Katavi National Park is remote – really remote. From Arusha, it takes about 4 hours, plus a refueling stop in Tabora, to get there. My plane was nearly private – just one other passenger who was on her way to Mahale Mountains National Park (my next stop after Katavi). She was from Italy and was nearly as excited as I was to be headed to some of the most remote areas in Tanzania.
After finally landing at the airstrip near park headquarters, I was met by my guide Phillip. The airstrip close to Chada Katavi is being resurfaced and should be done next season (around July 2011) if all goes to plan. This meant a long-ish game drive back to camp, but also allowed me to see more of the park than I might have otherwise.
Phillip had the vehicle kitted out with all the comforts including fly whisks for the tsetses and cold beverages. There is a bit of mopane woodland to traverse through, which is where the blasted tsetses can be found, but the fly whisks really are handy. It’s also interesting scenery; not a lot of animals, but a few interesting things like technicolor lizards and bird life, as well as some human settlements which are very basic. The human activity included charcoal kilns and small trading centers, as well as agriculture.
We stopped for a bush picnic on the edge of the plain en route. It was incredibly peaceful watching giraffe and topi in the distance and gave me a chance to chat further with my guide. It turns out that for the duration of my stay, there were only a total of four guests in Tanzania’s third largest park! We did manage to see the other guests once during a game drive, but that was it for seeing any other humans outside of camp!
We got back to camp in the afternoon with time for a cool drink, a shower and a short nap. I was warmly greeted by Mark and Kristen the camp managers. My tent was large and comfortable with a very big bed, a veranda overlooking the plain and a basic but very functional bathroom setup.
Katavi is rustic – no doubt about it, but it is a glimpse back to the glory days of safari. A guest will want for nothing here; the food and service are wonderful. You have power, a library full of interesting books, a campfire to while away the evenings, walking and driving safaris – it’s a terrific package. But if you want an ultra luxury experience (or a shower that lasts more than a few minutes), this is not the camp for you.
Bathrooms are, as I said, perfectly functional. They recently installed chemical toilets (to replace long drop toilets), and hot water is delivered in the mornings, as well as waiting for you after game drives and in the evenings at bedtime. Hot (safari) showers are al fresco and are quite nice to get the day’s dust off. If you wish, you can arrange for extra water for a slightly longer shower.
The camp is spread out and each tent feels very private. The maximum number of guests is 12 (six total tents), so you really get an intimate bush experience when you stay here.
There are some other guests that frequent the camp on a nearly daily basis – elephants. A large elephant family has found that they enjoy visiting the camp and its tamarind trees. It is a quiet oasis and they have made it part of their routine. The first time they visited during my stay, I was walking out from my tent and Phillip called out that I should stay put. I did as he said and then watched wide-eyed as the elephants materialized out of the woods and moved towards the library tent. They had no interest in me; I got to enjoy an uninterrupted and magical 10 minutes watching them move through camp.
Once they were past the library, I moved to the library and got another long view of the eles – this time from the comfort of a couch! As I said, this was a daily occurrence and often from different venues. It was one of the most special experiences I had in Katavi.
Next: Game activities in Katavi & nighttime lions!