Africa was once considered the Dark Continent, few people from the outside had ventured into its interior, and only ivory and slaves made their way out. Going on a safari used to mean a hunting safari to the most out-of-the-way places.
But the advent of the photographic safari has opened up the continent to one and all. Although a comparatively expensive holiday destination, it is now well-trodden with few places beyond reach. But there are a number of very worthwhile destinations that remain only lightly visited – in the main because they are difficult to get to, or do not offer suitable standard of accommodation, or are just that much less ‘discovered’.
If you have a more adventurous spirit, or have been looking for something a bit more off-the-beaten-track and as yet undiscovered by mainstream tourism, then here are some possibilities:
1. Gonarezhou NP, Zimbabwe
Having come under the guidance and protection of the Frankfurt Zoological Society for the past 7 years Gonarezhou is once again thriving. Situated in the south-east of Zimbabwe, Gonarezhou forms part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park triumvirate – the others being Kruger National Park in South Africa and Limpopo National Park in Mozambique. The GLTP, or Peace Park as it is also known, covers some 35,000 square kilometres of protected conservation land and there are plans to extend this to a massive 100,000 sq. kilometres thus allowing animals to move freely between the three countries.
Options here are limited but include the recently refurbished Chilo Gorge Lodge in the northeast, Gonarezhou Walking Safaris with Private Guided Safaris, and Singita Pamushana (situated on Malilangwe Game Reserve bordering the Park).
2. Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi
Majete has been held back only by its past. Granted protected status in 1955, it became the subject of extensive poaching in the 1980s and 1990s. But a concerted joint effort since 2003 by the African Parks Network and the Malawi government, including the reintroduction of endangered species, has turned it into a model of sustainable development and biodiversity and is now home to the Big 5.
Located in the south of Malawi, Majete is an area of 70,000 hectares, part of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. The reserve is made up of mature miombo woodlands and granite topped hills that contrast with picturesque river valleys and lush riverine forest. For connoisseurs of wildlife many exciting encounters lie in store, with the chance to view many species including black rhino, leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo, eland, kudu, sable, suni, klipspringer, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest and zebra.
Robin Pope Safaris have recently opened the first up-market lodge in Majete, called Mkulumadzi. The lodge has only eight chalets and enjoys an idyllic location at the confluence of two rivers. It is the perfect combination of splendid isolation and first-class facilities. Enjoy river cruises, game drives and walking safaris.
3. Katavi NP, Tanzania
Until a few years ago this remote National Park received fewer than 200 visitors a year! Now there are three safari operators who have established small, seasonal tented camps inside the Park…but it is still isolated (despite a twice-weekly charter service out of Arusha and Dar es Salaam).
Katavi is a true wilderness. The main focus for game viewing is the Katuma River and its associated floodplains and it is during the dry season, when the floodwaters retreat, that Katavi truly comes into its own. With some of Africa’s last great herds of buffalo, elephant, vast numbers hippo and crocodiles, lion, eland, sable, and eland there is much to see – the ultimate off the beaten track safari destination.
There are camps operated by Nomad Safaris, Fox Safaris and Mbala Mbali Lodges (May through November).
4. North Luangwa, Zambia
Despite its proximity to its more renowned neighbour, South Luangwa NP, North Luangwa NP is far less visited with only two seasonal bush camps…and seems destined to be only for the more adventurous. Following a concerted anti-poaching and reintroduction program (black rhino) the Park now features good numbers of lion, buffalo, elephant and a host of smaller antelope including the rare (endemic) Cookson's wildebeest.
An unspoilt gem and superb wilderness experience, best enjoyed on foot (June to October) – Mwaleshi Camp with Remote Africa Safaris and Buffalo Camp, Shiwa Safaris.
5. Liuwa Plains NP, Zambia
In far western Zambia there is a National Park called Liuwa Plains - home to the continent’s second largest wildebeest migration. With the onset of the rains in November, vast herds of blue wildebeest arrive from Angola, traversing the plains in their thousands, very often mingling with zebra and sharing the open grass plains with tsessebe, red lechwe and oribi. Over 45,000 wildebeest make the trek – a three-fold increase in the past 10 years thanks to the combined efforts of African Parks, in partnership with the Zambia Wildlife Authority, and the Barotse Royal Establishment.
Over the past ten years a number of animal species have made a dramatic recovery in numbers – including buffalo, tsessebe, zebra, and wild dog. The Park is probably best known for its solitary surviving lioness, Lady Luiwa, who now has been joined by a number of reintroduced pride members and has recently welcomed its first cubs.
From 2015, Norman Carr Safaris, in conjunction with African Parks, will be offering some set safari dates at certain times of the year to coincide with the wildebeest migration and the coming of the floods. Ask your Africa Travel Specialist for more details.
6. Simien & Bale Mountains, Ethiopia
Better known for its cultural and historical attractions, Ethiopia is also home to two remarkable highland regions which offer the more adventurous safari goer a truly unique safari experience.
The Simien Mountains, in northern Ethiopia, are part of the Ethiopian Highlands or ‘Roof of Africa’ and a World Heritage Site. At over 3600m the region offers breath-taking views of a landscape shaped by nature and traditional agriculture, is home to large troops of gelada baboons, walya ibex, and Ethiopian wolf.
Located 400km southeast of Addis Ababa, Bale Mountains National Park contains a spectacularly diverse landscape. The high altitude, afro-montane Sanetti Plateau rises to over 4,000m and includes the highest peak in the southern Ethiopia highlands. This undulating plateau is marked by numerous glacial lakes and swamps and surrounded by higher volcanic ridges and peaks. The southern slopes are covered by the lush and largely unexplored Harenna Forest.
The Bale Mountains are home to many of Ethiopia's endemic animals, notably the Ethiopian wolf, mountain nyala, Menelik's bushbuck, and bohor reedbuck.
There are good quality lodges in both regions – Simien Lodge and Bale Mountain Lodge.
7. Gorongoza NP & Niassa National Reserve (NNR), Mozambique
In terms of photographic safaris, Mozambique is still in its infancy. After years of civil war the countries National Parks are slowly coming back (although even today, rebel activity is having a negative impact once more).
Gorongoza, once one of Africa’s finest National Park (yes, truly) is now being restored as part of a 20-year Public-Private Partnership between the Government of Mozambique and the Gorongosa Restoration Project, a U.S. non-profit organization backed by The Carr Foundation. This Park has enormous potential and following a number of relocations populations of elephant, lion, hippo, wildebeest and buffalo are coming back in good numbers and its populations of waterbuck, kudu and sable continue to improve. This is true wilderness and an adventure seekers paradise. Due to current political uncertainty in the region, plans for a commercial safari camp are on hold (watch this space).
Niassa Reserve in the far north is remote, with its northern boundary the Ruvuma River bordering Tanzania. NNR is recognized as the most important protected area in Mozambique and one of the last great wilderness areas on earth. It covers more than 42,000 sq. kms (larger than Switzerland). It is of profound importance for the global conservation of African wildlife, especially for the African lion, wild dog and elephant. The Selous-Niassa Wildlife Corridor in southern Tanzania connects the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania to the Niassa Reserve in Mozambique. Together, they have the potential to be one of the largest trans-frontier wildlife areas left on the African continent.
Biodiversity surveys have revealed a species-rich and largely intact ecosystem of miombo woodlands, rivers, inselbergs (granite “island” mountains), wetlands, and plains. More than 14,000 elephants and 13,000 sable antelope are protected here. Niassa also supports rare birds like the Taita falcon, African skimmer, Dickinson’s kestrel and Angola pitta.
Plans for commercial tented camp in the reserve are currently on hold but Park managed accommodation is available.
8. Gombe Stream & Mahale, Tanzania
In the far western region of Tanzania are two Parks that focus almost exclusively on wild chimpanzees, and perhaps because of this, and also due to its remoteness, receives far fewer visitors than it deserves. This is also a ruggedly beautiful and scenic region that boasts forested mountains, Africa’s deepest fresh water lake (Lake Tanganyika), sandy beaches, other forest species, and prolific birdlife.
The smallest of Tanzania’s National Parks, Gombe Stream is a thin strip of ancient forest straddling the steep slopes and river valleys that hem in the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika, about 25km’s from Kigoma town. The chimpanzees are the main attraction at Gombe Stream - made famous by the pioneering work of Dr Jane Goodall who, in 1960, founded a research program that now stands as the longest running study of its kind in the world.
Accessible only by boat or by air, Mahale Mountains National Park is known to be among the most isolated and beautiful parks on the African continent. Successive teams of Japanese researchers have quietly conducted some of the most important scientific work on chimpanzees from as early as 1961, habituating what is known as the ‘M’ group, thus allowing for excellent encounters with this group of about 60 individuals.
Top quality safari camps are available in both Parks – Gombe Forest Lodge & Kungwe Beach Lodge, Mbali Mbali Lodges and Greystoke Camp, Nomad Safaris.
9. Lake Natron, Tanzania
This spectacular area sits just north east of the Ngorongoro Crater and forms part of Africa's immense Great Rift Valley. Nestled between rolling volcanic hills and deep craters, Lake Natron sits at the lowest point of the rift valley – 600m above sea level – and is probably the world's most caustic body of water.
This area is hot and often very dry and dusty – so is certainly for the more intrepid traveller. But for those who do choose to visit Natron, you will be rewarded with an area that is far off the beaten track and sees relatively little tourism. It offers some of the most dramatic volcanic scenery in Tanzania and the journey there is worth it for the views alone (including Kerimasi Crater and the active Oldoinyo Lengai – whose name means “mountain of god" in the Maasai language).
Whilst the area is home to some wildlife (the occasional giraffe or zebra) this is not the main reason to come here. Instead, visit this area for its remoteness and scenery or as an alternative route to get to Loliondo and the Serengeti. That said, the lake itself is home to a fascinating eco-system which thrives in this harsh environment. The lake is full of millions of cyanobacteria - a salt loving microorganism which create their own food through photosynthesis and spirulina, a blue-green algae with red pigments, on which the large population of Lesser Flamingos feed on. Few predators can survive here, and the result is a safe breeding ground for the flamingos who return here annually to nest.
Stay at Lake Natron Tented Camp or Halisi Natron Camp.
10. Odzala-Kokoua National Park
Situated near the border, between the Congo (not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo or DRC) and Gabon, Odzala-Kokoua National Park, or simply Odzala as it is often referred to, was officially proclaimed in 1935, making it one of the oldest national parks in Africa. It is now protected by African Parks and is part of the TRIDOM Transfrontier Park which extends from the Congo into Gabon and into the Central African Republic (CAR).
This region is part of the vast Congo Basin that spans six countries and contains about a quarter of the world’s rainforest, it is amongst the least developed parts of Africa. Wildlife viewing in Odzala includes a range of unusual forest-dwelling species not found in the usual safari locations – these include western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, a range of monkeys and mangabeys, forest elephants, forest buffalos, lowland bongo, western sitatunga, black forest duiker, dwarf and slender snouted crocodiles, harnessed bushbuck and grey and Peters’ duiker.
Wilderness Safaris has two camps from which it offers combination packages – see your Africa Travel Specialist. If you like the idea of saying you have gone where few can say they have been, or you just want to avoid the crowds, keep the above in mind when planning your next safari.
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