Lux­ury in the wild

Glamp­ing African-style almost up­stages the wildlife

Life & Style Weekend - - TRAVEL - BY Denise Pick­er­ing Denise Pick­er­ing was a guest of Sanc­tu­ary Re­treats Swala, Kusini and Olo­nana. She trav­elled cour­tesy of Emi­rates and Coastal Avi­a­tion

ROOM TO MOVE: The tents at Sanc­tu­ary have en­suites and are ex­tremely spa­cious at 48 square me­tres.

IF THE bird songs don’t gen­tly awaken you then the soft steps on the tent’s deck will as the Maa­sai house boy delivers your tray of steam­ing pots of tea and cof­fee.

You will lift your head from the crisp, white pil­low and the vista of aca­cia and ele­phants in the dis­tance will leave you in no doubt you are in the land of iconic an­i­mals and breath­tak­ing land­scapes.

This is glamp­ing, African-style, where the lux­ury tent ac­com­mo­da­tion hid­den deep within na­tional parks, nearly, just nearly, steals the show from the wildlife.

Sa­fari com­pa­nies have done their home­work well, cre­at­ing not only re­mark­able five-star tent and mesh struc­tures in the un­touched wilder­ness, but lux­ury lodges de­liv­er­ing five-star com­fort, im­pec­ca­ble ser­vice and in­ter­na­tional cui­sine.

We were on sa­fari in east Africa, sam­pling three of Sanc­tu­ary Re­treats’ most ex­clu­sive lodges – Swala in south­ern Tan­za­nia, Kusini on the Serengeti in north­ern Tan­za­nia, and Olo­nana in the Maa­sai Mara in south­ern Kenya.

Each prop­erty is in­di­vid­ual in its de­sign, but op­er­ated around the phi­los­o­phy of “Lux­ury, nat­u­rally”.

Ex­pect su­per king beds with white linen and drap­ing nets, but only can­vas and in­sect mesh to sep­a­rate you from na­ture.

It de­fies be­lief how they equip th­ese tents with hot show­ers, flush­ing toi­lets and power to recharge phones, lap­tops and cam­eras all at once. Although wi-fi is avail­able, who on earth would want to con­nect with the out­side world?

Each camp is a sanc­tu­ary in the truest sense of the word. So too, a re­treat.

The first Sanc­tu­ary Re­treat, Olo­nana, opened in Kenya in 1999. The com­pany now op­er­ates lodges and camps in Zam­bia, Botswana, Tan­za­nia, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa.

Build­ing on its her­itage of lux­ury ad­ven­ture travel, it now runs six ex­pe­di­tion cruise ships in the epic rivers – the Yangtze in China, the Nile in Egypt and the Ir­rawaddy in Myan­mar.

Our first in­tro­duc­tion to Sanc­tu­ary was Camp Swala, in a re­mote cor­ner of the Tarangire, one of the most ex­cit­ing and least vis­ited parks in Tan­za­nia.

An­cient baobab trees and am­bling ele­phants are the jaw-drop­ping back­drop in this se­cluded set­ting.

And you don’t have to be on sa­fari to get up close and per­sonal with the wildlife in this area.

Im­pala are ev­ery­where in the camp grounds, cheeky mon­keys steal your break­fast at light­ning speed when you least ex­pect it and a wild cat darts in and out of the shad­ows as guests dine un­der the stars.

It was a dif­fer­ent sce­nario at Camp Kusini, in the south cen­tral Serengeti, where the close en­coun­ters are likely to be with one of the Big Five at your tent’s doorstep. A lion kill at the lodge’s front door was a stark re­minder that we were as close to wild Africa as you can pos­si­bly get. Sanc­tu­ary Kusini is the only per­ma­nent camp in this un­spoilt and re­mote part of the Serengeti where ev­ery year nearly two mil­lion wilde­beest, im­pala and ze­bra con­gre­gate on the camp’s “doorstep” in one of the world’s most spec­tac­u­lar wildlife mi­gra­tions.

The per­son­alised sa­faris were ev­ery bit as good as the fan­tas­tic re­views they re­ceive, but so were the hours spent back at camp. Kusini of­fers one of the best sun­set views in the world from the kop­jes (boul­ders) lo­cated within the camp and over­look­ing the spec­tac­u­lar plains.

We sat on blan­kets on huge boul­ders, our cam­eras fo­cused on the orange-red sky.

Camp wait­ers brought our glasses of red and the peace and beauty of our sur­rounds en­gulfed us.

We loved Kusini and with a heavy heart flew out of the Serengeti bound for our fi­nal des­ti­na­tion, the small and ex­clu­sive Camp Olo­nana, the first of Sanc­tu­ary’s lux­ury sa­fari prop­er­ties in the Maa­sai Mara.

This is heart-stop­ping sa­fari coun­try and the big cats, hip­pos, gi­raffes and ele­phants thrilled us for hun­dreds of sa­fari kilo­me­tres.

But the Mara is also home to the Maa­sai, the an­ces­tral in­hab­i­tants of the area, and Sanc­tu­ary Olo­nana gives guests the op­por­tu­nity to take a fully es­corted tour into not only the vil­lages, but their homes.

PHOTOS: DENISE PICK­ER­ING

◗ Maa­sai women must build a home for their hus­bands once they are wed; top right, Sanc­tu­ary Olo­nana's rus­tic lodge of­fers lux­u­ri­ous com­fort; and bot­tom right, Sanc­tu­ary Swala of­fers se­cluded tent ac­com­mo­da­tion as good as any five-star ho­tel.

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