Tanzania´s third-largest National Park, Katavi sprawls in magnificent isolation across the country´s remote southwestern plains, within a truncated arm of the Rift Valley that terminates in the brooding expanse of Lake Rukwa. The predominant cover is tangled brachystegia woodland, trodden by substantial but elusive populations of the localized eland, sable and roan antelopes.
The main game viewing focus is the Katuma River and associated Katavi and Chada floodplains. During the rainy season, these wide depressions fill with seasonal marshes and lakes, providing a haven for myriad water birds, and Tanzania´s densest concentrations of hippo and crocodile. But it is during the dry season, when the floodwaters retreat, that Katavi truly comes into its own. The Katuma, reduced to a shallow, muddy trickle, forms the only source of drinking water for miles around, and the flanking floodplains support game concentration that defy belief. An estimated 4.000 elephants might converge on the area, together with several herds of 1.000-plus buffalo, while an abundance of giraffe, zebra, impala and reedbuck provide easy pickings for the numerous lion prides and spotted hyena clans whose territories converge on the floodplains.
Katavi´s most singular wildlife spectacle is provided by its hippos. Towards the end of the dry season, up to 200 individuals might flop together in any riverine pool of sufficient depth. And as more hippos gather in one place, so does male rivalry heat up – bloody territorial fights are an everyday occurrence, with the vanquished male forced to lurk hapless on the open plains until it gathers sufficient confidence to mount another challenge.
Getting there: Charter flights from Arusha or Dar-es-Salaam, a day drive from Mbeya (550km / 340 miles) or from Kigoma but only in dry season (390km / 240 miles)