31 July 2013

Exploring the Beautiful Pugu Hills Forest Reserve, Dar es Salaam

There’s a lot to be said for a city break, particularly when that city is as exciting, exotic and as multicultural as Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. From humble origins as a nineteenth century fishing village, Dar es Salaam (the name means ‘haven of peace’ has evolved into an exhilarating African metropolis where ancient and modern cultures meet, and historic buildings stand cheek-by-jowl with cutting-edge architecture. 



Dar is a city where one moment you can be enjoying the air-conditioned opulence and mod-cons of a luxury hotel such as the Regency Dar es Salaam Kilimanjaro, and the next sweating it out among the locals and enjoying haggling with traders for second-hand bargains at the city’s Ilala Market.
 
Dar es Salaam offers enough landmarks, attractions, museums, galleries, shopping opportunities and other entertainments to fill several days of itineraries, but when it’s time to retreat from the buzz of the city and experience some of Tanzania’s natural beauty and tranquillity, there’s nowhere better to start than in the nearby Pugu Hills Forest Reserve.

Pugu Hills: some of the world’s oldest forests
It’s only necessary to travel around fifteen kilometres southwest of Dar el Salaam before the suburban outskirts of the city give way to a rolling landscape of tree-clad hills. These are the Pugu Hills, and the evergreen forests which cover them and the neighbouring Kazimzumbwi Forest Reserve and Selous Game Reserve are believed to be among the most ancient forests on earth.



Whilst the immense natural beauty of this coastal forest reserve is a major draw for visitors, it is also offers a diversity of fascinating environments to explore. The Pugu Hills are a rich source of kaolin, a fine clay mineral which is one of the key components of porcelain. The reserve contains what was formerly one of the world’s largest kaolin mining operations. Although this activity has ceased, the mining compound features an abandoned railway tunnel and a number of man-made caves which provide a habitat for large colonies of fox bats. These present a spectacular sight at dusk when they emerge en masse to feed.

The Pugu Hills Forest Reserve is also the source of the Msimbazi River which flows down to Dar es Salaam and onward into the Indian Ocean and the combination of river and forest habitat ensures that the reserve is rich in wildlife.

The diverse flora and fauna of the Pugu Hills Forest Reserve

The Pugu Hills Forest Reserve is undoubtedly an unmissable destination for nature lovers, bird watchers and wildlife spotters. The forest contains no fewer than fifty indigenous species of trees and shrubs including the fruit-bearing Natal Wild Pear, Custard Apple, Mangosteen and Black Plum trees, and the beautiful yellow-flowered Birdseye bush and the sweetly-scented Uvaria kirkii.

Whilst the reserve was once home to a population of lions none has been spotted in recent years. However, big cats including cheetahs, leopards and civets still inhabit the par along with a wealth of other exotic animals including elephants, giraffes, jackals, hippos, warthogs and colobus monkeys along with smaller mammals such as mongooses and elephant shrews.
Bird watchers will be in their element; among eighty species of birds regularly observed within the forest, the vigilant spotter might see the Thick-billed Cuckoo, Speckle-throated Woodpecker, Green Tinker bird, Red-tailed Ant Thrush, Kretchmer’s Longbill, the Little Yellow Flycatcher and the Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbird.

Hiking in the Pugu Hills Forest Reserve

Enjoyment of all of this outstanding scenery and wildlife is made possible by the reserve’s well-established hiking trails which offer walks of vary duration to suit all abilities. As its name suggest, the View Point Hike climbs steadily through the forest to reveal outstanding panoramic vistas of Dar es Salaam and the Indian Ocean. Other popular hikes take in popular sites within the reserve such as a natural reservoir and a cave that is considered sacred by the local Wazaramo people.

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