In the morning, I set out with wildlife guide Andrew ‘Moli’ Molinaro, a specialist in walking safaris who can wax lyrical for half an hour about a termite mound.
We stepped carefully, passing quietly through trees and over sun-baked grass. “Poetry in motion,” Moli grinned, as impala bounded away, springing over bushes.
The day warmed rapidly, Moli reading tracks as we walked: buffalo hoofs, elephant pads, the tiny marks of a dik-dik. “Hello pussycat,” he greeted lion prints in the sand.
Approaching the river, an elephant appeared between the trees. It bristled, huffed and trundled away. Later, we watched large herds crashing through thick greenery across the river.
We came much closer the next day. Moli tapped his little ash bag to check the direction of the wind, as we stepped within 20 metres of a large-tusked adult male on the riverbank.
“It’s important they don’t see, hear or smell you,” Moli explained later. “One molecule of human scent touches that trunk and they know exactly where you are, and they don’t like it.”
“This is the greatest creature that has ever graced our planet,” he continued, warming to his theme.
“What a nose they have – so dexterous that it can pick up a pin from a sheet of glass. They eat 250 kilos of food per day, but only digest 30 per cent of what they eat, producing 150 kilos – or two adult humans – of poo per day. And how remarkably silent this creature can be: a six tonne animal that can move through the bush like a ghost.”
We watched, still and silent, for 15 minutes, close enough to hear the sound of the behemoth’s powerful teeth grinding branches.
It moved towards us, looked in our direction and ambled away. It’s these kind of close-up encounters, as well as seeing the detail of the environment, that makes being on foot so special.
“To understand the bush, you have to walk,” Moli said. “And when you do have those big animal encounters, it’s so different. On foot, close to the elephant, it’s more real and exciting. And it gives you an idea of how our ancestors would’ve experienced these same places.”
After two days, walking ten to 12 kilometres each day and returning in the afternoon to Kichaka, we set out for a wilderness fly camp, hiking 15km through scrub and grassland that buzzed with cicadas.
“Wherever you are in this park, there’s a tall head gawking back at you,” Moli said, as giraffe eyes poked over trees, watching our approach. “We call it ‘Giraffic Park’.”
We passed giant candelabra trees and sheltered from the blazing sun beneath an enormous baobab. “It’s the biggest I’ve seen in Tanzania,” Moli said, admiringly. “It could be up to 2,000 years old.”
After fireside drinks, dinner under a roof of stars and a comfy night in a tent, we continued upriver the next morning, toward Kali forest.
Surrounded by the calls of doves, bush shrikes, spurfowl and fish eagles, we trekked up the warm riverbed, picking out tracks in the sand: buffalo, giraffe, elephant, fresh lion prints…