It’s the wildlife that steals the show, whether on safari or at the seaside, says Kate Wickers on a Serengeti and Seychelles trip
We are lying by the spectacular infinity pool at the Four Seasons Serengeti Safari Lodge in Tanzania waiting for the elephants to arrive. The pool is set just a couple of metres above a watering hole, and we’ve been told that elephants often come to drink there, but we’re not sure if we believe it as the only thing that’s wandered our way so far is a dik-dik, a tiny antelope whose name inspires predictable schoolboy humour from my sons Josh, 15, Ben, 13, and Freddie, nine.
I’m in a warm doze when they scramble off the sunbeds and shout, “Mum! They’re coming!” And not so much two by two either but in large groups, swaggering through the bush, trumpeting noisily, and thrilling us as we count off a herd of more than 50, including three novices of just a few months of age whose trunks aren’t yet long enough to reach the water. We stay transfixed at the pool, swimming as each new herd arrives. By sunset we’ve counted over 100 elephants.
Our family suite has floor to ceiling windows and a terrace with a plunge pool with views on to the plains – miles and miles of golden brown savannah, with just the passing zebra or distant hot air balloon to interrupt the view. It couldn’t be more beautiful.
The fact that it is a five star lodge doesn’t stop a tiny emerald green lizard hopping into my bed or a buffalo strolling through the grounds. There’s nothing but Masai guards and elevated wooden walkways between guests and the wildlife, but it feels reassuringly safe.
My sons groan when the alarm goes off at 6am but dawn is when the animals are most active and within minutes of leaving the lodge we come across a female adult cheetah and two young right by the side of the road. I realise just how rare this is when our guide Priscus reaches for his camera. We head to the river where hippos, packed like sardines, snort and play fight while Nile crocodiles languish on the banks. Lilac breasted rollers light up the sky; vast herds of zebra scatter as we approach; and Ben spots a leopard sleeping in a tree next to his kill, a Thompson gazelle that he has hauled in to the branches. Perhaps though it’s the sheer number of lion that is the most remarkable – we count 18 just in one spot, breakfasting on a zebra.
After six hours of bumping around on dirt tracks, afternoons are lazy – there’s the beautiful Discovery Centre to explore with its maps and skulls and curiosity cabinet full of feathers, dung and snakeskin (exactly how I’d imagine Charles Darwin’s living room to look); we watch the elephants troop in and out; and my sons hang out with the lovely Masai guards who show them how to make a toothbrush from a twig, light a fire without matches and look for lion tracks – like scout camp but with an edge.
The Spa, a series of bomas (Masai thatched huts), is located next to baboon kopje (rock), where four handsome baboons, not to be outdone by spa-goers, lounge and groom each other lazily in the late afternoon sunshine. I’m handed a glass of juice from the fruit of the Baobab Tree (known as the tree of life and so popular with primates it is nicknamed monkey bread) and packed with vitamin C. I sip it while my feet are scrubbed with rough leaves from the sandpaper tree before my blissful burudika (Swahili for relaxing) massage, using black pepper and wild ginger with baobab oil.
For a scene straight from Out of Africa, we opt to go off site for a bush dinner under the stars. A bonfire is lit and we watch the sun turn from gold to crimson, while our chef cooks us a gourmet feast in his al-fresco portable kitchen. I wonder how long before the delicious aromas attract wild guests and hyenas are the first gatecrashers. Thrilling as it is to be so at one with nature I am relieved that our table had been set up high on a flat rock, and that there is a National Park guard just below to chase them gently away.
After five dawn calls on safari, we are looking forward to a lie-in at the Four Seasons Seychelles on the island of Mahe, just a three-hour flight from Tanzania’s capital Dar Es Salaam. The resort is designed so that you hardly notice the wooden villas, built like extravagant tree houses on the steep hillside, in thick jungle foliage with more than 30 varieties of trees from palms to green bamboo and mango. Below is the gorgeous Petit Anse crescent bay, one of the most beautiful in Mahe. We pledge to take the lead from the five resident giant tortoises and slow right down.
We manage a day of lazing on the beach, playing coconut petanque (a game like boules), and swimming in the pool, before it is Josh’s 15th birthday and we are stirred in to action. Luckily though he’s already decided how he wants to spend it – out surfing with cool Aussie Steve, who runs Tropic Surf.
For the rest of us there’s free snorkel equipment to explore the reef that lies just a few metres off the beach and we spot eagle rays, parrot, butterfly and angel fish within minutes. There are kayaks and catamarans to borrow but not to be outdone by Josh we grab body boards to ride the waves.
We hire a car to explore, which is easily done in a day as Mahe only covers an area of 60 square miles, meandering along the west coast past rum distilleries, to tea plantations and on to Jardin du Roi (Spice Garden), where on a self-guided tour we follow our noses to cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, vanilla, lemongrass and pepper, shrieking when we encounter the enormous webs of the huge (but harmless) palm spiders with their long stripy orange and black legs. We visit Victoria, the smallest capital city in the world, with its colonial architecture painted in bright clashing colours and soundtrack of creole music.
There’s a happy rhythm to our evenings starting with a visit to feed Socrates, a giant tortoise that Freddie has bonded with, followed by a game of pool and a Creole Mojito, made with local Takamaka white cane spirit and Seybrew beer, at Kannel Bar. Huge furry fruit bats perform a daring, swooping, looping, sunset aerial show and we agree that just like in the Serengeti, it’s the wildlife that again steals the show.
• Kenya Airways (www.dialaflight.com) and Air Seychelles are among the most competitive carriers. For internal flights from Kilimanjaro to Seronera Airstrip in the Serengeti National Park and from Seronera to Dar Es Salaam, book with Coastal Aviation (www.coastal.co.tz).Rooms at the Four Seasons Serengeti Safari Lodge start at £998 and £897 at the Four Seasons Seychelles (www.fourseasons.com/serengeti; www.fourseasons.com/seychelles). Alternatively a family of four can travel with Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.co.uk) from £14,250, including all flights, four nights FB at FSSerengeti, plus park fees and game drives, and four nights B&B at FS Seychelles.