Anyone who’s seen footage of the annual Great Wildebeest Migration has at least “penciled in” a Serengeti adventure. And no wonder – between July and October around 1.2 million wildebeests, 750,000 zebras and hundreds of thousands of other plains creatures pass through the area, hungry big cats hot on their hooves, before heading back the same way they came. It makes for some spectacular wildlife viewing (and photo ops). But the thing is, Serengeti National Park puts on an extravagant show no matter when you visit – with 70 different mammal species (everything from cheetahs to servals – below – to pangolins to eles to leopards) and around 500 types of bird in the area all year round.
Spanning 30,000 km2 across Tanzania and Kenya, the environment here is as rich and diverse as its inhabitants – from swamps to woodlands, rocky outcrops (aka kopjes, which are a favourite with lions, as below), grasslands to even the odd riverine forest. Still, in the local Masai language, Serengeti translates to “endless plains” – and there’s no better place to get a sense of that limitless landscape than at the Namiri Plains camp.
Located in a remote eastern corner of the Serengeti, the camp (pictured below) is an hour’s drive away from its nearest neighbour and well removed from the park’s main tourist loop. Its setting is totally, gloriously wild. There are no permanent structures, and the guest tents, staff quarters and main mess areas are spread across a vast plain dotted with stately acacias. And although my luxe tent comes with its own flush toilet, hot shower and queen-size bed, I knew I wasn’t in Sydney anymore when I was told I couldn’t go outdoors after dark without radioing for a staffer to escort me. See, wild animals, including lions, hyenas, elephants, giraffes and buffaloes, pass through the camp all the time – (heaven, right?).
Just how far off the grid Namiri is becomes obvious when my naturalist guide, Blessed Mpofu and I get bogged during a game drive. We spend half an hour trying to dig/jack our way out of the aardvark hole… while a pair of lions sit 60m away, watching us work. Initially I’m exhilarated/convinced we’re about to be munched, but Blessed reassures me they’re too scared of people to come near us. And he’s right – after a while the lions lose interest and go back to sleep. Just another amazing day in the Serengeti…