Moments in East Africa 2: Katavi

From Ruaha, we set off at 7 am for the flight to Katavi. We were the only passengers on the 12 seater Cessna. After 1 hour 20 minutes, we landed on the airstrip where we were  met by Mollet, our guide and Samy, the camp manager.

On route to camp we stopped by the river, under a tamarind tree where monkeys were busy scampering about, to watch a herd of elephants come to drink and cross the river.


This is what I imagine Africa to be – isolated, wild, remote with its vast open plains covered in tall blond grass and fringed by woodland. I was surprised to see so many different types of trees and acacias in a variety of stages of maturity.


Chada Katavi is a small camp and for that day we were the only ones there- utter bliss! The communal areas reminded me of what colonial Africa must have looked liked.


Our tent was beneath a tamarind tree on the edge of the Chada Plain. It came complete with ensuite bathroom with eco flush toilet and a 20 litre bucket suspended from above to have a have a hot shower. The views and the animals around were amazing.


After a delicious lunch and some fascinating stories from Samy (he is a Masai warrior) we headed off to explore with Mollet, our guide.

Vultures, tracks in the sand, impala and monkeys on alert are signs that predators are around or have killed something. We parked up and watched a leopard with a dead impala up in the tree. Wow, words cannot explain what I was witnessing. After a while it came down the tree and disappeared in the undergrowth. Priceless.


A little bit later, we found a magnificent male lion tucking into a buffalo. His brother had strolled ahead for a drink. The tree above  was crammed with vultures waiting to feast.

Tanzania lion with buffalo

We watched as he moved the carcass into the shade and into the bush. For most of our stay at Katavi, we very rarely saw any other humans or vehicles. Dreams do come through.

After a hot shower, dinner beckoned. Firstly, drinks were served around a roaring fire. As in Ruaha, between the sunset and sunrise, the temperature drops to about 12 degrees! Dinner was a sumptuous 3 course meal washed down with a glass of wine.

The following morning tea was served at 6.30 am. It came in a box to prevent the monkeys from getting into it and the eating the home made biscuits.


Watching the sun rise spreading its apricot glow was spectacular.


Later that day we observed what we had all secretly hoped to see – a leopard lolling in a tree! Like you see in those magazines.

How elegant, sleek and effortlessly balanced on the branch of the tree.

At this point, wished we had a better camera to capture this elusive animal. It was a female who had an injured shoulder. You could see some blood on her right upper front shoulder.

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Most impressive in Katavi were the large animal herds roaming freely. There were herds of elephants, buffalo, zebras, hippos, journeys of giraffes….it was truly breathtaking and a joy to be able to sit and observe these huge animals with no one else in sight. A privilege.


Walking safari

The next morning, we set off with a ranger, our guide and Julien another guest for a walk.

Like our previous walk in Ruaha, it was informative, educational and we learnt much about animal behaviour. We walked alongside a herd of about 500 buffalo, observing how they communicated to the slower ones to get a move on and how the stronger males guarded the herd.

Shortly afterwards, we came across an injured young buffalo, about 4 months old. He was lying on the ground and as we approached tried to charge at the guide who warded him off. Sadly, being away from the herd and injured, renders his survival rate very low.


Fly camping

We left at 4.30 pm and headed off to the  Katisunga plain where we will be fly camping. On route we spotted many birds including the blue eared starling, marsh harrier, Verreaux’s eagle-owl , tawny eagle…

By the time we arrived at camp it was all set up. There was a shower, toilet, bowls of hot water to wash our hands, a roaring fire and the table set for dinner!


It was an unforgettable night, having a splendid dinner under the stars with Jupiter, Venus and the  Southern Cross clearly visible above.

There was a small owl in the tree above, a hyena roaming past the camp and the lions roaring in the distance. After a good night’s sleep, we woke to the sun rising and was fortunate to see a roan antelope before tucking into a hearty cooked breakfast.


On the way  back to camp, we observed a dazzle of zebras, one of whom was injured, topi, water buck, monitor lizard, a tawny eagle chasing a hawk eagle, herds of elephants, masses of crocodiles and hippos in the river…

Later that evening we embarked on a night ride. I am amazed how Mollet nagivates in the dark as the landscape takes on a different perspective. It was eventful night as we were able to spot many animals. I should correct that. The ranger who accompanied us was able to spot a range of animals including a bush baby, civet, genet, hippos feeding…

On our last day and on route to the airstrip, we came across this herd of buffalo crossing the road with the occasional one stopping to stare at us once it got to the other side.


I was rather sad to leave Katavi, as it epitomises what I had imagined Africa to be. In addition to the magnificent animals and landscape, the staff made the experience truly unforgettable. We felt very welcomed, cared for, were waved off on our drives, greeted and welcomed back with cool towels.

The service at our camp was impeccable with great attention to detail – even the plates were warmed! The food was delicious, sumptuous…heavenly (Milly, get that chef to write his recipes and turn it into a cook book!)


I hope that in 20 years time, when my children visit Katavi with their children, it will remain the same.

Next camp, Sand Rivers, Selous


About verawoodhead

I'm an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with managers and leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and drive results; achieve promotion ; make successful career changes, be resilient and thrive at work. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, design learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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