Saadani National Park covers 1 100 square kilometres, and is located in the centre of the historic triangle of Bagamoyo, Pangani and Zanzibar. Saadani is the only wildlife sanctuary in Tanzania bordering the ocean, making it one of the few African parks to offer both aquatic and terrestrial tours. Saadani was officially gazetted in 2005 from a game reserve which had existed from 1969. The Zaraninge Forest was incorporated into Saadani a number of years ago. Prior to this, Zaraninge was managed by the World Wide Fund for nature whose goal was to preserve the extremely high botanical diversity of one of the last remaining coastal rain forests in Tanzania.
Saadani’s ecosystem consists of a coastal plain including the shoreline, low hills, low cliffs to the west, and the lower reaches and deltas of perennial rivers. Topographically, the landscape is flat over much of the reserve, with gentle furrows on the former Mkwaja Ranch.
The extraordinary Wami River forms the southern boundary of Saadani National Park. The river plays host to frolicking hippo and Nile crocodile, whilst its forested banks house a number of primate species. The park has significant populations of game including giraffe, hartebeest, waterbuck, wildebeest, eland, buffalo, hippo, crocodile, reedbuck, black and white colobus monkey and warthog. Elephant are seen with increasing frequency, and several lion prides are resident, together with leopard, spotted hyena, black-backed jackal, sable antelope, greater kudu and the Beisa oryx. Dolphins are sometimes spotted offshore and whales are seen passing through the Zanzibar channel on their migration during October and November. Saadani’s beaches are one of the last major green turtle breeding sites on mainland Tanzania. The site, 13 kilometres from Mkwaja village, is a vitally important haven for this endangered species.
The humid savannah of Saadani National Park can be divided into three easily distinguishable types: scattered palms and tall grass savannah with herbaceous cover growing up to 2 metres, short-grass grazing land mostly situated on former sisal plantations, and black cotton plains where the clay soil creates particularly harsh conditions. From east to west, the open ocean with coral reefs changes to a brackish-water delta characterised by mangrove forest, salt pans and bare saline areas. The lesser-known coastal forest is characterised by a high biodiversity with many plants endemic to the area.
Climatically Saadani is typical of equatorial coastal East Africa. There are two wet seasons each year which are more pronounced in the highest-lying inland areas than on the coast. The climate is hot and humid. The park is generally accessible from June up to March but April and May are the months of heavy rain, which can make the roads impassable. The best game viewing is in January and February and from June to August in the heart of the dry season.