Crocodile rock

Paul Hopkins enjoys a luxury safari break in Tanzania – and almost ends up on the menu

We’re in trouble, I thought. This could be serious. We had edged close to the huge clifflike slabs of slate that formed a sheer drop onto the Rufiji River. We had spotted a crocodile and her young nesting in a large crevice. The young seemed minute and from a distance the mother just a decent size. We had wanted to get up close and personal.

But fate now is having none of it. The engine on the small boat cuts out. There are three of us, intrepid travellers we imagine ourselves, and our lone skipper – now working up a sweat in the 36 degree heat as he tries to restart the outboard motor.

Nothing. The boat drifts, and bumps up against the bank. The crocodile, disturbed, turns, sharply observing us. Then from out of the camouflage of the rock comes a second croc, then a third, slowly but surely edging their way towards us.

The engine won’t budge. Nick grabs the oar, stands up and tries to dislodge our boat from its trapped mooring. The small vessel is swaying with the weight of Nick and the skipper now standing, in a precarious balancing act.

The crocodiles are within gobbling distance. Jane starts shooting multiple frames a second. “Great pics,’’ she yelps. “You cannot be serious,’’ I say, now consumed by the andrenaline rush and thoughts of an early demise, as the hippos, abundant in the Rufiji, also start surrounding us.

Nick is holding the oar in a guarded manner inches from the nearest crocodile. “Don’t antagonise the fecker,’’ I say. The skipper wrestles the oar from my companion and with all he can muster pushes it against the bank and with one last effort dislodges us. The current is against us as, like a man possessed, he starts paddling us away.

Welcome to Selous … in south-west Tanzania. The previous night we had bedded down at the boutiquelike Selous Serena Camp, on the Simbazi River, about an hour’s drive through wild and rugged terrain from Stieglers airstrip, in turn about a 45 minute flight on a light aircraft from the capital, Dar-es-Salaam. I dined on roasted puree of pumpkin with vanilla, followed by a fillet of baby Tilapia fish, pan-seared with potato mousseline, and lemon caper butter. I slept a great sleep, lulled by the sounds of Africa.   

Tonight we are staying at Serena Mivumo River Lodge on the Rufiji – another epitome of pampering, luxurious accommodation. For a truly remote wildlife adventure, an isolated lodge like Mivumo takes some beating. This UNESCO World Heritage Site covers an area larger than Switzerland (about one-sixth of Tanzania’s land surface), making it one of the biggest reserves in the world. Home to a full complement of African animals, it is renowned for its exceptionally large elephant herds. Only in the famed Serengeti will you find a greater concentration of wildlife.

In fairness, safari in Selous is perhaps more for the seasoned enthusiast. An exhausting but exhilarating 10-hour drive through Selous the next day – great for the buttocks muscles – brings an abundance of beast and bird in the guise of elephant, zebra and giraffe, bushbuck, deiker and eland, reedbuck, waterbuck and warthog and bold blue monkeys and vervet. But, because of the vastness of Selous, the animals have much more real estate to roam and you will not always (though often you will) get that up-close-and- personal experience to boast about back home. The upside is Selous is a much more natural habitat for its inhabitants and visitors than the smaller, private reserves which for the odd few can seem somewhat contrived – though such private reserves play a huge role in conservation. The highlight of that daylong pursuit of wildlife was the spotting of a leopard in its natural habitat of rock – I have only ever seen them on the plains or up trees – and the coming upon an Africa Black Eagle as it swoops out of nowhere down on a baby kudu, holds it by the neck in its giant beak, until assured of its compliance, and then proceeds to devour it.

Still not the better of my having crossed the crocs and hippos the previous day, my sympathies lie roundly with the kid kudu –  though, as ever, having bore witness you drive on. For the seasoned player Selous is hard to surpass. 

GETTING THERE

  • Mahlatini.com (phone 1890
  • 886 630) offer a package from Dublin to Dar Es Salam return flights:
  • Three nights at Selous Serena Camp in Tanzania, (full board and game viewings)
  • Two nights at The Zanzibar Serena Hotel Stone Townm(half board)
  • Five nights at the tropical Blue Bay Beach Resort, Zanzibar (half board) Prices for low season are €3,495pp, rising to a €3,965 pp in high season. Conecting flight from Dar Es Salam cost extra.