Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Getting to the Selous

To get to the Selous we have to fly from Heathrow to Dar Es Salaam (changing planes at Doha) and then get a very small tree hugger from Dar to the Mtembere Air Strip. 

As is usually the case, getting to Heathrow was simple but boring and takes about the same time as the drive on a good day when the M25 is free flowing (an increasingly rare event at the moment).

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Our Qatar Airways flight arrived in Doha roughly on time despite the enforced air corridor diversions in the Gulf States area due to the political dispute in the Gulf.

Doha Landing View

Our Airbus 350 had a number of external cameras and it was interesting to see almost the pilot’s view of the Qanat Quarter and its man made islands as we approached the airport.

Doha airport is extraordinarily large and spacious airport, at least it seems so to us. We had been prepared for careful searching of our hand baggage when we arrived in transit but in the event, we were bussed off the plane and then shown into the terminal through a side door.

Doha Bear

The airport is known for its Large Bear, quite why they have one we do not know. We found it quite a boring airport compared to somewhere like Changi where they make an effort to ensure that transit passengers are entertained. Here the only things to do were to shop in high end shops, to use the free WIFI or to buy food.

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Around two hours after arriving in Doha we are onboard a smaller plane (only one quarter full) heading down to Dar Es Saalam, this time with a diversion on take off to avoid flying over certain Gulf States. 

Horn of Africa 

Not having been to East Africa before, it was interesting to see how barren the landscape around the Horn of Africa was, and indeed the landscape did not start to show traces of green until we were approaching Tanzania.

Dar Es Saalam (Dar) airport does not have a good reputation and is particularly bad for those who have chosen to get their visa (essentially a tourist tax) on arrival. We got ours before we left and it was a remarkably efficient process with our passports being returned with visa, three days after we had posted them to the consulate. For us, it took only minutes to get from the plane to the chaos outside of the terminal where we boarded a small van to take us to the domestic side of the airport.

Although one can get to any of the Game reserves overland, an easier way of getting there is to fly. Coastal Aviation are one of the companies based at Dar airport who fly out to various airstrips in the game reserves.

Coastal aviation flights tanzania

The planes used are small and very strict weight limitations are applied - luggage must weigh no more than 15kg.

Walking to the plane

This Cessna Caravan has 12 passenger seats although we found out on our way back that it has 13 because they have no co-pilot on these flights and the extra passenger has to sit up front.

Climbing on board

We have little experience of flights in small planes and none of the informality of being told to walk across the runway and look out for planes coming towards us.

The Pilot

Our pre flight briefing involved the pilot leaning over his seat and telling us he was very experienced, there was water at the back and escape doors at the front and one at the back. With that done, we set off.

Air Conditioning

Air Conditioning whilst on the ground and taxiing was provided by leaving one of the doors open !

Another selfie

I think this selfie says more than enough about Pat’s reaction to yet another interesting travel experience.

Take off

Take off seemed much more of an effort than in larger planes

We are in the air

but it managed it quite noisily

140 knots

and soon we were cruising at 140 knots across Tanzania. 

There are seven airstrips in the Selous Game Reserve each positioned to serve different camps. 

Selous airstrip map 

On our way to our destination, we landed at two other airstrips to drop off passengers and hence saw much more of the bush than we had expected.

Bush 1

The only other bush type landscape we have experienced with which 

Bush 2

we could compare the Tanzanian bush was the outback in Australia. This did not look quite as harsh. 

Refuji River

This is the main river in the Selous at the end of the dry season and it was said to rise many metres during the wet. 

Bush Airstrip

Airstrips are simple flatish stretches of cleared bush with few (if any) facilities for anything.


Some animals could be seen from the air - here a large pod of Hippos and some Wildebeest 

Landing Strip

We are flying to Mtembre Airstrip which from Google Earth looks like this


and as you pass it looks like this and is close to the river. 

Mtembre out of focus

It is approached from either over or towards the river and we came in over the river. 

Four Passengers get off

Having landed, the remaining four passengers got off and we headed for our jeep to take us to the Selous Riverside Safari Camp. The airstrip is at the entrance to the Safari Park and had 

Mtembre Fire Department

an airport fire station,

Airport Terminal

an air conditioned terminal building and toilet facilities. It was more likely that these were here because it was the entrance to the Selous Safari Park and that visitors liked to use the facilities before they went further in where you had to use a nearby bush or tree if caught short. 

Runway Baboon

One of the problems of bush airstrips is shown in this picture. As we left in our jeep, we drove down the airstrip and baboons had already taken up residence in the centre of the strip. For this reason, landing planes often make a low flying pass over the airstrip partly to check its condition but also to clear it of animals before they land.

Our first giraffe


Immediately we saw our first animals close up: a giraffe and some warthogs. We were to come across far better the following day but certainly these were a great pleasure to see.


This was typical of the tracks we drove along


and this typical of a rolled dust road

Road Hazard

and this motorbike with wood laden across the rear rack an example of the interesting road hazards we came across. There were very few vehicles on the roads because the area is very poor and there are only a few petrol stations out in the bush and none in this area. 

Selous Sign

And so half an hour after landing and 23 hours and 42 minutes after closing our front door in the UK, we arrived at the Selous Riverside Safari Camp and we


were shown to our rather grand tent,

Four Poster Bed

with a welcoming four poster bed complete with mosquito net, and looking forward to dinner, a cold beer and sleep.

Breakfast Tea

At an agreed time everyday, a DIY Tea and Coffee tray was brought to our tent.

Selous from Air

The Camp consists of a number of sheltered tents arranged along the river bank with a central patio and dining area.

Pat on Patio 

This is the large patio adjacent to the central area

View from Patio

and this is the view which greeted us every morning. Directly in front of us is a field of maize which the farmers have to guard every night from marauding Hippos who regard the maize as easy food. The problem for the farmers is that mosquitoes come out at night and thus there is a significant risk of malaria.

Central Area

The central area itself is a very large thatched open sided hall 

Central Area

with dining tables and comfy seats  

Tips Box

and the all important Tips Box, the contents of which are shared amongst all staff with the exception of your waiter and your safari guide (who are tipped separately).

This area was also where the bar was located.

Bar Prices

Taking into account the isolated location, bar prices (in $US) are quite reasonable.


And every night we were entertained by the side of the bar with Bush Babies who were tempted out by a plate of bread. For their small size, they made an alarmingly loud screeching laugh. 

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