Roland Purcell

Pioneering conservation and tourism in westen Tanzania

Roland Purcell

The story behind the setting up of Greystoke Mahale is the heart-child of Roland & Zoe Purcell, who off the back of a vision, a Landrover and extraordinary fortitude, spent years building a lodge, hosting visitors, and helping preserve the world’s largest known population of chimpanzees.

The air is scented with jasmine, the forest rich, the water of the lake gin-clear and lightly chilled. And if I dare to put an imprint on this paradise I had better get it right - Irish adventurer and former auctioneer Roland Purcell pronounced in 1988, when he came upon an expanse of soft sand on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania.

Born into a family of wondering scholars, educated in England, brought up in Benghazi, Vienna, Kathmandu and Belfast, Roland began life in Africa as an auctioneer in Nairobi, Kenya, after which he worked on Diane Fossey’s Mountain Gorilla Project, a life changing job, and one that turned him into a self-declared ape fanatic.

After cutting further teeth on several adventures into central and western Tanzania, Roland founded Greystoke Mahale on Lake Tanganyika, next to Mahale Mountain, where he went on to host and guide the likes of Bill Gates, REM and the late Robin Williams. Mahale possessing a life of its own, and the nearby cartload of habituated chimpanzee world-renowned, Roland established another camp at Lake Chada, in Katavi.

Roland divides his time between his farm in Donegal, Ireland, and Africa, particularly Ntakata in Tanzania, where he co-founded the Tongwe Trust, one of Wild Philanthropy’s charitable partners. For the last 10 years, he’s been focused on an East African forest everyone else ignored: Ntakata, sacred to the Tongwe people, where he’s been ploughing time and money to make sure the chimps, and the forest-dwelling community, can thrive (Sophy Roberts).


Western Tanzania gets us seriously excited. This is a part of Tanzania that is as far off the tourist circuit as you are likely to get. Wild, remote and almost unchanged since we first arrived some 20 years ago.

Katavi National Park is the true eldorado of safaris, and is somewhere that even today, few people have been lucky enough to visit. Perhaps because of this, it feels untouched, almost like travelling back in time. This is the promise of Katavi - total absorption in the natural world and we have kept our camp Chada Katavi true to its roots. A small, comfortable yet not over the top expeditionary outpost from which to explore.

In the 1,613 square kms of the Mahale Mountains, there are still no roads and it is no exaggeration to say that there is no where in the world like Greystoke Mahale. It affects us in a way that no other place does; we think it's because of its remoteness, with the mountains rising from the beach at our backs, the wide lake with its many different moods and the feeling that we are the only ones here.

Suffice it to say, we feel extraordinarily lucky to be the custodians of this sensational corner of Africa.


"Purcell arrived in East Africa on the wings of a dream. He went to Mahale Mountains National Park, western Tanzania, to a forest where the only other people was a small team of Japanese scientists, built a small lodge, called it Greystoke Mahale, co-founded Nomad Tanzania and began to run the most frontier-like safaris you could hope for. One of his early clients was Bill Gates. He was an unmitigated success."

"Purcell’s journey was and is of an altogether different order. It’s a journey of the soul, of a dreamer, a real free spirit. It’s a journey that began in a forest, helped define what it is to travel adventurously and responsibly in East Africa, is yet to end, and serves, for me, as an endless source of inspiration."

On a perfect day in June 1988 Roland Purcell decided he wasn’t going to leave Mahale. A year later, Zoe came there too, and made the same decision. As months and years passed together in this far-flung place, they created an extraordinary life, a castaway family and the amazing fantasy camp of Greystoke Mahale. The Purcell’s went on to live a wild and adventurous life with their children in some of Tanzania’s most far out corners of wilderness.

Greystoke Mahale was named 'Greystoke' after the titled name Edgar Rice Burroughs bestowed on his fictional character Tarzan, and 'Mahale' after the nearby mountain range, whose forested slopes tower above the lake.

Courtesey: Will Jones, Journeys by Design and Nomad Tanzania


"When we first pushed into Katavi way back, no one had signed the park guestbook for a decade; camp was three bedrolls and a fire. We went feral in the freedom of being amongst such concentrations of beasts. Though we've upgraded since then, with comparative luxuries like showers and silverware - we stay faithful to how that felt, and our outpost still sits amongst the elephants, bellowing hippos and tamarind trees." - Roland

Courtesey: Nomad Tanzania


Listen to Roland speak about his experiences as part of a webinar on Western Tanzania with Nomad Tanzania 2021 (Video)

See Nomad Tanzania's ebrochure featuring its founders and safari circuit in Tanzania - 2020 (PDF)

In the president's footsteps by Mark Roosevelt- July 2003

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