Driving from Malawi into the heart of Tanzania is a journey. Crossing the border one first must now cross the escarpment of the Southern Highlands, before making your way north on the great Northern Highway (a rather grand name for a single lane pot-holed tar road)
The drive is well worth it as you head up into THE land of the safari. Tanzania is home to some of the most spectacular and renowned wildlife parks on the planet. The first of these along our route is Mikumi National Park. The fourth largest national park in Tanzania, Mikumi is a well populated park, with large herds grazing over the wide open flood plains. Towers of giraffes dot the landscape, amidst the endless supply of impala, lazy buffalo, zebra and wildebeest. In the evenings one can suddenly see black backed jackals and the amazingly painted Wild Dog dart across the road and, if you’re lucky, a lioness using the road as an easy pathway as she begins her night’s hunt.
The endangered Ground Hornbill are numerous here, giant black birds with a startling red chests and eyelashes that any lady would die for. Large troops of yellow baboon roam the area and have a disconcertingly human habit of stopping to watch the sunset each night. It’s a wonderful start to The Safari country, and its fabulous game parks.
For those who like a bedroom and en-suite bath, there are a variety of lodges to choose from. Or, like us, if you prefer to delve as far into the bush as possible, the national park campsite is a fantastic option. With no fences and right in the heart of what appears to be the favored grazing grounds, the campsite is often deserted by people but filled with animals, and a private and exciting bubble in the middle of Africa. At night you sit by the fire, with the sounds of the African bush around you. Every sound could be something, every rustle, an approach. When you look into the darkness you often find a pair of shining eyes staring right back at you, and as you lie in your bed at night, the roars of lions can be heard across the plains.
Waking up at first light your first sight will be the animals grazing around the camp. For us, this was a young elephant, peacefully, but purposefully moving through the long green grass, grabbing trunk fulls and noisily chewing as he made his way past.
As with all aspects of life, even paradise isn’t perfect. In Mikumi, the Tsetse flies are abundant and one has to keep swatting them away before they bite. An annoyance rather than a risk, but certainly something of a challenge. The main road runs right through the national park, and as such, one must be careful whilst driving, as animals may suddenly run across the road. A noteworthy mention should be made regarding the severity with which the National Park authorities are trying to tackle this issue. Steep fines are imposed on the killing of animals on the roads, with each species being ranked financially. A hare for example, being $75 USD, a lion $5000 USD and a giraffe $15,000 USD. Whilst their policing of the rule could perhaps be better (find me a country where this could not be said), the intention is fantastic, and one that we hope will be taken on by other countries in Africa.