EPIC ODZALA ADVENTURES

This May, our travel specialist Caroline was lucky enough to visit one of the last pristine wilderness areas in Africa. She ventured deep into the heart of the Congo to experience the ultimate wilderness adventure at the new Odzala Discovery Camps in Odzala-Kokoua National Park – a vast and remote location that few people have ever had the chance to visit.

Odzala-Kokoua National Park was first protected in 1935 making it one of the oldest national parks on the continent. ©Scott Ramsay

Odzala-Kokoua lies in the northwest of the Republic of Congo, also known as Congo-Brazzaville (not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is a separate country). It is an enormous 13,500 square kilometres (or 3,500 football pitches!) and one of the oldest national parks on the continent.

The western lowland gorilla is by far the most numerous of all gorillas. It’s thought the total population is up to 100,000 individuals. ©Scott Ramsay

Its pristine forest and untouched habitats make up part of the Congo Basin, which is home to the second largest rainforest in the world. Odzala is one of the great ‘lungs’ of our earth and plays a vital role in the world’s climate, absorbing the increasing carbon dioxide produced by the world’s growing population. Its biodiversity is astonishing. Its swamps, forests and rivers are home to over 100 mammal species, 430 bird species and thousands of plant species, as well as holding Africa’s highest density of wild chimpanzees.

Caroline is The Safari Collection’s gorilla expert.

NGAGA CAMP

Caroline spent the first three nights of her trip at the magical Ngaga Camp. Nestled in a valley in the middle of the rainforest, the six private cabins are elevated on stilts and linked by raised walkways, allowing guests a glimpse of life right inside the forest canopy. Made from natural, traditionally used materials including locally woven raffia palm roofing panels, the rooms are reminiscent of a childhood tree house.

Ngaga Camp is a ‘gorilla central’ destination. Tracking habituated groups of western lowland gorillas through the rainforest is the main activity here and the highlight of any Congo visit. As the camp lies within the home ranges of several gorilla families, it has become a focal point for world-class research as well as unforgettable encounters with these critically endangered primates.

Western lowland gorillas can be distinguished by their slightly smaller size, their brown-grey coats and auburn chests. ©Scott Ramsay

During Caroline’s stay, guests were split into groups to track two separate gorilla families: the Neptuno group and the Jupiter group. The trek commenced at 6 am after a warming cup of tea or coffee. From camp, they set off on foot, led by the incredibly knowledgeable guides in search for the elusive primate. Once spotted, Caroline spent a magical one hour with the gorillas, observing the behaviour and interactions of the group, from the intimidating male silverback to the playful juveniles. Once the hour was up the group headed back to camp for breakfast and time to relax or to explore the forest further before lunch. In the afternoon Caroline visited a local Ombo village to learn more about sustainable forest lifestyles. The day ended with drinks at the fire pit followed by dinner on the raised deck under the forest canopy and dazzling stars.

‘Tracking one of our closest living relatives on earth was an incomparable experience. All the guides were extremely experienced, giving informative and interesting briefings before the treks’ ~ Caroline Nyawira

Sundowners in the river after an action-packed day at Ngaga Camp. ©Scott Ramay

LANGO CAMP

Next on the agenda was two nights at the remote Lango Camp. Located in southern-central part of Odzala-Kokoua National Park, six stunning guest rooms are raised to the level of the surrounding gallery forest, giving incredible views out onto the open marshy bai directly below.

A ‘bai’ is a swampy clearing in the forest and continually attracts wildlife that relies on them for water, minerals and salts. Lango Camp was Caroline’s favourite of the three camps; “It had a romantic feel, and the game viewing was amazing.”

The raised deck is a perfect place to watch the ebb and flow of the many species of resident wildlife that frequent the bai, including Forest Buffalo, Harnessed Bushbuck and even the elusive Bongo. Forest Elephant and Spotted Hyena are also regular visitors, especially after dark… “I could hear the elephants rubbing their bodies up against my tent walls!”

Impressive views of the bai. ©Scott Ramsay

Kayaking from Lango Camp to Mboko Camp is an exhilarating experience. ©Scott Ramsay

MBOKO CAMP

From Lango, Caroline travelled for two and a half hours by kayak to the third camp and final leg of her Congo expedition.

The largest of all three, Mboko’s twelve private cabins extend along the lush banks of a Lekoli River tributary, surrounded by meadow-like savannah. Caroline spent two nights here, and her highlights included sunset boat cruises on the Lekoli River, exploring the nearby bais by kayak and on foot, and spotting wildlife like the putty-nosed monkey, beautiful kingfishers and clouds of colourful butterflies.

The mess area at Mboko Camp overlooking a bai.

‘Each of the camps’ food was consistently good, and there was hot, running water in all three locations. Ngaga and Lango had a more rustic-feeling to the accommodation, while Mboko was the more refined of the three.’ ~ Caroline Nyawira

Caroline exploring the forest and wading through the water.

GETTING TO ODZALA

The flight from the capital Brazzaville to Odzala takes two and a half hours. Most travellers will have to overnight in Brazzaville, but this is another element of the adventure as Caroline enjoyed the quietness of Brazzaville and the wonderful quaint feel it has. Her favourite restaurant that she would recommend is Mami Wata, and her top pick for accommodation is the Radisson Blu Hotel.

Spend an afternoon exploring Brazzaville’s vibrant markets.

FINAL WORDS

Tourism is a relatively new, yet growing sector in the Republic of Congo and is a vital tool in helping to diversify the economy away from petrochemicals and in conserving undiscovered gems such as Odzala-Kokoua. By visiting the park, Caroline has become one of the pioneers in promoting it as an exciting safari location for the more daring traveller seeking a path less taken.

‘This trip was a dream come true. To be so immersed in nature – just me and the forest is something I will never forget, I feel incredibly lucky.’ ~ Caroline Nyawira

Getting close to a forest buffalo at Mboko Camp. © Scott Ramsay

If you would like to find out more about going on a Congo adventure, get in touch with our expert Caroline or check out our Kenya to Congo itinerary, Into The Heart of Africa.

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By |2018-09-14T11:37:23+00:0012 September 2018|EXPERIENCES, SAFARI ADVENTURES|
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