum tour planner amidst the honking of the hippos. When l first came to Selous, there were elephants everywhere.”
Then came the poaching era. From the largest herds on the African continent numbering 150,000 there are an estimated 30,000 now. The good news is that populations are increasing with more security in place.
In the secluded camp, the five tented rooms with transparent screens are spacious and cool, and especially designed to show off the great Rufiji that boasts a delta ten times that of the Tana in Kenya.
Nyerere National Park
“You may be the first Kenyans into Nyerere National Park,” states Lemomo while we enjoy a leisurely lunch of peanut soup followed by roasted meat and salad and Lemomo’s signature ginger and lime dressing.
It’s a surprise. A little background about Selous. It morphed from Mohoro Reserve established in 1896 by the Germans into Selous Game Reserve in 1922, named after Frederick Courteney Selous a British explorer cum hunter turned conservationist when he saw massive herds of elephants being hunted. He met his death shot by a German sniper in 1917 during the First World War by the banks of the Rufiji where he is buried.
Measuring 50,000 square kilometres it boasted as the largest wilderness area in Africa with the greatest concentration of elephants, rhinos and lions.
My big dream was to see Stiegler’s Gorge where the Rufiji squeezes through the narrow gorge. When the ranger tells me l’ll need the President’s permission for that, it sinks into me that l’ve missed my chance. Stiegler’s Gorge is what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris or Murchison Falls to the park.
The reserve sine 2019 is named after the great African statesman and Tanzania’s first president, Nyerere fondly called Mwalimu. Nyerere National Park is about 30,000 square kilometres carved out of the reserve with the rest for the Nyerere Hydro Power project with a small portion left for the reserve. There are environmental concerns over the massive project to boost Tanzania’s electric power for industrialisation. It will be Africa’s largest dam scheduled to be completed by 2022.
Finally in the park l get to see the Africa’s most endangered canine for the first time in the wild. It’s the African wild dog. It’s a special moment. The park continues to delight boasting massive baobabs with hollow chambers, a lioness on the tree, the elephants in the doum palm forest and the many beautiful lakes that were once part of the Rufiji.
For more on Nje ya Selous log on to Twende Kusini Camps www.twendekusinicamps.com
It’s affordable luxury.
Our ten day road trip to Nyerere National Park was via Dar es Salaam entering Mtemere gate and returning via Morogoro after driving through the park to exit at Matembwe. Roads are great but you’re mostly driving at 50 km/h. The road side motels are cheap, clean and comfortable.
Although Kenyans don’t need a visa to enter Tanzania you have to have your passport stamped at the border and your car log book deposited for collection on return. That’s a hassle forcing you to return via the same border.