Spending a few nights fly-camping with Alex Walker’s Serian in the southern Serengeti is up there with one of the best experiences I have had in Africa.
In our ever evolving safari industry of new luxury camps and lodges, it is reassuring to still have some more adventurous options to promote, where the focus is on wildlife, quality guiding and a close to nature experience. Is that not why we go on safari?
Alex Walker’s passion is for all of the above. He believes in game viewing at your own pace, immersing yourself in a wholly natural setting, absorbing and storing the magical memories. Each group of guests visiting his camps automatically get sole-use of vehicle and private guiding, allowing great flexibility and the chance to design your own magical wilderness journey!
I travelled in early March and knew that subject to rainfall, I would be on the cusp of the wildebeest migration calving season on the southern Serengeti plains. I hoped I may still catch a glimpse of the herds and if I was really lucky – a birth! I landed into Mwiba airstrip and was met by one of Alex’s professional guide’s, Chis Stamper. Only twenty minutes into the drive, Chris told me to close my eyes……. When I opened them, a good twenty or so seconds later (felt like longer!), it was to gaze upon a vast plain dotted with tens of thousands of wildebeest. From that moment – I knew this was going to be a very special trip.
We drove to the ‘main’ Serengeti South Camp (located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, on the southernmost tip of the short-grass plains) and enjoyed a delicious lunch before setting off to our fly-camp. A superb setting, on the edge of a small hill with stunning views over the rocky plains. Accommodation is in what Alex likes to describe as ‘festival’ tents or ‘glamping’. Dome shaped tents with plenty of space, comfortable mattress of the floor with cosy bedding. There is a solar light for the evenings, wash basin outside for the morning and a bucket shower and separate short drop loo a short distance away – everything you need, glamping indeed!
I met the rest of the incredible fly-camping team, who were to become my ‘clan’ for the next few days. The fly-camping experience is very much about being close to nature as well as giving you a wonderful insight to the local culture. During your safari, you have a professional guide and Chris was truly superb with excellent knowledge, but part of the team are also individuals from local Maasai and Hadzabe tribes, who add their own cultural bush skills and wealth of knowledge to the mix.
Having settled into camp, Chris and I set off for a gentle drive on the plains for sundowners – fading yellow and orange colours immersing into the low cloud, dotted wildebeest on the horizon, gin and tonic in hand, not another soul insight – does it get any better?
The next morning we set off on foot – Chris, Pius (Alex’s right hand man for the last 20 years), Nyuki (our affable Maasai), Gunga (our local Hadzabe) and a park scout. We enjoyed a wonderful 4-5 hour walk some of which was adjacent to the plains scattered with wildebeest. Gunga spotted a sign of a trap door spider and there was much banter whilst his ‘colleagues’ struggled to spot it! Nyuki located us some mopane bee honey which we all thoroughly enjoyed, some more than most (Pius soon to be nick named ‘Winnie the Poo’)! I have enjoyed many bush walks in Africa, but nothing quite like this one. The experience of all the different cultures brought the bush alive like I had never experienced before, it was magical.
Our chef and wonderful fly-camp team had lunch and cold drinks waiting for us in the bush which went down very well before we set off back to camp. After some time to rest in camp, we set off on another informative walk which ended in my very own private sundowners. This was not just any sundowners, a camp fire and my own ‘bush bath’. With a glass of wine in hand, I sunk back into the delightfully warm water in the huge copper bath and watched the light slowly fade amongst the trees and listened as the night sounds came alive – a truly unforgettable experience. Dinner that evening was a leg of lamb cooked over the open fire and many stories and laughs between us all.
The following day we set off on game drive, all five us (Chris, Pius, myself, Nyuki and Gunga). I was quite keen to see a wildebeest calf being born. As there had been significant rain a few weeks earlier, most had given birth. However, through the incredible expertise of the team, we drove around the plains until they spotted the signs of a mother giving birth and we watched in awe as we saw not one, but two births, all to ourselves – not another soul, just us. In the afternoon we climbed up into the escarpment highlands seperating the Serengeti plains from the Great Rift Valley. This is great walking territory and the afternoon was topped off with sundowner drinks on the edge of the escarpment overlooking Lake Eyasi with its incredible views.
The final morning, I opted to pack my bags and leave early with coffee on a game drive and then go straight to the airstrip. It was a quiet morning drive as we started back across the plains, but in the Serengeti you never know what is around the corner. By the time we reached the airstrip we had spotted a cheetah on a kill and a pack of wild dogs returning from a morning of hunting!
In summary, fly-camping with Alex Walker’s Serian gives you the opportunity to really immerse yourself in the core principles of being on safari. It adds a whole new dimension to the experience and a taste of wilderness that few others encounter. Culture plays a huge part and the local Maasai and Hadzabe add their own cultural bush skills to the mix. However, it is also spending quality time with these characters and their infectious passion for the bush and contagious humour which really brings your safari to life. With a group of knowledgeable locals and an incredible professional guide, the wildlife will not disappoint either. Add to this the fact I did not see another vehicle the entire time and you leave Africa having totally immersed yourself in the true meaning of a safari.