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February 27, 2020

Gem’s hidden gems

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This was my first time in Tanzania and as my previous African adventures had been in the south or north of Africa it was a real treat to explore the east.

On arrival at Kilimanjaro International airport our guide from Lifestyle Safaris was there to greet us and we made the relatively short trip to Arusha Coffee Lodge to relax before we embarked on our East African adventure. The lodge was just what we needed – cosy individual lodges, lovely food and a warm welcome. We also took the ‘Bean-to-cup’ coffee tour and their extremely enthusiastic coffee expert (who I suspect may have had a little too much caffeine) gave us a demonstration and a much needed drink to wake us up.

We were up early for our safari to the Tarangire National Park. In a trip filled with highlights – this was one of my favourites. I knew it was famed for its large elephant herds but I wasn’t prepared quite how many we saw and how close and inquisitive they would be. As an elephant lover it was a truly memorable experience. The baobab trees here are amazing with huge fat trunks and bare branches that looked like roots in the sky (it looks like the tree is upside down!) and they are everywhere here in the park. In the evening we enjoyed the amazing view of Tarangire from the decked dining area of the Mbali Mbali Tarangire River Camp and enthused about our day over a few sundowners around the fire.

After breakfast we were back on the road and on to Lake Manyara. Here you can enjoy the views from the aerial tree top walkway or for the braver visitor – by zip lining through the tree tops (I opted for the walkway). We then enjoyed a half day safari before making our way to Oldeani Mountain Lodge for a swim in the ‘pool with a view’ and more sundowers and safari stories around the fire.

The little visited Lake Natron was our next stop. This place really is worth every single minute of the dusty, four-hour, very bumpy journey. The new airstrip will make it more easily accessible, but there is something about the remoteness of Lake Natron that makes it extra special (if that’s indeed possible).

The place is quite simply stunning. Ol Doinyo Lengai, which in the Maasai language translates to “Mountain of God”, is a huge active volcano in the Gregory Rift – which makes for a awe inspiring backdrop to the beauty of the Lake and its thousands of flamingos. This adventure lovers’ paradise offers hiking and mountain biking or you can cool off with a waterfall trek and swim (yet another highlight). Lake Natron also has ancient Homo sapien footprints preserved by past volcanic events so you can literally follow in their footsteps.  Lake Natron Camp is eco-friendly, basic but comfortable and the hosts and staff from the local village make sure guests get a warm welcome. The natural pool makes a great spot for sundowners and a refreshing dip (you will need it as it gets VERY hot here) and the resident fish will give you a thorough pedicure as soon as you dip your feet! Day six and it is time to say goodbye to Lake Natron and make our way to yet another highlight – the Ngorongoro Crater.

After a very comfortable stay at The Manor we set off early to the Crater rim.  As you begin the long decent to the crater floor the wildlife puts on a show as the animals reveal themselves from the thick forest that lines the crater walls peeking out from the mist that sits at the top. When you reach the crater floor, you see the volume and variety of game that have made this former volcano their home. The size of the crater is just incredible and to think it once had top on it; the mountain must have rivalled Kilimanjaro. Inside the crater is a whole ecosystem so the animals don’t have to move or migrate as everything they need is here. It’s a great place for photography, it can get very busy with other vehicles but it’s definitely worth a visit.

It was then a game drive on to the central Serengeti and a stay at the lovely Asanja Moru Camp where we had an evening meal under the stars and the next morning surprise breakfast in the bush. The Serengeti was without doubt the most amazing game viewing experience I’ve ever had – leopards on the hunt, lions standing on a kopje (just like Pride Rock in the lion King) and the unforgettable sight of the Great Migration. I’m not prone to emotional outbursts but I did have a wee tear in my eye at the sight of thousands of wildebeest and zebra on the run. We were all so captivated by the adventures of the herd we found ourselves willing them on as predators came and went and at the sight of any vulnerable animals that strayed from the relative safety of the herd. It really was high drama at its very best. Black cotton soil nearly stopped play as we got stuck for a while in the jeep. There was much hilarity as we all teamed up with our guide and did our best to free ourselves from the thick mud. Fortunately help was on its way and we were soon back on the road. Like all the mini adventures you have on safari – it made for a great fireside story and many more laughs along the way.

The following morning was a very early start – but worth it as we were setting off on our balloon safari!

This really was a magical experience – from the game drive to get there – seeing all the animals going about their time-time adventures – to seeing the sunrise as the balloon took off. I’m not a big fan of heights, so was a little nervous but that was soon forgotten as our excellent pilot gave us an extremely smooth flight, take-off and landing. The game, views and whole experience was simply incredible. On landing we had a champagne toast to our balloon adventure before a game drive on to a wonderful bush breakfast where we got to meet people from all over the world and share our safari stories. After a great stay at Mbali Mbali Soroi Lodge (with its amazing outdoor shower) we said goodbye to the Serengeti and our wonderful guide and set off to the airstrip for our flight to Zanzibar!  We then spent the next three nights in the luxurious Baraza Beach Resort. Each of the private bungalows has its own private plunge pool and terrace area as well as a large communal swimming pool next to the beach with its warm water and perfect white sand.

The food here was delicious with a choice of restaurants and dining areas including beach and poolside. The water sports and trip options were also great fun with snorkelling at the lagoon, kayaking, and tours of Stone Town and the spa was a paradise within paradise.

It was then time to say goodbye to Zanzibar and the wonderful friends I had made along the way. As I took off from Kilimanjaro airport (with Toto’s Africa playing in my head) the mountain didn’t disappoint as I had a great view of the summit as I flew over and said goodbye to Tanzania – for now. It was the perfect end to a truly memorable trip.

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