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Issue 5
Africa Travel> Issue 5
UPDATED: July 30, 2014
Paradise Found
From the bush to Zanzibar city, Tanzania is an incredibly beautiful country, filled with wild and wonderful experiences
By Jo Kromberg

Serena Mivumo River Lodge is perched on the banks of the Ruf

FastJest is Africa's only low cost airline, serving Tanzania, South Africa and Zambia and our flight to Dar es Salaam takes about four hours. Dar es Salaam is an extraordinarily busy city as we find to our chagrin, sitting in grid locked traffic even at 5.30 in the morning, the already creeping heat announcing itself. We arrive at the elegant 5-star Dar es Salaam Serena Hotel just after 7 am with a great reception from the staff and find a wonderful sanctuary in our rooms for the next few hours. But sleep is a luxury not to be, as we set off at about 11 am to catch our flight deep into the wild heart chambers of Tanzania. Our 12-seater Caravan plane takes us over vast, wild African plains and green bush beneath with river arteries breaking up the land like the wrinkles on a very old man's face. We are treated to warm smiles and champagne when we land prior to our 30-minute drive to our camp, Selous Serena Camp. The spectacular Selous Game Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest game reserve in Africa, covering 55,000 square kilometres of rolling savannah, lakes, rivers and deltas. The camp itself is a revelation. Set amidst dense indigenous forests the Selous Serena Camp is the ultimate wilderness retreat, fitting seamlessly into its natural surroundings. The first thing that strikes me about my tent is the chandelier – yes, chandelier - floating above a huge mosquito netted canopy bed. Behind the bed is the most opulent Victorian bathroom I have ever seen in the bush, replete with a claw-foot bath. All twelve widely spaced tents have natural thatch roofs and private viewing decks. Each tent features an engaging and luxurious mix of canvas walls, opulent rugs and elegant rosewood furniture yet strangely this doesn't seem to jar with the natural surroundings in the least.

The charming central dining room, lounge, library and bar, which are interconnected by broad wooden walkways, look out over a small body of water in front of the lodge. We flop down in various positions of fatigue all over the sundeck by the sparkling pool in the searing and dramatic heat as we are served cool, delicious libations by the friendly staff. After a late lunch we head off on a game drive The vegetation is very dense this time of year just after the rains so despite the Reserve hosting the full Big-5, animal viewing is difficult. The best time to go is between July and September. Despite the dearth of wild creatures, the staff hosts a wonderful sundowner surprise for us, replete with the finest wines and great snacks in the middle of nowhere where we silently luxuriate in the sun slowly slipping away.

After dinner I snuggle into my king-sized bed and slumber like the dead, not having slept for what seems like days.

The rest of my group depart on a half-day game drive the next morning while I miserably nurse countless sand flea bites. Fortunately these nasty critters only appear very briefly during the rainy season. Thankfully the painful, itchy bites are all but forgotten as our host – and one of the most knowledgeable and articulate men I have met - Stanley drives me the fascinating half an hour or so through the bush to Serena Mivumo River Lodge. The Lodge is simply breath taking. Perched on the banks of the gargantuan, unhurried Rufiji River, with glorious views down to the plunging torrents of Stiegler's Gorge, the Lodge offers twelve timbered chalets, each with a private viewing deck and plunge pool. Traditionally thatched, with high vaulted ceilings and picture windows, each room features an engaging mix of classic safari antiques and ultra-modern leather and rattan styled furniture. Softly lit and breeze-cooled, the Lodge is the last word in safari luxury..

The spacious central dining room, lounge, library and bar each have their own spacious timber and thatched chalets, which are interconnected by wooden walkways offering excellent views of the hippos and elephants on the riverbank. It also sports a spectacular infinity pool and sundeck. My group returns for lunch in high spirits, having encountered all species of the Big-5 apart from leopard on their safari drive. A languid, late-afternoon boat ride follows and we dreamily sweep past pods of hippo and huge crocodiles in the last rays of the sun. Much high-jinx ensue that evening over a spectacular dinner of Lamb Noisettes – the food is exceptional throughout - and I crawl into bed much later than anticipated, exhausted but happily slipping into sleep with the soundtrack of hippos splashing in the river beneath me.

Spectacular Serena Hotel pool, Zanzibar, Tanzania

I practically jump out of bed the next morning in anticipation of the bliss that surely awaits us at the other end of our imminent morning flight – Zanzibar!

The flight from the bush takes about 45 minutes and as we fly above the ocean with its coral reefs, the softly changing shades of blues and pastel greens beneath me are dotted here and there with tiny fishing boats or "dhows". We arrive about mid-morning and Pine Cyprus trees line the road en-route to the Mangapwani Serena private beach for lunch.

After the dust of the bush, we pull off shoes like giddy children and almost run into the warm, calm Indian Ocean. The scenery is spectacular and this secluded mini-paradise between milk wood and trees directly above the beach is for the exclusive use of Zanzibar Serena Hotel guests. After a gorgeous barbeque lunch we head to said Zanzibar Serena Hotel.

It is hot, really hot, in this tropical early afternoon and I gape at the scenery unfolding as we drive. Children indolently make their way home from school and roadside hawkers loudly sell their wears between chats with friends on the spice island whose name runs off the tongue like golden, vanilla treacle. The Zanzibar Serena Hotel is quite splendid and idyllically situated on the sea front of ancient Stone Town, and flanked by an exotic mix of sultan's palaces, Portuguese forts, ancient dhow harbours and bright bazaars. It is the pinnacle of Swahili style, ethnic elegance and Arabic opulence, to quote their website. With high ceilings, shuttered windows and cool white walls, the rooms are constructed in the traditional Swahili manner, whereby the size is dictated by the length of the mangrove poles that make up their ceilings. Adorned with arched niches, antique plates and brass lamps and featuring traditionally carved furniture with basket weave and ceramic inlay, the rooms are predominantly royal blue and white. But no time to linger as a Stone Town tour awaits.

Stone Town, of course, is the capital of Zanzibar and a World Heritage Site. A flourishing centre of the spice trade as well as the slave trade in the 19th century, it retained its importance as the main city of Zanzibar during the period of the British protectorate. The town reminds me of a James Bond movie set with its maze of narrow alleyways and bustling crowds, lined by houses, shops, bazaars and mosques. Stone Town's architecture has a number of distinctive features, as a result of Arab, Persian, Indian, European, and African traditions mixing together and the beautifully adorned, world-famous doors attest to this. Since most streets are too narrow for cars, the town is crowded with bicycles and motorbikes. Our guide tells us the fascinating and turbulent history of this island as we amble along. All my senses are flooded by the visceral magnitude of the place and I have trouble concentrating his informative descriptions. The market, noises, smells, alleyways and chaos everywhere exhibit the inhabitants in all their dramatic colours, clothes, voices and their smiles.

We also make a stop at a museum about the history of slavery, besides the Anglican cathedral of Christ Church.

As night slips languidly down between the high walls and narrow alleyways, the haunting, mellifluous Muslim Call to Prayer echoing over the town, emphasizes the utterly captivating alchemy that is Stone Town.

As we walk back to the hotel, the air is moist and fragrant. There is the suggestion of a breeze, languorously floating over the darkening ocean. I walk outside onto my balcony after a glorious shower and drink in the sultry night. The humidity fills the hot night like the Zambezi floods the plains of southern Africa after the rains. Dinner is a delicious affair once again with an array of meat and fish dishes to choose from.

I later fall asleep in my palatial bedroom to the sound of the softly lapping waves and the aroma of spice in the night air.

One day simply isn't nearly enough to even begin to glimpse the wonders of the lovely Serena Hotel and to uncover the magic and mysteries of Stone Town. I console myself with the fact that I will be back soon. And then, like a beautiful dream, our trip is over before it properly began. I look back from the air at the island that will always have with it a piece of my heart. Tanzania and Zanzibar, of thee I sing....


Serena Hotels at www.serenahotels.com

Getting there:

There are no direct flights between Tanzania or Zanzibar and China. Cathay Pacific has daily flights between Hong Kong and Johannesburg. Flight duration is 12.5 hours and the planes used are Boeing 777-300ER and Boeing 747-400s. Go to http://www.cathaypacific.com/ for schedules and bookings.

South African Airways operates the Johannesburg-Beijing/Beijing - Johannesburg route non-stop three times a week using its Airbus A340-600 long-haul aircraft Flights between Johannesburg and Beijing take on average 15 hours, and flyers will be able to make use of the Air China Lounges in Beijing. Bookings through travel agencies and www.flyssa.com.

Once in Johannesburg, you can take a Fastjet flight to Tanzania. Fastjet Plc is a low-cost airline with ambitions to provide a pan-African service. Fastjet aims to deliver the same service as Easy Jet, its European low-cost counterparts to the African continent. Go to http://www.fastjet.com/za/

The Serena Selous Camp is in the Selous National Reserve, which is 45 minute's flight from Dar es Salaam International Airport. We were kindly flown to Zanzibar and back by Zanair. Go to http://www.zanair.com/

Jo Kromberg was kindly flown to Tanzania by FastJet and hosted by Serena Hotels

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