Locations: Katavi National Park (wild camping) & Chada Camp
Kms travelled from Mahale: 321
Total km travelled: 2,323
Impressively, 24% of Tanzania’s surface area is protected for wildlife – over 250,000 sq km – about half each as National Parks and Game Reserves. At just over 4,000 sq km, Katavi is a relatively small park but it’s also one of the least visited and therefore a bit of a hidden gem.
Our first night there was also our first opportunity to get out the camping kit. We took a ‘special campsite’ permit, which essentially enabled us to choose our own spot overlooking the almost entirely dry Lake Katavi plains. We ended up underneath 2 enormous mahogany trees, which provided lovely shade in an otherwise hot environment. We’ve been lucky to stay at some lovely safari properties on our travels, but I have to say that being out there on our own was magical and what I had so been looking forward to.
October is the hottest month at the end of a long dry season. Within the park, there are only two water sources for wild animals to drink from – the Katavi river that drains into the lake Katavi plains and the Katuma river that ends up on the Chada Plains – and these two locations attract massive quantities of wildlife. From our campsite, we could see herds of buffalo in the 1,000s and the small pools of water that remained on the lakebed were filled with hundreds of hippopotamus … packed like sardines in a tin. In the evening, several herds of elephants passed close by our tent – we could hear them breaking branches very close by – and a review of tracks in the sand the following morning showed both lions and hyenas had taken an interest in our presence, although we were blissfully unaware of both.
Our schedule meant we could only spend one-night camping so we soon repacked the car (we’re getting better at the Tetris game each time) and headed 50km to the east through the miombo woodland towards the Katuma River and Chada floodplains, where all of the park’s tourist facilities are based. In Tanzania, miombo woodland means tsetse flies. About 1cm long, grey and packing a punch of a bite, tsetse flies are the bane of many a traveller to Tanzania. In anticipation of the inevitable attack of needle-like bites that invariably swell up, we all avoided blue and black clothing (the colours used in tsetse fly traps), which Kian took the extreme by sporting luminous green and bright red. We also slathered ourselves in 50% deet ‘Trek’ spray, which I am happy to report seems to do a pretty good job of keeping them at bay. However much we may moan about tsetse flies, they are widely regarded as being one of Africa’s greatest conservationists as they historically discouraged human settlement in areas that we have now protected as some of Africa’s finest game viewing areas. Three cheers for the tsetse fly…
Our second Katavi destination was Chada Camp, an intentionally rustic canvas and thatch camp overlooking the Chada floodplains. The views are inspiring and, as with Lake Katavi, there’s a constant stream of wildlife passing by. A highlight here was the density of crocodiles along the Katuma river, all living cheek-by-jowl with the hippos in stagnant (and sometimes rather smelly) pools. Back in camp, Kian quickly befriended the camp staff and enjoyed an afternoon off game-viewing to catch up on Premier League football (soccer, to our American cousins!) and a corker of a Manchester derby.
From Katavi, our next stop is Ruaha. Only about 350kms away in a straight line, our journey will be closer to 1,000km and take us 2 and a bit days of driving as we circumvent Lake Rukwa and the entire Katavi-Rukwa-Ruaha-Rungwa landscape.