The morning sun glinted off the band of smooth black mountains that rose abruptly from folds of verdant earth that was otherwise flat, vast and dry. A misty haze contradicted the blistering heat we were soon to experience as we touched down on a dirt runway in the remote interior of Northern Mozambique bordering Tanzania. Niassa Game Reserve.
The black mountains - monadnocks, or inselbergs – German for ‘island mountain’ are unexpected in this flat African landscape that has a wild, unusual and desolate beauty. Tall lime green chestnut trees stretch up into the sky in a vain attempt to compete with these mountains and large stocky baobabs stand their ancient ground. Miombo woodland and swathes of open golden grasslands give the reserve relief from the sometimes blackened landscape charred by annual fires.
The amount of game and birdlife is equally unexpected in what, at first, seems an inhospitable environment. There are lion, leopard, elephant, wild dog, hyena, jackal, zebra, hippopotamus, and antelopes, including kudu, eland, sable and Lichtenstein’s hartebeest. More than 350 species of birds have been recorded here including the globally threatened species, such as the taita falcon, southern banded snake eagle, African skimmer and Stierling’s woodpecker.
PHOTOGRAPHIC SAFARI LODGE – LUGENDA
We were staying at the only photographic safari lodge in the reserve, Lugenda, part of the Rani group. The relevance of the statement is when you consider the size of Niassa - 42,000 square kilometres – which is double the size of Kruger. Lugenda is well positioned on the banks of the river of the same name, but as our visit was before the rains, the river bed was a sandy golden beach. When the rains do arrive, the camp closes because the river near bursts at the seams and floods occur from time to time.
Lugenda is a place for those who have acquired a taste for the wilderness and not for those whom expect to wrap up sightings of the big 5 before
lunchtime. Here, at Lugenda, a significant part of your experience is being deep in Africa, separated from the busy world. With accessibility to the reserve costly and time consuming, and no cell phone signal or wi-fi at Lugenda, it underlines the remote location. There are a few secret spots to get signal, but not at the lodge, and it was relaxing to switch off, literally and figuratively.
Although the offering is about being in the wilderness, it is not to say that you don’t see game. Elephant were seen frequently from the lodge and on game drives, a leopard was seen on a night drive as was a herd of buffalo during our two day stay. We came across three male buffalo during one of the afternoon game drives, but like the Niassa wildebeest we saw, the animals prefer you to keep your distance. We saw numerous antelope including sable. The area has three endemic species - the Niassa wildebeest, Boehm’s zebra, and Johnston’s impala.
Twitchers, being people who are committed bird-watchers who travel long distances to see a species, find Lugenda ideal. A guest from Wales, a serious twitcher, was enthralled with the numerous special sightings at Lugenda. The noteworthy birds we saw were the black eagle, African skimmer, and the Stierling’s woodpecker. The reserve interestingly is bigger than Wales, so the bird sightings were indeed special as the area covered during a short stay here is but a speck on the map of the reserve.