Tanzania – Selous & Southern Serengeti with Daniel Bailey
Tanzania is a country rich in wildlife, and Selous Game Reserve, (now Nyerere National Park) is one of its lesser known wilderness destinations, off the beaten track of most tourists travel plans. Located in the southern part of the country, the reserve is known for its vast wilderness and diverse ecosystems. Here, adventurous visitors can experience the thrill of spotting lions, leopards, African wild dogs, elephants, hippos, and crocodiles and so much more, without the tourist crowds. We didn’t encounter another safari vehicle during our six night stay!
The reserve covers over 52000 square kilometres, and is split into two parts: the northern part is dedicated to eco-tourism (only 10% of the land mass), while the southern part is still run largely as a hunting concession. Selous Game Reserve was named after Frederick Selous, a famous big-game hunter and early conservationist who explored the area in the late 19th century. It is vast, and its is an ode to the untouched Africa of old!
On arrival, we are arrive we are welcomed by friendly Tanzanians. We learn the local language Swahili from the start, we get taught the customs and simple greetings. Our local guide welcomes us and gives us a run down on the history of Tanzania. He tells us that the first president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, led the country to independence and was in power for 20 years. Selous Game Reserve, later was renamed Nyerere National Park. We learn that Tanzania is home to over 127 tribes that are united through intermarriage and adopting Swahili as the official language. Tanzanians are free to move internally anywhere in Tanzania for medical treatment, education, or occupation and that the “old tribal system” now has blurred lines and helps the growth and unity of Tanzania as a whole.
The adventure begins with a flight, from urban metropolis of Dar es Salaam, away from the hustle and bustle of the port city over lush green wilderness and eventually to lay sight on Tanzania’s largest river, the Rufiji river snaking its way through the Nyerere National Park., and a landing on a dirt runway. A game drive on the first afternoon, which takes us through the lakes and an ancient dead Leadwood forest in the lakebed. Along the way, we see and photograph our first buffalo, Crawshaw’s zebra, Masai giraffe, and a variety of wonderful birdlife. The highlight of this game drive was the Verreaux owl family calling in the trees (Giant Eagle Owl). The drive ends with sundowners on one of the lake’s edge, as we watching hippos and crocodiles move through the lime green carpet of Water lettuce.
A boat trip along the Rufiji River a must-do activity. The largest river in Tanzania, Rufiji River, and is formed due to the confluence of three rivers: the Ruaha, the Kilombero and the Luwegu rivers. We explored and witnessed the natural beauty of the Stigler’s Gorge, 13 km upstream from Sand River Selous camp. We enjoyed the river, explored the beautiful scenery, incredible trees, ancient baobabs, and picturesque rock faces. There is an abundance hippos, and around every bend we found new crocodile hatchlings some only two-weeks old. Whilst having breakfast on the banks of the river at the Stigler’s gorge we were treated to a magical sighting of an emergence of large striped swordtail butterflies mud pooling. The gorge is rumoured to be home to leopards. What an incredible place to potential spot a leopard along its banks. The bird life was incredible with various bird species, such as the narina trogon, purple touraco, trumpeter hornbill, crowned eagle, pels fishing owl, African fish eagle, palm nut vulture, and western osprey.
On the morning drive we went on a tour of the lakes’ area, including the Panga-Panga tree woodlands. We had a gnarly sighting, and photographed and witnessed crocodiles feeding on a deceased hippopotamus carcass. This was the highest concentration of highest concentration of crocodiles, I had ever seen. The area is home to spoonbills, grey herons, and open bull storks. After which we spent some good time photographing the blue-cheeked bee-eater and the Northern Carmine bee-eaters as they hawked insects and returned to their favourite perches.
Dereck discussed the Doom palms, let us try its fruits, and learnt about the seeds and ivory. We found lion tracks, and after tracking him we got to see a small mane, a 9-year-old male. He was resting in the shade and then walked through an enchanting woodland before falling asleep under a Shambok pod tree. We were told that he was part of a coalition, two brothers, and they ruled over three prides around Sand River Selous. Lunch was a treat of pumpkin seed bread, butternut, chicken salad, and salads before conducting some editing and an afternoon siesta.
In the afternoon, we went on a game drive followed by a bush walk. During our drive, we spotted two hippos, various birds, water buck, eland, and giraffe. We also saw harvester ants and an elephant bull, and we even walked past crocodiles and a hippo carcass at a safe distance. We arrived at our fly camp just in time for sunset, where we enjoyed some sundowners and snacks while reminiscing about the day’s events. For dinner, an avocado mango starter, for mains pork ribs, chicken, beef sasaties, salad, followed by chocolate mousse.
After dinner, we relaxed with some drinks and gazed at the stars while listening to an electrical storm in the distance. As we prepared for bed and took our showers, we could hear the lions roaring, wild dogs calling from the other end of the lake, and hyenas and leopards rasping on the hills. We were surrounded by bush luxury and great company, including Mike the chef, our barman, also a talented watercolour painter, and plenty of Red wine, Kilimanjaro beer and G&Ts. We fell asleep to the lapping of waves on the lake’s edge and the sound of hyenas and “someone” snoring.
The next morning, we woke up to hot water and got ready for the day with some face washing and teeth brushing. We started the day in a civilized manner with coffee at 6 AM, and then we set out on a game drive in search of wild dogs, lions, hyenas, and leopards that we had heard the night before. We spotted an elephant and calf, but they were not comfortable with our Land Rover. We also saw a Masai giraffe, Nassau wildebeest calves, warthogs, impala, hippos, crocodiles, black-striped jackals, spotted hyenas, and a buffalo bull. We found some tracks of lions and wild dogs but unfortunately didn’t find the actual predators on the morning excursion.
In the afternoon, we went on another drive in search of wild dogs, but unfortunately, we did not find any. We did see some general game, giraffe, zebra, impala and some interesting birds such as the Von Der Decker’s Hornbill in the acacia woodland. Storm was building that afternoon so we slowly made our way back towards the camp. We enjoyed some drinks on the deck during the sundowner, and enjoyed the view of the Rufiji river and its swirling brown waters. Later we had a delicious dinner. A beetroot starter, pork lions and mash potatoes, and delectable apple crumble for desert. As we finished dinner we looked out at the wind, sky scape, oncoming rain, we could hear an electrical storm in the distance. Once in the comfort of our accommodation, we fell asleep in an incredible Tanzanian storm.
The next morning, we embarked on a boat trip up the Rufiji River. We woke up to clear skies and an amazing dawn chorus of birds. Coffee was brought to our rooms at 06:00 am, as we lay in bed listening to the bush wake up. At 06:30 am, we set off on our boat trip and spotted many of the resident hippos and crocodiles. We were fortunate to see a rare sighting of a Pels fishing owl just past one of the ranger’s camps, other notable birds included a juvenile Crown eagle on its nest in an African Star Chestnut, pairs of African fish eagles, almost every 1 km along the river. We drifted down the Rufiji, taking in the beautiful scenery and spotting Malachite kingfishers, African golden weavers, and Goliath herons. We had breakfast on the banks, enjoying egg and bacon rottis, chocolate chip muffins, and fresh fruit like mangoes, oranges, papayas, and pineapples.
For lunch in camp, where we indulged in fish tacos, a Mexican chicken salad, and various mouth-watering salads. After a short rest, and working off our food coma, we embarked on another afternoon boat excursion. Whilst on the river we tried our hand at fishing, but we had no luck with the Tigerfish, and Vundu catfish. As the rains had caused to much sediment and timidity in the river, not ideal fishing conditions. We had hoped that we might have spotted a leopard along the banks of the Rufiji river especially along the Stigler’s gorge. However, we did spot an Eastern green snake whilst having a toilet break on a massive sandbank of the Rufiji River. We enjoyed a great sundowner setup on the on bank of the Rufuji River before heading back for dinner. We enjoyed a delicious dinner of Tilapia, (local fish) tartar, a great chicken curry, and cold lemon soufflé. Later that evening we went on a night game drive. It was an enjoyable experience and we saw a lot of eyeshine from animals like hippos and crocodiles during the night drive. We still managed to spot some Large-spotted genets, thick-tail bush babies, and African civets.
On our last full day at Selous we woke up at 5:30 in the morning for a cup of coffee before our morning game drive. We were on the lookout for leopard and we checked a. number of awesome Baobab trees. Today was an exciting day as, after the rains we found tracks on the road and were able to see, and interpret various night-time activities. Not getting anywhere with the tracks, we continued driving to cover more ground, increasing our chances of spotting something. As the vegetation in summer is thick and animals can quickly appear, and then disappear. We came across a nice photographic sighting of hippos in green water cabbage, we photographed Northern Carmine, White-throated beater, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, and a number of nurseries of young Masai giraffe. We were also lucky to spot Nyasa wildebeest with their new-born calves and large herd eland at the Lake Tagalala.
We enjoyed a lovely breakfast in the bush, which included eggs, bacon, omelette, and almost everything else one could name. We then visited the “Maji Moto” hot springs, which were teeming with a variety of life. The overcast weather made it perfect for taking portraits without harsh shadows. During our drive, we also saw some lovely general game including young giraffe, zebras, and wildebeest. Around midday we noticed vultures circling overhead, we tried to access the area but despite our best efforts we couldn’t access them through the ravine. We presume that a large lion pride 15 lions, including three young cubs had made a kill during the night.
It was now midday, we were far from camp so we decided to stay out all day. Luxury of being at a flexible camp and staff to cater your every desire! We found a lone lioness during our drive. She was resting on her own and watch large Impala Rams sparing. The midday heat was, taxing and she wouldn’t leave her cool spot. We left her and continued with our drive to search around the lakebeds. Whilst driving we were lucky to see the Northern Carmine bee-eaters hawking alongside our Land Cruiser. It was a great sight and a good challenge to try and photograph. We eventually stopped for a late lunch on the lake shore at Tagalala. We enjoyed lunch by the lake, serenaded by the calls of two competing pair of African fish eagles. The lunch menu included beans, eggs, melons, ham, spiced rice, and fruit salad. We washed it all down with ice-cold water and beverages of our choice. We enjoyed the view, and the peaceful afternoon scenery, as hippos, crocodiles, buffalo, giraffe, yellow baboons, fish eagles and malachite kingfishers secured their different meals.
Our excitement continued as we came across a herd of close to 100 eland during our drive back to camp. In southern Africa Eland are quite a rare sighting, and to see a herd of 100 was an extraordinary and very special experience. They were very calm, and relaxed with our presence as they generally run away at the first sight of the vechiles. It was a truly unforgettable moment, and one that we will cherish forever.
We ended our stay at Sand River Selous with a delicious dinner of broccoli soup, serlion steak, potatoe chips, avocado mash, and Red wine and cheeseboard. Overall, it was a fantastic day filled with adventure, offering unique wildlife sightings, stunning landscapes, and delicious food.
On our last morning we packed our bags, and after a breakfast and coffee in camp we said our goodbyes. We had a short game drive to the airstrip. As we arrived at the airstrip we found two lionesses resting on the runway. We managed to get a few photographs of these lion, as they moved off the runways before out plane landed. Our flight out was incredible as out r flight routing, saw us fly the full length of the Rufiji river, to the confluence with the Indian Ocean and then onto Mafia Island. We were only stopping to collect other travellers, and then we flew onwards to Dar es Salaam. It was an exciting flight as we got to see all the reefs, crystal clear blue tropical waters, and the idyllic beaches.
We had a day trip planned in Dr Es Salaam. We enjoyed a nice lunch at the Waterfront, so great seafood. White Snapper, locally known as “Changu” and potato fries, and salad. We visited a local market place to look at some wood carvings, African masks, but some local clothing, and watch the Tinga Tinga artists produce their colourful canvases. We also stopped in briefly art the Kivokona Fish Market. Were we were amazed by the local fisherman’s catches of the day. Once back at the hotelk for the eveing we had a relaxed eveing, enjoyed a great dinner and took the time to rest, charge batteries, download memory cards and prepare for the Southern Serengeti the next morning.
Our photography tour would now take us to Tanzania’s Southern Serengeti for the wildebeest calving season. In the morning we had an early transfer to the airport at 06h30 after checking out of the hotel and grabbing take-away breakfast. We were then transferred by Asilia for a 25-minute drive to the airport for our Coastal air flight check-in time. At the airport, we had a coffee before boarding the flight routing from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar at 10:30 am. The flight took us all over the country, and the aerial sight-seeing was phenomenal. A flight time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, we saw Lake Manyara from the air, and flew of the edge of the Rift Valley to make a 25-minute onwards flight to Ndutu. This flight path took us directly over the Ngorongoro Crater, an incredible sight from above, before landing at the airstrip in Ndutu at midday.
Our Asilia guide, Daniel, met us, and we had a 10-15 minute drive to the Asilia camp. We were Dan 2. At camp We enjoyed chicken wraps with honey mustard and basil pesto, for lunch and a nice cold drink as we looked out over the Acacia woodland that envelope the camp grounds. After lunch, we did our online check-in via email and settled in for camp until our 16h00 afternoon tea. At 16h30, we had our first evening drive, and we saw elephants, giraffes, and an incredible sighting of lions Tortillis trees. A sight that I never could have imagined! What a picture perfect arrival to the Serengeti. We watched two lionesses rest in the tree, and watch intently as a small herd of Buffalo passed by. The two lionesses, were well feed and were resting in the tree late into the evening, however there was one handsome male on the ground with a very lush blonde mane.
On the first morning, we had coffee in our tents at 5:30 am before going for our 6:00 am game drive. We saw hyenas on a wildebeest carcass and a variety of birds of prey. We also saw the first sight of the Ndutu herds of wildebeest and zebras. We spotted a pair of golden jackal and secretary birds. We also saw a female cheetah walking around the Serengeti and Ndutu boundary as she was trying to hunt. There were so many hyena around that she soon lost interest.
In the afternoon, we saw four cheetahs. They had eaten a zebra foal in the morning and had a fresh wildebeest calf but didn’t touch it since they were very well fed. We observed the light and shadows, got creating with our photography as they were hardly moving and we waited for the best golden light opportunities. These were three males and one female that had must of recently gained independence. To end the evening we photographed wildebeest and zebras at sunset with dust kicked up from the passing vehicles.
On the second morning, we enjoyed the sunrise with the view of Mt Ngorongoro, and we saw three lionesses resting in good light. We saw another lioness watching wildebeest and zebras. More, and more wildebeest and zebras were moving towards the Southern Serengeti, and we saw amazing numbers of all the new calves.. We saw one male lion, part of a coalition of five walking by the marshes, and later his brother and lioness that were sleeping off a kill. They were part of a coalition of five blonde males, around five years of age, and had six lionesses in the pride. We had breakfast with three cheetahs, we watched them fail attempt to hunt a Thompson gazelle. Leaving the cheetah to rest in the heat, we ventured back to the marshes and saw two brothers of the coalition moving through the marsh, drinking and crossing a small stream. The one male rest at the edge of the watercourse and this allowed for some interesting creative reflection imagery.
During the afternoon drive, we saw two lionesses at Ndutu lake, close to wildebeest, giraffes, and zebras. We enjoyed a sighting of a juvenile crowned eagle trying to make friends with warthog, zebra, and giraffe at lake . We witnessed the wildebeest crossing the Ndutu lake, and some calves were stranded and drowning. There was chaos, and we heard the sounds of the search for mothers and calves. We saw marabou storks, vultures, feeding on calves that hadn’t made the crossing and beautiful flamingos as they danced around the water’s edge.
On the last morning drive, we explored the Serengeti South Kaseko area, where the mega herds of wildebeest were scattered across the vast savannah. We spotted the same 3 male lions from the previous day, watched as they patrolled their territory in the morning light, after a great photographic lion sighting we went and had breakfast with the migration of wildebeest in the middle of the vast Serengeti plains.
As we drove, we saw large herds of eland, and hyenas lurking on the plains. We then explored the hidden valley, where three lionesses were resting by the lake’s edge., Whilst a male was mating with a lioness nearby. It was midday, the harsh sun shining down on the mating lions, we captured a few images and left the lions to rest. Eventually, we crossed into the Serengeti at around lunchtime, and after a nice drive the large mega herds welcomed us in the woodlands around Kusini Airstrip.
We had lunch in the middle of the plains near Kusini, consisting of a mouth-watering chicken, butternut, and avocado salad. The fever trees stood tall in the backdrop as we drove past the wildebeest, after wildebeest, all a part of the large herds on the Kusini south plains. There were hundreds and thousands, of wildebeest and their calves that make up the great migration. On return leg of the full day excursion, we marvelled at the sight of three male lions and two lionesses resting and drinking at a waterhole. We were in a sea of the Serengeti grass plains with not another vehicle in sight for miles. These were wild, but incredible good looking, big male lions and photographically our best lions of the trip. As we arrived back at Ndutu, we spotted a female leopard resting in a tree, before returning to camp.
On the last morning, we followed the same schedule, hoping to capture more stunning shots. We started the drive before sunrise and saw a male and a lioness close to the camp at the Ndutu causeway. Enroute to the plains, we saw two male lions and two lionesses walking majestically into the distance. As we reached Lake Ndutu during sunrise, we saw flamingos lining the shores, in the most incredible light as Hot Air-balloons drifted past, and caught a glimpse of another lioness stalking some zebra in a small seep line. We returned to camp at 9:30 for a delicious breakfast before departing for the airstrip at 10:20. The Coastal air flight out of the Serengeti at 11:55 to start our long trip back to South Africa.
In conclusion, our photography tour in Tanzania was an unforgettable experience. From witnessing the incredible wildebeest migration in the Southern Serengeti during calving season to exploring the vast wilderness of Selous, every moment was filled with wonder and awe-inspiring beauty. We had the privilege of capturing some amazing photographs, but more importantly, we made memories that will last a lifetime. I am already looking forward to returning to East Africa and discovering more of its natural wonders, and I invite you to join me on this incredible journey. Let’s create unforgettable moments together and capture the beauty of this stunning continent through our lenses.