The Absolute Safari Week 4: Tanzania

Week 4 saw us travel from the Western border of Tanzania from the most incredible safari and camping experiences, across to the Eastern border of the Indian Ocean and boarding a ferry over to the island paradise of Zanzibar. It is by far one of the most diverse countries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, and now holds many priceless memories that I’m excited to share with you...

Day 22: The Grumeti

It's always tiring being driven from one destination to another

It's always tiring being driven from one destination to another

After our stay at the beautiful Lake Victoria, we made way for the famous Serengeti! We drove for a few hours until we reached the gate of the Grumeti, a private game reserve bordering the Serengeti. Hopping out of the truck at the gate for a quick pee stop before we began our game drive, I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that I was jumping over giant mounds of elephant shit to find a bush to go to the toilet behind myself, right next to where elephants had done their business maybe just a day prior. Our short game drive through the reserve to the campsite didn’t produce much action. Many zebra, giraffe, pumba, wildebeest and impala were seen, a common site for us now, as common as driving in the Australian bush past families of kangaroos for me now. The heat of the day blared down on us while we pitched camp, with no fences or barriers at all between us and whatever wildlife might’ve been lurking out there. 

Our campsite in the Grumeti

Our campsite in the Grumeti

Drama preceded tonight after the people on cooking duty spiced up the curry a bit much for some, and this night would hence forever be known as ‘chilligate’ for the remainder of the tour. Just as we finished up our curry and bickering for the night, the heavens opened up and rained down upon us destroying anybody’s hopes of doing a night game drive. We all ran for cover under a closeby shelter which became our makeshift nightclub for the remaining hours. We drank and danced in utter darkness under the open-air tin roof while an impressive lightning show served as our strobe lights. After the rain passed, Kanyo came to scald us about our shenanigans, reminding us that we could go clubbing any night of the week, but how often would we be able to sit around a campfire on the outskirts of the Serengeti and listen to the hunting and mating calls of the African wilderness? Correct as he was, we packed up and assembled around the fire to listen to stories of the tribes of Africa, pausing only to listen to the call of hyenas and the roar of lions in the distance. 

Day 23: The Serengeti

Sunrise in the Grumeti

Sunrise in the Grumeti

Breakfast pancake duties

Breakfast pancake duties

Grumeti

Our excursion into the Serengeti was included in our tour price, however apparently it was extremely pricey and included strict entry regulations. We all had exactly 24 hours to enjoy the park and if overstaying our welcome even by 10 minutes, we would all be charged another days worth of entry each. We therefore put off packing up camp until after lunch so that we would be able to enjoy a game drive the next morning as well before rushing out.

 

I killed some time in the morning by walking to the local hotel and having a drink with the Israeli and Irish couples as well as Emilie, the Norwegian girl. The hotel restaurant opened especially for us to sit and have a morning beverage and watch zebra in the distance, as well as bush mice scuttling in the bushes next to our table.

Ready to hit the Serengeti roads

Ready to hit the Serengeti roads

Welcome to the Serengeti

Welcome to the Serengeti

Promptly at 1pm we drove through the Serengeti gates for an action-packed afternoon of viewing many stinky, wallowing hippos, cheeky lion cubs playing on a log (OUR FIRST PROPER LION HERD SPOTTING, SO EXCITING!) and many elephants going about their business. Continuing with the theme of strict regulations, we had to be within the boundaries of our campsite by 6pm, however these boundaries were merely theoretical again sleeping out in the African open.

I was on cooking duty tonight, and rectified the events of chilligate the night before with the best meal so far (if I do say so myself) of burrito bowls. We spent another classic night sharing drinks and stories around the campfire, with most of the group turning in early for an early rise the next morning. I stayed up with some of the boys, full of energy after a third helping of burrito ingredients (OOPS). We decided to do a quick spotlight check around the campsite before also hitting the hay. Slowly rotating the torches around the perimeter of our campsite, about 20m directly behind my tent, 2 eyes that belonged to a hyena glared back at us. Shining the torch on it, it slowly slumped away, and I went to bed slightly nervous. Maybe 20 minutes later I heard many hyenas calling out to each other in the night.

Day 24: The Serengeti to Ngorongoro Crater

TODAY WAS THE TOTAL EPITOME OF SAFARIS! 

hyena Serengeti

After being sorely disappointed by the Maasai Mara, I had high hopes for the Serengeti to witness something David Attenborough worthy, and it did not disappoint! We were packed up and in the truck by 6am to hit the tracks, expecting to see some epic dawn action. Stopping for one measly hyena just outside our campsite (possibly our mate from the night before) seems laughable now after reflecting on the remainder of the day.

Sneaky cheetah - it was extremely difficult to get a good photo with the camouflage of the cat and the distance that we were at.

Sneaky cheetah - it was extremely difficult to get a good photo with the camouflage of the cat and the distance that we were at.

We had been hanging out to see some cheetah and leopards, when in the distance we could make out a slinky figure on the road ahead. Praying for either of these big cats we drove closer to see that there were actually 2 cat shadows. As we approached them, they wandered off into the high grass, however from the road the shape of their ears and tails revealed that we had actually stumbled upon not 2… but 3 cheetahs! They continued to wander up the hill over the high grasslands, and sighing that we’d just missed our chance for a good view, Robert pulled a quick U-turn and sped off to the crossroads, to turn up the next dirt road and chase them down (unfortunately, off-roading in most game parks is strictly forbidden!) Quickly, news of what Kanyo suspected was 3 juvenile brothers got out, and we were racing down 4x4’s to get to a better vantage point to watch the gorgeous boys go on a morning hunt. We were able to get a much better view of them, but unfortunately the lazy boys were just detouring around the herd of antelope, and had no intention of working for a big breakfast that morning. We watched them for as long as possible, before they disappeared down into a waterhole and out of sight.We continued on, spotting beautiful rock formations, a deadly black mamba slinking after a rat across the road, zebra chasing off jackals, countless numbers of wildebeest and elephant.

lion Serengeti

The Serengeti was truly a sensory overload and after just 2 hours on the road we had seen so much! Sitting and watching a beautiful elephant family, suddenly the young bull charged at a male lion (who came out of nowhere), chasing him away from the area down by a ditch. As we looked around, we noticed that there was a large pride of lions just to the left, where the big daddy had just come from. The elephants slowly, but purposefully strolled over to the right away from the young family, and around our truck. We stayed to watch the lions, which were still appearing out of the long grass, more and more. As we eagerly watched, a lioness walked towards us in the distance on the other side of the road. There was something hanging out of her mouth. Jumping out of our seats on the right side of the truck where we had been watching the cubs, we quickly ran to the left side, poking our heads out and waiting even more eagerly to see what was approaching. The lioness had made a kill of a baby warthog, and obviously exhausted, walked ever so slowly towards the 6 or so cubs to deliver their breakfast. They quickly made for the kill, fighting over the juiciest parts, ripping it apart piece by piece. Two more lionesses approached from the left, who had obviously contributed to the hunt. 

The only thing that would have topped that experience now would be to see an actual hunt in action. And we were in luck. Not long after, we stumbled upon one of the biggest prides even Kanyo had witnessed at the Serengti in years. We lost count after more than 20 lionesses, juveniles and many, many cubs. They were frolicking by the waterhole, the cubs being as cheeky as ever. I was beyond excited! Disappointingly, the 4x4 jeeps gravitated from every direction and before we knew it, there were more cars than lions, and regardless of the ‘do not park on the bridge’ sign, the truck was blocked in at both ends on the bridge. Then the most amazing thing happened. Disregarding the humans and vehicles completely, the cubs started running from the waterhole up onto the bridge, and chasing each other along the bridge ledge, directly next to our truck! Mumma lion came up slowly behind them, and passed by the truck with no interest in us at all. Eventually, a couple of the lionesses directed the traffic of cubs past us and behind the truck to a small puddle on the bridge for a drink, and then moved on to a small oasis on the other side.

However, 3 of the lionesses remained behind at the waterhole by the bridge. We finally got enough free space to move on from the bridge, when we saw a small family of warthogs cautiously moseying on over to the waterhole. OH IT WAS ON! Excitedly we watched and waited. Robert, our amazing driver, drove us away from the 4x4’s to a perpendicular road, and being in the higher truck, we were able to get a wider view from further back than all the silly vehicles edging in closer and closer to the waterhole. The 3 lionesses watched patiently from beyond the waterhole and plotted their positions. One edged nearer while the warthogs bent down to get a  drink. Finally, after feeling as though I hadn’t taken a breath in over 2 minutes from the suspense, she pounced! The warthogs broke off into a group and took off, but one broke off from the pack. Dodging the many cars, the warthog sprinted through an opening with 2 lionesses now on his tail in full chase mode. After clearing the many vehicles, they kicked up the dust, running at full speed directly passed our truck (THANK YOU AGAIN ROBERT, the only driver clever enough to wait it out on the other road!). We squealed and egged on the lionesses, but Mr.Pig was just too quick for them. The chase was over. That warthog would be counting his blessings that morning, while the two lionesses consoled each other and headed back to their babies empty handed.

leopard Serengeti
dust storm Serengeti

Not to disappoint, as we headed out of the park we saw OUR FIRST LEOPARD lounging in a tree. We stopped for a quick lunch, before heading out of the park, where yet another GORGEOUS male lion sat by a sign (just outside the Serengeti boundaries, GO FIGURE! It's true what they say, the Serengeti is THEE place for lion spotting!) He waved goodbye (not really) and we were on our way to Ngorongoro Crater. We passed by some Maasai village, driving directly into a dust storm. We battened down the hatches (the canvas windows of our beloved truck) and covered our faces with scarves to brace the storm. We eventually made it to the edge of the crater, albeit with about 20 extra layers of dirt on our faces and stopped for a photo op. What a view! Jumping back into the truck, we drove on to our campsite for part 2 of Kanyo’s campfire discussion of the African tribes, however after such a full-on day, 50% of the group fell asleep on their stools.

lion Serengeti

Day 25: Ngorongoro Crater to Arusha

Yet another ridiculously early and cold start this morning to head down into Ngorongoro Crater. We rugged up and were provided with 4x4’s for the day to get down into the crater, as Kanye informed us due to the steep decline of the road, the truck, nor giraffes could get down, and that if anybody did happen to spot a giraffe in the crater he would buy us all a round of beers that night! (Spoiler: nobody saw a giraffe, but there were still plenty of drinks had!) Utterly exhausted, I’m sad to admit I fell asleep within the first hour of the game drive, but luckily enough didn’t miss anything exciting at all. Spoilt for choice in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater didn’t deliver the goods for us today. We spotted the usual elephants, zebra, wildebeest and hippo, who all weren’t doing much at all. Honestly, sometimes I had to pinch myself for taking these incredible sights for granted! We were informed that it was mating season for the lions, and that they copulate every 15 minutes during the season, however no matter how many 15 minutes slots we sat there and watched a couple that we would come across for, we didn’t witness any action! Apparently, the crater is also supposed to be THEE place for rhino spotting… we didn’t see one! The odds just weren’t in our favour today. The crater offered some stunningly beautiful scenery, but honestly, we were ready to go hours before we did leave and had many a naps in-between (not to mention I was freaking HANGRY). Knowing that we had a long drive that afternoon to Arusha also didn’t help. So I had another nap. 

We accumulated 6 new members in Arusha, and sadly said goodbye to Kev and Alice. It was a good send off in the hostel bar, playing pool and talking shit till the wee hours of the morning. I FINALLY got some incredibly impressive wifi and skyped back home for the first time in weeks (love you mum!)

Day 26: In Transit 

Today we literally drive all day. I can’t even remember the name of the town we stayed at, but it was somewhere between Arusha and Dar es Salaam. It’s not always glamorous in the life of an overlander. Totally batshit boring day.

Day 27: Dar es Salaam

Today we arrived at Dar es Salaam, a largely muslim settlement city on the Indian Ocean and the gateway to the beautiful island of Zanzibar. We were advised not to leave the campsite that night as we weren’t in the friendliest area of town, however driving through the city to get to the campsite, it looked like an extremely interesting place and I wish I could’ve seen more! We pitched tent and headed straight to the ocean, after sweating in the truck all day. Much to our dismay, the water was HOT AS BALLS and provided absolutely no cool relief. We tried the pool next but it was no better, and full of annoying children. I decided the only cold relief I was going to get that afternoon was at the bar with an icy cold cider. And more cider. And maybe another cider… until dinner was finally announced and we tucked into a big seafood buffet!

Day 28: Zanzibar

Tuk tuk ride

Tuk tuk ride

Stone Town

Stone Town

The transit from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar was indeed a trek! Tuk tuks picked us up from our campsite in the morning and dropped us by the river. We then walked down the hill and into the waiting area (where we passed many homeless people, blind beggars and young mums on the ground with their disabled children) to then board a local 10 minute ferry across the river. From the ferry, the group walked (except for a few of us who had already had enough of the crowds and paid for another tuk tuk) to get to the other dock where we boarded a 1.5 hour ferry to cross over to Zanzibar. All up, I believe it took us about 4-5 hours to get onto the island and pass customs at the other side (even though Zanzibar is still a state of Tanzania, they have their own governing body and customs processes - and yes that did mean an extra stamp in the passport YUSS!). The second ferry was surprisingly comfortable and air-conditioned, and had great samosas at the canteen also, just FYI. We then walked down a few alleys with our backpacks through Stone Town to arrive at our hostel for the night. Stone Town is one of those places in the world that’s like no where else. White washed buildings with intricate doorways share walls with the neighbouring buildings, allowing little light into the streets, creating a tiny condensed harbour city. We were given an hour to shower away the stink and dirt from the intense commute and then met down in the lobby to start our excursion for the day.

All in food comas after our homestay lunch

All in food comas after our homestay lunch

We were whisked off to the centre of the island for lunch at a local homestay of rice, curry and fresh fruits. We then commenced a 2-hour spice tour around a local farm that grew everything from cinnamon to coconuts, and was probably the most informative 2 hours I’d spent on this trip so far. We taste-tested every herb, spice and fruit that they grew, and were given knowledge on how the locals prepared and used them. When researching this trip, I honestly thought that this was an optional excursion, and had not planned on paying for it, but I’m so glad that it was included and would highly recommend a spice tour to anybody planning on visiting Zanzibar! 

Selfies in Stone Town

Selfies in Stone Town

Stone Town Night Market - didn't get food poisoning so counting that as a win!

Stone Town Night Market - didn't get food poisoning so counting that as a win!

Mr. Cheese

Mr. Cheese

We then headed back to the hostel to freshen up again before heading out as a group to the night market for dinner, right by the ocean. I tried some of the local seafood and then indulged in a Nutella and banana pizza for dessert (OH MY GOD) which seemed to be the local specialty of the area. We enjoyed the gimmicky appearance of chefs in white hats, cooking outdoors and vying for our attention to choose their stall over their competitors. The chefs went by the names of Mr. Cheese, Mr. Fish etc. and made for an entertaining meal indeed!

Many locals spent their night in the open air of the market, talking to tourists seeming genuinely interested in our stories with no agenda, however I was always on my guard in such a place. It was I think the only place out of the entire trip that I gave a homeless man some money after talking to him, as we had a truly honest conversation, however as a rule I don’t give money to street beggars when travelling because it encourages the culture and it’s just too emotionally tolling if you help some, but not others. In the end, we can’t help everybody and it is a part of travelling that I still struggle to deal with morally to this day. 

I would love to hear your opinion and experiences on how you deal with homeless people and street beggars that approach you whilst travelling! Do you give whatever you can? Do you say no to all or just some? Are you always prepared and carry around food in your bag for such circumstances? 

In case you missed it, click here to read about Week 3 in Uganda & Rwanda...

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Serengeti lioness

Still want to see more? Watch a short clip of my Tanzania experience...