Gabon : Loango
Loango National Park is an area of a 1,550 sq km of pristine forests, open savannahs, tidal lagoons, coastal and mangrove forest. Like all the National parks in Gabon it was only formed in 2002 and Operation Loango is a joint venture between a major Dutch investor, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and the Ministry of Forests. The park is unique as it is a meeting of the savannahs and forests of the Congo Basin and the Atlantic Ocean. There are plenty of animals most of which are very different to what you would see in East or Southern Africa. The smaller forest elephant, red forest buffalo, red river hogs with furry ears, long snouted crocodiles, hippos, sitatunga, duikers, a variety of monkeys, a huge array of birds, whales (in season) and Western lowland gorillas and chimpanzees. The latter two are difficult to see in the huge forests but a habituation programme is in progress.
There are a number of researchers based in various areas around the park and many stay at the lodge so you can chat with them about their work and go out with them to see the projects they are working on. You can also have a fascinating glimpse into the local culture with a visit to a Bwiti ceremony where the initiated communicate with their ancestors through a fire and dance ceremony.
Loango Lodge is set on the edge of a lagoon with 10 comfortable, air conditioned cottages set along the water. You will use the lodge as a base and stay at some of the 'satellite camps' around the park. I would recommend 7-9 days at Loango. It is unusual to stay in one area for so long but there really is so much to do that you won't have a spare moment unless you ask for one!
There are game drives combined with walks to get closer to the animals, there are walks in the forest to learn about the flora and fauna which is immense. The forests are magnificent with huge trees, hundreds of years old towering above you. The forests are alive with wildlife which can be difficult to see but it adds to the mystery of these ancient woodlands. You will go in search of the chimps and gorillas, you will be lucky to see them but there is plenty of evidence that they are there and you will try and track them through the forest.
There are 4 satellite camps around the park all of which should be visited for a night or two.
Evengue is usually where you will start your Loango Adventure. A lovely lodge on an island in the lagoon right to the north of the park. There are 2 very nice wooden chalets and 2 tented rooms. There is a small gorilla rescue centre here where they take in orphaned or injured gorillas with the aim of looking into re habituating the younger gorillas back into the wild. It's a great introduction to the park and they have a guided walk through the forest and the savannah where they can explain the various ecosystems.
An hour's journey by boat, via the St Anne's Missionary Post famous for its Eiffel church (which was built by Eiffel, who built the Eiffel tower, and shipped out to Gabon and erected at the mission) and its Bamboo Cathedral. Your boat trip continues down an overgrown river straight out of 'Heart of Darkness' with long snouted crocodiles, elusive Tiger herons and maybe a Pels fishing owl.
Tassi and Akaka Camps are used in the different seasons
Tassi : October - April
Akaka : May - September
Tassi camp is set along a low ridge, surrounded by open savannah and with views down to the coastal forest and out to sea. Tassi is the camp used from October through to April as larger numbers of animals come to graze on the open plains and also go down to the beach to take salts from the sea. The forests around Tassi have plenty of primates and the gorilla and chimpanzee habituation and research camp is close by though it will be a number of years before clients will be able to go out with the researchers. The camp has five tents with bucket showers and chemical toilets set on platforms and covered by makuti thatch. The camp is comfortable but simple and you will go on game drives, walks in the forest and along the miles of empty beaches.
Akaka is set on the Rembo Ngowe River and is used through out the dry season as it's really a water based camp with papyrus swamps and forests. Animals come down to the river and the lagoon to drink and game viewing is done by kayak, boat and on foot and the bird life is prolific. The tents are similar to Tassi and are set within a forest clearing with views across the water.
Pt St Catherine Camp is set at the mouth of the Iguela Lagoon on a magnificent beach which is great for walking, collecting shells and fishing. Late in the humpback whale season (June-September), female humpbacks pass close inshore with their newly born calves. There are some sheltered bays for swimming and in the turtle season (October-February) you can go out at night with the guides to search for nesting turtles and if you are lucky you can see hatchlings running for the sea. The camp is again made up of five tents on platforms similar to the other satellite camps.