This trail type safari makes use of three different camps situated on the banks of the Lugenda River, each one unique with a different style.
Please note that this is sample itinerary to give you a feel of what the day-to-day experience will be like. It is not ‘set in stone’; menus and activities may differ but will be of the same standard detailed
below. Some aspects of your experience will be a lovely surprise!
There is a MAXIMUM of 3 tents per camp which means there are a maximum of 6 guests on any safari.
Guests arrive by air charter from Pemba(or Quirimbas or Nkwichi)at Mbamba village airstrip. The inbound flight is part of the experience as you'll get a taste for the size of the wilderness area after flying for close on an hour without any sign of development or urbanisation. The landing approach allows an eye-level view of the magnificent giant inselbergs, large granite outcrops, that are so diagnostic of the region as well as giving an aerial shot of the still relatively pristine Lugenda river as it threads its way through the reserve.
Once on the ground, you'll be met by your guide - one of Africa’s best - in a open Toyota LandCruiser safari vehicle. A short journey to camp of 3 or 4 kilometres which will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
Along the way you'll get an introduction to the community living within the concession at
Mbamba village, whilst also having a chance to spot a gentle elephant bull or a not-so-gentle buffalo
bull, or dagga boy, feeding on the Lugenda floodplain.
As the vehicle approaches the camp, guests will be immediately drawn to the quirky aesthetics of this camp, which although a mobile tented camp, has a fixed main ‘mess’ area which provides some much needed comfort after what has probably been some time spent cramped in aircraft and airports. Comforts such as a cosy couch and snug day-beds will welcome the tired guests as they are encouraged to flop down and do absolutely nothing for a while.
A row of warm friendly faces greet the guests - this is the small Moja family to whom guests are not seen as a group, but as individuals visiting ‘our home’. Within a short while of soaking in the river as it gently glides
past the sandbanks and snorting hippos in front of the camp, and after taking in the spectacular
backdrop of the Merriro Twins (a double inselberg looming up behind the campsite), a light lunch or snack of gourmet burgers and fresh fruit sorbet is served and you can move into your tents, an inviting blend of luxury and rustic charm.
The ‘feel’ of this first night is village life, and this is captured in the décor, fittings and atmosphere of the camp. This afternoon, after a brief siesta and tea, your guide will offer either a gentle stroll through the nearby village to get a real feel for life in the wilderness, or a chance to work on your paddling skills on the Lugenda River for a short introductory river safari session. Some game and much birdlife will be spotted on both of these options.
As the sun starts to reflect off the Ncolonge Mountains to the west, you'll return to camp for a hot shower, this
coming from a freshly filled canvas bucket complete with a large shower rose, suspended from a nearby
branch adjoining your tent. If the thought of a drink is more appealing, a sundowner or three will be
served around a log-fire on a nearby deserted sandbank of the Lugenda River. The sun set is welcomed
too by a chorus of birds, hippos, bat and the odd lion whose echoing roar should be more than enough
encouragement for the guests to remain in their tents later this evening!
Dinner is announced by way of a local musical group from the village and the guests are chaperoned up
to the dining table by colourful dancing performers. Dinner is served under the stars this evening on an
elegantly set table complete with paraffin lanterns and home-made candlesticks. The menu might be somethign along these lines: A coconut cream of butternut soup served with a chilled sherry fino sets the tone for a main course of coal-grilled crayfish or prawns caught only that morning from the warm reefs of Pemba Bay, and prepared on the open fire in front of you (if available, there will also be a coal-seared tuna steak on offer this evening). The
seafood will be served with couscous and roasted village vegetables and accompanied with a fine
sauvignon blanc (a chicken/vegetarian dish will be available for guests who dislike seafood). Dessert is a
sweet-sour affair of fresh ripe mangoes (bartered that afternoon from the folks of Mbamba) layered
with Bulgarian yoghurt and molasses sugar… a bottle of dessert wine rounding off the gastronomic
experience of your first evening.
You will be roused by the gentle call of your butler and the smell of fresh coffee. A tray of coffee
or tea and muffins of the day, freshly baked that morning by the camp cook will be outside the tent. The butler will also fill the canvas basin outside the tent with hot water for a morning face rinse or shave. Each tent has an ‘en-tent’ flush toilet, basin and shower), the sun is just beginning to peak its head over the mist covering the Lugenda valley.
You may do a bit of gentle pre-breakfast birding in the nearby forest, whilst some might simply
choose to wait for their friends’ return by reacquainting themselves with the hammock or the couch
over a second cup of coffee. Those who do venture out on the early birding session might be lucky
enough to join a local honey-collector on his morning run, and marvel how few stings he attracts as he
smokes out a handful of fresh honeycomb from a hive high up in the canopy of a baobab tree. After a
short walk, you will return to camp for a breakfast of omelettes and fresh seed bread which is served
under the shade of an Albida tree on the river bank. There is also a choice of home-made smoothies or
simply a bowl of fresh fruit and yoghurt.
After breakfast the guide will offer either a walk or, more preferably, a canoe safari which will give you a hippo’s perspective of Niassa, whilst also introducing the stunning river-life of the Lugenda. You'll no doubt float past local fishermen who still employ thousand year old techniques from the wobbly safety of their dugout mekoros. Elephants, buffalo, waterbuck, impala, baboons and a host of birdlife will also line the morning’s smorgasbord. With frequent stops to soak in the scene, and the odd pull-up on a nearby sandbank for a swim, some tea or a refreshing beer, the safari gently meanders its way through the sandy channels of the upper Lugenda until, around
midday, when the guide will find a shady spot for lunch and the afternoon siesta.
Of course, the camp crew will have dropped camp and made for the second night’s campsite already, passing by to drop off the lunch basket at the designated lunch-spot. Lunch today could be a duo of open sandwiches served on
freshly baked baguettes: smoked chicken, brie and cranberry compote or venison steak, pickle and
marula jelly. A cold beer or fresh spritzer will accompany lunch, which is served picnic style on an
inviting blanket under the shade of a towering ebony or mahogany on the river bank. As the eyes grow
heavy after lunch, simply stretch out on the blankets or in hammocks strung up in the nearby branches and enjoy the warmth and haze of an early afternoon siesta. The guide will keep an eye out for any unexpected four-legged visitors whilst the tracker scouts around for anything interesting nearby that might enhance the afternoon program.
Once the sun has passed its fiercest point and the afternoon begins to cool off, revive with a cup of tea or coffee, before heading off for the afternoon river run. The second part of the day’s safari leads you into a stunning area of mixed bushveld dotted with low rocky outcrops, whilst the river starts to get rockier with the odd exciting rapid providing a foretaste of things to come the following day. This afternoon, it is expected that elephants will make their way down to drink at the river providing endless photo opportunities and memories. Towards sunset, the
flotilla of inflatable 2-man canoes will arrive at a spectacular rock that rises up from the river some 50
metres or more. One final rapid will keep everyone on their toes before the guide leads the boats into a
quiet side channel surrounded by rocks.
This is the scene for the second day’s camp and you will be welcomed by the familiar shape of your tent, already up and set for the evening, and a series of big smiles (the odd hand-clap even!) lining the river bank holding trays of refreshments and snacks. For those intrepid enough, the guide will lead them up the short incline to the top of the neighbouring rock where those who did not opt for the hammock and cocktail in camp, will observe one of
nature’s finest moments: sunset over the Lugenda and the Merriro Twins from the top of an ancient
rock once used as a place of worship by resident tribes thousands of years ago.
The second night camp is classic canvas chic, and this is enhanced through the tented mess, the reclining loungers and leather poufs, and the weathered Persian kilms underfoot. A fire surrounded by camp chairs completes
the scene, one not that dissimilar to that experienced by the early pioneers of Africa before words like
colonialism and safari were even in use. Dinner this evening takes on a slightly Italian feel with a platter
of antipasti leading on to inventive pizzas baked in the nearby clay wood-fire oven (itself a recycled ironage
smelting oven found on the site), served in the traditional style with a handful of fresh rocket and
parmesan. Dinner is served with a bottle of Portuguese Chianti and plenty of ice-cold beer. Dessert is
an oven-baked apple & cinnamon crumble topped with whipped cream, and served with a small glass of
Amarula cream or a single malt whisky.
Depending on the predator movements around the camp, you will be offered a short night drive to see if you can spot any of these awesome beasts under the spotlight (this option is available on each of the three nights.) If the resident research team is in the area they might accompany you at dinner and on the drive and introduce you to the work they are doing as part of the ongoing Niassa Carnivore Project. After a relaxing evening on drive or around the fire (and the odd impromptu operatic chorus no doubt!), guests are escorted to their tents for a hot shower and a dreamy night.
Guests are welcome to join the guide saluting the rising sun from on top of the huge rock alongside the
camp or to join the tracker in taking a dip, Swedish style, in the specially created ‘rock bath’ in a quiet
and crocodile free channel in front of camp.
After breakfast hit the river once more; this morning’s session bringing them into the beautiful braided channels of the middle Lugenda. These rocky channels have some exciting rapids mixed in with super scenery and great birding opportunities. Passing small fishing camps on the islands of the now very wide river, you'll be encouraged to try
your hands at the traditional throw-net, or perhaps to sit and watch the young boys fishing the calm pools much like otters, often catching fish in their mouths!
A mid-morning walk on the mainland will take you through a sweeping area of dambo, or grassy marsh, which is home to plains game herds and predators alike. Here, Bohm’s Zebra mix with impala and waterbuck, all under the watchful eye of the resident lion prides and wild dog packs. On the far side of the dambo the vast Miombo forest begins and it is often on the periphery of this forest that guests catch a glimpse of the magnificent sable antelope or the highly endemic Niassa Wildebeest. After a morning of game viewing by foot and endless tales of bush lore from guide and tracker alike, the safari winds its way back to the river for a lunch break on the banks of one of the rocky islands. Lunch will already be underway, an Anglo-African special of fish & chips - the fish caught that morning with the local fishermen, filleted and batter-fried, served with deep fried sweet potato chips and rolled into a cone of baobab leaves. Accompanied with some ketchup, vinegar and a sweet chilli sauce, and washed down with an ice-cold beer, this is island cuisine with a difference! Find a shady patch of sandbank to kick back and relax for
what now seems like an absolute essential aspect of every day - the afternoon siesta.
After an hour or so snooze under the watchful eye of the armed guide, climb into the boats
for your last run of the river, a short but quite lively stretch that sees you through the last of the
braided channels. Arriving quite late in the afternoon, the early part of the sunset ritual is conducted
from the river, with the boats linking up and drinks served from the guide’s onboard cooler-box.
Arriving at a secret hippo pool which sits in front of the last night’s camp, you'll find your camp already set up for you once again.
You can eat in your tent this evening or round the roaring fire and freshly muddled cocktails waiting at the chill lounge. Dinner this evening starts with a unique safari-shi (as opposed to sushi) comprising a board of delicately crafted local specialities. The evening is concluded with a chocolate fondue desert and a bottle of excellent South African red. The stars reflecting off the hippo pool below (slowly emptying of its resident pod of thirty something
hippos as the night wears on) form a never-ending skyline of sparkling night lights, reinforced
by the flickering glow of the fireflies drifting past.
After a re-run of the early morning procedure, you're left to lie-in and enjoy the bush as it
awakes around you. The departure time for the vehicle transfer to the nearby eastern airstrip is mid-morning, and you have a chance to enjoy a last morning of solitude and peace in the Niassa wilderness.
There is one last opportunity for a walk or a short river run if requested before farewells to the staff and hosts.