From the Serengeti to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania lays out plenty of click-bait for the wildlife photog… but nothing fills a memory card like a trip to Tarangire National Park, in the country’s north. The reserve is famous for its asparagus-coloured wetlands, bright red earth and abundant wildlife, including plenty of friendly eles. It’s no hassle to get to, either: just a 120km flight south of Arusha to the Kuro Airstrip inside the park. Easy.
At the heart of the 2850 square kilometre park lies the lush Silale Swamp. It’s an excellent place to turn the engine off and watch a natural show unfold, with everyone from tree-chilling leopards to warthogs and happy pachyderms going about their business; in fact, during my visit to Tarangire I lost count of the number of elephant herds I saw. Sadly, Tanzania has recently come under fire for losing two thirds of its elephant population in just four years, thanks to poaching (and possible migration). While it’s difficult to determine exactly how many of these peaceful giants live in Tarangire, current estimates say between 3000 and 5000. Nevertheless, during my visit it was heartening to see an elephant around almost every corner, including plenty of playful babies!
And the herds aren’t shy either, with many curious eles meandering over to the Jeep to take a closer peek at us.
While the park is relatively small (it’s Tanzania’s sixth largest), it’s rich in biodiversity, with dry grasslands, acacia forest, lush green swamps and stately baobab trees, intersected by the Tarangire River. There’s also 550 species of bird and an ark-load of mammals, including oryx, Grant’s gazelles, gerenuks, giraffes (including this white one!), and, if you’re luckier than I, you might even see a tree-climbing lion or two.
I stayed at Oliver’s Camp, a glorious 10-tent glampsite site on the park’s remote southeastern edge, where the wild views are epic, the permanent tents are super-comfy and the service is outstanding. Hiking here is a truly memorable (and safe) experience – and it’s easy to arrange at the camp with the on-site naturalist team. Before we set off, my walking guide, Milton Mpuche, laid down the law: keep noise to a minimum, walk in a single file, and do exactly what he says if we come across any animals. Just to be on the safe side, an armed national park ranger joined us (although Milton assured me that in all his years of guiding they’ve never had to shoot a warning shot, thankfully).
We set off around 7am and our walk meandered across fairly flat, easy terrain, and while it wasn’t physically challenging it was an excellent way to see the scenery, with Milton pointing out leopard, hyena, elephant and waterbuck tracks, countless birds and medicinal plants along the way. Our hike took us close to a small herd of waterbucks, warthogs and dik-diks, and also within a couple of hundred metres of giraffes. The whole experience lasted three hours and longer hikes –including full days and overnighters to a remote fly camp – are also possible. Definitely on the list for my next visit.