Saadani National Park
Protected as a game reserve since 1969 and recently gazetted as a national park, Sadaani is the only wildlife sanctuary in east Africa with an Indian Ocean beachfront. The original 200km2 game reserve, centred on the small but ancient fishing village of Saadani, was expanded to cover 500km2 in 1996, and it is likely to redouble in area with the proposed incorporation of a tract of former ranchland when the national park is gazetted.
As recently as ten years ago, despite its proximity to Dar es Salaam, Saadani was among the most obscure and inaccessible conservation areas in east Africa, lacking tourist facilities in any form. Inadequate protection and resultant poaching also meant that wildlife had been severely depleted, to the extent that Saadani's status as a game reserve seemed all but nominal. In recent years, however, Saadani has received renewed attention from conservationists and tourists alike. A top-notch private tented camp has been established, access has improved, there's been a concerted clampdown on poaching and an attempt to integrate adjacent villages into the conservation effort that was initiated by the Department of Wildlife with assistance from Germany's GTZ agency in 1998.
Viewed purely as a wildlife destination, Saadani cannot yet bear comparison to Tanzania's finest – though if present trends continue, it may well be up with them ten years hence. But even as things stand, Saadani is a thoroughly worthwhile and enjoyable retreat, allowing visitors to combine the hedonistic pleasures of a perfect sandy beach with guided bush walks, game drives, and boat trips up the Wami River. It is also the closest national park to Zanzibar – 15 minutes away by air, with scheduled flights likely to be introduced in the near future.
Inland of its 20km coastline, Saadani supports a park-like cover of open grassland interspersed with stands of acacia trees and knotted coastal thicket. Along the coast, palm-lined beaches are separated by extensive mangrove stands, while the major watercourses are fringed by lush riparian woodland. The park supports a wide range of ungulates, with game densities generally highest in January and February, and from June to august, when the plains near the lodge hold more water. At all times of year, however, you can be reasonably confident of encountering giraffe, buffalo, warthog, common waterbuck, reedbuck, hartebeest and wildebeest, along with troops of yellow baboon and vervet monkey. Something of a Saadani special, likely to be seen a few times on any game drive, is the red duiker, a diminutive, beautiful and normally very shy antelope of coastal scrub and forest. Quite common, but less easily seen, are greater kudu and eland. Saadani also harbours a small population of Roosevelt's sable, an endangered race elsewhere found in the Selous game reserve.
The elephant population, though small, is on the increase, and herds of up to 30 are sighted with increasing frequency. Lion are also making something of a comeback, with at least three different prides observed during 2001, one of which actually came to drink at the lodge waterhole! Leopard, spotted hyena and black-backed jackal are also around, along with the usual small nocturnal predators. In addition to game drives, guided walks offer a good chance of seeing various antelope and representatives of Saadani's rich variety of woodland birds. Hippos and crocodiles are normally encountered on river trips, along with a good selection of marine and riverine birds. The beaches in and around Saadani form one of the last major breeding sites for green turtles on mainland Tanzania.
The lodge – and effectively the park – is often forced to close over April and May when the black cotton soil roads tend to become waterlogged.
Entrance to the game reserve costs US$20 per person per 24 hours.
Getting there and away
No scheduled flight currently lands at Saadani airstrip but air charters can be arranged in Zanzibar through reliable tour operators or agents, or through the lodges listed below. The lodges also operate road transfers to/from Dar es Salaam, so you could fly between Zanzibar and Dar and go the rest of the way to Saadani by road.