What, exactly, is the Serengeti? This Unesco-protected, national park in northern Tanzania mesmerised the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Beryl Markham. Known for its vast expanses of amber-hued grassland, swamp land and peculiar boulders, called kopje, the 30,000-sq-km ecosystem is home to the stately Maasai tribe, cattle tenders who live as they have for centuries. Dotted with mushroom-shaped acacia and healing baobab trees, and hailed for its life-affirming sunsets, the park is a draw for tourists intent on spying The Big Five: lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. More than 70 types of large mammal and 500 species of birds enliven the terrain.
What's a safari lodge? Will we be camping? Not quite. The Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti is a rarity in Africa, being both a resort and a far-flung lodge. Guests arrive in the park on a tiny plane before transferring to a four-wheel-drive. It’s likely you’ll spot your first animals – warthogs, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest and such – before you’ve seen your accommodation. The lodge, with its pointed grass roof and tree-trunk base, suggests the typical Tanzanian mushonge, or roundhouse. Wrapped around two watering holes, it is composed of 60 lavish rooms, 12 suites – many with plunge pools – five new villas and a tree-house-like presidential suite. Elevated walkways, guarded by affable Maasai warriors, connect the accommodation to three restaurants, a spa and an infinity pool.
What's the big deal with the watering holes? Haven’t you ever dreamed of lunching with an elephant, sipping tea while a zebra chews the cud, quaffing a martini in the presence of a lion? Well, it all happens here. As you sit safely on the terrace of your room, or in a lounge chair around the pool, nibbling snacks made from ingredients straight from the resort’s gardens, you can watch animals knocking back their favourite cocktail: good, old, African H20.
But I thought safaris involved bumping around in jeeps at dawn? They do; and that’s part of the magic. Most of those on safari go out “hunting” twice a day. Catch the animals at their most active, early in the morning, and then return for a Kifaa massage, which involves baobab oil and a Maasai wooden herder’s baton to unravel the knots. Alternatively, read on your deck, work out in the fitness centre, gulp a beer or visit the informative Discovery Centre. In the late afternoon, head back out to the bush in search of more creatures. At the end of the day, salute your successes with a sundowner.
What's the Discovery Centre? Coming across this nook, near the heart of the lodge, feels like finding a magical trunk of artefacts in the back room of a museum. Interactive, with a vintage feel, it has cabinets overflowing with such things as maps, photographic equipment, thumb-worn books, shells, horns, baboon skulls and a movie screen. Manned by a Maasai naturalist, the centre supports wildlife research projects and conservation in the region. Guests can join the cause, assisting with the classification of animal images caught on remote camera, among other research. The centre offers walking safaris into the bush with the Maasai to learn about animals, plants and weather.
Would the kids be welcome? Thanks to the resort’s Kijana Klub (kijana means “youth” in Swahili), children can enjoy a safe, educational stay in the Serengeti. Specially trained teachers care for youngsters from the age of two while older children and parents take part in game drives or enjoy a relaxing dinner.
What's the bottom line? Rooms begin at US$1,590 per night for two, which includes three meals and all drinks (local wine, spirits, beer), laundry credit, Wi-fi and more. What it doesn’t include is the game drives; the resort prefers to give guests the option of not feeling obliged to follow the twice-a-day routine. For more details, go to www.fourseasons.com/serengeti.