Ruaha National Park
For anyone seeking a true African wilderness experience, a visit to Ruaha National Park is essential. One of Tanzanias' wildest parks, Ruaha can only be described as a true unspoiled natural wilderness. Due to its' distance from any major city very few tourists visit the park each year but those who do are treated to unsurpassable wilderness and complete isolation.
The landscape is rugged and harsh and no other park in Tanzania epitomises the definition of "wild Africa" quite like the Ruaha. Vast and untouched the Ruaha National park, after the annexation of two other major conservation areas is now the largest National Park in Tanzania and stands currently at an incredible 23,000 square kilometers; substantially larger than Wales! The park is perhaps the least well-known and yet to connoisseurs it is without doubt one of the most spectacular in Africa.
Situated in the South-West of Tanzania, Ruaha sprawls within and along an ancient arm of the Great Rift Valley, covering a unique transition zone where the Eastern and Southern species of both fauna and flora meet against a dramatic topographical background. Ruaha, due to its location on the rift and surrounding geological formations is extremely diverse with access to several different habitat types. The vast majority of the park above the escarpment is termed "Miombo Woodland" is rarely visited by tourists being so far away with challenging game viewing and an abundance of tse-tse flies. The scenery here is quite dramatic with tall Brachysteiga trees forming a continuous woodland housing some specialist species of antelope such as the magnificent sable as well as several miombo specializing birds. The more developed section of the park is little more than a third of the total size of the park and is at a much lower altitude and is known as the Ruaha valley. Still just as wild however, this section of park has a decent road network for game viewing and completely different vegetation types offering a diverse game drive experience without as much of the troublesome tse-tse fly. The valley is also where the lifeline of Ruaha passes through; the Great Ruaha River which especially in the drier seasons will attract big herds of animals of all shapes and sizes.
Some of Ruahas' best features are found in this section of the park from massive rocky hills and outcrops to thick dense impenetrable bush all the way to more open grasslands in the East. The most striking features are is numerous serpentine dry "sand rivers" which criss cross the park lined with dense cooling riverine vegetation where many animals take refuge.
Although without the massive teeming herds common in the North of the country, Ruaha holds an incredible amount and array of animals with an estimated 20,000 elephants in this one park alone. Ruahas' greatest secret lies in its extraordinary diversity of animals, plants and birds. Within the park as a whole there are over 1600 species of tree, twice as many as the great Selous Game Reserve which is also twice the size of Ruaha. There are a recorded 530 different species of birds here, half of all Tanzanias bird species may be glimpsed in this park making it one of the continents premier birding destinations. With the recent doubling of size of this park the bird list can only increase due to the incorporated wetlands and marshes of the South.
Among the mammals, the park possesses one of the largest species counts of large mammal of any other park. With all the regular animals such as elephant, huge herds of buffalo, giraffe, zebra, impala, eland, hippo, crocodile, lion and leopard, Ruaha holds a large amount of the rarer less seen creatures. Sable antelope can be occassionally found in the Miombo areas as well as the springs in the Western part of the park. Roan antelope are also sometimes seen in the Eastern area of the park. Lesser kudus and grants gazelle are at the furthest South of their geographicl range and are intermittently spotted. Dik-diks abound all over the park and rarely does a drive return without having glimpsed the noble greater kudu.
Ruaha is also home to the second largest population of wild dog in Africa and although seen on the odd occasion, cannot be called common as the majority are in the inacessible wilderness areas of the North. When is comes to its pachyderms, Ruaha is in a league of its own, it is not uncommon in the dry season to see well over 100 elephants in a single drive and the herds of buffalo are often seen and can reach astronomical numbers with 500 animals plus seen in a single herd. Hippos rule the river and vast quantities of these animals can also be seen sunning themselves along the stunning river sandbanks on an early morning.
The Ruaha climate is perfect! Due to its high average altitude of 1000 meters, nights in Ruaha are delightfully cool, in June dropping down to sometimes 6 degrees C but reaching a very pleasing 25 degrees in the daytime. As the season progresses it gets gradually warmer reaching upto 35 degrees C in the day but always cooling down wonderfully come nightfall. The rains in Ruaha begin in about December which then turns the park into a green paradise with all its numerous sand rivers torrentially flowing. Game viewing is a little harder at this time but for scenery, beauty, birds and flowers it is by far the best time of year.
For the more discerning safari lover who is looking for an 'off the beaten track' pure wilderness experience, a visit to Ruaha to view its large beasts, stunning vistas, numerous baobabs and its unique birds and animals must not be missed!!