Hot spots: Seronera Wildlife Lodge, The Serengeti
What is it? If this property were in Hong Kong, or almost anywhere else, it would qualify for a "Freezing Cold Spot" column, if such a thing existed; here there is hot water between 6 and 9, am and pm, only; there is no electricity at all between midnight and 5am, or between 3pm and 6pm; there are no air conditioners, minibars, safes nor writing materials in the guest rooms; the wooden flooring is so creaky you cannot sleep through the 5.30am exodus of guests hurrying to catch the sunrise; the only way of con-tacting the outside world is by using the phone behind the reception desk (US$12 for three minutes); the staff are stand-offish, to put it kindly; and the wine in the bar comes by the box - one type of red, one of white. But the Seronera Lodge is not in Hong Kong … it's in the middle of the Serengeti, and as a dramatic pause in the middle of a holiday of a lifetime (two nights here is usual), it works a treat.
How does it do that, then? Well, to be fair, nature has done most of the work. The lodge is built around the large volcanic rocks of a kopje, a small hill rising from the grasslands. All windows look out over the Serengeti, but the full majesty of the national park can best be appreciated from a large viewing platform (right), which overlooks the lodge's swimming pool (top). The soundtrack to 360 degrees of wonder consists of birdsong and the grunting of hippos coming from a mud pool 150 metres or so in front of the property. The whole place is overrun with tame hyrax (which look like a cross between a rabbit and a rat, but in a good way).
The rooms sound pretty awful - are there no redeeming features? For one, yours could come with a gazelle grazing outside the window. The 75 rooms are actually fine: they're clean and the beds are comfy. You really don't need much else when the main attraction is what's all around you. The management warns you to keep doors and windows shut - but the potential thieves here are monkeys and baboons.
And what about the food? Breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets are limited but tasty and nutritious. Coffee, tea and biscuits are available for pre-dawn safari trekkers, who usually return later for breakfast, the happiest having caught sight of a leopard (the lesser spotted of the big five safari animals). Meals are served in a cavernous dining area built around two of the huge rocks of the kopje. Equally striking is the bar, which hugs the other side of the rocks (below right).
Anything else we should know? Seronera is a five-minute drive from the departure point for hot-air balloon safaris over the Serengeti, and is on the migration route of the plains' wildebeest, the subject of many a wildlife documentary. Sister properties Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge and Lake Manyara Wildlife Lodge offer similar deals: little by way of amenities but stunning views of the Ngorongoro Crater (a huge caldera) and Lake Manyara (which lies in the Great Rift Valley). All three are fairly easy to reach from Hong Kong now that Qatar Airways' Doha-to-Dar Es Salaam service has been extended to Kilimanjaro. The airport is about two hours' drive from Lake Manyara (the closest of the three lodges), and it is possible to arrange jeep hire and permits through one of the tour companies operating in the area (www.travelpartner.co.tz is one).
What's the bottom line: If you book direct, a double room costs US$600 a night. Usually, though, you'd book this as part of a tour package, whereby it would probably cost US$450.
Seronera Wildlife Lodge is in the middle of the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania; tel: 255 27 2544595; e-mail: email@example.com.