Difficult to reach and well beyond the usual beaten track of East African safaris, Katavi National Park feels unimaginably remote. We travelled by light aircraft for almost 2 hours, heading west from Msembe airstrip in Ruaha, and flew over only one road and a handful of small settlements in all that time.
Katavi is famous for its enormous pods of hippo, which congregate in the muddy pools of the Katuma River at the height of the dry season. In early October we estimated several hundred resting, snorting, grunting and bickering hippos along a 1 km stretch of river.
Our Maasai guide Moreso and driver Kevin, from Katavi Wildlife Camp, introduced us to the prolific big game both along the Katuma River and within the woodland abutting the flat grasslands of the Katisunga floodplain.
The plains game of zebra, topi, reedbuck, waterbuck and buffalo would spend the nights on the open floodplain, before running the gauntlet of three lion prides, leopard and hyena waiting expectantly around the riverbed.
The ubiquitous impala, stately giraffe, bushbuck, duiker, warthog and small herds of elephant would emerge from the woodland in search of water.
Another unique feature of Katavi are the holes in the riverbank which provide sanctuary for the well fed crocodiles.
One Yellow-billed Stork in particular would brave the attentions of the crocs whilst searching for catfish in the shallows.
Moreso had the answer to the pesky tsetse fly that are found in the woodland fringes: a burning ball of elephant dung strategically placed in a small stove under the back seat of the game viewing vehicle.
A safari in Ruaha National Park combines very well with Katavi – a huge wilderness area of acacia combretum woodland studded with beautiful baobabs, vegetable ivory palms and euphorbia trees.
In the dry season the Great Ruaha River is reduced to a thin trickle fringed by solitary pools of water, whilst many sand rivers criss-cross the park. Mwagusi Safari Camp overlooks one of these sand rivers which buzz with game.
One afternoon we came across a pride of lions feasting on a buffalo carcass, whilst a bit later a young leopard passed within a few feet of us.
Ruaha and Katavi represent wild, southern Tanzania at its finest: remote beyond expectation and with relatively few visitors, they offer a truly compelling safari experience.