The roaring wonders of the Serengeti
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.
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