Set deep in the heart of African interior, inaccessible by road and only 128km (80miles) south of where Stanley uttered that immortal greeting ‘‘Dr Livingstone, I presume’’, is a scene reminiscent of an Indian Ocean island beach idyll.
Mahale Mountains National Park is home to some of the Africa’s last remaining wild chimpanzees; a population of roughly 800 (only 60 individual forming what is known as ‘‘M group’’) habituated to human visitors by a Japanese researchers in the 1960s.Tracking the chimps of Mahale is a magical experience.
Mahale’s mountain ridge is around 50 km in length and runs across the park from the northwest to the southeast. Its tallest peak, Mt Nkungwe, raises 2462m a.s.l, the highest point on Lake Tanganyika shoreline. The western slopes of the bridge form a gigantic wall that plunges into the Lake, continuing down under the water and creating the lakes enormous depths. Numerous rivers cascades down from the mountain tops, carving deep valleys and gorges into their slopes. One of the unusual things about Mahale vegetation is the wide array of habitat types that it contains. The park is a mosaic of overlapping rainforest, woodland, bamboo forest, Montaigne forest and grasslands meaning that can support a unique mix of Flora and Fauna that rely on the various different habitat.
The lowland forest (locally known as ‘Kasoge’) that grows on the western slopes of the Mahale Mountains in an enclave of Congolese forest. It flourishes here because of a suitable, humid micro climate that is the result of the warm, moist air over the lake colliding with cold air blowing down from the mountains. The presence of this tropical forest allows Mahale to support many west and central African animals and birds such as the giant pangolin, a forest species found through central and West Africa.
Vegetation at altitude above 1500m in the Mahale Mountains is composed of wetter, more luxuriant forest than the lowland type. The very tops of the ridge are covered with high altitude grassland, with a few scattered small trees. This area turns to a beautiful, colourful carpet of flowers towards the end of the rain season in May.
Most of the eastern slopes, as well as the lowland areas to the north and south of Kasoge forest are covered with a type of woodland known as miombo, in some areas interspersed with expanses of lowland bamboo bush. These areas support Mahale’s east African savannah species including buffaloes, wild dogs and many varieties of antelopes. The vast areas of woodland are criss-crossed by narrow belts of riverine forest that has a very similar composition to lowland, lake shore forest and which provides important food sources and migration corridors for several species including key species of chimpanzees.
ITINERARY OF MAHALE NATIONAL PARK
Day One (Charter from Arusha or Northern Parks to Katavi or from Dar to Ruaha to Katavi)
Arrive in Katavi National Park in time for lunch. Afternoon game drive and evening walk.
Days Two-Three: Katavi
Each day will be different in this untouched wilderness, taking you to the most secret parts of the park, by foot or in open landrovers. Early mornings – when the air is cool – you’ll walk* with guides to spy on the hippo pods in “Flat Dog (Crocodile) Creek”; standing absolutely still as a herd of elephant passes by; moving across the land at animal pace and taking in the power and beauty of this place.
As the day warms up, you might return to camp for food or find lavish picnic breakfasts, brunches, lunches laid out under shady trees. Landrovers will arrive to take you longer distances – circling the great herds of buffalo, looking for the prides of lions that stalk them continually – following the meandering rivers, crossing the tamarind forests in search of eland, sable and roan antelope. In the evenings we’ll retreat to camp, candlelit dinners under canvas, while the hyenas screech on the plains.
Wherever you go, the shere numbers, variety and vitality of the Katavi game will blow you mind. For a wildlife fanatic, it’s one of the most exciting places onthree miraculous days in Katavi, just when you didn’t think things could get any better, you are taken to another dream world :
*Landrovers available for those who don’t want to walk
Day Four: To Mahale
A short morning flight – less than an hour, takes you across the unbroken wilderness of western Tanzania to the Mahale Mountains. The airstrip borders the sparkling blue of Lake Tanganyika, on whose shoreline lies Mahale Camp. On our forty foot wooden dhow, you’ll take a gentle voyage down the lake to the camp beach. Arrive an hour and a half later. Short forest walk to attune in the early evening.
Day Five-Six-Seven: Mahale
Mornings you’ll be chimpanzee tracking in the fairy tale Mahale forests. This can take anything from half an hour to catch up with them, to the whole morning. Once amongst them, you’ll have an hour to watch as they live out their daily lives, right in front of you.
Afternoons and time away from the chimpanzees can be enjoyed by further exploring the forest (nine types of primate alone live in Mahale), boating expeditions for fishing, birding, snorkelling or relaxing on the soft sand beach and taking the crystal clear waters of Lake Tanganyika as the sun goes down.
On fine evenings, we’ll have barbecues, dinners on the dhow, or simply razz it up in the splendid Mahale Mess.
After a leisurely start , we’ll leave camp and take a boat back to the airstrip with a pack-lunch, for a flight to your next destination, where you’ll arrive mid-afternoon.