A tailor-made expedition to Tanzania reveals a luxurious yet sympathetic approach to the wildlife of Africa
Words by Sophie McKinley in The Lifestyle · Apr. 9th, 2014
Having vowed that my backpacking days were well and truly over, I was surprised to find myself agreeing to a 19-day expedition across Tanzania. But it was impossible to resist the promise of some of the world's most exclusive game lodges with transfers by private jet, state-of-the-art 4x4s and a helicopter. Because my partner and I are so rarely able to have extended time together, we wanted to pack in as much as possible without wearing ourselves out, and to be absolutely comfortable and stress-free. So we turned to The Travel Attaché, a Dubai based company that organises high-end, tailor-made trips based on their clients' specific wishes and interests.
How well did we already know Africa? (Not very.) How active did we want to be? How much chill-time? Did we ride? Have an interest in any specific wildlife? Want to spend time on photography? Even: What's your level of creepy-crawly tolerance? (Zero - thanks all the same.) Barely off our international flight into Dar Es Salam, we were ushered onto a gleaming Cessna, bound for the delights of an overnight stay at Legendary Lodge, which set the tone for the next two weeks.
After a breakfast-time spectacle of sunrise over Mount Meru, we took off for Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, and another night of deepest comfort. Yet even the magnificent lodge, with its roaring fireplaces and lavish cabins, could not compare with our picnic lunch the next day surrounded by the almost-extinct black rhino, followed by an evening with Maasai tribesmen, who enchanted us with their technicolour robes and vivid dancing.
As we flew to Serengeti National Park, the spectacular Great Migration unfolded below us: thousands upon thousands of wildebeest crossing the plains to the new season's grazing grounds, mingling with huge herds of zebra, running the gauntlet of lion, cheetah and crocodiles. In contrast to the wild and raw nature around us, a night under the stars at the open-air Serengeti Bush tops Camp offered luxury that couldn't have been more different from the rough camping of my backpacking days.
In the northern Serengeti, Saskawa Lodge - nine suites, each with its own infinity pool overlooking the savannah - was a marvel. Dinner was a private affair for two, with nothing between our candlelit feast and 350,000 acres of wilderness. The silence was overwhelming, the sheer vastness awe-inspiring and the whole experience just a little bit frightening.
At Greystoke Mahale Lodge, ensconced in a forest filled with chimpanzees on the edge of Lake Tanganiyka, we whiled away three days playing with the chimps, fishing for Nile Perch and exploring the forest on foot before retiring each night to the tranquil privacy of our open-air banda. A private helicopter tour of the Eastern Rift Valley took in the peaks of Mount Oldonyo Lengai and the depths of Lake Natron, a journey as exhilarating as it was unforgettable, ending with sundowners on the flanks of the Gol Mountains. Another day by helicopter took us to Lake Victoria and the magical Rubondo Island where we spent an afternoon fishing and enjoying some much-needed quiet time. Tranquillity of a different kind came with a dawn hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti: nothing could have prepared us for the beauty and serenity of the savannah and her wild inhabitants from 1,000 feet up.
At the end of this magical journey, the private island and lodge of Mnemba awaited us: set amid the scintillating turquoise waters off Zanzibar proved to be the perfect, seductive footnote, giving us much-needed time to absorb the intense and astonishing experience of the ultimate Tanzania.