When people think about Tanzania, nine out of ten times I guarantee they will jump to those iconic scenes of wildebeest desperately fighting for their lives while crossing crocodile infested rivers (thank you David Attenborough). Interestingly, the name wildebeest means ‘wild beast’ in Afrikaans, an apt start for a blog about one of Africa’s last wildernesses. Before I worked for Imagine Africa I was a wildlife conservationist, and was very familiar with the southern countries of this great continent, and from binge watching Attenborough I knew a bit about the Masai Mara and Serengeti. However, Ruaha National Park was a place I had only ever heard of in a vague sort of way. I had no idea where it was or that it would become one of my new favourite safari destinations.
For those not in the know, Ruaha is Tanzania’s largest national park, and covers a staggering 20,226km2 (an area roughly the size of Wales). Located in the central southern region of the country, this relatively unknown area has a wide variety of habitats and a huge diversity of wildlife, including over 500 bird species and 12,000+ elephants (the most found in any national park in Tanzania), as well as being a mecca for predators. However, what struck me most was the feeling of being somewhere relatively untouched, where the wildlife is still ‘wild’ and where there are very few tourists around to take that feeling away.
Having already had a great few days in the Selous Game Reserve I was ready for more. From the moment I landed and felt the dry heat hit me in the face (very different to the humidity of the Selous) I was enchanted. The lifeblood of the park is the Great Ruaha River (from where the park derives its name), which is surrounded by a network of seasonal rivers that only flow in the wet season. The backdrop is the various escarpments – and if like me you like to think you can take an OK photo – this makes for a dramatic snap. I had only three nights in this magical place, but loved every minute.
Game drives are the focus of the day here, and even the most experienced safari aficionado will not be disappointed. From day one I was spoiled, with the highlights being a tiny lion cub (only a few weeks old) being shown off by his mum near an elephant kill (the other lions were busy eating), a leopard hunting vervet monkeys in a tree, and watching elephants digging for water in the increasingly dry sand rivers. However, for me I just loved being on a safari where I hardly saw anyone else on my game drives (and in the case of one afternoon no one else), where I could watch the sunset, glass of rum in hand, and enjoy being in the bush without being disturbed. Ruaha really is a rare gem these days, a real African wilderness.
My stay ended with a BIG bang. Having spent the night getting lost in the huge bed at Ikuka Camp (the newest addition to Imagine’s Ruaha portfolio and my new favourite safari stop), I was woken early by strange noises nearby my tent (which was really more like a villa!). Somewhere between a bark and a bird call, I was excited when I worked out what could be making this sound… Eagerly I opened my tent to stick my head out and to my delight a pack of wild dogs ran past, a mere three metres away. One of the hardest animals to see in Africa due to their huge home ranges and fast pace, I had given up hope of seeing any on this trip. To be woken up by such a treat really cemented how special this national park is. If you’re after a genuinely wild experience with amazing animal sightings, beautiful landscapes and great guiding then look no further – Ruaha truly is where the wild things are.