The EA Way – Gen on Safari
For years I have crafted luxury Tanzania safari holidays for guests from my work station, drawing from our team knowledge, passion and training from partners on the ground. I have never experienced Tanzania’s northern safari circuit and yet no sooner had I begun work with Encompass Africa, I was offered this life time trip staying at &Beyond properties, perhaps the most luxurious and strategically located for great game viewing.
Benefits of travelling in Tanzania outside high season
My journey was in May 2017 and I quickly discovered the massive benefits of travelling to Tanzania outside the peak season. Firstly, there are far less vehicles in the Tanzania national parks and on the roads which make for better immersive safari experiences. Secondly, Tanzania weather is quite mild, with day time conditions 22 – 30 and night time 10 – 20. May offers occasional rains and some humidity due to lack of airflow in this area. Finally, less people in camp is also a bonus as you get more time to chat with Tanzania safari industry staff from chefs to safari guides.
Tanzania safaris start in Arusha
My Tanzania safari journey with &Beyond started the moment I landed into Arusha. I was warmly welcomed by an &Beyond staff member and assisted to the vehicle. A 45 minute road transfer took me to Lake Duluti Lodge. From town it’s only 30 minutes and this is a place we’d recommend if you have 2 nights and want to unwind and recover from jetlag. Their activity offering is impressive with canoeing on the lake, bike riding, horse riding, visiting local villages and of course Arusha National Park – lesser known and hugely rewarding in 4×4, on foot or canoe.
If you only have one night in Arusha, the best accommodations are those closer to the airports. Our go to Arusha accommodation is usually Rivertrees for 1 night stays.
Lake Duluti Lodge is exquisite. Each chalet is completely separate providing guests privacy amongst gorgeous rainforest gardens. Inside, the rooms are incredibly spacious, featuring massive bathrooms with rain shower, huge deep bath, his and her sink and separate toilet. The impressive bedrooms open out to wrap around patios overlooking a working coffee farm. All rooms are tastefully decorated and have gorgeous wooden floorboards and paneling throughout. While the staff were friendly and accommodating, the only downside was their lack of communication, knowledge of the local area and presence of a lodge manager to oversee the daily operations. We’re looking into this further to ascertain why it was like this. Previous experience was vastly different when Danica visited – owner was onsite and staff were vibrant, knowledgeable and attentive to your needs.
A safari guide makes or breaks your safari holiday – Fact!
The following morning I met Anthony from &Beyond who would be my guide for the next few days. Now we mean it when we say your guide can make or break your Tanzania safari holiday. We always work hard to ensure a suitable match between guests and guide. I was blessed to have Anthony, part Maasai and hugely knowledgeable and passionate about Tanzania. We spent time running over my itinerary, expectations of an &Beyond Tanzania safari holiday and what wildlife I hoped to see. Of course the predator safari and great wildebeest migration were high on my list. Cats of Africa always fascinate me along with hyena. Tree climbing lions are something I’ve never seen before and hoped to witness on this trip.
&Beyond guides have a reputation for being fantastic, due to the gruelling initial selection process followed by extensive training and on the job experience. Anthony was no exception and I could tell from the get-go that I was in for an amazing time as in addition to his knowledge and years of experience he had personality, humour and charisma – all in all he was a top notch guide!
What’s the best vehicle for Tanzania safari
My chariot for the next 8 days was an &Beyond 4×4 7 seater Land Cruiser. We are often asked why the vehicles on private safaris are enclosed. The reason for this is that the regulations for Ngorongoro dictate enclosed vehicles. It is also safer on the roads, warmer and drier!
The vehicles are brilliant with comfortable seats, Maasai blanket if it got chilly, an Engel fridge for keeping unlimited supply of water bottles cold as well as soft drinks, juices and beer. I was impressed to get an individual pair of binoculars to use throughout the journey. Each and every day Anthony cleaned the vehicle inside and out to ensure it was spotless!
It was a great experience for me to spend the next week driving between locations to get a feel for the Tanzania northern safari circuit and understand the different national parks intimately. Having said that, our guests who have chosen &Beyond properties have usually opted to fly between camps to save time and equally, experience a bird’s eye view of Tanzania.
Lake Manyara Safari
So next morning I left Arusha behind me and the first stop was Lake Manyara. It was a 3 hour drive to the gate and roads are bitumen sealed and in great condition. You pass townships and mealie farmland with the opportunity to see local Maasai going about everyday life. The Lake Manyara airstrip is 5-10 minutes’ drive from Lake Manyara gate on the road towards Karatu and Ngorongoro.
Lake Manyara National Park provides a welcome contrast to the other Northern Tanzania parks because of its beautiful water and landscape. Once signed into the national park, we were off on a 2 hour game drive to get to our accommodation, the beautiful Manyara Tree Lodge.
We drove through a jungle like forestation with beautiful cliffs of the Rift Valley dotted with Baobab trees and occasional waterfalls on one side and the massive Lake itself with open plains on the other (Manyara water levels vary depending on time of travel).
Being at the end of the rainy season there was a lot of water around and at some points the roads had become rivers and driving on certain paths along the Lake was dangerous and not possible. The concentration of baboons in this area was unbelievable, it was not uncommon to have a road blocked off with large families stretching for metres ahead of us and staring at us with a look of disgust as we slowly inched up to them making them move out of the way. The expansive lake itself was stunning, a photographers’ paradise with ribbons of pink (lesser) and white (greater) flamingoes, interspersed with pelicans and silhouettes from wildebeest, cape buffalo and journeys of giraffe in the foreground. I also saw elephant and leopard on this game drive.
&Beyond Lake Manyara Tree Lodge takes pride as the only permanent lodge situated in a remote area of Lake Manyara National Park, 1.5-2 hours’ drive from the main gate. It is located around 30 minutes from the Lake Manyara picnic site, hot springs and Majimoto Boardwalk, which is ideal as it allows guests to game drive in the morning before breakfast around the plains on the Lake and return to the picnic site for bush breakfast before all other visitors from outside lodges arrive.
Photography from the boardwalk is best done in the late afternoon, a time when other visitors to the park need to start heading back to the main gate. This allows &Beyond guests the boardwalk to themselves, a great opportunity to get up closer to flamingoes and capture the yawns of the hippos lulling in the shallows nearby. All this is followed by a unique sundowner experience in true &Beyond style along the shores of Lake Manyara. Rather than asking what your drink of preference is, &Beyond staff set up an impressive and extensive mobile bar in Lake Manyara Tree Lodge signature canoes at the site with all of the drinks you can imagine, variety of beers, wines, soft drinks, spirits not to mention the all-time safari favourite: gin and tonics.
The lodge itself blends in beautifully with the environment. The main area is on two levels with the main bar, dining and open kitchen on the top level over looking the boma (campfire) area. Hidden behind the main lodge is a large decked pool area amongst the tree tops. I found my absolute happy place in my tree house suite, sitting on the large deck in the tree canopy listening to lions roaring virtually right underneath my room – I saw the huge powerful footprint right outside my suite next morning. There are only 9 tree house suites giving the lodge an intimate feel. Suite number 1 is closest to the lodge and dedicated to those seeking a Tanzania family safari. The family suite has an entryway with one set of doors leading into the main bedroom, large lounge and bathroom with outdoor shower for the parents and the second entry leading to a smaller twin bedroom and bathroom with indoor shower for the kids.
The staff here are famous for their frozen gin and tonic cocktails during pre-dinner drinks and canapes which are not to be missed. Simon the chef here is an absolute genius and it was a privilege watching him work his magic in the open kitchen, a great attraction for gourmet travellers. The menus catered to all tastes, fusing western food with spicy African flavours. After a delicious dinner, during our nightcap on the main balcony, I had my first close encounter with a bushbaby as the curious creature scurried literally metres away from me.
Ngorongoro Crater worth the hype
Leaving behind Lake Manyara, my next adventure was to Ngorongoro, a mere 30 minute drive from the Lake Manyara Gate to Ngorongoro Gate. Passing through Ngorongoro Gate we travelled another 30 minutes through green rich mountainous forests to our lodge.
During May, due to the location and altitude there was a lot of fog covering the mountain and at certain times of the day the fog covered the whole view looking into the crater rim. This did seem to dissipate by mid-morning to reveal the stunning majestic views into the large open caldera with its impressive lakes. I would say the majority of guests visiting will spend two nights at Ngorongoro and descend into the crater first thing in the morning of their second day when animals are more active. We even recommend an afternoon safari to avoid the crowds and capture that stunning afternoon light.
Due to time constraints, I had one night at the crater and ventured into the park at 13h00 during the warmer part of the day (mornings are cold and so are the evenings so be sure to layer your clothing like an onion).
This did not deter me from experiencing the magic that this “Garden of Eden” has to offer. Literally 5 minutes after arriving on the crater floor I spotted a caracal slinking away from an impressive herd of wildebeest and zebra herd. Other wildlife spotted on my Ngorongoro Crater game drive were sleeping lionesses and lion, rhino, Thompson and grant gazelle, ostriches, jackal, hyenas and a striking Kori bustard performing its mating call. Aside from the wonderful game viewing, the highlight for me was the lack of vehicles seen (around 4-5 in total) during our game drive which is unheard of during peak seasons when you can stumble amongst 100s of vehicles with no limits of how many vehicles can congregate around any one sighting. That’s the biggest downside for peak season and entering the park too late in the morning (when vehicles from properties further away seem to arrive simultaneously creating quite the bottle neck of traffic).
My accommodation on the Crater Rim was at the impressive &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge North Camp. To say I felt privileged to stay here is an understatement! This place is unbelievable, with jaw dropping views over the Crater from the rooms and main lodge areas, opulent baroque decorations throughout including huge beaded chandeliers, shiny purple curtains, fireplaces both in the lodge and guest rooms and rose petals everywhere. The rooms themselves were ginormous and bathrooms equally impressive. The pampering started upon returning from a game drive to find a drawn rose petal bath prepared. After making a gin and tonic from my own in-room gin and tonic station, I took time out to soak in the bath with my g&t in hand, gazing out the window overlooking the crater savouring the memories of my recent game drive in paradise. Dinner was a fine dining experience to tantalise everyone’s taste buds. I chose sautéed organic oyster mushroom salad with slow roasted red onion, goats cheese, rocket and balsamic dressing, followed by pork fillet with Lyonnaise potato, seasonal vegetables and dates jus. Desserts served on their ‘Tam-tam’ trolley was an irresistible choice of chocolate delice with vanilla tuille and chantily cream, Moroccan orange salad with almond – cinnamon syrup and amarula truffles. After dinner, the temperature had definitely dropped outside. Rugged up my Askari walked me back to my suite which, thanks to my personal butler, had been warmed up by a lit fireplace in the room and electric blanket turned on in the bed. I fell asleep listening to a herd of cheeky buffalos congregated underneath my room occasionally bumping into the stilted poles to reassure me they were still there!
&Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge comprises of 3 separate camps, North and South Camp are both identical main lodges and have 12 suites each. The family room at each comprises identical suites linked together via a closed walkway. Tree Camp is a unique experience accommodating a maximum of 12 guests in 6 rooms. Ideal for small groups or honeymoon couples, the main dining and bar area is more intimate, shaking off the opulence for an authentic African Bush feel compared to that of North and South Camps. The rooms are smaller and not all have views, yet it is a great option for those that want a more authentic tree house style feel and an intimate experience. Not recommended for children under 10 years old for safety reasons due to the layout of the camp.
I must say that this lodge is certainly not for everybody. It carries a top end price tag and the opulence may be too much for some people who prefer an understated luxury or traditional safari casual elegance. For one night I certainly indulged and enjoyed every moment.
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Central Serengeti safari
After a short and sweet stay at Ngorongoro I was bound for the Central Serengeti. I did stop and visit a Maasai community enroute. Compared to visiting other villages in other regions of Southern Africa, I always find this experience more intrusive yet it does benefit the village. The village’s only English speaker, the son of the village chief, hosted us, explaining the money generated from the tour (USD10 per person) is used for school supplies and children’s education. After being shown around the Manyattas and village we were taken to a series of craft stalls where ladies sell their goods and again money raised goes to the village, this time to water supply.
From here, it took two hours along smooth roads, and through migratory herds of wildebeest and zebra, to reach our great migration camp, &Beyond Serengeti Under Canvas Camp 1, situated 35 kilometres from their other Camp 2 and Seronera Airstrip 15 kilometres away. The camp was situated at the base of a hill and provided picturesque views overlooking the vast Serengeti Plains. Camp staff here visit their families less frequently compared to the permanent lodges, and as a result there is a real comradery between staff emulating a warm friendly atmosphere. It takes a week for the camp crew to move the camp, and due to the nature of the migration camp there is no plumbing and water supply. So you can imagine the crew have to work work tirelessly ensuring guests have warm water provided for bucket showers. Unlike many other properties, they offer this service twice a day! You also receive warm water in copper jugs outside your tent in the morning for a quick freshen up after your wake-up call. This does not detract from the luxury experience, each colonial safari tent still offers electricity for lights, its own chandelier, hurricane lamps, flushing toilets, a carafe with cold water to wash hands, comfortable beds, delicious food and pre-dinner drinks around a warm fire. Cameras, phones and ipads can be handed to your personal butler for charging during meal times and siesta – this is done in the main area. The camp accommodates a total of 18 guests in 9 tents, on request they can accommodate a triple or family in one tent.
Central Serengeti Continued…
Central Serengeti can become the most congested area in the Serengeti with game vehicles due to the high density of lodges and accommodation in this area. Again travelling during low season we only saw around a dozen vehicles in one day. I found that Serengeti safari game viewing in May was impressive, actually amazing. On my first morning, around 15 minutes from camp I witnessed Great Wildebeest migration herds crossing the road in front of the vehicle and could see thousands of them moving single file way off on the horizon. I could not wipe the smile off my face as I sat watching a pack of hyena all around the vehicle basking in the first morning sunlight. Throughout my stay, I saw multiple sub herds from the Great Migration, elephants strolling right past my vehicle including a cute inquisitive baby with her trunk in the air sniffing the vehicle, lion lounging on top of rocky kopjes, jackal, cheetah and 4 separate leopard sightings. One of the sightings was right by the road with a juvenile leopard up a tree, which after time viewing him he climbed down and skulked behind the vehicle and away to greener pastures, so special and I smile just typing about it. The game viewing in this area was fantastic, the only downside being the inability to offroad. There were times we saw lion, cheetah and leopard in the distance with binoculars yet due to government park restrictions there was no opportunity to get closer. Given the large number of tourists here during peak seasons this rule is understandable to ensure the conservation of the area and protection of its flora and fauna.
After two nights in the Central Serengeti, I was heading to Northern Serengeti. The drive took around 3 hours game driving enroute. The further north we headed the greener and more lush the scenery became.
The next two nights were at &Beyond Klein’s Camp, sitting on top of Kuka Hills overlooking Serengeti, Grumeti River and Mara River in the distance. My stay here was totally surreal and with its commanding position and private concession leased from local Maasai the experience was nothing short of magical. I always dreamed of coming to this particular property knowing how busy the Serengeti can get. When the migratory herds are in the Northern Serengeti (around July-October) guests here are treated to views from there rooms of the hundreds and thousands of wildebeest, zebra, topi and hartebeest running across the plain. Even in May I spent time with a pair of binoculars spotting buffalo, elephant, hartebeest and wildebeest from the lodge. The camp accommodates guests in 10 luxury rondavel cottages, one of which is a larger two-roomed family rondavel. Each rondavel features stone bathroom with indoor shower, spacious bedroom with polished floorboards and like all the other camps a gym in a box for those who need to keep fitness levels up or work off a large and indulgent meal. Situated behind rondavels 7 and 8 was a refreshing well sized pool with deck chairs in the sun as well as a lovely seated area under a gazebo. During May the morning and evenings were very chilly, yet during the day with the warm African Sun beating down, a swim was very much welcomed.
Being on a private concession, in addition to offroad game drives and night drives, the lodge offers guided game walks. Patita, the local Maasai guide, took us out with a tracker and we ascended up the steep hill behind camp. We stopped frequently enroute to catch our breath and learn about the smaller things in the bush from analyzing the age of elephant dung to identifying different medicinal Maasai plants. The view from the top of the plateau was breathtaking and well worth the 45 minute hike to reach the destination. During my decent I almost ran into a baboon and spotted a klipspringer perched on a rock nearby.
Game drives here are in open sided 4x4s with a canopy to protect guests from occasional rain and the often underestimated African sun. Klein’s has two resident leopards in the area at the moment, one female and a shy male which we spotted during our afternoon game drive along with cheetah, hyena and the start of the zebra, topi and wildebeest migratory herds were arriving. Lion seemed harder to spot in this area at this time, perhaps they await the greater numbers from the Wildebeest migration to arrive. I had a lovely surprise set up for me half way through the afternoon safari, a huge bonfire prepared in the middle of the bush where our obligatory sundowners were served. This is a unique experience that being on a private concession Klein’s is able to offer guests which the other camps inside the National Parks can not. I savoured my gin and tonic, nibbled on the biltong and sadly loaded back into the vehicle to night game drive home for dinner.
Safari finale and saying goodbye is never easy
Next morning it was back to reality for me, well almost. Anthony game drove me to Lobo Airstrip, around 1 hour from Klein’s Camp. After a teary farewell I boarded the 12 seater Coastal Aviation light air charter to Kilimanjaro, admiring the scenery changing beneath me from the vast plains of the Serengeti, the impressive land formation of Ngorongoro crater and its lakes, and passing by the majestic Mt Kilimanjaro before making the final approach into Kilimanjaro Airport.
It didn’t really end here. I then flew to Kenya where I spent three days exploring Nairobi and all it has to offer. But that’s for another time…