FEW HOLIDAYS CAN be as spectacular as an African safari, but pick the wrong destination and you may be more likely to see herds of 4x4s than elephants.
This is not a worry for visitors to the Kiba Point Lodge in Selous, southern Tanzania. The private retreat, run by Nomad Tanzania, accommodates no more than eight, in a luxurious four-room lodge on the bank of the Rufiji River. All activities, from walking safaris to fishing expeditions, are organised for private groups alone, so apart from a helpful army of expert local trackers and camp staff, you needn’t see another soul.
While secluded from other people, the Kiba Point rooms are open to the local wildlife. Each wood and thatch bedroom is open-fronted, screened off only by mosquito nets, for an unspoiled view of the slow moving river and glimpses of its famed wildlife — deceptively languid, glass-eyed crocodiles lie semi-concealed in the murky water, while the surrounding forest reveals shy flashes of colourful birds, or the occasional leopard, and the muddy river banks host all manner of wild beast from fleet-footed impala to elephants who come here to drink.
A private tent at Kiba Point Lodge
All this means that the lodge can’t promise an unbroken night’s sleep: guests are sometimes woken up by the grunts of inconsiderate hippos, passing ‘ellies’ or the cacophony of dawn birdsong, but it can guarantee that morning lie-ins won’t be disturbed by the next door neighbour’s squalling baby, or noisy fellow visitors.
The rooms are designed to blend almost seamlessly with the landscape, decorated in soft, earthy-coloured draped fabrics, and natural wood and stone, while also offering all of the amenities of a top-rated hotel. Each has its own en-suite bathroom, outdoor shower and a plunge pool on a private terrace.
A safari holiday could hardly be more luxurious, but perhaps the greatest pleasures are the simple ones. A cold drink on a balmy African sunset, a dip in a cool pool on a hot afternoon, a long, uneventful walk disrupted by the sudden excitement of stumbling upon a pride of lions, or a herd of wildebeest.
Similarly, one of the most popular activities organised by the lodge is fly-camping, when guests leave behind the comforts of base camp for two-day long expeditions to sleep under the stars (and the ever-essential mosquito net) in the bush. Visitor’s reactions to such a return to nature are varied, say the camp staff. Some are quietly stunned, others are slightly scared, most are deeply moved — it is not unknown for men to be reduced to tears by the awe-inspiring views.
The Selous may be less famous than Serengeti National Park, but it’s a perfect base to explore Africa’s wildlife, including the so-called ‘big five’: lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards and rhinos. It is one of the largest game reserves in Africa, covering an area greater than Switzerland, and holds the record for the highest concentration of elephants anywhere in the world.
Kiba Point Mess
The site of Kiba Point Lodge was carefully chosen by Richard Bonham, its founder, who stumbled on the picturesque bend of the river in the 1980s, during one of his extensive walking safaris through the Selous. For such an isolated, untouched stretch of bush, Kiba is impressively accessible, with daily flights from Dar-es-Salaam, Zanzibar and other Tanzanian cities to Kiba airstrip.
Lions on the runway are an occasional, but not entirely unwelcome, obstacle. And once guests missed their flights because an elephant blockaded their route out of the camp —it can be easy to forget, given the comforts at Kiba Lodge, that safari-goers are still very much out in the wild — and most wouldn’t want it any other way.
For all the promise of excellent accommodation, fine food and perfect plumbing, no trip into the African bush can be without surprises, but at least at Kiba Point Lodge stampedes of camera wielding tourists definitely won’t be tracked on safari.
Photographs courtesy of Nomad Tanzania