Drinking champagne in a fenceless Tanzanian lodge where lions roam around your villa

2018-05-01 05:10 - Gabi Zietsman
Post a comment 0
Boat next to river with sunset in Africa

While flying in a rickety plane over the sprawling city that is Dar es Salaam, you can't believe that you'll ever see the end of houses that stretch as far as the horizon. Soon however the rooftops make way for treetops, and the lush green of the Tanzanian wild - broken only by snaking brown rivers and the occasional game lodge. 

A sight almost akin to spiritual awakening for a water-starved Capetonian, you kind of just want to stay in the air forever. When you finally land on a small strip of runway in Selous Game Reserve, the scents and sounds of the bush come rushing at you as you step off the plane, and you're thankful for the cold snap of the towellets given to you by the staff of Azura Selous.

SEE: Getting up close to a hippo on a Tanzanian river

This luxury lodge is tucked away in the more quiet corner of one of the largest reserves in the world and there are no fences to keep wild animals from being curious. The villas - half-built structure, half-tent - is distributed widely enough that you won't see or hear your neighbour, but this privacy also means that you have to be escorted by local Masai at night time.

While you may see yourself as some kind of lion whisperer, these locals are well-versed in scaring off the wildlife without anyone and anything getting hurt. Truth be told, seeing a fresh lion paw print while on your way to your accommodation may leave you wide awake at night.

My villa faced the Ruaha River where thousands of hippos communicate with each other through low laugh-sounding noises - after initially confusing it with a lion, the sounds become familiar very fast.

Each villa comes with air-conditioning - a vital commodity in the humidity if you're not used to it - and its own private dip pool perfect for midday lounging. The outside shower is also heavenly as it feels like a waterfall falling on you while you look over the river.

A stay at Azura Selous includes all meals and drinks (except the premium stuff) as well as game drive and boat activities. Park rates, flights and gratuities are not included though and tips are expected. The menu and location changes with every meal, and they're very accommodating to food preferences - I can seriously vouch for their skills at whipping up vegetarian meals. 

The staff are very friendly and go beyond their duty to make you feel at home - although it does mean you have to keep a keen on eye on your drink as they will top it up if they even get a whiff of the bottom of a glass.

ALSO SEE: The wilder side of travel photography: 8 pro-tips to up your game 

Pool looking out on the Ruaha River at Azura Selou

The main pool area of Azura Selous (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Outside bed on the side of the Ruaha River at Azur

Azura Selous is right next to the Ruaha River where you watch the hippos. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

What's also striking about the reserve is its isolation - you can only reach it by plane and when on game drives you won't see any other vehicles from other lodges or self-driving tourists, just the occasional ranger fighting the good fight against poaching.

Peak season for Selous is the dry winter months from June to October, when animals are easier to spot and the temperatures are easier to deal with, but when you're faced with such severe water crises at home it was just delightful to see so much green in the summer even if the animals are scarcer.

Having been to many reserves and national parks in South Africa, a game drive in Selous was just a whole different experience. In places like the Kruger the animals have gotten quite used to humans ogling them from their cars, but in this Tanzanian bush the animals run at the first sight of you. It might annoy some people, but personally it made the search for animals much more thrilling and rewarding, driving on roads that only your guide are able to see.

Tanzanian field guide holding up the skull of a gi

Our guide Vitus was incredibly knowledgeable about every animal and bird in Selous Game Reserve (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

If you're an avid birder, the summer months may be just the time of year for you, when Azura Selous offers specials. I have never been much of a feathered lover but when your game drive crew consists of obsessed birders, you learn to appreciate the variety of the feathered animal kingdom. You'll also get amazing wild photos with the right equipment that will make you the envy of your Insta followers.

Selous has got them all - from the vicious marabou storks and white-backed vultures that devour hyena carcasses to the colourful lilac-breasted rollers and kingfishers - and the guides are extremely well-versed in all their names and can tell you the type of bird from kilometres away.

If you're looking for bigger game, click here for the best times of the year to see lions, elephants, leopards, hippos and other animals. Also note that night game drives are not included as there's a special reserve tariff for driving at night.

WATCH: Vultures and marabou storks feast on hyena carcass (Graphic content)

Eagle taking flight from a tree

What would have been a great photo if it was not for the branch in the way. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Herd of buffaloes staring at the camera

Herd of buffaloes wondering what we're all looking at. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Giraffe standing among green trees

The giraffes in Tanzania is a different subspecies then the ones in South Africa - the shape of their patterns differ. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Besides game drives, other activities include fishing catfish, walking safaris, spa treatments in your room and boating on the Ruaha River. You need nerves of steel for the last one, as you navigate the hippo-infested waters in a tin boat that looks like it can be toppled by one big splash from an annoyed hippo.

After having a scary encounter with one such hippo, you are spoiled with a riverside sundowner where everyone is obsessing over the perfect sunset selfie.  

A boat gliding in the Ruaha River next to a group

The little boat that took us down the Ruaha River - the experienced river guide is a super cool cat unbothered by the hippos. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Hippos yawning in the Ruaha River at sunset

A million shots were taken of this sunset, but this one of a hippo yawning is both beautiful and petrifying. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Azura Selous is a US dollar establishment like most of Tanzania's tourist hot spots, and there are a lot of costs that need to be added up if you decide to splurge on this African escape, like reserve rates and chartered flights from Dar es Salaam that are currently $195 per person one way (about R2 431 at R12,47/$). A three night stay with return flights will cost one person around R34 354, excluding international flights and insurance. You can read more about the rates here.

But if you have the cash to burn and want to just relax in a wilderness that's different to South Africa, you can't go wrong with the beauty of Selous.

SEE: #LoveSA: Choo choo your way to Stars of Sandstone Steam Festival 2019 with the Blue Train 

Jackal walking on green grass underneath acacia tr

A jackal on the hunt for food - used to seeing them in dry bush and not such lush green bush. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

*Disclaimer: Traveller24 Content Producer Gabi Zietsman was hosted by Azura at their Selous property.