Katavi National Park, the real Eden of the Southern Highlands. Driving across lush green marshland, populated by of hippos, flocks of waterfowl and elephants on abundant foliage gives a real picture of Katavi National Park, the Eden of the Southern Highlands of Tanzania.
Lake Chada which lies on the flood plain that was cut down by the meandering Katuma River is at the heart of what must be termed as East Africa’s best game park - Katavi National Park in Katavi Region.
Set within the shallow arm of the Rift Valley that runs south-east from Lake Tanganyika to terminate in the marshy expanse of Lake Rukwa, Katavi is Tanzania’s third largest National Park and, according to one recent scientific survey, holds a higher concentration of game than any other.
The park receives fewer visitors in the course of an average year than would pass through the entrance gate of one of its better-known peers: Ngorongoro Crater or the Serengeti, for instance, during a quiet hour.
Big part of the park supports a featureless cover of tangled brachystegia woodland, home to substantial but elusive populations of the localized eland, sable and roan antelopes. But the main focus for game viewing within the park is the Katuma River and associated floodplains such as the seasonal Lakes Katavi and Chada.
During the rainy season, these lush, marshy lakes are a haven for myriad of water birds, and they also support Tanzania’s densest concentrations of hippo and crocodile.
It is during the dry season, when the floodwaters retreat, that Katavi truly comes into its own. The Katuma, reduced to a shallow, muddy trickle, forms the only source of drinking water for miles around, and the flanking floodplains support game concentrations that defy belief.
While visiting the park, you can count up to 100 hippos out of water with a passing of thirsty elephant, buffalo, lion, hyena and various antelope.
The most impressive mammalian feature of Katavi is its hippos. The Katuma might not rank as one of Africa’s great rivers - certainly not during the dry season, when its banks are separated by a two-metre-wide trickle of muddy, sluggish knee-deep water.
Yet when the floodwaters retreat, this overgrown stream provides refuge to a density of hippos that defies belief. Wherever the water is belly deep, groups of up to 200 hippos flop across each other like seals at a breeding colony.
These hippo concentrations are comprised of several different groups that would be dispersed across the saturated flood plain at other times of year.
Watching hippos could be a natural drama full of a high level male rivalry at the crowded pools, with bloody territorial disputes occurring practically on a daily basis.
On one occasion, four male hippos leave the main group and clamber up the riverbank, where they took turns growling and chasing each other back into the water.
The notion that Katavi might harbor a higher concentration of game than any other Tanzanian parks, the Serengeti included. It is difficult to verify or to credit entirely.
But certainly this less-known park does support herds to a scale seldom seen elsewhere in modern-day Africa.
An estimated 4,000 elephants might converge on the area, together with several herds of 1,000-plus buffalo, while an abundance of giraffe, zebra, impala and reedbuck provide easy pickings for the numerous lion prides and spotted hyena clans whose territories converge on the floodplains.
Also common on the flood plain are smaller herds of topi, reedbuck and Defassa waterbuck, while the fringing brachystegia woodland hosts substantial populations of impala, giraffe, eland and - more elusively - sable and roan antelope, as well as leopards.
Katavi’s most singular wildlife spectacle is provided by its hippos. Towards the end of the dry season, up to 200 individuals might flop together in any riverine pool of sufficient depth.
Over the course of eight game drives, we only once missed out on lions and (particularly in the early morning) also enjoyed several excellent sightings of spotted hyena.
This mammalian wealth is complemented by a diversity of birds. Highlights are the prolific water birds that congregate along the rivers - wattled and blacksmith plovers, yellow-billed, open-billed and saddle-billed stork and pelican are common - as well as yellow-throated sand grouse which come chuckling and gargling to drink a couple of hours after sunrise.
The dazzling lilac-breasted roller and elegant grey-backed shrike perch conspicuously on open branches, while taller stands of acacia, such as those around the tented camp, are home to the gorgeous paradise flycatcher, sulphur-breasted bush-shrike and black cuckoo-shrike.
During dry season, from May to October, the vegetation is lush with higher animal concentrations. During the wet season, sweltering heat and a proliferation of mosquitoes and tsetse flies makes feature the park’s ecosystem. Wet season is not good for safari because the internal roads are often impassable.
Katavi is too remote to be a realistic goal for a road safari within the duration of a typical vacation. Overland driving visitors can reach Katavi via Sumbawanga along a reasonable rough road that forks west from the main Lusaka-Dar es Salaam highway near the Tunduma border.
Using public transport, trains run from Dar es Salaam, Mwanza and Kigoma via Tabora to Mpanda, from where plenty of light vehicles cover the 35 kilometre road to the park headquarters at Sitalike. Game-viewing vehicles are available at Sitalike for US$100 per day inclusive of fuel.
The park covers an area of 4,471 kilometers or (1,727 sq miles). East of Lake Tanganyika. The park headquarters is located at Sitalike, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Mpanda town.
Tourist attractions in Katavi Region
Rich in flora and fauna, the newly established Katavi Region is a new destination in Southern Highlands of Tanzania by its diversified and rich tourist attractions.
The region has been identified among the leading tourist attractions in Southern Highlands of Tanzania, best known for its rich natural attractions, historical and cultural heritages.
Katavi region share its tourist attractions with its neighboring regions of Kigoma and Rukwa which have almost similar attractions and which have got many tourism attractive features.
The region has been a centre of attraction to local and foreign tourists, mostly looking to visit its golden, wildlife sanctuary, Katavi National Park. Among tremendous natural attraction features, Katavi region shares Lake Tanganyika resources with its neighboring regions.
Katavi National park, Gombe National park, Lake Tanganyika, Mahale National park, Hot Water Spring, Ugalla basin, rivers and thick forests are the resources which are shared among Katavi and other regions along the Deepest Lake Tanganyika.
Seasonal movements of animals within Lake Tanganyika zone add more attractions to Katavi region. Famous animals in Katavi are Chimpanzee, Elephant, Lion, Hippo, Hyena, Leopard, and Baboon.
Gorilla groups have been occasionally spotted to visit the remote areas of Katavi region, bringing new hopes that this region will host the first Gorilla park in Tanzania. Researchers believe that Gorilla communities have been living in Katavi region during the past decades but migrated to Rwanda, Uganda and Congo due to encroachment of land for cultivation and timbering.
Lake Tanganyika is the other tourist attraction which Katavi region is looking to exploit. Scientists estimate Lake Tanganyika age to be nine and 12 million years.
Deeper at more than 4,700 feet, the Lake is the second deepest inland water body in the world. Four countries surround Lake Tanganyika are Burundi on the northeast, Zambia on the south and Congo on the west.
Tourists from Burundi, Zambia, Uganda, Congo and Rwanda are the frequent, foreign visitors who visit Katavi region’s rich tourist products.
Historical sites in the region are made up of slave trails, Arab settlements, early missionary spots, German buildings and the Mpanda to Kaliua rail, built by British colonial government.
Cultural heritage in the region is made up of traditional dances and performances, folklores and the lifestyle of the residents.
Several guest houses and tourist class accommodation facilities are found in Mpanda, the regional headquarters. Banks, internet services and other facilities including hospital police and postal services are easily accessible in Mpanda.
Access to Mpanda is possible through Sumbawanga where daily buses from Mbeya ply the route. It is easier to connect or getting a direct bus transport from Mpanda to Dar es Salaam through Tunduma on the Zambian border.
There are buses travelling from Mpanda to the northern Tanzania tourist city of Arusha via Tabora, Singida and Babati; also buses to Lake Victoria city of Mwanza.