A Full Moon night, around 2.30am. I am suddenly jolted out of my sleep by my wife, who quietly points to the window.
The windows here, mind you, do not have any solid blind or shutter and are covered only by a sheer mosquito net and a glass panel. There are two giraffes, barely ten feet away, eating from a bush.
Recovering from the initial sense of awe, I rein in my instinct to photograph and let them enjoy their food. Welcome to the African savannah — and to the Ndutu Safari Lodge in Tanzania.
It was in late February when we landed at Kilimanjaro airport, where Ewa Moshi, our guide driver of the tour, was waiting with a Land Cruiser, specially modified for safaris. This is our second visit to the Serengeti ecosystem in two years.
With packed lunch, we started our 300-kilometre journey from Arusha. On the way, we passed by the Ngorongoro crater, the largest unbroken volcanic caldera in the world — the crater is 610 metres deep and 20 kilometres in diameter. The Ngorongoro Conservation area has been a World Heritage Site since 1979. You can see plenty of game, such as lions, elephants, zebras, buffaloes and Tanzania’s few remaining black rhinos, inside the crater. The village of Masais sits just outside it.
After entering the Ndutu area, I stopped to take pictures of a clan of hyenas. We had a bit of a scare when, on restarting the vehicle, we discovered we had a flat tyre. Even an exercise such as changing tyres can be risky if there are Thompson gazelles, wildebeest, zebras and hyenas nearby. As Ewa and I got down to get the job done as quickly as possible, my wife scanned the surroundings for any “unwanted” visitor.
After crossing a sea of wildebeest and zebra on the way, we reached the lodge. As I checked in, my wife started taking videos, a small signboard “Do Not Go Beyond This Point” reminding us of the danger that lay beyond it.
There was no fence between us and the wild. We were some of the occasional visitors but the animals, including lions and elephants, were known to pass by the lodge at any time of day. The sense of wild permeates the dining area as well, where a Genet family sitting in the rafters of the lounge greet you. With room service unheard of here, things may get a bit scary when you have to walk alone from the dining area to your cottage at night. Of course, the rangers are always there guarding the lodges, with a million stars up in the sky to make up for the absence of generator-powered electricity, which is shut off after 11pm.
Africa at its best
Open to tourists the year round, the Ndutu Safari Lodge is situated on the border of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti National Park, facing Lake Ndutu. Sitting on the veranda of any of the 34 cottages overlooking the lake, shaded by acacia trees, you can enjoy the wildness and the tranquillity of Africa. This is the best place to witness the famous migration of one and a half million wildebeest during the calving season.
The lodge has a very good location in the Ndutu area, with Lake Masek, Lake Ndutu, the marshlands and the plains all close by.
There were some incredible photo opportunities for me: from a masked weaver bird building her nest or feeding her young in a tree next to our cottage to a whole morning following a lion family of 12.
Curiosity and the cat
The cubs were so cute that I clicked almost non-stop. At one point, our car was almost surrounded by the animals, with one cub inspecting the tyres of our car — the ultimate experience on an African safari.
As we were sitting in the Dubai-bound flight, hearts heavy, I realised why Ahmad Khan, the managing director of my tour operators Wildness Safari, insisted I visit Ndutu this time — for now I know why they have a common phrase about Ndutu Safari Lodge: “A million wildebeest can’t be wrong!”