From Arusha to the Serengeti, we travelled in the northern area where national parks and reserves offer incredible wildlife and ever-changing scenery. Add Africa’s largest lake and Little Okavango, what more could we want? Perhaps a few days by the Indian Ocean? I could not wait…
Highlights around Arusha
Tarangire National Park
Full of anticipation, we were off on our first game drive, south west of the city. Past the baobabs – ‘the upside down trees’- and a sprinkling of acacias, the bumpy track led us to a viewpoint, looking down on the river which gave its name to the park. Zebra, impalas, warthogs and more, the guide pointed all around but what was that? A lioness and her cubs parading along the bank? Then it was an elephant herd, drinking and splashing before tiptoeing up the slope in search of juicy leaves. After dark, a lonely male feasted by my room so the escort guided me in, a different way. Animals come first.
The World’s Largest Unbroken Caldera
Two days later, having enjoyed Lake Manyara National Park, we continued north to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, its massive caldera created over two million years ago when a volcano collapsed. Stretching 16 km across, it is listed by UNESCO and one of the ‘Seven Natural Wonders of Africa’. Slightly alarmed, we bounced down the old elephant trail, hoping to see a few of 25,000 residents. Zebra, gazelles, wildebeest, ostrich, they’re all there (except giraffes), including the ‘Big Five’ and the world’s largest concentration of lions. Enclosed by high walls, the caldera is a heat trap and the Magadi flamingo lake almost looked like a mirage.
Meeting the Maasai
Early next morningwe visited the indigenous tribe, semi-nomadic herders in the conservation area.They welcomed us like royalty, men in traditional red performing the high jumping dance (no bending knees), women in blue, shifting shoulders up and down to show off their heavy necklaces threaded with colourful beads. We sat in a small family hut, popped into the school -one teacher, one room- and learned how to light a fire with soft and hard wood. Now, the market was ready, beautiful jewellery, painted bowls, woven baskets, how could we resist?
‘Serengeti shall never die‘
Land without End
Time to move on since after the Olduvai archaeological site, the huge National Park of Serengeti was waiting. The Maasai called it ‘the plain that never stops’ yet after endless clouds of dust, the first acacias appeared and we spotted a feeding leopard and a lioness dozing up in a tree. That was a rare sight and the following day we met the cheetahs, a family of four, lapping away around a puddle before climbing up a termite mound for safety. After a while when we approached the green hills, we caught the tail end of the Great Migration, wildebeest, buffaloes, zebra and so on, grazing on lush grass, no rush, as they headed south to the rain.
Tent with a View in Bush Rover Camp
Our tented accommodation was great throughout, yet when we settled in our Bush Rover Camp up in the north, this was awesome, everything fitting perfectly in private land rovers, from downstairs bathroom to upstairs bedroom and balcony with a view. All safely zipped up after dark so if you heard the odd leopard or even a lion, no need to worry. More eco-friendly than permanent tents, the camp is moved to the best viewing areas three times a year.
Wildlife around the Mara River
With some 30,000 square km across Serengeti, expect long game drives, best sightings early morning or mid-afternoon till sunset. The river beckoned straightaway, time to drive along the shore where hippos with pink ears gathered in the water and a lonely crocodile shifted along the bank. We promptly escaped to our campfire glowing on the hill. Dawn came early as we forded the river, driving north towards the Kenyan border where the grass was green but short. I had never seen so many lions, pride after pride nursing their young, resting in the shade or wandering in search of water. Then there were elands, impalas, long-horned oryx and more, and I loved the giraffes, so elegant and cool.
Mighty Lake and Little O’
Shared by three countries, Africa’s largest lake stretches south into Tanzania on the edge of the Serengeti. What a change this was after the bush, a huge expanse of water where we went to a fish market, bursting with colour and noise. Men fished at night, women sold in the early morning, squatting in gorgeous African dress, nursing babies, bargaining, cleaning fish. There were nets to dry, things to check – hammers echoing around – while pelicans waited on deserted boats (10). We chatted and laughed with the villagers before sailing back to our last safari camp.
Known as Little O, our hidden gem had tented rooms spread across the marshlands, perched on stilts and connected by elevated walkways. This is hippo land, you’ll hear them after dark but they can’t climb. Safe with the guides, we canoed through thick vegetation in a birds’ haven, looking out for pied kingfishers, blue shoebill, African Jacana to name just a few. Later, after a storm, a rainbow rose above Little O’, an auspicious sign before our propeller flight to Zanzibar.
Near the city’s bustling market, alleyways meandered in the historic centre, lined with one-man shops, bazaars and 19th century coral buildings, draped in verandas and carved wooden doors. We saw the Sultan’s Palace, now a museum, two cathedrals, a few mosques and the impressive old fort with towers and city wall. We strolled along the seafront promenade, gazing at local boats, a ferry in the distance, and relaxed in welcome shade under the swaying palms.
Monkeys, Spice and Sea
About an hour from town, we reached the Jozani reserve to see red Colobus monkeys, endemic and now endangered, then went off to the nearby spice plantation where lost in the fragrance of cinnamon and clove, we discovered all about the legendary trade. Later, back up north on a quiet lane, our Zanzibari Boutique Hotel was the ultimate treat, its lush tropical garden leading to pool and private beach, miles of golden sands, the incoming tide all shades of turquoise and blue and around the corner, the most fabulous sunset over the Indian Ocean.
The mainland truly impressed me, so much wildlife roaming freely across parks and reserves, but we felt safe, always escorted in the wide-open camps. Then after the long but exciting safari rides, the Zanzibar extension was the perfect place to relax right by the sea.
Solange Hando travelled with Jules Verne on the 10 night escorted tour of Serengeti and the Great Migration and a 4 night extension to Zanzibar. Find out more and book through Silver Travel Advisor on 0800 412 5678.