Part 1: The Mara Serengeti

I’m often asked to recommend the 3 best wildlife locations in August each year. Certainly in Tanzania the combination of the Northern Serengeti, Mahale and Katavi National Parks takes some beating. Especially over only 10 or 11 days out here. The drawback is the hours on small aircraft and of course the money spent for these plane transfers. If I go along to guide the extra costs for my flights and accommodation just adds more to the overall cost. So when I quote a price for such a trip I expect an initial – OMG!

But at some point in the first week of such a glorious safari I am convinced again that combining the best camps in the best locations, with a top guide is the only safari to recommend with any conviction. You see the guests always turn to me and say something along the lines of - ‘Paul we were quite reluctant to commit to such a costly trip- but now we realize just how special it is to do it this way, we have and are and will learn so much more by having someone like you along, we love the accommodations, the food, the other camp guides and yes it is costly but we are so relieved that we are doing it this way’. And sometimes they add- ‘ if you would want to use us as a recommendation the next time you are designing such a trip, we would not hesitate to do so’.

So with high expectations after I had convinced this family of 10 to believe in the safari we met at KIA airport and spent our first night at the Arusha coffee lodge. Being so close to the Arusha airstrip from where our domestic flights start, this lodge is perfect. At 8 am the next morning we were off and flying directly to the Kogatende airstrip in Northern Serengeti. I enjoy watching faces as we descend over the Mara River to land. In August the whole mass of 2 million wildebeest are there, the elephant herds are all along the river bank and I smile as guests scream with joy.

‘ Look there’s some hippos, WOW look at all those animals!’ ‘ it’s incredible!’ And within 30 minutes of landing we were watching a large group of wildebeest crossing the Mara River.

I had booked the private wing at Sayari and we were royally spoilt- the food was some of the very best I’ve ever had on safari - truly- and as 6 of my guests were under 24 years of age they were delighted, as we older ones were too! Simon and his team were outstanding and two old friends acted as our driver/guides. Albert and Estomie had worked with me at Oliver’s Camp, ‘Esto’ for nearly 13 years from 1992 – 2005 and Albert for many years during that period. What fun we had. The wildlife was incredible and the lions performed. As did the Mara River area- it was packed with wildlife.

What a start!.

Flying out to Mahale we were all high from such a wonderful first adventure, as Tanzania went past 10,000 feet below I explained the land use practices going on below us. It is really quite astounding to think that Tanzania had a population of less than 8 million people in 1961 and is now pushing 45 million.

Seen from the air like this, humanity seems like a spreading virus that is eating up natural habitats, advancing year by year into the wilderness. So it is always with some relief that when we take off at Tabora after a refueling stop, the wilderness below returns. These western lands of Tanzania (which are mainly hunting blocks) are one of Africa’s last true wilderness areas. We flew just south of West and the extensive waterways of the Ugalla River systems had me transfixed, my nose up against the window. Mahale next and I love Mahale!

Part 2 on Mahale to follow