Ruaha National Park offers a special experience for those interested in a wilderness walking safari. First, its size – it encompasses an area of over 20 000sq. km, making it the largest national park in Tanzania. If one adds in the adjoining protected game reserves, it equates to an area of over 40 000 sq. km of remote wilderness.
Second, its pristine character – most of Ruaha remains virtually undeveloped and untouched by developers and there are indeed kilometers upon kilometers of unexplored bush to traipse and get “lost” in. Third, its diversity of habitats and landscapes – vast miombo woodlands, combretum/commiphora and acacia in the lower areas, the huge Usangu wetlands, the high Isunkaviula plateau with its evergreen montane forests, and the many fingers of green riverine vegetation that make up the tributaries and main river systems of the Mzombe in the north and the Great Ruaha in the south.
And last but not least, its incredibly rich diversity of wildlife – over 1 600 different species of plants and 500 species of birds have been recorded and of course there is an incredible array of African mammals. The latest census shows that the Ruaha ecosystem with more than 20 000 elephants, has more elephant than any other protected area in Tanzania including the world-renowned Selous Game Reserve. Other specialties include sable and roan antelope and a relatively large population of African wild dogs.
During the dry season from May to October, there is no doubt that the pulse of life in Ruaha revolves around the main river systems and drainages that have permanent water. It is along these pristine rivers that this walking safari will focus on.
The mobile fly camps are by necessity fairly simple, but provide all the basic comforts – standing room tents, sturdy cots with bedding, shower and toilet tents, as well as comfortable tables and chairs for lounging. Self-sufficient, every camp emplacement is different and chose for its scenic beauty, shade, and proximity to water, or a spot where game interactions are known to happen. One should not be looking for the many amenities and luxuries offered by permanent lodges or semi-permanent luxury tented camps.
The daily routine is flexible and variable but usually involves walking in the mornings with an arrival at the next camp for a late lunch. The afternoons provide a chance to rest and relax and enjoy the new camp surrounds – with an option for a further stroll in the evening, when the heat dies down and game is more active. The camps and your luggage are both moved each day by a vehicle and camp crew, allowing you to carry only those essentials you may need while walking.
Wilderness walking in Ruaha is for those who have a curious nature and want to engage and immerse themselves in all aspects of nature, from the small tracks left by insects in the sand to the large mammals that are unique to Africa, trees and their properties and the kaleidoscope of colourful birds that surrounds one during every step of this journey.
Day 1: Arrival at Ruaha National Park
Arrive at Ruaha National Park by scheduled flight. Your guides Simon and Ethan will be waiting for you at the airstrip on arrival. From here you will be transferred to the first mobile fly camp on the upper Ruaha and edge of the extensive Usangu wetlands, whilst game viewing en route – the distance is not great but the track can be rough and hence slow.
Day 2: Usangu wetlands
Walking excursion along the ecotone of dry bush and the wetlands of Usangu. The wetlands are a rich habitat for water birds as well as the main source of water for wildlife in the area.
Return to the same mobile fly camp for the night.
Days 3,4,5: Walking in Ruaha National Park
The small snap from a twig under one’s foot is enough to alarm a greater kudu bull and send it crashing off into the dry bush. Our group walks in silence on a well-worn wildlife trail along the river in Ruaha National Park, Southern Tanzania. Suddenly the swishing, flushing sound of an elephant drinking is heard amidst the normal background calls of insects and birds. We move closer step by step, not like outsiders looking in, but much like our ancestors who evolved and adapted to these savannah environments. Surrounded by hundreds of kilometers of vast wilderness we are just another part of this rich and complex ecosystem. We shift silently in search of a gap in the brush until finally a view opens up to the river. Two bulls linger in the wide shallow sandy bottom, sucking water in trunk-full at a time and then slowly raising their trunks to let gravity pour it into their narrow mouths. Apart from the ever-present bird and insect calls here and there, the only sounds are one’s hushed breath and the odd flap of an elephant’s ear. A low grumble resonates from the older bull as he turns to head back up the bank, a signal that it’s time to move on. The younger bull takes his last sip and sprays the water behind his ears to keep him cool in the afternoon sun. At last we relax and breathe freely for a moment, take our own sip of water and then continue walking, ever vigilant to what might confront us next on this adventure.
Guided by the river and a GPS point, we eventually come to our next mobile fly camp tucked into the banks of the river. Here we get the chance to sit back and enjoy the shade, a welcome drink, and whatever the river might bring to us – smells, sounds and sights.
Trekking along the river and moving to a different camp each day.
Day 6: Off the beaten trail….
Walking excursion along a drainage line adjoining the main river. Return to the same camp for lunch.
Day 7: Departure day
All good things come to an end all too soon, and any walk in Ruaha is testimony to the ditty. Today after breakfast, you and your bags will be transferred to the nearest airstrip where a scheduled flight will return you to Dar es Salaam.
About the Guide
Ethan Kinsey is a third generation Tanzanian, born and raised in a small village close to Arusha. His passion for nature started at an early age, playing in rivers and forests behind his home, and traveling with his parents to remote parts of Tanzania, where, while his father was visiting farmers he would explore the bush with his mother, an avid birder and plant collector. Their enthusiasm rubbed off on him though, and his favourite part of school was the outdoor pursuits program that allowed him onto Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro at least twice per year, and into Maasai land and other parks.
At Ithaca College in the US he received a Bachelor of Science degree. Finding that no course of study fit him, he designed his own, combining ornithology, ecology, biology, outdoor leadership and physical education. His uncle lived in Vermont and there he learned to enjoy the snow, snowboarding behind a jeep if they couldn’t make it to the slopes, cross-country skiing, and hooking up the horse and sleigh for some good times. He came home to Tanzania at the beginning of 2004, having also completed a guiding course in South Africa, and began work managing Mwagusi Safari Camp in Ruaha National Park, where he also helped train guides. After two and a half years he moved back north and began work for Asilia Lodges, managing, guiding and leading walks in their Suyan Camp in the Serengeti. For the past few years he has been guiding private safaris in Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda and recently the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ethan rarely gives up an opportunity to be in the bush, whether birding, guiding, teaching, studying, or assisting in research. He also enjoys playing rugby, running, paragliding, photography, sketching and playing brass.
Arrival in Ruaha: Currently the coastal air flight leaves Dar es Salaam at 08h30 and arrives in Ruaha at 10h15. This is a direct flight and would have guests arriving at the Jongomeru airstrip in Ruaha.
Departure from Ruaha: The direct flight back from Ruaha, departs at 14h00 and arrives in Dar es Salaam at 15h30.
If you choose to arrive a day early/ extend your stay a day late, accommodation can be booked at one of the local hotels. We will gladly assist with these arrangements.
Note: It is very simple to get between the domestic airport and the International airport – roughly a 10 minute drive away. There are many small vans that will do this and coastal air people will help set this up with us once we know your flight details.
Climate: Mid May through mid-November is the long dry season in Ruaha. One can expect virtually no rain at all during these months. Almost every day begins and ends with the rising and setting of the sun as a big red ball on the horizon. The coolest months are from mid-June to mid-July when the night time low can drop to 8 degrees centigrade while the highs in the days might reach a maximum of 30 degrees. From mid-July onwards the temperatures slowly begin to increase. In September the nights are still generally comfortably cool and the early mornings are brisk but by mid-day the temperatures in the sun can reach 35 degrees. However the temperatures in the shade and near the water even in the mid-day usually remain very pleasant.
Difficulty: This is a walking safari and on average we will be hiking 8 to 16km per day. The topography along the river is relatively flat but the walks encounter numerous drainages and some ridges and valleys that involve some ups and downs. While much of the walking is on fairly well worn and clear animal trails, one must also expect some rougher, uneven and less clear sections. We recommend that you undertake some moderate aerobic activities (hiking, jogging, fast-walking, bicycling) for at least 30 minutes a session three or four times a week for at least a month before you come and wear the shoes that you are most comfortable hiking and walking in while doing so.
Accommodation: Nestled under stately baobabs, commanding the better views in the area and close to where game viewing action may be expected, will lie your exclusive, rustic, quaint and hugely practical mobile camp. Camp will be setup and broken down by support staff, thus all you need to worry about is making it to the camp.
The camp’s layout is simple and linear, with an open kitchen at one end, showers and long drops at the other end and a row of three-four twin-bedded 2m x 2m domed safari tents, each one endowed with comfortable cots, foam mattress, sheets, duvets, pillows, fleece blankets, towels, face cloths, soap and shampoo. A basket with mozzie repellant, and an outside paraffin lamp to light up the entrance, plus a bassinet to wash your hands or splash your face when needed. Hot or cold water for your shower can be arranged on request, ready for you on your return from the day’s walk, or in the evenings. These are gravity showers with an easy to use shower head. Long drops are endowed with comfortable seated thrones, toilet paper and as expected the best view in the house.
All meals are cooked in camp by a staff team and a seasoned safari chef, served and enjoyed together with camp staff if space and time allows it. A cooler box with ice and an assortment of cool drinks, spirits and beers is run on a trust basis. Comfortable camping chairs surrounding the campfire are an enticement to sit and relax, share, ponder and recount the daily experiences.
Price Includes: Return flights on Coastal Air between Dar es Salaam and Ruaha (return), drinks (including local beers & house wine), sodas, juices, and drinking water, all park entrance fees, ranger fees, camping fees and walking fees, all meals, transport, professional walking guides, camp and support staff, all mobile camping equipment.
Price Excludes: Items of a personal nature, gratuities, international flights, international airport taxes, domestic flights not specified, visas, insurance, medical curtailment of safari.
Booking and payment details: Once you have decided to join one of our safaris, you will need to contact us for a booking form, which will include details relating to deposit and final payments etc. As our groups are small they fill up quickly.
To comment on this story please join our PRIVATE TRAVEL & CONSERVATION CLUB. See details below.
HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF AFRICA GEOGRAPHIC:
- Join our private travel & conservation club (mobile app and desktop) to enjoy significant benefits, including the best prices at Africa’s top lodges and networking with others like you. Find out more here.
- Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to enjoy more stories like this. Subscribe here.
- Travel with us. Travel in Africa is about knowing when and where to go, and with whom. A few weeks too early / late and a few kilometres off course and you could miss the greatest show on Earth. And wouldn’t that be a pity? Search for your ideal safari here, or contact an Africa Geographic safari consultant to plan your dream vacation.