Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Where Bush meets the Sea: Saadani National Park

Saadani National Park has been established only in 2002 – the centre piece was a game reserve, the North Mkwaja cattle ranch, and Zarangire Forest in the South came more and more under pressure by expanding pineapple producers. It is East Africa’s only coastal wildlife reserve, offering the chance to see big game and birdlife – the majestic sea eagle is a frequent sight - interacting with the sea. The former water tower at Mkwaja ranch, next to the park's headquarters, is an excellent view point over the extensive wilderness and the sea of Saadani National Park.
Wildlife is still shy and more difficult to be seen compared to the long established National Parkes in the North and South, however the landscape descending to Wami river, bush meeting the sea, and the little number of tourists visiting make the place unique. Interesting is also a visit to the extensive salt works in the South of the Park, with picturesque flamingo feeding in the lagoons. People working extremely hard at the salt works are from all over Tanzania, form their own microcosmos and are very friendly – it is possible to have a cup of tea or a simple Tanzanian meal in their ram shackle restaurants next to the salt works. To reach Wami river through the salt works, follow the telegraph poles, then head for the huge baobab (note the original ground level!) and head across. When leaving well established tracks in Saadani National Park be extremely careful not to become stuck - the black cotton soils can be very tricky and let disappear the wheels of your car very quickly!

One of the oldest Swahili communities on the East African coast, Saadani village once was an important harbour town and slave trading centre. In the 19th century, Saadani became a serious trading competitor of Bagamoyo as both towns were termini of the central trade routes to Tabora. Bwana Heri had ruled Saadani since the 1880s. he was a mythological founder hero with all the regalia of office: the siwa horn, two drums and an umbrella, resisting all Zanzibari attempts to occupy the town. He was known for his friendliness and usefulness to help to arrange travels: the British and German missionary societies who came to East Africa in order to fight against Arab slave trade and propagate Christianity established missionary stations along the coast and the Saadani routes. Burton and Speke set out on their expedition to the interior from Saadani in 1858. In 1889 however Saadani was bombarded by the Germans and taken. Bwana Heri retreated inland, but finally surrendered in Saadani in 1890. The German Major Hermann von Wissman regarded Bwana Heri as an honourable enemy and told him to rebuild Saadani. Several graves from that time, including of German and English soldiers and missionaries, are still to be seen in Saadani village. Now Saadani is a small fishing village with about 800 inhabitants whose livelihoods are prawn fishing and coconut growing and it is hard to believe that the place once upon a time was of considerable regional importance.

Saadani National Park can be accessed from the North from Pangani, driving though excessive Sisal plantations, the West from Mkata over a road only recommended in the dry season, or frm Msata further South over a good gravel road;

Kisampa Camp (Tel. 0713 75 94 65 or 0754 92 76 94; e-mail:
info@sanctuary-tz.com; http://www.sanctuary-tz-com/; Resident rates are 85US$ per person and night full board, Non residents unfortunately pay an expensive 180US$ per person and night full board;) is an exciting new destination on the banks of Wami River near Saadani National Park. Set in a private conservation area with 40km2 of pristine and varied bush – which is now thanks to the camp under protection – Kisampa Camp is different: family run, on the crest of a long hill stretch, it overlooks a fantastic landscape. Tents are open with showers and toilets where you can gaze the stars – nothing for the faint hearted however, if you do not like the proximity of insects, small animals and occasionally even a wild big animal. Guided walks in a dry river bed are beautiful, and a multitude of traces of different animals are left behind in the sand to observe. Before dinner, sundowners are served around a camp fire, and dinner is either around the big family table or on your own secluded candle light table under an Acacia tree, as you wish. The camp also runs a honey project and sells excellent honey, as well as local handicraft and locally dried sea salt.
Access to Kisampa camp is either through Saadani National Park (when descending from Madera on the Chalindze-Moshi main road direction Saadani Village (60km), there is a signpost to the right about half way down between the main road and the village. You can also access Kisampa camp from the dirt road linking Bagamoyo with Msata (Msata is located on the main road Chalindze-Moshi). Coming from Bagamoyo, cross the railway road at Kidomole, and continue another 20km to Kiwangwa. A Kisampa guide will expect you there with a sign post, and lead you down a narrow dirt road (there is an AGLI-CARE sing just after the turn to the right on the narrow dirt road) which winds through houses, past a mosque, small holdings, pineapple and banana farms, bush land, lovely views on Wami River Valley until you reach the river, where Kisampa staff will ferry you across the waters and drive you the last couple of kilometres to the camp (about 3 hours from Dar es Salaam). Be aware that after rains this dirt road quickly turns into a very difficult to drive road. A lovely alternative could also be to leave the car in Kiwangwa, and make the walk down to Wami river on foot.

Saadani Safari Lodge (Tel. 022 277 32 94 or 0713 55 56 78;
info@saadanilodge.com or info@saadani.net; http://www.saadanilodge.com/ or http://www.saadanisafarilodge.com/; Resident rates are 120US$ per person and night, Non residents 180US$ per person and night;) is a more classical National Park Lodge, right on the Beach and next to Saadani village. There is a swimming pool, a mezzanine bar with great views over the sea, they do tasty and plentiful sea food and prawn platters, and bandas open straight onto the Beach and you can plunge right from bed into the waters for an early morning swim. The lodge organizes boat safaris on Wami river with abundant hippos wallowing and frequent crocs sights as well as birds – just make sure the boat guides have studied the tides table well before – it is not nice if your boat gets stuck on the sand in the river estuaries where crocodiles like to linger around and open their mouth when the fish is pulled out into the sea by the lowering tide! Saadani Safari Lodge also does vehicle transport from Dar via Chalindze, or vehicle cum boat transport via Bagamoyo to the Lodge.

The National Park itself runs a little guesthouse right on the beach, with simple two bed rooms, occasional running water (otherwise they bring you buckets) and occasional solar panel light (otherwise they bring you a kerosene lamp), with a fantastic terrace opening on the beach. The guesthouse is 20US$ per person and night, which is overpriced, and it is difficult to make a reservation in advance (try Mr. Njau, Tel. 0784 31 25 54) – so to be on the safe side take your tent with you to pitch it up next to the guesthouse in case it should be full with park staff.

Andrew Majembe (Tel. 0784 49 03 99; e-mail: wildlife2001tz@yahoo.com) who organizes bird walks in the surroundings of Dar es Salaam, also runs a little guesthouse in Saadani Village and can help in finding public transport from Dar es Salaam to Saadani – there is a direct bus leaving Dar early in the morning.
The Tent with a View Lodge in the North of the Park, even though located outside the park, is secluded in bush right on the sea, too, and has a great terrace with cushions on the floor to relax after a days of pumpy roads - you are welcome for drinks even when not resident. Very warm welcome from the young South African - Check manager's couple;

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