Saadani is a rare jewel in anyone’s eyes. Where else can you find a national park that is fringed with palm trees and a warm Indian ocean? There are only a few places in the world where you can enjoy the excitement of lions in the bush behind you and Green turtles nesting on the beach in front of you…
We started our journey at the top of Selous ready to embark on an eight-hour drive across the country to reach the north. Heat, dust, roads covered in potholes (more like potholes with a bit of road) and massai cows were a few of the challenges along the way, but in the end we were greeted by an amazingly cool unperturbed breeze in the game drive vehicle.
Saadani is in the centre of the historic triangle of Bagamoyo, Pangani and Zanzibar making it a unique place in Tanzania – it is one of the few wildlife sanctuaries that border the sea. Arriving in Saadani is like arriving on a marooned island back in the 1960s. Rural is giving it leeway. Although the area is untouched (to tourists that is) the accommodation offered within the park takes you right back up to 2012 and pulls you straight back in to the lap of luxury in the middle of nowhere. The park is bustling with wildlife including the Black and White Colobus monkey and the Roosevelt Sable Antelope. But the most intriguing of all the animals in the park is the herds of elephants. July 2010 saw the start of a combined elephant collaring initiative between A Tent With A View (Safari lodges), TANAPA and renowned elephant expert Dr Alfred Kikoti. The Saadani elephants seem to favour the Northern section of the park where they are regularly seen in herds of between 70-100 near the Mkwaja area but they do like to explore. Down to the south of park lies a small off shore island which the locals have nicknamed, ‘Elephant Island’. Elephants make their way across the sea to get to the island, which is full of juicy palm trees filled with fresh coconuts and juicy thicket. “Elephant Island is an essential habitat for them, they continually use the area especially during the dry season. The reason being is because there is ample forage availability as well as minimal human activity. The locals are too scared to enter the thicket and the fact that elephants reside and give birth inside the island, makes very few people if any risk life to enter the island,’ says elephant researcher Dr Alfred Kikoti. The elephants have already eaten their way through the palm trees to the sea sand in a number of areas on the land side of Saadani and now clearly have a good taste for pina coloda flavoured food. I don’t blame them.
Apart from the salt water loving elephants, Saadani boasts a huge variety of other animals and a boat safari is something you should definitely not miss. The Wami river is filled to the brim with huge pods of hippos, and crocodiles. Going through the river on a small boat is not for the faint hearted and if you’re not sure how you will feel dodging hippos through a school corridor you might want to consider lazing on the beach instead. A boat safari gives you huge opportunities for great photography and if you’re lucky you might even get a shot of the endemic Mangrove Kingfisher and the local flamingos.
Although the journey to get to Saadani is not as easy as jumping in the car and driving down to durbs, it is a special place that you should visit once in your life. To feel the remoteness and beauty Tanzania and particularly Saadani has to offer can’t be beaten.