Brides and grooms: Tanzania’s borders are open. Currently, the East African country welcomes all nationalities to enjoy its natural largesse, from Mount Kilimanjaro to the stunning, animal brimming Serengeti. If a safari tops your honeymoon wish list, the five star Four Seasons Serengeti won’t disappoint. Consider one of the five freestanding villas, each with its own pool. Or, choose a room that overlooks the onsite water hole, a draw for elephants. Honeymooners can also enjoy special candle-lit dinners for two – in the bush, on the terrace, or by the main pool. There’s also spa treatments, sunset yoga on the rock top, a walking safari, game driving safari and hot air ballooning.
While I sunbathe poolside beneath an umbrella, the inexpressible boundlessness of the Serengeti’s glittering, gold dust-like grassland before me, I spy a parade of elephants clambering my way. From the horizon, they approach intently, with more speed than you’d imagine an elephant might muster. As they travel in haste, I rub my eyes. Is this a dream? Could these be those imaginary heffalumps that worry Winnie the Pooh while he sleeps?
No, these 30 or so pachyderms are real — and they range in size from tiny Babar to “Jungle Book’s” Colonel Hathi — that is young to old, Lilliputian to large. Looking out there, ensconced in the enchantment of Tanzania’s most storied landscape, a blanket-wearing, Masaai warrior leaning on his baton nearby, I find it difficult to not drift into childlike reverie, storybook references flitting through my head, dreaming of Dumbo and hallucinating about Horton. It seems a veritable land of enchantment.
I sip a local beer, aptly christened Safari, observing the herd in its final approach. Turns out they’re just as thirsty as I, and they waddle up to the watering hole that edges the property at Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, an eco-minded outpost of luxury and repose, set right in the heart of this UNESCO-protected national park. Not every elephant sips, some shower with their undulating trunks, shooting water in every direction with the glee of children at a water park.
I’m not the only one watching. Dappled by the East African sun, mid-day is like kindergarten nap time for safari goers. Having been up at dawn for a game drive, prepared to do it all over again in late afternoon, the safari set uses this time of day to recharge, re-nourish, re-hydrate and recline. While I enjoy the elephants from my perch at the pool, other guests watch them from their suite’s commodious terrace or while seated at one of the resort’s bars or restaurants. During this break, which falls in the hottest part of the Serengeti day, the khaki-clad take advantage of the Four Seasons’ abundant amenities in various ways. Athletic souls attack the fully-outfitted gym, which offers live stream screens of the watering hole — so workout fanatics won’t miss a thing. In the well supervised kid’s club, Kihana, children join Masaai teachers to learn about local customs and handicrafts. At the spa, an enclave of standalone huts overlooking the landscape, indigenous treatments unravel the knots (I try Kifa asssage, which utilizes Serengeti-foraged-and-made baobab oil and the pressure from a Masaai warrior’s wooden baton.) In the interactive Discovery Center, an Aladdin’s Cave of maps, artifacts, books, skulls, feathers, horns, computers and movie screens, an enthusiastic naturalist and members of the Maasai tribe await to educate anyone who drops in about the Serengeti’s largesse. Since the center supports wildlife conservation and research projects, guests have the chance to assist with helpful tasks — such as classifying images of animals, which have been captured on remote strategically placed remote cameras.
I’ve ventured to the Serengeti for the Great Wildebeest Migration, a time when thousands of Wildebeest (an animal which some describe as ugly but who to me resemble that cute monster in “Where the Wild Things Are”) move en masse, but, oddly, in a very straight line. Accompanied by dazzles of zebra, they gallop from Tanzania’s Serengeti to adjacent Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Sometimes thundering in tremendous herds, composed of hundreds, they can stop traffic. That happens to us. Bumping over a dusty road, mid-Serengeti, we find ourselves stuck, watching the cartoonish creatures in transit for at least half an hour as they cross in front of us. During that time, inside our vehicle, we remain riveted. We see so many personalities amongst just this one species — the leaders, the rebels, those who lolllygag, the babies and the fighters. Their quest inspires — and I feel like leaping from the car, trotting out in soldier-like formations, too, following them all the way to Kenya.
Naturally, that’s not prudent (or allowed) for all the obvious reasons. For example: those three hyenas, crouched in a shallow ditch beneath a tree, their bodies ready to pounce, their eyes focused for a weak link in the Wildebeest chain. When we finally continue, we spy a raft of hippos bellowing in a stream, two giraffes fighting, using their long necks like fists, and then discover three cheetahs snuggled sleepily in the ruts of the road. But, the most dramatic moment comes amid a grassy plain, dotted with otherworldly boulders (called kopje), and spiked with aptly named sausage trees, mushroom-shaped Umbrella Acacia and tropical-looking Wild Date Palm. There, a pride of some thirty lions dominate the topography like variously placed chess pieces on a vast checkerboard. Some sit straight backed — as watchful as suspicious house cats; others doze lazily, tummy up to the clouds. All keep an eye on two massive lionesses who guard their kill — a gutted zebra that looks like enough food for the whole clan. As we watch, cubs and adolescents approach for a nibble, then run off. Above them, raptors peer down eagerly from perches in trees or circle in the infinitesimal sky.
But it isn’t all about the clicks of cameras, the Big Five bucket list or the careening game drives through Serengeti National Park, home to legions of wildlife (including 70 large mammals), and the graceful Masaai, cattle tenders who live today in their traditional way. The stillness, too, bores through your soul in East Africa. Find that at sunset, when the sky ignites into an inferno of color— ripples of cobalt blue, a falling pumpkin-colored sun, melting butter-yellow clouds and blotches of shimmering pink. Standing in the bush, like Beryl Markham or Ernest Hemingway before you, you’ll toast the sky, and listen to the final cries of the baboons before they put themselves to bed. You’ll share stories of your day, talk of being transformed by the things you’ve witnessed — perhaps the 200 zebra you met on a walking safari with the naturalist, the rhinos you spotted when the guide looked the other way, or the hot air balloon ride where you drifted as beautifully as a Lilac Breasted Roller over the bush.
Maybe, like Winnie the Pooh, you’ll even see a heffalump.
What’s the Serengeti? A UNESCO-protected national park in northern Tanzania.
Who will like this adventure? The Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti is ideal for first time safari goers, who are reluctant to stay in more rustic, less opulent tented camps or who yearn for luxury amenities — such as fitness rooms, speedy internet and kid’s clubs. As much a bonafide resort as a safari lodge, it includes all meals, spirits, wine and beer. Game drives are arranged at an extra cost. Ideal for families, it offers some connecting rooms and large stand-alone villas for larger groups. Note: the resort welcomes children over two years of age
Room to Book? One which overlooks the watering hole.