Giraffes! I can see giraffes!’ Molly squeaks, fighting the constraints of her lap-strap as our Cessna Caravan (think minibus with wings) touches down on a dusty airstrip in the Tanzanian Serengeti. They are distant – and small – but there is no mistaking the leggy, necky frames on the horizon, nor the obvious excitement of an eight-year-old on her first trip to the bush. The excitement of children and the sense of adventure on safari is second to none.
Just a couple of hours flight southeast of the Serengeti, the island of Zanzibar offers the perfect beach break after a safari. We are staying a 15-minute boat ride from the northeast shore of Zanzibar on the private island of Mnemba.
&Beyond’s Grumeti luxurious safari tents – each one containing king-size beds, ensuite bathrooms and even a hairdryer – stand around a communal lodge. That’s not to say the camp doesn’t feel ‘real’ though.
It had been a dry few months in this part of Africa, and while the majority of the hippos that reside in the river immediately in front of the lodge have wandered upstream, disgruntled by the lack of water, two show a repeated interest in joining us in the swimming pool. Luckily, staff are always on hand to shoo them away.
The Serengeti is, in Molly’s words, absolutely humongous (at nearly 12,000 square miles, I’d have to agree); its Masai-derived name roughly translates to ‘endless plains’. Carpeted with golden oat grass, the open grasslands and rolling hills seem to extend indefinitely, broken only by the odd scattering of acacia trees. It feels wild, remote and untamed – and wherever you look there are animals.
During the trip we are lucky enough to see hundreds of hippos: the majority wallowing in the river, with just their eyes, ears, and the occasional backside visible above the water. We see the maternal instinct of a mother elephant prepared to do anything to protect her baby, and giggle at the comical run of the wombat. We also spend an afternoon watching a pride of lions, and are privileged to see five cubs clamber over their mothers and scuffle with one other until exhaustion finally gets the better of themand they collapse in a heap with the older lions looking on in amusement.
&Beyond’s Wild Child programme, which focuses attentions on the camp’s junior guests, making the bush experience both educational and fun. Mollie going to be a walking encyclopedia by the time we leave Tanzania.
This is a place where guests set the agenda – the absolute opposite of life in the Serengeti, I realise – and decide everything from where and what they eat to how they spend their days. Our beach banda is a real rustic-luxe combo, and, with its dark-wood furnishings and cream-and-white colour scheme, has something of a colonial-era feel. It has palm thatching and rattan floors, and gaping great holes looking out over sea and sand where windows or doors would feature in any conventional pad.
After a quick briefing from the island’s dive master, Marie, Mollie sets off down the beach armed with flippers and mask to try her hand at snorkelling. She returns later having seen orange-and-black clownfish, angelfish, snake eels and starfish, not to mention some beautiful coral.
Experiencing time in the bush with my eight-year-old in tow is something I’ll treasure forever. Mnemba Island is a paradise; the perfect place to chill out and recharge, and the ideal end to our trip. Ask Molly what the highlights of the trip were, though, and she’ll tell you, ‘Giraffes and lions and hippos and cheetahs and elephants and buffalo and zebra. Oh and monkeys and warthogs and learning to snorkel and swimming with dolphins.’ Which says it all really.
&Beyond Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp, three nights all-inclusive accommodation and three-nights all-inclusive accommodation from £5,191 per person including flights from London on Kenya Airways, transfers and game viewing activities.