Landing on a grass strip in the middle of Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania, you are suddenly conscious of being surrounded by untouched wilderness. The 1,100 square miles of the reserve are a mix of swamps, acacia woodland and savanna dotted with enigmatic conical hills. The park is watered by the permanent Tarangire River, a muddy flow interspersed with rapids, beside which sizable herds of buffaloes graze the lush riverine grass. Tarangire is famous for the density of its elephant population, and unlike some other areas of Tanzania, the elephant have not been harassed or hunted and in consequence are astonishingly calm. Little Chem Chem is a camp of just six lavish tented suites, set on a 62-square-mile private concession contiguous with the national park. Lounging on your daybed you can watch impala and waterbuck grazing on an expanse of savanna that extends to the shores of tranquil Lake Burunge.
A three-hour drive north along the eastern shore of Lake Manyara (another of the Rift Valley lakes), brings you to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a region of volcanic highlands that rises to the summit of 12,080-foot Mount Loolmalasin. The centerpiece of the area is Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera. Twelve miles wide, it was formed around 2 million years ago, when a volcano that may then have been as big as 19,000-foot Mount Kilimanjaro exploded and collapsed. Today, the grasslands of the crater floor lie at an elevation of 5,700 feet. On this occasion, I opted to stay at The Highlands, a remote camp of eight futuristic bubbles, made of canvas and glass, with narrow decks that have a view of the distant Serengeti plains.
The flight by light aircraft from Karatu to Seronera, in the middle of Serengeti National Park, only takes 25 minutes, but it is unforgettable. After crossing the Ngorongoro Highlands and gazing down at the crater’s flamingo-flecked soda lake, you head out across the grass sea of the southern Serengeti plains, an apparently limitless expanse of savanna, dappled by shifting cloud shadows. Namiri Plains is located in a remote area famous for the density of its lion and cheetah populations. The camp of 10 spacious and comfortable tented suites is close to the famous Gol Kopjes, rocky outcrops seen in innumerable wildlife documentaries. Here, big cat sightings are virtually guaranteed. The resident black-maned lions are some of the largest in Africa, and prides can be up to 25 strong.