Chimp trekking is quite unlike any of the more traditional forms of safari. Here you are on your feet throughout and in awe inspiring forest that bares no resemblance to anything you will have encountered elsewhere in the country.
The Mahale Mountains - a corner of the globe you will never forget. On the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika where the waters are turquoise, cool and alluring, you will find your base of Greystoke Mahale - a perfect setting for your few days with the chimps.
Time spent in the company of the Mahale chimps is unlike game viewing anywhere else. The steady climb through the quiet of the forest to find them leaves time for the mind to wander and idly contemplate the streams, waterfalls and massive forest trees. But there’s a persistent frisson of suspense, heightened by occasional chimp calls echoing through the tree tops ahead…are they getting closer?
Occasionally the canopy parts and Lake Tanganyika’s clear water is visible several thousand feet below, its waters receding towards the distant shores of the Congo.
And then - often quite suddenly - the chimps are there, among you. These are habituated animals, entirely oblivious to the presence of humans. They feed, play and fight sometimes within a few feet of the assembled people.
The individual characters of these animals are well known by the guides, their relationships, feuds and politics well documented. This is as much about soap opera as it is game viewing.
When you find the chimps you are often in close proximity to them (sometimes they pass within a few feet of you) and because they’re habituated, they more or less ignore you.
If we look straight and deep into a chimpanzee's eyes, an intelligent self-assured personality looks back at us.”
ARRIVAL IN THE BUSH
Flying for 4 or 5 hours over almost the entirely length and breadth of Tanzania to Katavi is a great way to illustrate just how wild and remote the far west of Tanzania is.
Ikuu landing strip where your light aircaft will put down is deep within Katavi NP and there's every chance that a low flyover will be required to clear it of rogue buck or hogs. The drive back to camp is a great introduction to the park and be sure to have your binoculars and camera at hand.
Day 2 - 4
INTO WILD KATAVI
Chada Camp will be your base - an authentic safari camp that has changed little since its inception 20+ years ago and retains the wonderful atmosphere of a pioneer's outpost in proper wilderness - comfortable and stylish without being ostentatious.
The real attraction is of course the wilderness, and given the logistical challenges and expense of operating and getting to such a remote part of the country Katavi remains wonderfully unsullied by mass-tourism and you're unlikely to encounter many other folk (the Serengeti has receivesd more visitors in a day than Katavi in a year).
Fly-camp if you can and certainly jump at any offer of an all day expedition to the far reaches of the park.
The game is exceptionally good and highlights include plenty of lion versus buffalo interaction as well as unbelievable numbers mud-jammed hippos and cave-digging crocs in the Katuma River. The dominant Miombo woodland gives it more of a Selous, Kafue or Hwange feel than either Ruaha or the Serengeti.
Due to the bi-weekly scheduled shared charter in to Katavi it is likely that your fellow guests will be travelling with you on to Mahale which gives the safari a distinctly expeditonary feel.
HEAD TO THE MOUNTAINS OF MAHALE
A relatively short hop takes you from Katavi - initially flying over Katsunga Plain, the country's second largest after the Serengeti - to the woooded wonderland that is the Mahale Mountains NP.
You'll be met at the lakeside landing strip by your guides, not as is customary in a jeep but rather uniquely a dhow. There are no roads whatsoever in Mahale so access is by foot or on the water. Lunch aboard en route to Greystoke.
FINDING THE CHIMPS
You'll be fully briefed about the whys and wherefores of Chimp tracking in camp - and one of the best things about Greystoke is that the wonderfully charismatic guides act as hosts and are available to discuss Chimpanzee behavour and politics (it's a proper soap opera) at any time and not only when you're in pursuit of, or in the company of, these Great Apes.
FINDING THE CHIMPS
When and where you go will obviously depend on what the Chimps are up to but as a rule you'll head out fairly early in order to catch up with them before they've moved too far from their nests - like most primates they are not particularly early risers. Sometimes this will involve taking the down up or down the lake shore, sometimes walking directly from camp - and very occasionaly the chimps come to you.
Greystoke is a magical place and would be well worth a visit even without the chimps. A secluded beach with crystal clear water there's a fine mix of the familiar safari fixtures (hippos, fish eagles, bushbuck and warthogs) with the more exotic. Swim in the bay and there are a couple of canoes to take yourself out on, along with fishing on a catch a release basis. Accross Lake Tanganyika, far in the west the suns sets behind mysterious mountains in the Congo, there be dragons.
A beach destination with an enormous twist, proper barefoot luxury and possibly the coolest accommodation in all safaridom.
Back in the dhow for a final cruise along the wild lakeshore and back to the landing strip before the cross-country flight back accross Tanzania for your international flight out.
A NOTE FROM ALEX
EARLY DAYS IN MAHALE
This photograph, taken at the airstrip in Mahale was shot by Carole and Derek N. among my first Natural High clients ever. At the time I was fortunate to be flying as a bush-pilot in Tanzania - a job that was pure pilot heaven, flying in and out of some wonderfully wild and remote locations across East Africa where you shared the sky only with eagles.
I was based in Katavi and spent a lot of time both there and in Mahale, so came to know and love both areas with a passion. The passage of almost 20 years has seen reasuringly little change to both parks (although the airstrip at Mahale is no longer a cycle path) and the combination of both remain among the best and most rounded experiences in all of Africa for anyone who values real wilderness, not to mention the very best small and original safari camps.
Quite by chance the photograph captures the moments when a small crowd had gathered to watch my first attempt at hand-starting a plane. I landed to discover the plane battery flat and with no cars or roads for miles this was the only option. My wonderful clients took this addition to their itinerary with great good humour. I'm glad to say it worked (much to my surprise), they arrived home safely... and have been back to travel with Natural High in the years since.
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All of us at Natural High have over 20 years’ experience in the countries we offer. We’ve lived there, worked there and arranged countless one-off journeys for clients. We live to travel – and love to share our tips on what’s really worth doing. For expert advice (and a traveller’s tale or two), speak to one of our team. They’ll be happy to let you in on their travel secrets, and help you plan a tailor-made trip that’s truly unforgettable.
"They were incredibly helpful with choosing which camps we should go to and they took extra time to learn about us as a family so that they could be most able to advise us...I found them extremely willing to answer any questions and always responded in an extremely quick manner. Our itinerary went exactly as outlined and was very comforting to have someone every step of the way who was there to facilitate our moves between camps. We felt very lucky to have seen the parts of Kenya that we did and we would have never been able to research enough to affect the same things on our own."
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