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(Belated) Trip Report: Tanzania & Zanzibar; The Accidental Safari

(Belated) Trip Report: Tanzania & Zanzibar; The Accidental Safari

Mar 14th, 2008, 02:42 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2006
Posts: 21
(Belated) Trip Report: Tanzania & Zanzibar; The Accidental Safari

Our itinerary:

July 6th: land kilimanjaro 08.50am. Arusha National Park and Arumeru River lodge.
7th: Tarangire staying at Swala
8th: Tarangire staying at Swala
9th: Ngorongoro crater and Serena
10th: Lake manyara staying at Manyara Serena
11th: Transfer to manyara airstrip for flight to Grumeti airstrip. Overnight Kirawira
12th: Kirawira
13th: Kirawira
14th: Kirawira
15th: Kirawira
16th: Kirawira
17th: Kirawira
18th: Kirawira
19th: leave Grumetti airstrip and fly to Zanzibar via Arusha. Transfer to Emerson & Green
20th: Transfer to Pongwe (hb) via spice tour
21st: Pongwe
22nd Pongwe
23rd: transfer to Zamani Kempinski
24th: Zamani
25th: Zamani
26th: Zamani
27th: late transfer to Zanzibar airport to depart DAR 23.00

First off, I have a dirty little secret. It’s not something I’m proud of, even now. But in order to appreciate the aspirations and expectations I had of this safari and to understand the unusual choice of itinerary, I feel it’s important to let you know. Thus, with my head hung in shameful remorse, I can now sorrowfully admit what I’ve been scared to for a very long time… I was never bitten by the Safari bug. Not only that, but the romance of Africa was also completely lost on me.

Thankfully, I’m talking in the past tense and that was 2 years ago before the thought of a safari had even crossed my mind. For those horrified by former paragraph, don’t worry, I am of course now well and truly smitten by this beautiful country and the experiences we had! Now for the explanation…

Rewind to February 2006 and a hideously dismal rainy day in Manchester, England. In other words, a completely typical day in Manchester. Flicking through a “Small Luxury Hotels of the World” brochure, dreaming of warmer climes and wondering what I could possibly do with a fast approaching 12 weeks off in the summer, I came across a hotel that caught my eye…

…“Standing on a hill overlooking the endless savanna, you will find tented luxury beyond your dreams. From this oasis of sophistication, you can look out upon the endless vista of the western Serengeti and its teeming wildlife, a cooling drink in hand, served by the attentive staff….”

Sounded like my kind of hotel. And as guided game drives were included as part of the hotel stay, I figured it would give us something to do during the day (given we were unlikely to be able to catch a taxi to town). I had never even thought of going on safari before that moment – Africa was as far away from a holiday destination as I could have possibly imagined and animals I could see at the zoo. [Aside: Please don’t bite – I am cringing myself at how ignorant this all now sounds]! So after consulting my atlas and assuring myself it would be nice and hot in early July, I went ahead and booked an 8 night stay at the Kirawira. When my partner returned home from work later that evening, I duly informed him we were going to Africa…

If you hadn’t already realised, now would be as good a moment as any to mention that I have quite a spontaneous personality. More specifically, this particular form of spontaneity lends itself to spending vast amounts of money I usually don’t have. I think I get it from my mother’s side.

On deciding I should perhaps carry out some research into our impending holiday destination, I was rightly steered (via google) towards the wonderful wise people of Fodors. Here my mind was opened and my appetite whetted for my impending trip - who was to know that the Serengeti wasn’t the only game park in the whole of East Africa??!! And so it was with a huge amount of input and friendly advice that I designed our itinerary around those fabled 8 nights at Kirawira. With the flights by now booked, this left us with 5 wildlife days before the Kirawira followed by 8 days of relaxation bliss on Zanzibar. Our spec was relatively simple: experience as much of Tanzania as possible at a manageable comfortable pace (ie designing the 5 day circuit to fit in the parks we wanted to see), with properties that we felt represented good value for money. This last part was quite important to us, as we had spent a large portion of the budget on one hotel (Kirawira). So while it would have been wonderful not to have to consider the expense of staying at the most luxurious and expensive lodges/hotels in all our destinations, we had to weigh up the pros of each destination with the cons of the rising budget. And we were definitely settled on at least a week on Zanzibar!
I’ll talk more about the properties we stayed at, our reasoning behind choosing them and our opinion of them based on this rationale throughout the report. With one exception, I think we made some wonderful decisions.

Probably the most interesting aspect of our trip was that we used so many different operators for each segment of our journey. Sunny safaris of Arusha arranged the first 5 nights of our safari (and all of our internal flights), Kirawira the 8 nights spent in the Serengeti, and we arranged our stay in Zanzibar directly with the hotels themselves. It might sound like a lot of work, but it was actually quite fun playing with all the different kinds of permutations and having such an open and adjustable time frame to deal with. For anyone interested in the costing, I’ll do my best to remember but most of it is just a blur of invoices – I’m probably still paying for it if that helps. Anyway, I’m rambling – onwards with the actual report!
kernel_decker is offline  
Mar 14th, 2008, 03:38 PM
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A belated welcome back! I can tell this is going to be a great report.
Patty is offline  
Mar 14th, 2008, 04:37 PM
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woot woot! (just kidding.) Wonderful start. I had to choke back my envy when I saw "12 weeks off."

I'm really looking forward to reading how this unusual itinerary played out.
Leely is offline  
Mar 14th, 2008, 04:40 PM
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My initial reaction was, so you DID spend 8 nights at Kirawira! Next, I was momentarily startled by your admission of being unimpressed with Africa. Now I can't wait for the whole report and your spontaneous personality to futher reveal itself.
atravelynn is offline  
Mar 14th, 2008, 05:33 PM
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Sorry for the delay, here's the first day...

Day 1: Arusha National Park and Arumeru River Lodge

After a long but comfortable flight on KLM via Amsterdam and Nairobi, we arrive at Kilimanjaro airport at around 8am having flown in-between the twin peaks of Mt. Meru and Kili on our way in. So early in the morning, all that is visible beneath the plane is a thick blanket of white until the summit of each peak pokes beyond the cloud - awesome sight.

This connecting flight from Nairobi wasn’t a busy one, and I think we were near enough the first passengers off and into the small immigration area where we were met by a man holding a piece of paper with my name on it. He filled in our visas (no doubt in order to speed up our passage through – in theory), and then carried our baggage (via a tip) to our awaiting Sunny safari guide – Abu – who bore a striking resemblance to Eddie Murphy. Having received the lowest quote by a long way for our planned itinerary from Sunny we were a little nervous that the vehicle might in some way be inferior, but it was a pop top in excellent condition and with ample space.

So after loading the bags, off we went to our first lodge… or so we thought. To our surprise, we actually ended up beginning our safari right there and then, at Arusha National Park. Not completely appropriately dressed (I was wearing by now a very creased dress), we parked up inside an area of the park and off we popped with me in my heels to the top of a small hill overlooking a lake (and a lone hippo) where we ate the packed lunch he had brought.

Quieter and much greener and cooler than the other parks, Arusha almost feels like it was in a different country when I look back. While the wildlife was nowhere near as dramatic as what was to follow, what will forever be engrained in my memory is the image of a large group (tower?) of giraffes slowly and magnificently appear crossing the road as we rounded a corner on entering the park. It was then that it hit me – wow, I’m on safari.

Snapping away with the camera like we might never catch another glimpse of a zebra or dik-dik again, we gradually began to tire. On excitedly pointing out a colobus monkey only to turn around and see us slumped down with eyes shut and mouths open, Abu kindly asked if we’d like to be taken to our lodging for the night – Arumeru River Lodge – and so we reluctantly admit defeat and call time on the safari for today.
I did enjoy Arusha National Park, and felt it was a nice gentle introduction to Tanzanian wildlife. But would it reappear on my itinerary again were I to be lucky enough to return? Probably not.

Arumeru River Lodge is extremely conveniently located for a visit to Arusha National Park – in fact I only remember travelling a few minutes from the park to the lodge. We chose it for this reason and because we felt it was a good alternative to Arusha Coffee Lodge, and with a lower rate.
In fact the rooms were lovely – simple but modern with a plenty of storage, hairdryer, power points, a very nice bathroom suite with towels/toiletries and a large comfy bed. After a change of clothes, we headed to their pool for a snooze in the late afternoon sun (a full time pool attendant was ready with the towels), before getting ready for dinner and tasting our first “safari” beer during the half price happy hour.
After a nice dinner, we sit in the large open bar area and have a few more beers and some warm nuts by the huge open log fire. Hopefully after a good nights rest we would be unlikely to sleep through the remainder of our safari!

The lodge itself definitely falls into the “good choice” category. It was spotlessly clean, well organised and had a nice cosy ambient atmosphere in the restaurant and bar area. The only down side to the “shiny new” effect was that the grounds did lend themselves to feeling a little sterile. However, I’m sure the flora has bedded in by now to give the place a little more rustic charm. It might also be worth mentioning to some that there were no TV’s in the room – this quaint little observation was put to me after not sleeping for 24 hours. Needless to say my reaction was not particularly understanding given the time money and effort I’d put into choosing it!

Anyway, the words are slowing down now so I think it’s time for bed. Hopefully Day 2 and Tarangire will follow tomorrow…
kernel_decker is offline  
Mar 14th, 2008, 07:23 PM
Join Date: Mar 2006
Posts: 259
Great start to what promises to be a wonderful report of a wonderful trip. We've waited 8 months to get the first day report, I guess we can wait a little longer to get the rest of it. Looking forward to more of your spontaneity.
hguy47 is offline  
Mar 14th, 2008, 08:08 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
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Wow, a spontaneous trip to Tanzania just to escape the dreary rainy days of Manchester. You could not have made a wiser choice. Good for you. And you booked airline tickets to a country you admittedly didn’t know much about and weren’t at all interested in visiting, but just wanted warm weather? Another wow, and another good choice. If the rest of the trip report is anything like the start, I’m going to love this.

You immediately caught my attention with the start -- “I was glancing through the Small Luxury Hotels of the World brochure…and a hotel caught my eye”. Yet you did not end up in a hotel at a resort on the beach somewhere, you ended up on safari! Great decision.

Getting off the plane, in heels, and immediately departing for your first game drive…that sounds like my kind of trip. Although next time you might want to leave the heels at home There will be a next time, won’t there?

I cannot wait to hear more. Great start. Thanks for posting. Keep it coming.
Dana_M is offline  
Mar 15th, 2008, 03:00 AM
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 17
Thanks for the description of your stay at Arumeru River lodge. We are booked for May 10th and 11th. The
flora should be well bedded in by now! The waite is just killing me!
jerrytufts is offline  
Mar 15th, 2008, 08:45 AM
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Liked your description of Arusha. So were giraffes the first animals you saw?
atravelynn is offline  
Mar 15th, 2008, 03:43 PM
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Posts: 21
Dana, there will almost definitely be a "next time", and I suspect I'll be sat on my aeroplane seat with a camera round my neck and a nice comfy pair of shoes on my feet!
And atravelynn, yes the giraffes were indeed the first animals we saw on our trip. While some memories seem to have faded over the ensueing months, there a few of these "kodak-moments" that I think will survive forever in crystal clarity - that was one of them.
On a different note I had hoped to have the 2nd day written by now, but I popped home to help celebrate a birthday and I'm now in no fit state to reminisce!
kernel_decker is offline  
Mar 15th, 2008, 03:58 PM
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Why rush to Day 2 when you've already delayed 2 years? No hurry. Giraffe was my first animal too.
atravelynn is offline  
Mar 16th, 2008, 03:06 PM
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Day 2: Tarangire National Park and Swala

Our first full day in Africa! After a large breakfast at Arumeru, we were driven to the “Sunny” offices in Arusha to settle the bill for the safari. A few nervous moments later (I suddenly realised I hadn’t informed my credit card company there would be a large transaction emanating from Africa), the payment went through fine and we were on our way.

Our first stop on the way to Tarangire was at the cultural heritage centre, where we browsed a huge selection of paintings and carvings. To be honest, this place felt a little corporate for me. Maybe our judgement had been clouded by a previous trip to Asia where we filled our cases with paintings and carvings from the galleries and markets we visited. This somehow just didn’t feel as real. Or perhaps it was just the huge mark up in prices that put us off! Either way, our walls at home were amply full and we just weren’t enamoured enough with a 5ft carving of an African man to part with $1000. We did however leave with the only physical souvenirs of our trip – a wooden carved giraffe mug and a Tanzania bush hat that when tied underneath his chin, made my partner look like little bo peep.

There began a relatively uneventful ride to the park gates briefly interrupted by an enforced layover along the side of the road in order to let the president of Tanzania and his huge entourage pass. A quick stretch of our legs at the entrance and a rest room visit later, we were finally into the dramatic dust red landscape of Tarangire.

This was so breathtakingly different to our previous day in Arusha; it was hard to believe we were barely an hour away. The sun was hotter, the air was dryer and the terrain was flatter and more exposed. Those famous imposing baobab trees were beautifully scattered around the landscape and were I anything that resembled an accomplished photographer, it would have made for some breathtaking pictures.

Zebras were the first order of the day, followed by an exciting first encounter with a pride of real life African lions catching some zzz’s beneath the shade of a baobab tree. After barely an hour of driving time, I think I may have been a full 2GB into the limited supply of SD card storage we’d thought to bring with us – a fantastic indication of our child like jubilance. Completely awestruck, we snapped away at anything outside the confines of a vehicle – dik-dik, impala, ostrich, eagles, monkeys, a whole host of bird species we had no clue of knowing, lions, giraffe and of course Tarangire’s now legendary beast - the elephant. Not in my wildest dreams could I have ever allowed myself to imagine just how many of these we’d be lucky enough to see. No matter how many trip reports I’d read affirming the likelihood of a sighting, I’d still been wary of letting myself fully anticipate them. It would have been fair to say at that instant that should this have been the extent of our foray into East African wildlife, we would not have left disappointed.

Our camp at Tarangire, Swala, was situated towards the south of the park and we gradually meandered along the dust tracks towards our home for the night. On approaching the property, we were greeted by Steve and Maryna (the managers of Swala), who had anticipated our arrival and were waiting with a wonderfully refreshing drink and a cold towel. At this point it became apparent that the pleasant skin tone my boyfriend had noticed I’d developed since arriving in Africa was in fact a thick layer of burnt coloured clay courtesy of the Tarangire roads. Oh well, plenty of time for tanning later!

The first thing I began to notice about Swala was how well it blended into it’s surroundings, like somehow flushing toilets, hot showers and electricity should be completely the norm in this tranquil part of nowhere. With just the right amount of simplicity and luxury, privacy and friendliness, I immediately knew the choice to stay here was a good one. For anyone who might remember me posting our itinerary in the planning stages, I was torn between this place and treetops for our stay in Tarangire. Now sat on the deck with a cool drink in my hand, the late afternoon sun on my face and the breath-taking vision of Swla’s resident elephants and impala playing at the watering hole, I couldn’t have been happier at our selection.

Having been shown to our tent – number 1 – we showered and changed for dinner and then rejoined our fellow campees for what felt like a friendly informal dinner party with Steve and Maryna. With fourteen of us in total – a busy night – we exchanged stories, had perhaps the best food we ate while on safari, and toasted marshmallows around a large camp fire. If ever there was a day to be lived up to, surely it was this one.
kernel_decker is offline  
Mar 16th, 2008, 04:44 PM
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Good one, Lynn. But, KernelDecker hasn't waited two years to post a trip report, the trip was last July. It was 2 years ago that she had not yet been bit by the safari bug.

You were so excited at Tarangire that if you’d only had one day you would have been satisfied? That must have been some day indeed! I like your description of Swala, being the perfect blend of simplicity and luxury, privacy and friendliness. I hope the rest of your trip lives up to your first day there.

Please continue…
Dana_M is offline  
Mar 19th, 2008, 11:56 PM
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Embarrassingly, it has indeed taken me nearly two years to write this report; my safari was in July of 2006 and the planning took place in March of the same year(!)

Also, rather than literally being happy with only one full days safari, I think what I meant was that should this have been all the wildlife we were to see throughout our whole stay in Africa, I would have left completely satisfied. Arriving with absolutely no expectations and with every single experience being a brand new one, just the snatched glimpses of a few snoozing lions and the elephants would have been enough. Obviously, my only problem now is that should I return, my expectations would be MUCH higher!
kernel_decker is offline  
Mar 20th, 2008, 05:49 AM
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Perhaps giraffes are the "(un)official welcoming committe" for the first timers' safari. They were our first animal, too. We were not even, technically, on a game drive, but just driving from the Samburu airstrip to our camp. That first animal sighting really is a fantastic moment, isn't it?

Loving the report so far. Can't wait for more.

going_2_africa is offline  
Mar 21st, 2008, 09:02 PM
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My mistake. I misread something. But good for you, KernelDecker, that you are doing a trip report now. I knew what you meant about being "satisfied" after that first day. It's incredible, isn't it? That first rush of your first game drive on you first safari.

Shane-I, too, experienced the unofficial welcoming committee at the Mara several years ago, on the way from the airstrip. Several giraffe were lined up as if at attention. They were accompanied by a single lone wildebeest.

Please continue with your trip report KernelDecker, and tell us more.
Dana_M is offline  
Apr 9th, 2008, 11:31 AM
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Day 3: Tarangire National Park and Swala

A restless first night under canvas; some cheeky monkeys decided to play on the roof of our tent in the early hours of the morning, leading to a somewhat disturbed nights sleep.

All was forgiven though as we were woken with coffee, hot chocolate and cookies delivered to the tent pre breakfast, with a warning to keep the tent zipped (those cheeky monkeys again – right little tea leafs by all accounts). So we showered and dressed, padlocked the tent, and headed to perhaps the most surreal and wonderful breakfast of the whole trip.

Seemingly the last out of bed (it was only 8am in our defence), we ate a solitary breakfast surrounded by the sights, smells and warmth of Tarangire. The elephants drank, the impala played and the birds sang as we watched and ate from the decking. The only thing missing was the full English that was ordered…!

Barely a minutes from camp, we caught our first wildlife spot of the day; a family of dwarf mongoose very well camouflaged with the termite hill they were astutely perched on top of. This was soon followed by the most elephants I have ever seen at any one time, all crossing the road directly in front of the car, and all in single file. Later on we were to find them at their intended destination, rolling round in the mud by the Tarangire River.

Unfortunately, as we got further into our second game drive of Tarangire, it became clear that The Tubby One (that’s the boyfriend) was not feeling too chipper. While not serious, and he did recover by evening, it did put a little bit of a dampener on the day. He tried his best to be enthusiastic, but being a slight shade of green and off his food, he just wasn’t himself. Which was a shame as the picnic lunch prepared for us by Swala was easily the best of the trip, and was far more than just myself and Abu could manage. They’d prepared a real feast with salad, rice, fruit, pastries, wine, coffee and soft drinks to name but a few. Although I have to say, I did avoid alcohol during the day on game drives as apart from the fact that it doesn’t take much for me to be affected (and who wants their senses dulled on safari?), it’s also a diuretic and I’m no huge fan of bush toilets!

Although we didn’t have any lion sightings, we did see plenty of elephant, oryx, waterbuck, impala, zebra, dik-dik, buffalo, giraffe, ostrich, baboon, warthog, lots of bird (kori bustard, southern ground hornbill, vultures, eagles) and an African spurred tortoise. I wish I was better educated in terms of names, and I did pick up a few as the trip wore on, but my memory is poor and so are my photographic skills so that’s as precise as I’m ever likely to be!

And so it was with another full layer of Tarangire dust covering my person, we again set off on our intimate trip back to camp. Met again with cold towels and drinks by Steve and Maryna and with Tubs beginning to recover from his bout of illness, we had a fantastic evening with only one other guest in camp, a wonderful South African woman called Arrolla. In stark contrast to the bustling full camp of the previous night, it was just the five of us for another remarkable dinner exchanging stories of England and of Africa. And with Steve being an unusually knowledgeable football fan (not my words...), he and the boyfriend had plenty to talk about
kernel_decker is offline  
Apr 9th, 2008, 02:00 PM
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Probably more than any other lodge on our trip, I look back at Swala and Tarangire with great affection. Maybe it holds a special place in our hearts because this was where we had our first amazing sense of safari, or maybe it was because the hosts ran their camp with a genuine passion for their work and interest in their guests. There was no feeling of cold corporate hospitality that we got in some of the larger lodges, and none of our fellow guests were interested in out-safari-ing and out-lense-ing each other; just a sincere mutual interest in each others itineraries and experiences.
As I mentioned before, if this were to have been all the wildlife we were to see throughout our whole stay in Africa, I would have left completely satisfied. After leaving here, I already felt like I knew exactly what I wanted a safari experience to feel like. The rest of our trip had an awful lot to live up to.

I remember the early evening of our second day there standing on the veranda looking out at the dusk only to see an elephant walk right by our tent, just a few metres away. I almost daren’t breath in case he ran off, and as I fumbled for the camera and hurriedly managed to take a few snaps, I suddenly realised I should just relax and enjoy what I was witnessing – I really was on safari - and I'm not sure anywhere else in Tarangire could have given us that feeling (not with a full bathroom suite anyway!).
kernel_decker is offline  
Apr 9th, 2008, 02:55 PM
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You gave a great description of Swala and the surroundings. I like the out-lensing comment.
atravelynn is offline  
Apr 9th, 2008, 04:58 PM
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Swala sounds great. Now I'm peeking at your itinerary trying to determine what's up next.
Leely is offline  

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