Reviews of Mdonya Old River Camp
They do not necessarily represent the views of Expert Africa.
Mdonya could be good!
I stayed at Mdonya Old River at a time when the heavy rains had restricted access to many parts of Ruaha and so some game drive activities were restricted. This was unlucky but not a showstopper. So perhaps I did not get the best of Mdonya ......... but there are aspects of this Camp which don't capitalise on its attractions or potential. But in any event the location in the river bed does not have a great outlook. It may have animals wandering through from time to time but sitting on my front verandah was not attractive when compared to the views of other camps I have been in.
It is a tented camp and I was expecting tented camp facilities. And as a permanent tented camp it does have good bathroom facilities - plenty of hot water and flushing toilet. But, it does appear a little tired. Little things don't happen, such as having a lantern outside your tent, having insect spray available. But these were minor because it is a camp that is more "basic".
What was more important was the lack of presence or leadership to help us work out the best way to see Ruaha in the difficult wet conditions. Our Manager (Nick) brought a pleasant manner and was cooperative. But there did seem to be a lack of direction and standard compared to other "basic" camps that I have experienced. Service was there if you asked. But there seemed little anticipation. I felt sorry for the staff who tried hard but seemed to lack confidence to be forthcoming in their dealings with clients.
The meals were average. Surely toast at breakfast can be warm ...... not made 30 minutes before and left to sit. And for the price the lunches were mediocore. The boiled rice with traces of capsicum? and a banana may have suited the "basic" theme but really did not reach the required standard. And being asked to pay for bottled water on game drives was over the top ........ after all, this was not a "cheap" camp!
However, do not be discouraged from Ruaha. There is plenty to see and the drivers/spotters from Mdonya were good, but it is difficult to describe them as "guides" because the latter need to provide "leadership" or "guidance" rather than just finding animals.
Mdonya Old River Camp
Oh dear! The management - Nick - was so poor that the whole camp lost any sense of cohesion. He was rarely seen by the guests - maybe once or twice each day for a few seconds. He did not join us for meals except for the first evening.
Luckily the 'lads' coped really well under the circumstances. However, maybe because of lack of leadership, everything had to be asked for and was not automatically provided.
This could be an excellent camp, but new management is needed. We would not suggest that you recommend it to any clients until this happens.
To add insult to injury: we knew we had to pay for drinks at this camp BUT we were charged for water on all game drives!!
Expert Africa comments
Unfortunately these travellers arrived at Mdonya having already stayed at Beho Beho in the Selous. This is undoubtedly the best lodge we feature in southern Tanzania and this is reflected in the difference in the cost between these two properties.
We are now recommending very strongly that travellers end their trip with Beho Beho rather than starting there – even if they have visited there before!
Mdonya Old River review
Lovely location, plenty of game viewing despite visiting during wet season - hence lots of vegetaion.
Food limited and feel there should be gas backup to solar heating water for showers.
Roads, guides, drivers are very good.
Nick, Manager was understress as camp was busy and he was managing alone. Seemed unusual that he was not able to stay with guests during dinner or present during departures.
Expert Africa comments
Despite the issues comented on here, it's perhaps worth noting that in the review of this whole trip, this traveller commented:
"Despite limitations of the Mdonya Old River Camp, this site had more atmosphere and is probably the one we would chose to visit again, if we went back to Tanzania. The hills, river valleys and varied vegetation made game/bird viewing here pleasurable and very interesting."
Mdonya Old River review
The charm of this camp lies in its simplicity. All your needs (bed, shower, food) are met perfectly adequately, without being luxurious. This was the place where I felt least separated from nature. I agree with your brochure description about the simplicity of the camp. As for appealing to “a slightly younger clientele”, at the age of 61 I am glad to be included in that category. (The comment about younger clientele might be misinterpreted as appealing to those wanting all night raves and wild parties)
I have put "No comment" for location, but I do have comments. Unfortunately, this camp was in the wrong place for the time of my visit. Due possibly to (a) drought and (b) a fire started by poachers, most of the animals had shifted to the area of the Ruaha and Mwagusi rivers. This meant that game drives and walks really started on arrival in these areas. The magical couple of hours in the early morning and late evening were generally taken up driving to/from the Ruaha river area (through a tsetse belt where I provided a banquet for the flies). Game viewing took place mostly in the heat of the mid-day sun.
The food was unimaginative. For example, on a full-day drive packed breakfast consisted to 2 hard-boiled eggs, 2 hot dog sausages, one bread roll and an apple. Lunch was the same, except a deep-fried bun replaced the roll. There was little or no provision of veggie food. This is not a complaint. Merely at statement of fact that at this camp veg. is difficult to obtain - understandable when one bears in mind the circumstances under which the camp is supplied.
I was in this park about 11 years ago and I noticed a marked decrease in the number of some animals. My first visit was when the Ruaha river had just started drying up at this time of the year. I was taken to a pool on the Ruaha where crocodiles were packed in like sardines. Also large concentrations of hippo. This year at the same place I could count only half a dozen of each animal. Nick, the manager at Mdonya, said this is entirely due to the cumulative effects of these annual dryings up of the Ruaha river. The animals just cannot survive in the dry season. He said there has been a similar, huge reduction in the numbers of buffalo. Further downstream the Ruaha provides hydroelectric power and Dar has suffered power cuts because the river dries up. There is some hope that the government may take action to restore the flow of the river in order to safeguard Dar's electricity. The side effect may be to benefit the animals in Ruaha. The problem is that the headwaters are used to irrigate rice farms and water large numbers of cattle. It will not be easy to persuade the people concerned to reduce their water consumption.
In the interests of accuracy, would it be a good idea to state that the Ruaha River does dry up completely at certain times of the year?
Mdonya River Camp review
This really was wild Africa as I had imagined it since childhood; the general impression at Mdonya was that the human element was just one other species in the local ecosystem (and there was just the faintest impression of what life is like as a medium-sized prey animal). We only had one big, potentially dangerous animal in the camp at the same time as us during the day, an elephant that brushed against our tent, but impala were constant in the camp and other species regular visitors.
There were also several species of small mammal and reptiles that I found equally, if not more, fascinating. The bird life here is impressive, perhaps not quite as many species as Selous but most of them different to there so that the combined total would have been huge, were I expert enough to have identified them all.
The food was excellent especially considering that this is as close to the middle of nowhere as anywhere can be and there was always more than you could eat. The staff were very friendly and the management helpful. The guides seemed to vary a little in their knowledge but the best of them were excellent ecologists, not just wildlife spotters; on the subject of wildlife spotting I am used to watching wildlife yet I was amazed how the guides would be able to pick out animals hidden in the landscape that I would have completely missed.
A slight drawback with Mdonya was that activities were largely confined to game drives. This gets a bit repetitive and as vehicles are, quite properly, not allowed off road anywhere you take your chance as to what you see but then that is part of the experience, this most definitely wasn't a zoo.
There was an opportunity to do a walk near the air strip with a park ranger but, while there is nothing like having your feet on the ground for making you feel part of the surroundings, I felt that more could have been made of the experience. I understand that Mdonya will be allowed to do their own guided walks next year from the camp itself which should improve this aspect and be an experience not to be missed.
Mdonya is so much part of its surroundings that part of the experience is just to sit in the camp and watch the wildlife around you; I don't think I've ever felt so much a part of nature as there.
Expert Africa comments
Yet another glowing review for this camp! This camp is living up to people’s expectations, and in many cases exceeding them.
This traveller’s comments on the walking (‘I felt that more could have been made of the experience’) were intriguing, and we ask him to elaborate to us. He commented that after walking at Impala Camp, where they ‘stopped a lot more and looked at tracks and signs in some detail’ – he felt Mdonya’s walks had room for improvement.
We put these comments to Mdonya’s team, who confirmed that the walks do start near the airstrip – but they are usually quite substantial bush walks, taking two or three hours. On this occasion, the guide who accompanied this traveller had started to feel unwell just before the walk – and this was the reason that the walk was not up to the camp’s usual high standard.
The team at the camp thought that our traveller was aware that the guide was feeling unwell. They had not understood that he was disappointed with the walk – or they assure us that they would have done something to make it up.
Mdonya Old River review
An excellent camp we felt right at home here. The manager and assistant manager (Nick and Marco) were very accessible, friendly and thoughtful. Going that exra mile to make us feel cared about. They were very easy to get along with and we really enjoyed the communal evening meals. The food was also excellent.
All the staff too were nice and chatty. We had a very good guide and were happy with our daily safaris.
Although the camp was far from the landing strip this was OK in the dry weather that we had and it meant that you got a safari to and from the plane. It also meant that the camp was remote and gave us more of the wilderness experience which we liked.
Excellent - Mdonya Old River camp.
We were very happy with all the aspects of the Mdonya Old River camp. Our guides were probably the best part of the experience (Giovanni & Ali). They were always cheerful, helpful and were excited as we were when we saw game.
The camp itself was very well organized from the sleeping accomodation to the meals. We particulaly enjoyed the meals where all guest eat together & shared expeiences. In 4 days we met British, Americans, Venezualians, Peruvians, Italians and the camp was nowhere near full. The camp manager (Nick) and his assistant were also very good.
Great Safari at Mdonya Old River
In spite of being slightly apprehensive about this camp we loved it. It is more basic than other camps but entirely in keeping with the environment. Certainly we felt as if we were in the bush. The animals really did come through the camp and although a bit scary it was wonderful. One night there was a pride of 18 lions in camp and on the other two nights buffalo passed by the tent (as could be seen by the prints next morning) and elephants and hyena could be heard very close at hand.
The game viewing was excellent we went on two full day safaris and it was fantastic - we asked ourselves if there was anywhere else we would have wanted to be and the answer was 'NO'!
The only problem - and it was quite a problem was the tsetse flies. They were vicious and no amount of insect repellent deterred them - they bit through several layers of clothing. We were covered in bites which although initially painful did not itch but left large patches of bruising.
There had been a bush fire around the camp which apparently made the tsetse problem worse that usual. It did mean that we could not view game or take walks near the camp without being absolutely inundated with the flies - and that is the main reason for taking full day safaris.
Much as we really enjoyed the camp the tsetse problem would make us think twice about returning!
Unlike other guests, we had warned by you of the increase in park fees. We were told at Mdonya that the camps would be bearing this cost themselves for guests who had booked before the increase was brought in.
Lions/Lions and more Lions
~ 2 hour drive from the airstrip at Ruaha main gate. Just as we arrived at the camp we came across a pride of lions on a zebra kill.
The camp is on the edges of an old dried river course where lions, buffalos, monkeys, impalas and even giraffe walked through the camp. The tents are again comfortable, with the showers under the open skies. It is a bit more as I think of safari camps. (the main reason I picked to go to Mdonya).
Meals were taken together with other guests, evening meals were under the stars. (Couples could also have romantic evening meals served outside there tents). Food as good, simple and plentiful.
Activities mainly full or part day drives. Mostly we seemed to drive back toward the main gate before starting to game view, so usually at least the first hour we were travelling the same route. This may have been due to area around the camp being burnt by honey poachers. It certainly meant that the tsetse flies were much in evidence. The drivers & guides were good, finding a variety of game for us to see. There were a lot of prides of lionesses with many cubs, we only saw 2 lions.
The other activity was a 3 hour walk, which I was told meant that they had to pick up an armed game guard at the gate again at least a 1-2 hour drive.
Mdonya Old River review
Having come from 5 nights at Selous Impala Camp luxury, Mdonya was to be our 4 nights of real Africa 'wilderness' camp, with camp fires, no electricity, a game walk and possibilities of animals wandering through the camp (that's what the web blurb suggests). It lived up to expectations in all but the animals in camp bit. That is until the last night when all hell broke loose as lions, impala and buffalo all passed by and around our tent between 10.30pm and 3.00am intent on escaping/eating and generally roaring their heads off to show who was boss! It was totally thrilling and fantastic. As this was all in pitch black darkness, it almost overloaded ones senses, but the tracks all around the tent in the morning did prove it was not all a dream !!
We were lucky to have the camp all to ourselves for two nights and so hog the company of Nick our superb host and camp manager. He's the salt of the earth and a great guy, despite his failure to get a leopard to sit outside our tent ! The night sky was so clear you could see the Milky Way, planets and constellations with total clarity. The night air was so still that the sound of lions carried far along the dried river valley and every grazing buffalo sounded like it was just around the corner. This, with a cold beer and a warm camp fire, was just heaven.
One negative to the trip was the day that our guide tried too hard to find me a leopard. I hadn't asked, but I'd obviously been heard talking about it, and he had tried his best. We really drove out into nowhere and spent hours seeing nothing but scrub. It was not enjoyable, but it was my fault I suppose. It was typical that the camp staff, drivers and guides would go out of their way to try and make our stay most enjoyable, and barring this day, they succeeded superbly.
The guided walk, (with armed ranger), is highly recommended..we saw horrible sights - lions attacking a wounded hippo several 100m's away; dead baby elephant being eaten by vultures - but also stunning sights of huge crocs, carrion storks etc etc, as well as learning about African toothbrush trees!
The area does have tsetse flies and you are fairly guaranteed to be bitten by some flies that can bite through socks and trousers and sting a little, so take good insect repellent and sting relief cream, and don't wear bright blue. The flies love blue/black colours. The Ruaha park authorities are supposed to put up and maintain anti tsetse fly blankets soaked in insecticide around the drive routes and these are in partial evidence as you drive around.
Overall it is not something that should put you off, but just don't be silly and wear bright blue shorts and T-shirt !! Overall, Mdonya was our idea of the real Africa and we felt genuinely privileged to have had such an opportunity to be there with so many really kind, friendly and helpful people in Mdonya to make it happen.