Going eco-crazy in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania

Deciding what to do when an elephant walks through your home and smashes the plumbing pipes, or stopping baboons from pinching food from your kitchen aren’t problems that many people have to encounter, ever, never mind on a daily basis. But for Hannah Wood (BSc Geography 1997) this is all part of life for her in Tanzania, where she runs an ecolodge with her husband Woody and friends, Roy and Zoe. Here she tells us about her experiences...

‘Let’s build an ecolodge.’ ‘OK then.’ And with that it began. Three years ago, sitting on the balcony of our house in Dar es Salaam, my husband Woody and our two friends and business partners, Roy and Zoe, thought we’d start up another business, in addition to our safari company, Wild Things Safaris, in Tanzania. We were all passionately committed to Tanzania, all believed in eco principles, and all wanted to bring more people here to show them the wonders of the African bush.

Hannah Wood (rught) with her husband Woody in Udzungwa Mountains National Park.

Roy and Zoe had spent several years getting to know the Udzungwa Mountains National Park. A unique park brimming with endemic primates and birds; rivers, streams and waterfalls; huge drooping strangler fig trees; and clumps of African violets. This we decided would be where we set up our camp.

It was to prove an interesting task. First off, the buying of the land, which is never an easy task in any country, but in Tanzania – with its complex laws on government land ownership, village councils and foreigners’ status – things were even more of a maze. Woody enlisted the help of a local man called Sospeter and together they embarked upon a series of lengthy meetings with the village elders. Eventually the village council gave their approval and piece by piece we were able to buy the land we needed.

We named our camp Udzungwa Forest Tented Camp, the locals call the place ‘Hondo Hondo’ which translates as ‘hornbill’ in Swahili – the camp is a favoured nesting spot! Due to the high biodiversity and fascinating ecological features of the park, we proved popular, and soon we were full of students from Germany, the UK, Uganda and Tanzania, just to name a few.

The Lozenge Bar in Hondo Hondo – Hannah Wood's ecolodge in Tanzania

However, we wanted to be a real ecolodge, not simply a campsite, so over time we began to develop the site. After consulting the local villagers on appropriate building materials, we built five thatched huts on a small rise at the back of the plot. From the windows of the huts the view is straight out into the rainforest, with troops of colobus monkeys swinging through the trees and baboons roaming the ground. We then built luxury tented rooms along the forest edge, where guests can watch birds of prey and swooping hornbills all adding to a fantastic sunset.

Being ‘eco’ is harder than you may think, especially in Africa where equipment can be hard to get hold of.We interpret ecotourism as referring to responsible and sustainable tourism, both in terms of the natural world and the local community. And as a contributing member, we follow the International Ecotourism Society’s code of conduct. We have installed low-energy bulbs throughout the lodge and have solar-powered reading lights in all the rooms. Our hot water is provided using a solar heating system of simple black pipes and we have taken advantage of the abundance of water by installing a micro hydro-power generator. This will ensure our total self-sufficiency and dependence on renewable energy sources.

Two red Colobus monkeys, which are found throughout Udzungwa. 

The other oft-neglected side of ecotourism is the ‘co’, or community aspect. We support the local primary school financially and with resources. We are a participating member of the ‘Pack for a Purpose’ scheme, which allows travellers with a conscience to fill the space in their bags with desperately needed items requested by the local school. We are currently setting up workshops with the schoolchildren and we support the local Ifakara Women’s Weavers group, using their linens and other products in our lodge and selling their products in our shop.

We are still only a couple of years old, which in Africa means we have a lot more to learn, and every day we encounter new and unexpected challenges. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

For more information on Hannah and Udzungwa Forest Tented Camp, visit her website.

published on: 23rd August 2011

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