Safari Holiday of a Lifetime in Tanzania

Turning 50 in Tanzania

Emily Turner and her family had the holiday of a lifetime in Southern Tanzania:

'Last year my husband hit the big 5-0. His birthday is in August and in lieu of a party we decided to splash out on our first family safari. We knew virtually nothing about Africa but we had clear view of what we wanted. This was a one off, blow the budget holiday for us especially since we were a family of six, but I soon realised that we were not in any way at the top end of the safari luxury stakes. Not that I wanted luxury. I spoke to various operators – there is a myriad of safari options out there and each one will be someone’s dream. But make sure that your agent and you are speaking from the same page. I didn’t want air conditioning. I was delighted to have no WiFi. I didn’t want to finish the trip with dune riding in 4x4s or combine with Mauritius or the Seychelles. I wanted a safari experience like Meryl Streep when Robert Redford takes her away in Out of Africa – canvas camp, tiny plane, a huge silent sky. And I wanted to see the Big 5.

I was recommended Yellow Zebra. The dedicated team were both knowledgeable and incredibly patient. Botswana was looked at but reluctantly dismissed as too expensive. We opted for Tanzania – the less-visited south rather than the majesty of the Great Migration in the North, staying in two different reserves; and then four days at the end in Mafia Island, a marine sanctuary just below Zanzibar. 

A couple of months later, at the start of the summer holidays, off we set on our overnight flight to Nairobi. We flew Air Kenya, uneventful but not overly comfortable and changed for the connecting trip to Dar Es Salaam. The adventure felt it was beginning in the tiny domestic Dar airport. Outsized 1950s office chairs, corridors with lots of brown wood and maps of vast town-free country, a lot of paperwork being completed in triplicate, a café dispensing weak coffee in chipped mugs, pilots looking busy, animated discussions as to how many carrier bags lled with food could be tted into various small planes. It was like a bus terminal rather than an airport. We pored over the maps and felt excited.

Eventually we were put on a plane. We were stopping twice en route before reaching our bit of Ruaha National Park. An area of nearly 9,000 square miles, as we flew over scrub and open plains interspersed with ashes of river we craned to see animals – before being dropped on a dusty airstrip. We were met by our charming guide, Hussein, and climbed into our opensided landcruiser. It was a 50 minute drive to the camp and as we drove we saw our first elephants, giraffe, ashes of brightly coloured birds. The camp (run by a local company called Nomad) was small with basic bucket showers. It was perfect. We had lunch, a siesta and went out for our evening drive. The format is standard – the experience anything but. The sunset drives were spectacular, sunrise even better. Being woken up in the dark with hot sweet tea, gathering our clothes together, and huddling under blankets clutching hot water bottles – catching a glimpse of the nightime hyena skulking off into the shadows. Daybreak and we were on the set of the Lion King. Never in a million years had I thought there would be such enormous numbers of game – all within a single mind-boggling gaze. Giraffes, antelope, elephants, zebra, and – as though he was marking them all off for the Morning Report – Zazu, the red-billed hornbird, Mufasa’s majordomo. The birds were an unexpected bonus. We hadn’t counted ourselves as twitchers but it is hard not to become one.

We only saw another car once. There was talk of a leopard sighting so we floored it and arrived at dusk to see the magnificent beast coming down from her tree. Another highlight was a curled python, practically falling out of a baobab tree above us. We were there for 3 days. The camp was run like clockwork and Ken, who was in charge, was a fascinating, calm man who instilled con dence. One of the kids had a bad reaction to her malarial drugs (she had had them on an empty stomach) and her delirium-filled night was bearable thanks to his calm presence. I was sad to go.

Next up was the Selou Reserve. More water – we were losing the ellies and finding hippo and crocs. And more lion. It was just us in our riverside lodge. Our young guide, Promise, was bright and sparky and hugely knowledgeable. The only park in Africa to be named after a man, Frederick Selou was an unlikely hero – the son of the Chairman of the London Stock Exchange, he was a hunter and naturalist, full of late Victorian derring do, he died in 1917 aged 65, leading his local troops into battle against the Germans. His simple grave is under a tamarind tree, near where he was killed, in the middle of the 34,000m2 reserve. We shed – rather bony, muddy-looking tilapia, we saw heaps of crocs and hippo, sat and watched for hours as a pride of lion killed and then demolished a giraffe. We went on a ‘ y’ camp, walking through the afternoon bush to a camp that had been set up for us at a bend in the river and slept in roll out matresses looking up at the stars. Rob’s coat was eaten by a hyena.

We returned to Dar. In the airport there was WiFi – we had had a week with no signals. As we all manically checked our messages, emails, Insta accounts, it struck me that a totally digital-free world is almost the biggest holiday of all. Then we headed off again to Mafia Island. An unfeasibly straight tarmac’ed road took us to one end of the island and a charming eco resort that caters mainly to divers. Laid back and chilled, the beach was typically East African – palm trees and very tidal. We took an old dhow and motored/sailed out to a low tide athol and humpback whales swam around and under us. The children and Rob had dive lessons, I snorkelled happily above them. We took an excursion to a tiny island off Mafia and our boat boy showed us round the community in which he had grown up. We saw the dhows being built with no machines, the community centre, the slave markets from the island’s violent past.

We read books, played cards and completely unwound. It was – hands down – the best holiday we have ever had.'

Emily and family travelled with Yellow Zebra. 020 8547 2305

Top Tips

Pack warm. Uniqlo zip ups are perfect.

Scarves are essential. ww

We mocked Rob’s zip-off safari trousers but he had the last laugh.

Two of the kids had a bad reaction to Malarone and changed to Doxycycline. Apparently this is not uncommon.