Ruaha is not an African National Park which many people know about. Its remoteness is both its saviour and its struggle. It takes about two and half hours in a Cessna Caravan to fly from Dar es Salaam to the Msembe air strip in the Ruaha National Park. This means several parks such as Selous, Serengeti and Lake Manyara and the Ngorogoro crater are closer and attract more visitors and more income.
“Nothing but breathing the air of Africa, and actually walking through it, can communicate the indescribable sensations.”~William Burchell
The landscape changes as you draw closer to the Ruaha airstrip and you fly over the Great Ruaha river. The baobab landscape becomes more evident and there is greater hilly relief as you get closer to the airstrip.
For me, Ruaha’s remoteness and wildness was a magical mix. There were not many other vehicles in the park. This meant that wildlife sightings were privileged as you were invariably alone and could be quiet and just watch.
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”~ Henry David Thoreau
On our first afternoon, we found a pair of leopard cubs not far from our Mwagusi Camp. One cub was smaller and very scared. It was in a cluster of small granite boulders. It could have been that it had been terrorised by baboons earlier that afternoon or some other predator ready to take advantage of its size.
The Mwagusi camp has eight spacious bandas. These are tented en-suite rooms under a peaked roof of Makuti thatch constructed from palm leaves. Each banda had a superb view across the dry Mwagusi river.
This scene typifies the view of the river bed. The banks are lined by Doum palms, large Sausage trees and thick Combretum flora. The river was dry. It is a seasonal river which must flow strongly when flooding judging by the large tree trunks which had lodged against upright trees and large granite boulders in the river bed. The sand river bed and its banks are punctuated by large granite boulder outcrops.
We were in Ruaha in mid November just before the rains. It was hot during the day around 35 degrees centigrade but later in the afternoons there was spectacular cloud build up. The cumulus filled afternoon sky added drama to the wild Ruaha landscapes. This was the view from my banda’s veranda which was equipped with a comfortable hammock to catch any passing breeze.
“These groves of baobabs emit an aura of permanence and stateliness. A place where great sentinels gather to share the wisdom of the ages, where wildlife gathers to listen in reverence.”~ Mike Haworth
One of the special characteristics of Ruaha, for me, was the groves of baobabs. I am used to seeing occasional large lone baobabs in dry areas in southern Africa, not so in Ruaha.
As mentioned earlier the clouds build up in the afternoon heat and as the sun was setting, the sky and clouds were illuminated with wonderful warm colours emphasising the pregnant clouds. This was a view looking across the Mwagusi river at sunset only a few hundred metres from our camp close to where two lionesses an a male were lounging on the cooling sand river bed
Along the Mwagusi river in mid morning, we found a pride of lions lying in the shade created by the trees and granite boulders. You can imagine the comfort, on a hot morning, when lying on the cool wet sand in the shade.
A couple of hundred metres further down the Mwagusi river a few giraffe came down to drink. They were very weary as they probably smelt the lions. Although it had not rained for a long while in this area, the sand river bed surface was dry but for a wet patch meandering down the river. In fact, the water table in the river bed must have been very close to the surface because there were many shallow holes dug in the sand for water by the elephants.
“Give me a wildness whose glance no civilization can endure”
~ Henry David Thoreau
Another grove of young baobabs. For me these groves represented a treasure trove where you might find leopards, brown parrots, rollers, bee hives and baboons.
A lone sentinel silhouetted against a dark apricot sky just after sunset.
” A dry sand river bed looks barren. Do not be fooled there is much to discover. Sandgrouse and spurfowls are foraging for seeds. Predator hide in the undergrowth along the banks waiting for unsuspecting prey. Unseen just below the surface lies the water- the elephants know. Once opened the waterholes are a magnet for thirsty wildlife”~ Mike Haworth
This is a characteristic Ruaha scene with the Mwagusi sand river bed in the foreground, doum palms, sausage, tamarind and fig trees along the river with granite kopjies in the distance.
One male ostrich with three females wandering along the sand road close to the Great Ruaha river late in the afternoon. In November, the clouds were progressively building for rain. This was part of the attraction of this time of the year. The sky backgrounds are complex, dramatic and colourful.
“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore
The rays of light beaming through the thick rain clouds gave the area a cathedral like feeling. My senses were swimming with all the colour. It was warm and flora was fragrant. In the distance, we could hear spurfowl calling and zebras braying.
“Wildness is not found but revealed.” ~― Paul Gruchow
Last light in the evening with rain falling from heavy rain filled clouds behind the hill in the distance with an apricot sky in the background.
A small herd of buffalo gathering around a tree for shade. It was hot, with scattered clouds. The adjacent river bed was dry and the area had many tsetse flies which seem to constantly bite the buffaloes as you can see from twitching skin, swishing tails and swinging necks.
We found numerous herds of elephant mainly along the Mwagusi sand river. The elephants must be able to smell the water. The old members of the herd dig in the sand with their feet to make a hole into which the filtered water pools.
“To see ten thousand animals untamed and not branded with the symbols of human commerce is like scaling an unconquered mountain for the first time, or like finding a forest without roads or footpaths, or the blemish of an axe.” ~ Beryl Markham
This was a breeding herd with members of many different ages. All the females attracted three bulls which gave each other a wide berth. The characteristic doum palms were ever present as was the thick croton and combretum brush lining the river banks.
“Let your life lightly dance on the edges of time like dew on the tip of a leaf.”
― Rabindranath Tagore
Down close to the Great Ruaha river in the ‘Little Serengeti” plain we found a loan and very skittish Roan antelope. It was very hot so there was a lot of heat haze which prevented us getting pin sharp images of this rare antelope. This is a large well built antelope and is the second largest antelope species. This antelope is named for its roan ( reddish brown) colouring. It looks somewhat like a sable antelope but is bigger and the colouring is quite different.
Sundowner time next to the Mwagusi river. Just imagine drinking a bitterly cold “Serengeti’ lager beer while looking out over this sand river with darkening trees on its banks silhouetted by a mauve and apricot coloured sky.
“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”
~ Rabindranath Tagore
Another view of the Mwagusi sand river bed in the fading evening light, silhouetted by the characteristic douw palms
Looking down the a small section of surface water in the Great Ruaha river. This patch of the river bed was teeming with animals and birds. Just further down river to the right of the image the Mwagusi river joined the Great Ruaha river. This must be an impressive sight when these two river are flowing strongly.
At midday the light can be very harsh, as defined by a hard edge between the light and dark areas and is usually not a good time for wildlife photography but we took advantage of the opportunity to try high key and black and white style photography. This bull Debussa waterbuck bull was inquisitive and stood just long enough for use to get a couple of images.
Looking up the Mwagusi river early on a cloudy cool morning. It is interesting that you see less game and bird activity when it is cool and especially if it is windy.
Bat-eared foxes were seldom seen, we found a pair down close to our picnic site along the Mwagusi river. This diminutive foxes were very alert and weary.
Many areas away from the immediate river environs it was very dry, ideal for this candelabra Euphoria. We just liked the shape and uniformity of its spiky leaves. This is a tall succulent tree. Its spa is like a milky latex which is extremely poisonous. It likes dry, rocky areas.
This lioness was one of the pride we saw a few days before lying in the shade on the sand next to a granite boulder outcrop. She was out on her own looking around a broad part of the Mwagusi river. She made not attempt to hide herself so was not in hunting mode.
This was the view from one of our favourite picnic spots where we had breakfast on two mornings. Ruaha rivers are tree lined with many doum palms and sausage trees along both banks.
We drove down to the main camp to pick up a guide for our night drive. Close to the ranger’s camp we came across three kudu bulls. Two had already crossed the gravel road. This character unfazed by us just stopped and looked at us for a few seconds and then followed the others across the road into fading light.
A view of the early morning sky as we were drove out of camp for our morning game drive on our last day. This sky vista lasted about five minutes and it looked like the sky was on fire. It look surreal and you almost have to pinch yourself to remind you that your are wide wake. At this time the morning was fresh and bush fragrant.
From the mighty Ruaha River, the rolling hills, rocky escarpments and the vast uninhabited open plains dotted with the iconic silhouettes of African Baobab trees, Ruaha will fill your senses and meet your highest expectations.
“Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just ‘home.”
~ Beryl Markham
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.
Have fun, Mike