I arrive at Siwandu, Jongomero’s sister camp in the Nyerere National Park and immediately feel an energy here that draws me in completely. In an instant I feel welcomed, relaxed and simultaneously excited to see why Siwandu owns this thrilling vibe. Could it be because we are close to an expansive body of water? I see and hear a pod of honking hippo on the lake edge and my heart rate starts to spike.
Safaris on or near water somehow greatly adds to the overall nature experience. Siwandu’s location on Lake Nzerakera makes this camp super captivating. Naturally water evokes calmness and tranquility, but in this natural wilderness area, the water intriguingly adds to the zest of this safari destination. Lake Nzerakera is a magnet for wildlife, the lifeblood that attracts an abundance of animals and birdlife. Now I get the vibe, it is an elemental and palpable rhythm of life.
Emiel Mkwizu, Siwandu’s charismatic and convivial camp manager, beams a smile at me. Emiel has plenty to do with why this camp is so welcoming. Being part of the Selous Safari Company for well over 20 years and wearing multiple hats during this time, Emiel has countless fascinating stories to share. Spend time with this gentleman, not only will you learn a great deal, more importantly your soul will feel lighter after sharing a good chuckle in his company.
The majority of the Siwandu team having been with the company for a long time too, share the ethos of kindness and hospitality professionalism. It is a humbling experience being looked after by this incredible cohesive team.
The highlight of my stay at Siwandu is an epic, sunset water safari on Lake Nzerakera. For well-seasoned safari guests the opportunity to combine water- and land-based safari experiences adds to the appeal of Siwandu.
Watching wildlife from the comfort of a sturdy pontoon boat is the ideal way to explore the stunning landscape from a completely different perspective. It is quite a sight to see hippos with their massive bodies navigating their way through the water with agility and honking as they go. There are also crocodiles around every twist and turn along the waterways. Many of the little islands are stacked with crocodiles with mouths agape, basking in the fierce late afternoon sun. Along the lake shore I spot a herd of elephants with a tiny few-weeks-old elephant calf that I had seen on game drive earlier that day.
When the sun starts to set, we drop anchor for a refreshing sundowner next to a small island that has been colonized by egrets. Mother nature puts on a spectacular show for us, lighting the sky in incredible fuchsia and ochres.
The breeze blows my hair and I am happy, as I marvel at this view enroute back to camp. Back on shore I see a cozy campfire has been lit next to the elevated dining deck. Some of our guests are already huddled around the flames in jovial banter. Siwandu is fully booked tonight and it is such a welcome sight to experience this joyous and social atmosphere that reminds of the good old, pre-pandemic days. After pre-drinks next to the fire I am whisked off to my private dining table set outside to enjoy a freshly-prepared three course meal bursting with natural local flavors.
Another experience that left an indelible impression on me from my time at Siwandu, was a guided bush safari walk with Joseph Kayoka. His lovely sense of humor, coupled with his incredible wealth of bush knowledge and extensive experience as a safari guide is an incredible experience. We set off on foot from camp as the sun starts to peak over the horizon. Joining us, is a ranger from TANAPA. I see he is incredibly in-tune with what is going on around him, noticing every detail and no sound escapes him.
I can’t begin to describe how much knowledge I gained on this walk. What I learned has to do with the signs that nature gives us and how to interpret them. During our walk, I feel completely connected, no, grounded to this earth. I hold my breath slightly as we spot a herd of buffalo that we have been tracking for a while. We keep a very safe distance and then move on again slowly and softly. I am however very aware that all our boots make crunching sounds as we walk. Even massive elephants move more quietly.
Just as we start to build a huge appetite from the morning’s walk, we reach the shores of Lake Nzerakera. A table has been laid under the cool shade of the doum palm trees and there is a panoramic view across the lake. Our chef Nuru is already preparing our breakfasts and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee percolates in the air.
While we devour our breakfast, a large herd of buffalo arrives a few hundred meters up the shore to quench their thirst. From here it is another kilometer walk back to Siwandu. We know we are back in familiar territory when a herd of impala do not even bat their long eyelashes as we walk past. Joseph explains that these impala are used to seeing humans close to camp. It is a final lesson for us to make more sense of animals and what their behavior might be telling us.
Siwandu’s tented suites are set in a palm grove, well spaced apart and all have glorious views of Lake Nzerakera. My tented suite is the furthest along the pathway, another wonderful sign that our camp is full at the moment. Shortly after taking a refreshing shower, a massive elephant strolls straight towards my room and casually passes by. At night sounds are loudly amplified and the hippos can be a bit rowdy. I feel at home here and drift off to sleep quickly, knowing that the askaris are watching over us.
My favorite thing about Siwandu is that there is so much variety in what to do. I spent three nights in camp and enjoyed a pontoon lunch, a water-based safari, a walking safari and game drives. I could have easily extended my stay for at least another two days.
During my time at Siwandu there was also a group of family members that enjoyed Siwandu for an entire week. I am very envious. Slowing down the pace of your safari here, is the perfect choice as you will have more time to simply relax on the deck of your tented suite. With Lake Nzerakera right in front of you, there is an excellent chance that you will have some amazing sightings right from the comfort of your tent.