Part 4: Sand Rivers Selous

Photography and report by Bert Duplessis

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By the time we made it to Nomad’s Sand Rivers Selous lodge in the Selous Game Reserve in Southern Tanzania, we had twice flown over the property so we had a notion that this might be a special place. And so it turned out to be. The location is absolutely perfect. Perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the broad and slow-flowing Rufiji River, the camp is everything any first-class African safari lodge aspires to be. Romantic, authentic, visually striking and very private.

The view over the Rufiji River from the lounge area of Sand Rivers Selous lodge

A portion of the lounge area at Sand Rivers Selous

A view over the pool at Sand Rivers

Another view of the pool with the Rufiji River on the left

The huge wood, brick and stone rooms with high canvas ceilings are totally open in front, with dramatic views over the river. Nights (at least in summer) are sultry but quite comfortable inside a huge mosquito net, a powerful yet quiet fan providing a cool breeze. Sleep comes easily among the rhythmic drone of frogs, the occasional grunts and snorts of hippo, and the pleasantly lulling effect of millions of liters of waters rushing off to the Indian Ocean, just meters away from your room. This is truly a place that dreams are made of.

The view of our room, taken from the railing on the totally open (front) side of the room

Looking out from our room over the Rufiji River

On our first game drive, it quickly became apparent that wildlife is quite abundant in this part of the Selous Game Reserve. In short order I had taken my best photographs yet (at least on this trip) of elephant, one of which twice mock-charged us. Somehow I missed those pics but working with a brand new camera I guess that was to be expected. We also had some superb views of large numbers of Carmine Bee-eaters. Unfortunately our afternoon drive was cut short by 45 minutes or so due to a flat battery. Help came quickly enough for us to get back to camp in time to enjoy a hot shower before dinner at 2000. Compared with the stellar fare at Jongomero, my vegan dinner (beans and couscous with a mixed salad) was nothing special, but nonetheless quite satisfying. The regular main course was grilled snapper with veggies and couscous, dessert being a chocolate pudding. We joined an interesting group table hosted by camp managers Steve and Lynn, an Australian couple. Other than the two of us, all the other guests were British.

As at Ruaha, giraffe was abundant in Selous Game Reserve.

Impala are so common that they are often overlooked as photographic subjects. Yet they can be quite striking – this one would have looked even better with a bit of sunshine

This young elephant couldn’t quite decide whether it wanted to challenge us or get away so it ended up trying to do both at the same time…

Giving us the flapping ears and threatening posture treatment but running diagonally to the vehicle

Ending up looking quite comical in the process…

Before it disappeared into the bush

A mother and child on an afternoon game drive at Sand Rivers Selous

There were Carmine bee-eaters all over the place

On February 6 we were up quite early at 0600 for an 0630 departure by boat up the Rufiji River into Stiegler’s Gorge. The trip on a flat-bottomed aluminum skiff started out from just below the lodge, where the Rufiji stretches out for nearly a half mile wide, with massive sand banks and dense riverine forest on the edges. We saw literally dozens of hippo during the 2-hour trip into the Gorge, where we enjoyed a light breakfast consisting of sandwiches, fruit and tea/coffee. Despite several attempts, I just could not get a decent photo of a hippo, due to poor light and excessive movement on the boat.

Entering Stiegler’s Gorge on the Rufiji River

There’s not much traffic in Stiegler’s Gorge. In more than 4 hours, we saw only one other vessel, a small craft operated by the lodge in the gorge.

The well-wooded cliffs of Stiegler’s Gorge

Our breakfast spot in Stiegler’s Gorge. As we approached it, a crocodile slid off the sand into the water. This was a good opportunity to study the tracks left by the crocodile as there were no doubts as to the identity of the species.

My hippo pics need work. These lumbering giants were all either under the water or trying to get there…

Stiegler’s Gorge was definitely worth the trip. Its raw African setting has been spoiled somewhat by a rather prominently placed new lodge, whose air-conditioned units seem out of place. Once past this lodge, the majestic beauty of the gorge with its very heavily wooded slopes is striking. Along the way we spotted several crocodiles on the sandbanks; apparently the bigger ones had been h0ther than the occasional baby-like wail of a Trumpeter hornbill, the screechy territorial calls of many rock rabbits, and the liquid gurgle when an upwelling of water boiled to the surface of this mighty river, one of the largest in Africa together with the Zambezi, the Nile, the Niger and the Congo. The three of us were mostly quiet too. There is little one can – and should – say when the force of nature is on display all around you.

Drifting peacefully downriver in Stiegler’s Gorge

Soon, we were back at the lodge for lunch: your choice of Coronation chicken (I did say many of the guests were British…) or a delicious vegetable curry with couscous, brown rice, a fresh green salad and an excellent fruit salad for dessert. Just as lunch got underway, a massive thunderstorm rolled through camp, sending everybody scampering for cover and the staff dashing around lowering protective canvas around the edge of the dining area. It was a formidable storm with drenching rain, high wind and a few massive thunderclaps.

The storm soon blew over and by 1600 we were ready for tea, followed by a quick inspection trip to nearby Kiba Point, Nomad’s adjacent private camp, with just four rooms. Kiba Point appeared to be an ideal option for an extended family group or friends wanting total privacy and exclusivity. In the busy season, another advantage of staying there is that it has priority in terms of activities; the camp shares vehicles and guides with Sand Rivers. The rooms are similar to those at Sand Rivers, with larger bathrooms, a private plunge pool and two showers, one outside in the garden.

Tea at Sand Rivers Selous

Part of the lounge at Kiba Point lodge

After checking out Kiba Point Kathleen and I and our guide Philip tried our hand at fishing off a large sandbank across from camp. It was a fun and relaxing outing, even though we only caught one small catfish. With the river in flood stage, fishing conditions were just not ideal. At other times of the year I believe some very good catches are possible. Philip was a star – so personable, knowledgeable and confident, everything you’d want your safari guide to be. Dinner was quite a convivial affair with our hosts Steve and Lynn. It was tempting to stay up a bit later, but we were scheduled to depart at 0530 the next morning on a long overland trip to Selous Safari Camp on the north-eastern edge of the Reserve.

Very early on February 7 we were having tea and coffee in our room when a bush baby – there are several in and around the lodge that have become semi-habituated – lightly jumped onto the railing in front of our room and then bounced up to the tea box. As I was trying to focus on the animal in the semi-darkness (they are crepuscular, i.e. mostly active in the dawn and dusk hours) it stuck its head into the milk pitcher and when we reacted, it jumped back, spilling milk all over the place. I got off one or two more pics before we ushered our little mammalian visitor out of the room and cleaned up its mess. This adds to the bottom line for staying at Sand Rivers: the rooms are open so if you won’t mind a visit from a small furry animal and won’t get freaked out by an occasional bat or two, then it is for you. We very pleasantly surprised at just how few insects there were in the room, and this was the season when one would expect more.

The bush baby that paid us a surprise, but welcome visit early one morning. Sand Rivers Selous serves tea & coffee (with sugar, milk and cookies) in a tea box with a lid to prevent these creatures and others such as monkeys, from getting into too much trouble

Our little visitor enjoying an unexpected meal of cow’s milk. I hope bush babies are not lactose intolerant…

Of course we were absolutely delighted at the unexpected company. Would have liked to have gotten a better photograph though! Next: the long drive to Selous Safari Camp.

Continue to Part 5

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