Altitude: 120 m.a.m.s.l.
Stiegler's gorge is a canyon-like structure that is part of the Rufiji river and inside Selous Game reserve. With a length of about 8 Km, a width of about 50m and a depth from its highest point to the water surface of 100 m, it was named after a Swiss big game hunter who was trampled to death there by an elephant in 1907, although some sources say he collapsed into the gorge and died .
In some areas, the banks are made of piles of rock towering high above the water's surface where as in some, the banks are made of cliffs. However, both sides of the banks have a thriving plant life, mostly trees that go on for a few miles from the water's edge. The gorge also marks the boundary between the middle and lower stages of the river as the water volume and speed changes significantly at its two ends, something that significantly limits boats reaching the upper entrance. For this reason it also acts as an ending point for the Rufiji river boating safari
Until 2015, the then government of Tanzania
had made talks for a possible construction of a 2000 MW hydro power dam at the gorge, sparking an outrage from environmentalists and UNESCO about the possible environmental effects of such a construction in an area as delicate as a wildlife sanctuary. The current government seeks to continue the project with assurances that the project would benefit the wildlife and people in the area along with tourism. The project is also expected to cover only 3% of the vast (one of the largest) game reserve.
What to do at the gorge?
Stiegler's gorge is currently a destination for boating and fishing Safaris, most of which originate from the more calmer waters of the Rufiji flood plain located down stream from it; However, the sights of the gorge can the also be viewed from the air and the gorge is also a good hiking destination from one of the nearby hotels.
Fishing is possible from both inside a boat as well as from the banks atop the sand bars but you would need to arrange this beforehand. Once at the gorge, most trip providers would offer you a chance to at least have lunch on the banks of the river but feel free to explore the area before heading back, just remember to stay safe at all times as the nearest help is miles downstream and that the boat is a much safer place.Animals at the gorge?
There also are a lot of crocodiles in the area, most of which lie incognito under water or basking on the few sandbanks that are present. Other animals in the area include birds and monkeys all of which contribute to the safari's amazing experience. You may also get to see a few big game animals on your way to the gorge drinking from the river, such as elephants.Other tips?
Where you start the safari from could also contribute to the experience, as the hotels closer to the gorge offer less of an adventure, whereas those located further down stream usually require you to travel on land to get to the river, then head upstream from there; However; those nearby would allow you to explore the area on foot much more easily even spending a night in the area listening to the constant gushing of the river's waters.
The trips usually start in the morning after breakfast, heading out on a small speed boat or at least an engine powered one, navigating the Rufiji river waters heading upstream, until you start to see a change in scenery as the river's banks get higher and rockier. Most of the boats have guard rails and a roof for safety but remember to insist that your safari provider uses this type of boat before booking as it would make the ride much more comfortable. Don't be afraid to ask your guide if you have any questions as that is what they are here for.
If you start your trip from the flood plains, you may get to see a few locals on the banks of the river - fishing, doing laundry or fetching water for their own personal use. It is also not uncommon in the country to have a few of the locals venture close to or even inside the park every now and then, despite this being forbidden.
When to visit the gorge?
The Selous game reserve is one of Tanzania's biggest swamps, with most of the roads getting impassable during the rainy season. During this time, the volume of the Rufiji river increases or decreases depending on the volume of rains further away in Morogoro. In other words, you'll never know when the river's water would increase thereby making the gorge a dangerous place to be in.
Thus avoid visiting the gorge during the rainy season (February to June). A good time to visit would be the drier months of July to November - when the roads are less muddy and the river volume has decreased. As a bonus, more animals come to drink from the river during this time.