Head to the Selous or Ruaha reserves in southern Tanzania for a never-to-be-forgotten fly camping safari under the stars. Walk from your lodge to a private fly camp in the heart of the African bush where you’ll sleep with only a mosquito net between yourself and the wilderness.
Our luxury Tanzanian safari lodge was set beneath magnificent hardwood trees on the banks of a seasonal river in a remote corner of southern Tanzania. Far off the beaten track, this secluded idyll offered the chance to get in touch with true wilderness.
Our wooden terrace was shaded by a thatched roof and filled with sumptuous sofas. It was the perfect spot to relax with a cup of tea while leafing through the camp library’s reference books, or socialise with fellow guests around the bar. On warm days, we lazed beside the pool like basking crocodile. It was the quintessence of luxury in the wilds.
But, comfortable as our lodge was, both my partner and I wanted to experience the thrill of a safari under the stars. So, one golden afternoon we tore ourselves away from camp and set off on foot with a game guide and armed scout, bound for a night of fly camping.
We ambled among corpulent baobabs and tall, spindly palm trees, and along wide, sandy rivers. Led by our knowledgeable guide, Jonas, the walk became an education in the lives of the smaller animals, as well as the birdlife, insects, flora and fauna.
Jonas told us about the medicinal properties of some of the indigenous plants. He also taught us a few of the myriad bird calls, and showed us how to identify fresh tracks … which brought with it a sense of expectation and suspense. Could those fresh lion prints mean a close encounter around the next bend?!
During our walk, we had good sightings of Masai giraffe, yellow baboon, zebra, wildebeest and, in the distance, three old buffalo bulls, which we steered well clear of, as they can be notoriously cantankerous. On one occasion, a hyena jogged across our path dragging the placenta of a newborn wildebeest.
The birdlife was remarkable. We saw innumerable smaller fry, such as bee-eaters, parrots and rollers. Bigger fowl included many stork, heron and egret species, ducks and geese by the dozen and quite a number of raptors.
Suddenly, Jonas stopped and held up his hand. He shook a gauze bag of ash to test the wind direction. Then he slowly led us to within metres of a breeding herd of elephant: mothers, teenagers and babies lazily stripping tree bark and munching leaves.
I found that walking in the bush gave me a whole new take on the environment. Even the approach to game viewing was quite different to being on a vehicle. It involved a receptiveness to what the bush was telling us and getting in tune with its sounds, smells and rhythms.
We arrived at our fly camping site just as the sun was setting to find staff on hand and ice-cold drinks poured. This was no rustic camp, but rather a little slice of luxury in the heart of the wilderness. And it had been set up for the two of us alone! We were shown to our own private sleeping quarters – a rectangular, fully-enclosed mosquito net. After washing off the dust of our walk under an ingenious bucket shower (with piping hot water, no less!) and changing into fresh clothes, we reconvened at the fire for G&Ts.
A dinner table had been laid under the stars and we were treated to a candlelit, three-course meal prepared by the camp chef. How he’d managed to cook up such a feast in the middle of the bush remains a mystery to me.
After dinner, we sat around the fire, reminiscing about the day’s encounters and listening to the sounds of the bush. ‘Fly camping was established by the early hunters and trackers who couldn’t carry large amounts of gear with them for days on end, so they instead simply packed a mosquito net and some basic foodstuff,’ explained Jonas as he poked the fire with a long stick. ‘They could set up camp very easily by stringing up the mosquito nets, and they could also move on quickly the next morning.’
Eventually, we retired to bed. Stargazing while lying on a camp bed is unforgettable. The bedrolls were warm and comfortable with soft sheets and fluffy pillows. Who could ask for more idyllic sleeping quarters?
Something woke us in the early hours. Perhaps it was the snapping of a branch. We sat up in bed. There in front of us, less than 50m away, was a herd of elephant, passing like a fleet of ghost ships in the moonlight. We watched silently, transfixed, until they’d dissolved back into the ether of the night.
The next morning, after a hearty fly camping breakfast, we headed back to the lodge. Our night under the glittering Milky Way, with only a thin net between us and the wilderness, had been the highlight of our African adventure. I guess the best way I can describe it is a complete feeling of … freedom.