Tanzania welcomes visitors to Africa's newest -- and largest -- national park

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Boat safaris on the Rufiji River are ideal for viewing hippos, crocodiles and plentiful bird species.
Boat safaris on the Rufiji River are ideal for viewing hippos, crocodiles and plentiful bird species. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Tanzania recently established the Nyerere National Park, the largest national park in Africa.

Nyerere is part of what is known as the Selous Game Reserve and covers an area of over 11,000 square miles, more than twice the size of the Serengeti. It is the only major safari reserve to be located on the coast, which means that it has an unusually humid climate and a very languid atmosphere. The name of the park is given in honor of the founder of the nation, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, who died in 1999.

Although environmentalists say that splitting up the Selous Game Reserve could put the reserve's Unesco heritage site status at risk, tour operators say that the park will be a highlight for travel to Africa in 2020. It is a wild and pristine area that offers an off-the-beaten track safari with rewarding game viewing.

Will Smith of Deeper Africa said that covering an expanse bigger than the state of Hawaii, Tanzania's newly established Nyerere National Park qualifies as a top emerging destination.  "A small section of the park was already popular with tourists as the photographic area of the Selous Game Reserve," he noted. "The park designation opens thousands of square miles previously closed to tourism. The area is famous for elephants, lions, and tropical birds."

Nyerere National Park is situated south of Mikumi and has airstrips and tracks connecting the various lodges and camps. Especially toward the end of the dry season, game drives in the park are rewarding as many large mammals gather around the five lakes within the park. Some of the camps offer overnight fly-camping excursions that involve sleeping out in an exalted mosquito net in the middle of the bushland.

The park, which encompasses the mighty Rufiji River, is home to a diverse range of wildlife with huge populations of hippos and giraffes as well as elephants, buffaloes and lions among many others and together with the remaining part of Selous, Nyerere National Park is said to be the last true stronghold for African wild dogs. The population of dogs peaks in September and October, and packs of up to 56 Dogs have been spotted.

The most popular of Tanzania safaris are the boat trips along the Rufiji River. The Nyerere National Park and the Selous Game Reserve are two of the few places in Africa where it's possible to view wildlife from the water, and after the dust and bumpy roads of a game drive, there's nothing more relaxing than drifting along the river watching the wildlife.

Short boat safaris are ideal for viewing hippos, crocodiles and plentiful bird species (including commonly the African fish eagle, malachite kingfisher, goliath heron, African skimmer and Boehm's bee-eater). Monkeys (blue monkey, savannah baboon and black and white colobus monkey) are often spotted in the trees along the banks of the river as well as Nile monitor lizards.

Full-day boat safaris are also organized on the vast Rufiji River and into the Selous Game Reserve's lakes. It's common to see giraffes, impalas, waterbucks, kudus and warthogs as well as elephants bathing or crossing the river, a true highlight for those lucky enough to experience such an encounter.

Boat safaris are organized from the Selous River Camp, a down-to-earth but comfortable camp situated right along the border of the Selous and with views of the Rufiji River. Wildlife wander out of the reserve to visit the camp freely, the surrounding forest helps to keep the camp cool during the heat of the day, and travelers save money on game reserve fees (only paying them when they enter the reserve for safaris), thanks to the camp's location outside the reserve. The camp offers a choice of accommodations: nine mudhut-style chalets, spread along the riverbank or four basic tents situated farther back in the forest.

Crafted from earth, sticks and sisal rope and thatched with palm leaves using traditional Tanzanian methods, the mudhuts are a unique and authentic accommodation option. The inside of the mudhut is fully decorated and furnished with unique rustic furniture handmade in the camp workshop from tree branches, including a four-poster double bed, draped romantically with fine mosquito netting. Bed linen and curtains are tailor-made from brightly colored African fabrics, and handwoven palm mat carpets the floor.

From the Selous River Camp, travelers can also visit the local Mloka Village, which is situated down river from the camp. Home to many of the camp staff, a tour here is a very personal experience and the focus is on meeting locals, learning about their day-to-day lives and visiting places like the primary school, market and police post.

A more upmarket accommodation option is the Rufiji River Camp, which offers a choice of classic safari tents along the river or luxury suites. The tents are all pitched underneath thatched roofs with massive verandas giving views up and down the river. Rufiji River Camp organizes game walks that will enable travelers to explore the spores and footprints of the surrounding wildlife.

Another luxury option is Beho Beho, the first camp to be sited in the Selous Game Reserve not on the banks, or the flood plains of the mighty Rufiji River, but in the cooler highlands so as to enjoy the 'cooling breezes' from which its name derives.

Beho Beho is not really a camp in the true sense of the word, as it has individual bandas -- stone-built, palm leaf-thatched cottages -- rather than the tented accommodations one might more readily associate with a camp.

For travelers staying a minimum of four nights, there is the option to stay at the Treehouse at Beho Beho, which is perched alongside and within a giant, ancient leadwood tree overlooking a dry riverbed.

To reach the isolated treehouse, guests embark on a two-hour walk through the Selous wilderness in the company of an armed guide.

The best time to visit Nyerere National Park is June to October which also ranks as the high season. Wildlife is much easier to watch during the dry season, when the animals gather at water points as well as the presence of thinner vegetation.

The park is easily accessible by light aircraft from Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar on the coast and therefore is ideal for short safari samplers of two to four nights done in combination with longer stays on the beach.

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