My education on East Africa continues and this time I was off to Tanzania. A firm favourite with clients and it would be the first time I would be spending a little time on the beach and not just in the bush! Playing the role of a tourist, we were to spend 9 days on a whistle stop tour of the northern circuit and 5 days on the famous spice island. This time I was lucky enough to take my boyfriend David along which is much like wondering if you should take children. Having only been along with other agents or my twin sister I usually just had myself to worry about, bringing along someone who hadn’t been on safari before or I didn’t know innately brought up a few questions: Will they be entertained/get bored? Will the days be too long? Will they behave? Will they want to go looking for scorpions with my UV torch (they shine bright white in UV light-easily picked up on amazon)?
We landed in Kilimanjaro in the early hours of the morning and were swiftly collected and taken to Arusha for a good sleep at Machweo Wellness Retreat. In the morning after a hearty breakfast we met up with Hoopoe Safaris who would be showing us the highlights of northern Tanzania. Hoopoe Safaris are our favourite guides, passionate and knowledgeable these guys know how to spoil clients, just ask Bill Clinton a former guest. And so we met up with Albert our guide. Albert was to put it simply brilliant, with eyes that rivalled our binoculars and with uncanny impressions of a dying buffalo and frisky leopards he ensured that we not only saw some spectacular sightings but were crying with laughter along the way.
We started our safari in Tarangire National Park, a beautiful area well known for its herds of elephants and famous tree climbing lions. We were treated to lots of great sightings but my favourite were two rather beautiful black maned lions looking rather wet after a rainstorm quickly passed by. We took a hasty retreat back to Kirurumu Tarangire camp just on the park boundary just in time for sundowners. With just 10 en-suited tents, it is an intimate and comfortable bush camp. After a beautiful meal we sat around the campfire which overlooks the park boundary into the forest. In the morning we went on our first bush walk learning how the Masai use certain tree parts to treat various ailments before returning to camp for breakfast only to find the resident herd of elephants noisily destroying the camp gardens for their own breakfast. A really special sighting, it allowed us to get up close and enjoy watching the herd.
We then moved onto Lake Manyara National Park home to the famous flocks of flamingos and named after the euphorbia species that grows in abundance there. Full of water the plant life is much denser here, with large mahogany and fig tree forests, which led to a sighting of baboons feeding in the trees dropping the flowers down to some hungry impala. We also had some close encounters with elephant herds who often use the roads as footpaths. We climbed up the surrounding hills of the famous Rift Valley to get to Kirurumu Manyara Camp. With panoramic views over the park it is a stunning camp, slightly larger than its sister camp with 27 tents, there is a larger dining area and separate bar all with great views. That evening sitting on the deck of our tent we were treated to a thunderstorm that rolled over the park with bolts of lightning and cracks of thunder, our very own ‘bush TV’.
In the morning we went on another bush walk with an expert in the botanical field who has written his own guidebook for other Masai guides! We finished the walk on the edge of the mountain with a troop of baboons and stunning views of Lake Manyara before heading back for breakfast. We headed on through the town of Karatu, fruit farms and coffee plantations for the Ngorongoro Highlands. Climbing up towards the crater rim it is an unusual area, filled with dense forest, swinging vines and colourful flowers. Whilst wildlife moves freely around here the steep slopes and dense bush make it difficult to spot, however, if you stop on the crater rim the views are fantastic. Measuring 20km across it is a vast area with large wildlife populations, from the lookout spot you can use the resident telescope to hone into the herds of elephants, pods of hippos or if you are lucky the few rhino. After a brief stop to admire the view we headed on towards the Serengeti descending from the highlands, through Masai Villages, to the Olduvai Gorge Museum. A unique stop this is the area the Leakey’s found the first hominid footprints and earliest human remains, replicas can be seen in the museum as well as many of the skulls of now extinct animals. Here we enjoyed our picnic lunch with a lecture on the archaeological findings and geology of the area, a must for anyone interested in the origin of humankind.
We continued on to the gates of the Serengeti. We crossed the plains to our next camp Naona in the south of the Serengeti. With the wildebeest migrating we were greeted by a large herd grunting their approval as we got out of the car. The evening brought a thunderstorm and rain which in turn brought the flying termites. An unusual event to watch after the rains, the flying termites pour out of the mounds in search for a new place to start their colony. Shedding their wings quickly after they land our porch was quickly buried in abandoned wings, quite spectacular. Naona is a beautiful camp with large spacious tents and delicious food. When escorted back to our tents that evening we heard the wildebeest start to stampede to which our escort just smiled and told us there was a pride of 12 lions in the area…
Moving to the central Serengeti we were treated to day long game drives with pack lunches, seeing an abundance of sleepy, full-bellied lions and leopards hidden in the shade of large trees and many fat bellied hyenas seeking relief from the heat in the puddles by the sides of the road. Albert, with the eyes of a hawk, would simply stop the car pointing out a twitching ear or a hanging tail or on one particularly impressive feat, a horn sticking out from behind a tree. A brilliant spotter he also enabled us to take pictures of the cats faces by calling out to them mimicking their calls which led to a very puzzled leopard and some great shots of his face rather than his backside.
In the early evening we arrived at Lemala Ewanjan Camp, a luxurious camp set at the foot of a few hills overlooking the plains with beautiful tents and a welcoming atmosphere. We were quickly popped back into our landy and driven up the hills for a romantic sundowner watching the sunset. With snacks and a seemingly endless array of drinks it was a very special moment on what was meant to be a work trip! An exciting feature at Lemala was the ‘bucket shower’, for David this was his first safari and first bucket shower, having read Jungle Man a biography by Major P.J. Pretorius he was excited by his first proper bush shower. Sadly for Dave bucket showers are fairly luxurious they just have a limited amount of water, although the bucket can easily be refilled, and his dreams of being a proper bushman were somewhat halted.
This morning we headed south to Ndutu a stunning area named after Lake Ndutu, almost dried up completely when we were there this was the first area we were allowed to drive off-road, over the dry lake bed and through the trees. The dusty arid landscape makes it look uninhabitable to the untrained eye, however, the place is teaming with wildlife. We were lucky enough to find two lionesses with their cubs on a zebra kill. It was one of the first times we could put the binoculars away and sit up close and personal. After reassuring David we could leave the windows open we stayed to watch as the mothers looked out for the male lion whilst the fat cubs fought over any remaining scraps. This was my favourite area and not only because we found a scorpion with the UV torch! Ndutu Safari Lodge is a simple yet comfortable camp, with sturdy rooms, running water, resident lovebirds and a genet which makes for entertaining meal times.
From Ndutu, we headed back to the Ngorongoro Crater, climbing to the rim before the steep descent onto the crater floor. Famous for the large prides of lion and the abundance of wildlife in a relatively small area this was to be our last day on safari and it didn’t disappoint. Finding a pride of 12 lions resting at the edge of one of the hills overlooking a herd of buffalo was pretty exciting; sadly for us they seemed more interested in sleeping than hunting. There is a lot to see in the crater but be prepared to see lots of other vehicles and to use your binoculars, the area is vast and not all the animals are roadside. We finished off the safari by staying at the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge on the crater rim, whilst a larger lodge than we usually use, with 98 rooms, it still managed to keep an authentic African feel and had some spectacular views which more than made up for the increased number of guests.
After a late breakfast we set off for Gibbs Farm, a famous stop for all clients it is a beautiful working farm with the best food. The beauty of Gibbs farm is everything is home grown and everything you eat comes from the farm, from salads and freshly baked bread to full fry ups, home-made cheeses and cured meats. While here you can tour the farm to get an idea of the variety of plants they grow and to see the chicken coups and pig sties. You can even take part milking the cows, bread baking and vegetable picking so you can help make your own breakfast. It is a great stop after a safari where you can relax and enjoy some fine dining or stretch out having sat in the landy and go exploring the local area by foot or on mountain bikes.
Much to our dismay it came time to leave our new friend Albert and head off to Zanzibar. After nine glorious days on safari it came time to swap the binos for goggles and the ID books for novels. As mentioned before it is lovely to have a private guide for the entirety of a trip. For us Hoopoe have excellent guides who really take the time to get to know their guests and meet all their expectations for the trip.
We flew into Stone Town where we spent the night at Zanzibar Palace, a quaint hotel with just 9 rooms all with different themes. It is in the centre of Stone Town and within short walking distance from all the city’s attractions and with great views over the city. Here you can really see the Arab influence, from the architecture to the food it was completely different to our mainland experiences. You can enjoy fresh seafood and delicious curries. It is important to note that in Stone Town the population is predominantly Muslim, so to be respectful you should have your legs and shoulders covered. Whilst here we took a boat out to Prison Island famous for the prisoning of the slaves before they were transported all over the world and for the giant tortoises gifted from the Seychelles, followed by some snorkelling just off the island. On Zanzibar you can partake in a huge variety of activities either indulging in the rich culture of the island or many water based activities you can take part in. If you haven’t had enough there is plenty of wildlife to see or you can simply relax on the many white sandy beaches.
Off we headed to Matemwe Retreat, a stunning lodge with rooms either round the lodge or private bungalows along the beach. Away from the hustle and bustle of Stone Town, here you could relax listening to the sounds of the waves and watching the local fishing boats bring in their catches. With their own resident turtle hatchery, depending on the time of year you may get a glimpse of some of the hatchlings. Not far from some incredible diving spots it is a really peaceful and luxurious getaway.
We headed down to the south of the island to the Zanzibar Collection to try all three hotels, Breezes, The Palms and Baraza. Set along a white sandy beach close to the Blue Lagoon snorkelling site each hotel has something different to offer. From the family friendly Breezes, to the exclusive 6 roomed Palms to the honeymoon favourite Baraza. Each property has sun loungers set just off the beach for privacy, with the Palms and Baraza allocating sun beds to specific rooms. The food here is superb from the huge buffets of Breezes and Baraza to the a la carte dining at the Palms. At the Palms and Baraza you have your own shaded plunge pool which is a welcomed luxury at lunch time where swimming in the sea is almost like going for a bath the water is so warm. Whilst the snorkelling in the area wasn’t world class for novices like me it was a perfect introduction to the surrounding marine life. For those who want more there is a diving and water sports centre where you can book more adventurous trips to some top diving sites or you can take out paddle boards, kayaks and pedal boats. For those who wish there is also a luxurious and beautiful spa where you can de-stress from the ‘African massages’ from the roads on safari.
On our last day before leaving we took a tour of Stone Town, taking us into the heart of the city we went through the fruit and spice markets into the fish and meat markets and along the famous waterfront with palaces and forts before ending the tour at Freddy Mercury’s house. A real feast for the eyes or the camera, there is a rich history to Stone Town.
All in all Tanzania, for me, was a great all round destination. For a safari loving enthusiast like me seeing my first golden jackal and finding a scorpion to watching a hunting secretary bird and lion cubs on a kill. Becoming friends with a blue monkey and spotting colourful fish in Zanzibar made Tanzania a top destination. For David it was his first proper safari, spotting all of the big 5, including several leopards, discovering a vast birdlife, a new hobby of twitching and learning to snorkel it was an adventurer’s paradise.
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