Emma Oxley's family enjoys a luxury safari at the only private house in the centre of the Serengeti plains.
Fabulous luxury in a fabulous landscape
If you ever hesitated over a safari with children, Nomad have an out of this world solution, with the game right beneath your pool deck. Mkombe’s House Lamai, is the only private house in the centre of the Serengeti plains, an oasis of discreet comfort, with a team of staff, where you can listen to the roar of lions and watch the wildebeest migration pass by. It was created with love for an extraordinary family experience.
The northern Serengeti is reached by light aircraft, a Cessna in our case. Check in is swift and amusing, the captain asked me simply ‘are these names familiar to you?’ And we all trooped onto the plane. The flight was awesome over the Ngorongoro Crater and past volcanoes. We were met by our private Nomad guide with jeep, Sammie was full of calm wisdom and warmth. The show began the minute we drove off, as he explained with pleasure what would be easy to see, what we might see if the children searched hard, and not to be shy in pointing out ALTs, that is Animal Like Things! Immediately the kids are engaged.
Image: Esme Moszynska
Built discreetly into a boulder strewn hillock, the house makes little impact on the surrounding majesty yet inside is a spacious haven of stylish simplicity. Rooms are light and airy, open to the vast views, with efficient mosquito netting for the evening. Plaster walls are white, doors bare wood, smooth pale floorboards are enlivened with woven rugs and a cosy sheepskin. Light stands are glass vitrines filled with sand, or a twig lampshade on a tripod; this is an ingenious designer who knows her discerning clients and is in tune with Africa’s natural beauty.
The feeling is relaxed, nothing breakeable and loads of space, for aunties and ayas. The comfort is entirely seductive; the children could hardly wait to get into their bed, a cloud of satiny sheets, giving us time to recline by an open fire watching the stars, enjoying the call of the wild. Mkombe’s House has four large airy bedrooms, two swimming pools, one very shallow for babies with a safety gate, and a cascade of terraces overlooking the vastness. There are baths and both indoor and outdoor showers. And excellent facilities for children; high chairs, baby changing tables and car seats are all provided. A team of staff are ready for all your wishes, folding towels putting up shades, mixing cocktails. They anticipate too: Babu, the house manager, bounced over and taught our teenager Bao, an African board game, he loved it.
Each day we went on game drives, which can be as short or long as you like, kids are usually keen spotters and there was a bounty of wildlife. Finding an animal care for their young drew many aahs. It is a brutal world, where every day is a matter of survival. The animals seemingly adore their offspring and babies couldn’t stay any closer to their parents.
A giraffe leaned down from her great height to nuzzle her seven foot young, a baby elephant mirrored every action of her mother, spraying water, pulling grass, dusting herself, she was copying and learning. When we found a pride of lions they were so cuddly. One moved and lay on her mothers’ legs, the next lay on top of the first and so on, a heap of contented fur. They licked each other, then played and patted, while mother sleepily watched over them.
Why are children fascinated by poo? They are though and identifying droppings is a marvellous way to examine the life and habits of wildlife. Hyena is distinctive for its whiteness, it is the calcium, they eat a good deal of bones other animals leave. Giraffe’s is a tight concertina of pellets, digestion is through four stomachs. Impalla set up a ‘latrine’ area, so as not to leave too wide a trail. Zebra’s looks like horse pretty much and cape buffalo a cow pat. If we spotted something fresh, like seasoned trackers, we scanned the vicinity for the depositor. So they looked, listened and learnt with alacrity, especially with the added edge of family competition.
The Serengeti is majestic with vast herds of wildebeest, cape buffalo, zebra and antelopes grazing together in harmony, it is exactly like that idyllic opening scene in the Lion King. The landscape offers up plenty of wisdom too, nothing is touched by human hands, and the children will see dead creatures drying in the heat and sun bleached bones. If they have a sense of the macabre like mine, they will take some pleasure in identifying how it died, neck up, it was broken by a lion. Green patches in the dry plains are where a creature has returned to the soil, like obliging fertiliser. There was delight when any babies were spotted, and there was more excitement when we found a lion actually making babies!
Image: Stefan Moszynsk, 2016
Another fascination for the family was footprint identification. Occasionally we jumped out of the jeep to look at spoor in the mud and dust. We could all soon recognise a hyena print with its distinctive two claws that don’t retract, an ostrich print with one long and one short toe; the cloven giraffe and its wide stride, the hippo’s close footed waddle, and the thrill of seeing a pad and four toes of a lion. Excellent lessons for life. We could see where an elephant had pushed down a tree and torn off the bark, but in its destruction had left juicy high leaves in the reach of a tiny dik dik. A flowing exchange of environmental benefits.
Dining in (and out)
I have no idea how they did it but Mkombe House’s team of chefs conjured up arancini, parma ham wrapped chicken breasts and other international dishes with aplomb. One morning we breakfasted under a shady acacia, by our jeep; coffee was fresh in a cafetiere, there was fruit, delicious muesli, bacon sandwiches and pancakes. The kids loved it, intermittently amusing themselves playing football with elephant poo. It all seemed calm and safe, as humans have not been on lions’ menu for a thousand years, and just like our children they’re reluctant to try something new!
Tables were laid with care each evening, white linen, candle light flickering, and if a little cool the burners were set. There were high chairs for very small guests. After dinner three of the staff gave us some really wonderful entertainment, harmonising together with their traditional songs including Jumbo, Jumbo Bwana!
Our beautiful wide beds were a front row seat on nature, with all unable to sleep through a deep rose sunrise that brushed over the horizon, and gave way to golden light. The plains were revealed each day afresh, some creatures had died, some born, but the majesty and size was as wide as ever; I defy anyone to not be moved and rethink the meaning of their fast paced city life.
Fly into Kilimanjaro and take a light aircraft to the Serengeti. Nomad are pioneers in Tanzania, opening their first small safari camp 20 years, Mkombe’s House is designed for families. Price with guide, all food and drink, high season around £902 per adult per night (subject to exchange rates). Children under 21 around £550. Low season around £524 per adult per night (again, subject to exchange rates). Children under 21 £315, plus park fees and flights. Our out of this world adventure was booked by Natural High Safaris, on 01747 830950.