The roar­ing won­ders of the Serengeti

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - Tess Driver

KUSINI, Swahili for south, is a lux­ury per­ma­nent sa­fari camp of 12 en­suite tents set in a private south­west­ern cor­ner of Tan­za­nia’s Serengeti. I book be­cause of its re­mote­ness and ex­cep­tional pop­u­la­tion of li­ons, cheetahs and those elu­sive leop­ards. Kusini is also well sit­u­ated to ob­serve the great wilde­beest mi­gra­tion, the fre­netic an­nual stam­pede of mil­lions of an­i­mals across the Mara River be­tween De­cem­ber and June.

The small plane from Arusha cir­cles as the pilot waits for gi­raffes and ze­bras to be cleared from the camp’s private dirt airstrip. I am­met and taken by Fred, the Kusini man­ager, and Ndis­coy, my guide for the next three days, across Serengeti tracks in an open Land Cruiser 7km to the camp.

A li­on­ess sprawls on a warm, gran­ite rock, her un­blink­ing, yel­low gaze hyp­no­tis­ing, but to reach and stroke her lean, tawny coat would be fa­tal.

The Kusini lion pride saun­ters amid the high grass. There are res­i­dent cats all year round here. We pass cheetahs, li­ons, ze­bras, ele­phants, wilde­beest, im­palas, gi­raffes and buf­faloes as we bump be­tween thorny aca­cia.

The camp’s lux­u­ri­ous tented din­ing area and in­ti­mate li­brary-lounge have been built on the side of a kopje , a rocky out­crop, un­der an al­bizia amara tree. There are fas­ci­nat­ing tribal pieces for sale amid many ref­er­ence books. I en­joy a wel­com­ing cham­pagne cock­tail, stand­ing on the deck over­look­ing the Serengeti, watch­ing young male ele­phants stroll past.

Ev­ery meal, bush ban­quet pic­nics in­cluded, is su­perb at Kusini; it feels like a private club, where noth­ing is too much bother. An in­ti­mate din­ing ta­ble, set with gleam­ing white linen and sil­ver can­dles, is a high­light.

I walk to the tent with a spear-car­ry­ing Ma­sai war­rior as game wan­ders right through the camp. Tents are scat­tered around the main kopje ; with raised decks, they are net­ted, have highly pol­ished floors, com­fort­able beds and out­door furniture cov­ered in earthy African fab­rics. The private bath­rooms have ce­ramic bowls filled with toi­letries; there’s am­ple bot­tled wa­ter and thick tow­elling bathrobes. I shower in hot wa­ter, so wel­come af­ter the dusty days on sa­fari.

Just be­fore 6am, tea is brought to me by Gideon. I drink it on the veranda as a fam­ily of warthogs watches us in­tently. I smell steam­ing buf­falo dung and un­der­stand which an­i­mal has been butting against the sturdy deck dur­ing the night.

On my first Kusini sa­fari, a herd of ele­phants pounds heav­ily past the ve­hi­cle. The ma­tri­arch trum­pets fe­ro­ciously. A baby jumbo crosses into the path of a hunt­ing li­on­ess. The ma­tri­arch rushes by, so close I can see ev­ery nick and tear in her great flap­ping ears.

The guide finds the Kusini lion pride af­ter fol­low­ing a chee­tah and her two cubs, then I spy a leop­ard up a tree with her kill. In a nearby creek bed, two li­ons rest apart from the pride. The large male’s low growl is a court­ing melody, says Fred. The rhyth­mic croon­ing and touch­ing will go on all day. The male will court and mount her up to 250 times in the next two weeks.

We pack our ex­pe­ri­ences in the me­mory bank and say good­bye to Kusini. The Aus­tralian pilot flies us over a Ma­sai set­tle­ment on the way to Arusha. And like the Ma­sai, I will dream of li­ons.

Check­list

Kusini Camp, Serengeti, Tan­za­nia. Op­er­ated by Sanc­tu­ary Lodges; www.sanc­tu­ary­lodges.com. Tar­iff: Peak sea­son Jan­uary-March, $620 a per­son a night twin-share (full board). Off-peak, $360; Kusini closes in April and May. Get­ting there: 45 min­utes by small plane from Arusha to private airstrip; 15 min­utes by track to Kusini. Check­ing in: Dis­cern­ing ad­ven­ture trav­ellers. Bed­time read­ing: Ghost­sofTsavo:Stalk­ingthe Mys­teryLion­sofEastAfrica by Philip Caputo. Step­ping Out: Easy ac­cess by open car for game view­ing, well away from reg­u­lar tourist tracks. Brick­bats: No night drives. Bou­quets: Ex­pe­ri­enced guides and large wildlife num­bers; ex­cel­lent cui­sine, hosts and staff.

Na­ture re­treat: Kusini Camp in Tan­za­nia

Lion about: Big cats are the prime draw­card

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