A GAME DRIVE MASTERPIECE
In the far North of Tanzania and stretching a good way into Kenya, the Greater Serengeti Ecosystem spans a vast thirty thousand square kilometres.

A thriving wilderness, pristine and teeming with wildlife, this jewel between the arms of the Great Rift Valley is truly an icon to behold and revere.

For two and a half years we watched the seasons pass in the north of the park while managing the beautiful Lamai Serengeti lodge. Three times we witnessed the great migration arrive and depart the region, awaking to the monotonous sound of wildebeest one morning, and then realising the soundtrack was missing this baseline again some months later when they disappeared. It was extraordinary.

We were intimately acquainted with how popular the park was and how busy our region would get during the high season. To a greater extent the visitors migrate with the grazers, and this is compounded in the north where the added draw of potentially witnessing the mayhem of a Mara River crossing combines in part with the long summer holidays in the northern hemisphere. At times it would get too much, the park would feel overused, the wildlife disturbed, and the experiences tainted. Then the wildebeest would depart, the land-cruisers would leave and a stormy yet tranquil beauty would descend on a landscape in recovery.

The Serengeti is massive and varied. Whatever the time of year, there will be a corner to explore or a journey to embark on that will offer a truly authentic wilderness experience along with unforgettable wildlife encounters. By all means travel to experience those pinnacle moments of the great migration and accept them for the attraction and the spectacle that they are. But let’s give ourselves enough time and apply a little imagination, then we’ll find the ‘other’ Serengeti, the secret Serengeti, the Serengeti we fell in love with.

As a snapshot of this place we hold in such high regard, we wanted to share a diary entry from Nic’s experience with the DeSola family, as he guided them through two weeks in the wild.

DeSola Family Adventure, Southern Serengeti

We hit the road after an early breakfast with Laurence and the team at Serengeti Safari Camp. They have done a tremendous job looking after us all and I was heartened to be delayed by the goodbyes and to see Mama Lucia a little teary to be leaving.

We head west to Kusini as we hope to find cheetah on the plains and then take the road via Moru Kopjies, Seronera, Lobo and Nyamalunbwa. It’s a massive drive but perhaps the most beautiful ones in the park. We find seven cheetahs before we reach Kusini! Between Kusini and The Simiyu River we drive through densities of wildebeest far beyond what we have seen further south thus far. Seemingly a large portion of the migration is nestled here on this green patch and very much enjoying it by the sounds of them.

Before we cross the bridge, the flick of a dark tail tuft alerts us to a lioness, crouched in the reeds and watching a wildebeest as he approaches the very gully in which she is concealed. We hold our breath; the bull isn’t a youngster and he knows something is up. This stand-off lasts 20 minutes before he takes two steps forward, second guesses and by chance glimpses the big cat that’s almost upon him, and takes off like a rocket. The lioness seems fat and sated already, she doesn’t give the impression of regretting the loss as she disappears into a thicket of palm.

We cross the river and round a bend, where wildebeest and zebra cover the plains to our right, and on our left is a huge sausage tree with a land cruiser nearby. It comes to my mind that this is the only other vehicle we have seen this morning. Eight fat looking lionesses hang like baubles, lazing on the limbs of this giant tree and happily observing the plentiful food on the plains beneath them.
A mixed herd of fifty or so wildebeest and zebra come down to drink at the pool beyond the sausage tree. It’s an idyllic scene, a dream of Africa. And then, suddenly, it’s chaos…

Stripes, horns, beards and tails erupt in a splash of mud and water and charge off in all directions. In half a second we see a huge male lion, barrelling forward and into the confusion, dust settles and there stands the lion without the prey. The lion struts back, trying not to make it look like a big deal. The lionesses in the tree regard him, seemingly nonplussed. It’s as if he’s always doing this.

Before we cross the bridge, the flick of a dark tail tuft alerts us to a lioness, crouched in the reeds and watching a wildebeest as he approaches the very gully in which she is concealed. We hold our breath; the bull isn’t a youngster and he knows something is up. This stand-off lasts 20 minutes before he takes two steps forward, second guesses and by chance glimpses the big cat that’s almost upon him, and takes off like a rocket. The lioness seems fat and sated already, she doesn’t give the impression of regretting the loss as she disappears into a thicket of palm.

Our drive up into the Moru Kopjies is glorious. We keep our eyes peeled for black rhino, but they elude us this time. Covering good ground now and making time, we let the wind rush by us as we pass the main hub Seronera. Even this famously bustling area feels deserted, we see only a handful of other vehicles and are entranced by a huge journey of giraffe.

Beyond Lobo, we find a great herd of zebra in the hills. I’m surprised to find them this far north but they’re smart, the grass here is lush and splendidly green. To further illustrate this point, two large herds of Cape Buffalo dot the hills on either side of us as we head towards the Bologonja River, where we are halted in our tracks by a mating pair of lions. They are honeymooning outside the ranger post here.

The light is beginning to soften as we cross the Nyamalumbwa Hills. Here, as if in crescendo of this masterpiece of a game drive, a finale of elephants observes our passing. Several breeding herds and some large bulls appear to have settled in these highlands on their way North and are feeding precariously high up on the hillsides. We count more than seventy, the spectacle seems almost too farfetched to be real.

As we pull up at Mkombe’s house, my dear friend Babu welcomes us in. We worried him as we certainly are late and he is all the more delighted to bring the family in and fix the drinks. I cannot believe everything that we have seen on this day and for the most part there was not another human soul in sight. I’m filled with gratitude for the experience.