As I walk through the main relaxation areas of Jongomero I am instantly drawn to the full-flowing river beyond. My thoughts turn to how blissfully cool and tranquil it is here by the river, in the shade of a tall Jackalberry tree.
I flew into the Ruaha National Park at the tail end of 'safari season' and it was clear the park had already seen good rainfall. The Jongomero river is, for the better part of the year, a sand riverbed, which showcases the camp's wow-factor signature experiences such as fly-camping under the stars and lantern-lit dinners. Jongomero camp is an easy five-minute drive from its namesake airstrip. 40km from its nearest neighbour, guarantees exclusive game drives in a remote corner of Africa. The Ruaha National Park, named for the Great Ruaha River that runs through it, is the largest national park in Africa.
From the private deck of my spacious tent, I relax in a daybed listening to the natural soundtrack of birdsong and the rush of the river. I am super-chilled and working hard on my southern hemisphere tan. It rains in the night and at sunrise it is clear that an apex predator had visited my tent in the night. I notice very clear paw prints in the sandy walkways and, on closer inspection by the guides, we deduce that a young female leopard had laid down a whisker's breadth from my daybed, sheltering under the thatch from the rain. Well, that is the story I am sticking to!
The park is lush and green. Jongomero guides Apollo and Lambert are very skilled at finding game in the dense bush including shy dik-dik and duiker. We hear the fierce sound of a lion’s ‘hear me roar’. And yes, that is a Katie Perry reference! We go looking for him and get so close that I can feel his roar reverberating right through me.
You have not had the complete African safari experience without being mocked-charged by a feisty, young bull elephant!
For many, close encounters with leopard and lion will prove to be highlights but my favourite sighting is an adorable pair of bat-eared foxes and hammerhead birds fishing at the river crossings.
Jongomero’s secluded river location and the diverse landscape is a huge part of its appeal. Here the south and east African biomes merge, offering game drives under acacia woodland, in savannah, past baobabs or among the koppies. For the ultimate African adventure, July to November, when the bush is less dense, you can walk in big game territory with specialist walking guides and fly-camp under the stars in the sand riverine.