Abercrombie & Kent’s private safaris combine nights of luxury with days spent getting up close and personal with some of the world’s best wildlife. Kamin Mohammadi reports
We were walking along the path to our tents when a loud trumpeting stopped us in our tracks. A young bull elephant had broken away from the group gathered at the watering hole and was standing close to the path – too close – its ears flared forward, shoulders set, head cocked and trunk waving. Immediately the Maasai guard put himself between us and the elephant while Glen, the Swala camp manager, stepped towards the elephant, clapping his hands: ‘Don’t worry, just keep on walking. Quickly.’ So we hurried on, stealing sidelong glances at the giant facing us, who soon found Glen’s bravado more convincing than his own, and backed away.
That evening we sat on the porch of Swala’s mess tent, deep in the Tarangire National Park, nursing our drinks as a blood red moon rose above the herd of elephants still gathered around the watering hole. A pride of lionesses and their cubs appeared out of the bush, heading for the small pool that Glen and his wife Cindy had built the preceding year. They were very close. We sat still, barely breathing, as the cubs fell over each other to reach the water, the lionesses occasionally looking up to check on us. Having drunk their fill, the pride stalked back into the bush, and we collectively breathed out.
It was my first day in Africa.
I had arrived in Tanzania the night before to embark on a private safari with Abercrombie & Kent. Tanzania is East Africa’s largest country, and, with a quarter of its land protected, it is home to a huge variety of flora and fauna. From the sweeping plains of the Serengeti to mineral-filled lakes such as Manyara, the volcanos around the Ngorogoro Crater and the sparkling waters of the coast, Tanzania combines different landscapes and habitats with a peaceful and rich local culture.
My itinerary was designed to show me the best of the country’s wildlife, so we headed first of all to Tarangire National Park, a beautiful area stretching south-east of Lake Manyara around the Tarangire River. Despite its relative proximity to Arusha and the fact that during the dry season it has the highest concentration of wildlife in any of the parks, in the two days we spent roaming the Tarangire we came across only two other cars. Dotted with extraordinary trees like the baobab with its thick knotty trunk and root-like branches and the sausage tree which bears fruit that look exactly like huge hanging bratwursts. The park teems with wildlife: I was in a state of constant excitement, spotting zebra, giraffes, kudu, impala, gazelle, wildebeest, onyx, and of course elephants, which the park is famous for. And everywhere the most vividly colourful birds I have ever seen.
We drove to Swala for lunch, one of A&K’s permanent camps where we were warmly greeted by Glen and Cindy, the managers. Swala, deep in the bush, overlooks a waterhole and so attracts many animals. Unlike many camps in Kenya, A&K’s camps are not fenced off: the next morning our driver Joseph told us how he and the staff had been playing cards when a leopard had strolled into the kitchen. The camp was extraordinary, living among the animals while the tented accommodation was unbelievably luxurious. In the evenings we gathered on the porch as the sun sank low and watched the animals come in.
On our second morning Glen took us to visit Gijedabung school which has been built by Swala; a portion of each night’s takings go towards the school. Such projects are the work of A&K’s Global Foundation which is committed to conservation. As Glen said: ‘If the local communities get nothing from us being here, then they will have no reason to preserve the land – and the animals – for the future.’
Next we headed to the Ngorogoro Crater, described as the eighth wonder of the world. As we ascended the crater wall, the landscape became lush, butterflies hanging above the flowers, the air growing cooler. We headed for the Ngorogoro Crater Lodge, perched on the Crater rim and our home for the next two nights. Given our own butler and shown to our rooms, I sank into a bath with surely one of the greatest views in the world, right over the Crater. This huge bowl was created some three million years ago when the volcano blew its top (creating the Serengeti with its ash) and then collapsed in on itself. Wearing clouds around its rim like a fur stole, the Crater is filled with animals. Highlights included bright pink flamingoes standing in the soda-rich Lake Magadi, and the pair of lions that passed so close to the car that I could have touched them.
From there we drove to the Serengeti, Tanzania’s largest (it sprawls over 15,000 sq km) and most famous, national park. The plains to the south, dotted with huge rock outcrops called kopjes, afford endless horizons. And of course, all the animals. In the evening we went from Kusini – another fabulous A&K permanent camp – to a huge kopje where we had a 360 degree view of the sun piercing the sky every shade of red as it sank, while we drank Champagne.
The rest of our time was spent in the Serengeti, but we moved from Kusini to the jewel in A&K’s crown; the mobile camp. Pitched in the bush, we truly were remote, and, apart form the crew, totally alone. I have pitched my tent all over the world, but this was camping as I have never experienced it before; our large tents were filled with beautiful furniture and the bathroom came complete with flush toilet and outdoor shower. I had two of the most peaceful days ever. Our accommodation throughout the trip had been absolutely lovely, but this combination of total remoteness and high luxury was unbeatable. I never wanted to leave.
And when we boarded our small plane the next day, it was with a heavy heart that I watched the amazing, ancient land we had driven across for eight days slip away below me.
Conservation To find out more about the A&K Global Foundation or
When To Go Tanzania’s climate can vary from region to region but, broadly speaking, the coolest months are from June to October while the warmest are from December to March. April to May is when the most rain falls. November and December can also be quite wet. For better value go in low season which is April, May and November. The wildebeest migration in the Serengeti takes place from January to March.
How To Get There KLM operates flights daily from London to Kilimanjaro. T: 0870 507 4074, www.klm.com
Who To Go With Abercrombie & Kent launched its first African luxury safari in 1962 and has since grown into an international operation. Its knowledge is unparalleled; this is the only international company which has its own office in Tanzania rather than outsourcing to local companies. It operates its own camps, such as Swala and Kusini, and specialises in luxury private safaris. Abercrombie & Kent will advise you on each aspect of your trip, making individual itineraries to suit requirements. T: 0845 0700 611 or visit the website
Copyright © Kamin Mohammadi. 2011. All rights reserved