Graeme Parker’s Tanzania Safari Discovery

Despite being born and raised in South Africa, Rothschild Travel Designer, Graeme Parker, who now resides in the US, hadn’t returned to Africa in over five years.

Enduring the lockdowns and the tribulations of the last couple of years, Graeme waited patiently for the opportunity to return to his mother continent and, when that moment arrived, he made the very most of it.

Taking on the length and breadth of Tanzania, he and a collection of friends explored all that this wonderful country has to offer, from Arusha National Park to the Serengeti, the plains of Tarangire to the majesty and magnificence of the Ngorongoro Crater.

These are his recollections of his long-awaited Tanzania safari:

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Prior to this adventure, I had been unable to return to Africa since shortly before my wedding in 2017, so I was well overdue to experience the sights, sounds, and natural wonders of the remarkable African continent once again.

For me, the excitement of a trip begins not only in the planning stages, but right from the start of the journey to the airport, when you have your bags packed, last-minute gear checks are done, and you are finally on your way.

It’s usually at this moment that my heart skips a beat, as I know that another memorable and exciting adventure awaits! This was very much the feeling with this journey, I couldn’t wait for it to begin.

Over 15 days, I had the privilege to discover the inner beauty, scenery, wildlife, and people of Tanzania. 

From breathtaking natural vistas and wide-open, golden plains, to the local people who call this beautiful land home, Tanzania offers every traveller diversity, culture, immersive adventures, discovery, and moments of sheer joy as the wildlife and nature abound in plentiful supply. 

I flew with Qatar Airways, a world-leading airline and for good reason. The food, entertainment, crew, and overall onboard experience were indeed wonderful and afforded me the perfect journey.

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Touching down with the rays of a golden sunrise, I breezed through the COVID testing, immigration and customs, the entire process organised, smooth and quick. No wonder Tanzania has done so well with its tourism during the pandemic! I was met by my guide on arrival and whisked away in a purpose-built safari vehicle to meet my fellow travellers at the beautiful Villa Maua, one of Rothschild’s recommended overnight accommodations. After a delicious breakfast and some very welcome locally-brewed coffee, we loaded the vehicle with our bags, met our driver Guide Blassy and were on our way to Tarangire National Park.

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Travelling by road certainly provided countless opportunities to visually immerse myself in the day-to-day comings and goings of the locals, while also giving me glimpses of the country I was starting to truly experience.

Tarangire National Park – Honeyguide Tented Camp

Arriving at Tarangire, Blassy, our driver guide completed some entry formalities, and we officially entered the park shortly after. Instantly, you know you are somewhere special; the reserve literally opens a world of possibilities around each corner. The deeper you go, the more secluded and immersive your experience becomes. We arrived at Honeyguide  in the early afternoon to a greeting that immediately made us feel like we had found some long lost friends. The camp was quiet, intimate, and well-appointed. We stayed in tented rooms, where you have the option to have all the side flaps open, I left my room as open as possible and was treated to the soft and beautiful nocturnal sounds, complete with spectacular early morning song and call as the wildlife of the bush began to stir, not to mention the most picturesque sunrises. I did not want to leave, but I knew there was so much more to discover.

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Karatu: Gibb’s Farm 

Having parted ways with our newfound family, we continued our journey of discovery as we hit the road for Karatu. Along the way, we passed through villages with children playing with makeshift wooden toys and little roadside stalls selling everything from curios to produce and clothing. Winding our way up a mountain pass, revealing countless photo opportunities, we finally arrived in Karatu and Gibb’s Farm.

Gibb’s Farm is truly a special place – ‘a sanctuary for the senses’, as it justly declares itself. The grounds are beautiful, with cottages tucked away amongst the gardens and foliage, providing privacy, peace and making you feel instantly relaxed. Everything here highlights the farm-to-plate concept, from the sprawling vegetable garden, chickens, cows and pigs to the farm-produced organic coffee, which was so delicious that I had to buy two bags to take home.

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We started our afternoon with a guided bike ride into the nearby village, during which we traversed through farm roads before passing the school, where children gathered at the windows to wave and sing to us as we passed by. The highlight of this excursion was discovering the local choir signing in a small church in the village centre. We stopped off and entered the church where we were treated to some angelic voices singing simple songs with joy and pleasure; it was magical. Returning to the farm, we enjoy a welcome swim before dinner and retiring after another perfect day of adventure.

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Ngorongoro Crater 

With the first light of dawn breaking, we departed Gibb’s and headed for the crater with much excitement and expectation for what the day ahead would bring. Descending into the crater is an experience in itself as we passed through forests of green, lush vegetation, broken only by spectacular views of the crater, allowing us a second to catch our bearings. It is hard to put into words what this day was like. The crater is an oasis providing life, sustenance, and refuge to such a vast array of wildlife, that frequently you are spoilt for choice as to where to look next. Wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, rhino, Lion, elephant, and jackal were all present here, to name just a few of the many animals we encountered, making it a memorable journey on the crater floor. Before we knew it, our time in the crater was at an end. We left this remarkable place and headed for Entamanu Private Camp.

Entamanu Private Camp is perched on the ridge line of the crater, so we did not have far to drive. The camp was wonderful, our rooms were creatively designed and gave way to views of the bush beyond. They had all the comforts you would expect, but at the same time had a feeling of rustic elegance with local décor being incorporated wonderfully and creatively into the rooms. We were treated to sundowners, before enjoying a candlelight dinner, giving us the perfect opportunity to recount the many stories and experiences from our remarkable day, as well as our adventure so far.

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Southern Serengeti  

Our journey to the Serengeti began early. Blassy was becoming such a wonderful source of information and knowledge that our conversations darted onto so many different and interesting topics, as he expertly gave us a glimpse into the way of life of the people of Tanzania. Our road adventure all too quickly seemed to be complete and left us feeling excited for the next one to begin. Entering the Serengeti, we journeyed through the vast plains, instantly giving us a profound feeling of how open and immense this area is. Columns of animals wandered through the lands, and we found ourselves frequently stopping to try and capture sightings, moments of time, and experiences as we ventured deeper into the reserve. The Mwiba Reserve lies in a special corner of the Southern Serengeti, and its luxury lodge is remarkable in every sense of the word, with wide open decks, thatched roofs, rooms perched overlooking the river below, and staff that are warm, friendly, and intuitive. However, it is the experiences at Mwiba – in particular, the opportunity to spend time with the Hazabe people – that are the true highlights here.  

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Thriving off the land and living out every fibre of their nomadic lifestyle, the Hazabe people wonder through the reserve with a restful, peaceful nature, foraging on its hidden gems with knowledge and precision that is astoundingly unique and special. A simple, primitive whistle is all that is needed to make them aware of where you are waiting and then the journey really begins. Fetching honey from hives embedded in trees, making fires with sticks, discovering delicious berries, and singing with the joys of their simple life; every minute you are with this tribe is impossible to describe. It is a stark reminder of how uncomplicated life can actually be. All to soon the experience had concluded, a final wave signaling the tribe’s departure as they melted into the distance, and we were left in true awe of what had materialised over a few short hours.

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Eastern Serengeti

With so many memories already made and still processing the intimate experience with the nomadic Hazabe, we left the gorgeous Mwiba Lodge reluctantly behind and set our course for the Eastern side of the park. By now, experience had taught us to always be on the lookout for the unexpected and this was certainly true in the next chapter of our journey. Overnight rains had resulted in a small change to our plans, as we had to swap our road transport for air to avoid getting stuck on the marshy, wet roads. Mother Nature was playing a bit of her own game, but getting into the air above the reserve was spectacular and complimented the rest of our travels and transfers superbly.

We arrived at Lemala Nanyukie, in the late part of the afternoon, with weary bodies, but wide smiles after another day of adventure in the plains of this remarkable reserve. Lemala was indeed a very welcome sight. A completely different feel to Mwiba, Lemala is characterised upon arrival by the rocky outcrops that lead to the camp entrance. Open decks maximise the expansiveness of this private and intimate camp while the tented accommodation, complete with private plunge pools, was the perfect way to unwind after a day of exploration.

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Enjoying sundowners overlooking the reserve, a wonderful dinner, and some spectacular star gazing, the day drew to a close in the best way possible, contentment on our faces as we retired for some shut-eye.

The next day, following another day full of exploration, we were welcomed back into camp with warm and friendly faces. A quick dip in our private pools back at our rooms revitalised us for the evening, and what an evening it was. A table had been beautifully setup on the edge of the camp and soft, warm light illuminated the area. It was the idyllic setting for our final meal in the camp. The staff serenaded us with traditional songs and encouraged us to join them. It was a magical experience under a starry sky.

Serengeti National Park

Our final stop for this amazing journey through Tanzania took us on another journey through the Serengeti to Taasa Lodge. This lodge perched on a hillside gave us great views of the bushland below. Accommodation was again tented, which I really love, and the rooms gave a combination of interior finishes combined with the canvas sides that gave you the best of a tent and normal lodge room combined.

We arrived in the early afternoon, and after enjoying lunch and a bit of rest, headed out on a walk with some of the lodge guides. Together we explored the land. talking through the movement of the animals, the conditions within their private section of the reserve, and what had recently been spotted both on the day and nights drives. The guides talked passionately about conservation, what the reserve was doing in terms of ecology, and their backgrounds prior to discovering their passion for wildlife. It was enthralling. The walk ended at sunset high up on the ridge where sundowners were prepared, and another sunset enjoyed. We were treated to dancing and a jump off to see if we could beat the local Maasai at being the highest jumpers. Needless to say, though we all tried, we didn’t even come close to the masters of this activity. 

Dinner was over an open fire and was delicious with an array of meats, vegetarian options, and local flavours. We sat together and recounted the past 10 days of journey through this special country. Collectively we all felt it had been not only diverse in experiences, wildlife and culture, but also provided us with a deep yearning to see more… 

That’s the beauty of Africa: once you get a taste of the wonder of its magic, you’ll be hooked and, like us, will already be planning your next adventure the moment you return home.

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All images: ©Graeme Parker