The immense Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania is one of the largest and least visited of all of Africa’s game parks, making it the perfect place to get far from the madding crowd on one of Tanzania’s best safari experiences: a Selous safari. Unless, of course, you count the crowds of elephant, buffalo and hippo.
We set out on our first morning game drive, eager to explore a corner of Africa so few people have been to. The views from the lodge, across a vast sweep of the Rufiji River, had brought out our inner explorers, and we wanted to see more of the Selous Game Reserve – the latest destination on our safari in Tanzania.
Three times the size of Serengeti National Park, the Selous is a vast protected area with a fascinating history. It’s named after Frederick Courteney Selous, the legendary big game hunter, naturalist and conservationist. He was actually killed nearby, during a First World War skirmish at Beho Beho. Looking at the peaceful scene before us, it was hard to imagine conflict here.
The Selous is renowned for its game viewing and we soon saw that this reputation is entirely justified. For today’s Selous safari, our guide took us on a slow drive along the edge of the river, so we could look out for wildlife coming down to drink.
We were struck by the sheer number of hippo – and their apparent lack of any sense of personal space. They seemed quite content lying on top of each other, dozing on the sandbars in the river in the early morning sun. The soft round shapes of the hippo were in complete contrast to their long, spiky neighbours, the Nile crocodile. The largest we saw was easily 5m long, and our guide joked that sadly this year’s swimming gala had been postponed – again. Saddle-billed storks picked their way between the prone shapes, stabbing at silvery fish in the shallows.
In places we drove through thick bush on our Selous safari, emerging again to new views of the floodplains. Close to the river, the grass was still lush and green even this late in the dry season, although watching a herd of elephant cut a swathe through it made us wonder how long this could last.
Our guide had a particular destination in mind – before the Rufiji River opens out to form its delta, it must first pass through the 100m-deep Stiegler’s Gorge. In the cool shadows of its rocky walls, we stopped to enjoy a breakfast cooked on a driftwood fire, as impressive crowned eagles flew above us. They were looking for their own breakfast of monkey, but we stuck to bacon and eggs.
Driving back towards the lodge, we witnessed a fight between two bull hippo – they would run at each other with their mouths open, wicked teeth jutting out. We half expected the ground to shake as they collided. The smaller of the two chose discretion over valour, and backed away with wounds to his pride only.
We happily realised that other than our guide, we’d not seen a single soul all morning. That’s the beauty of the Selous – it’s like having your own private (and very large) game reserve.
A solitary great white pelican flapped slowly by, reminding me of the last scene of Jurassic Park. I turned to my partner and smiled: we had found our Lost World.