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Extremely pleasurable family adventure safari!

the infinity pool at Pongwe Zanzibar

the infinity pool at Pongwe Zanzibar

Dear Fi,
I have the feeling that we will be living off the memories, jokes and stories about our family safari for many years. Although there are many, many great elements of such trips, just having a bit of a mild but extremely pleasurable adventure together, all 5 with no tv, phones, emails, friends, to distract us from the simple pleasures of travelling together and sharing new experiences is perhaps the nicest.

Family safari adventure in Tanzania

The arrangements you put in place were excellent. We were always picked up, handled very well and did not have a single moment’s concern while in the hands of either Nomad or Island Express. Their staff was great, and the cars all comfortable (with the exception of a rather ropey vehicle breaking down en route to the first hotel from the airport….which was sorted out quickly). It was very nice to see the rather more crowded and open sided style safari vehicles which others were travelling in, as we could appreciate the benefits of being in our own alone, with more shade and space. Festo was the bird man, and this made us (esp John and Hester) extremely happy, clocking up over 100 new species of birds in 3 days. He really knew his stuff and was very friendly and professional. Emanuel was equally delightful, but with more strength in the ground animals. He was a mine of information on animal behaviour and almost a rally driver trying to get us to a rhino in the gathering dark. He appeared to very well understand how to get us the best view of some river crossings, despite the most enormous herds having passed over the Mara. He was suitably rude about some other drivers who were mismanaging the animals…..and we still saw more birds. Although we did not manage to do any hiking at all (I don’t think it really fitted in with the timetable), we saw a great deal and were perfectly happy with the outcome overall. Another time, I’d make walking a priority. They were good with the children.

As for the hotels, I found them as follows:

Mount Meru Game Lodge – fine for starting, comfortable and friendly, but not hugely memorable. The lunch watching the animals was a good introduction but had very slow service (we were starving!). Food was fine, and we enjoyed the stay.
Kikoti – nice, liked the lodges (very airy, nice style) but we were slightly hampered by a huge American family who seemed to shriek all afternoon (all 14 of them). The food was absolutely fine, and we were happy with it.
Lake Manyara Serena – although I’m not much of a one for large tourist hotels, I can see why you thought we would like the pool! It was time for the kids to have a dip (and us), and the buffet meals were much appreciated (esp by John). Nice service.
Planation Lodge – despite being a bit ill that night, I really loved this and would love to go back and spend more time. Loved the gardens and the atmosphere and views. The rooms together were so comfortable and generous, and the food was very good. Great service.
Serengetti Safari Camp – of course, a real memorable highlight. I have nothing but praise and great memories. The staff was exemplary and the food and fireside excellent. The ‘picnics’ were great, and the site was fine (I think that another camp very close seemed to have a view of the river, so they had not been allocated the more interesting view by the parks people). But really, really nice.

The safari to Zanzibar

Tembo Hotel – appreciated the situation, and it was the first day of Eid, so quite exciting crowds. It was fine, the kids loved the pool, but the staff were mixed – attempts to defraud the hotel by waiters by getting us to pay for things left off the bill, in cash, annoyed John a lot, but the reception was very helpful. The breakfast was not impressive. We enjoyed walking around Stone Town.
Mnarani – this was the only relatively poor experience. The reception staff was nice, as were many of the others. But the rooms the first two nights were rather smelly (due, I was told, to treatment on the wooden cupboards – it initially smelt of intense damp to me….). They were v close to the bar, which started playing loud music at lunch time and in the evenings – but they did moderate this when asked. The rocks meant that swimming in the sea was confined to just a couple of hours either side of high tide. I did like the waves breaking under the bar area, though. Then we booked kayaks for 2pm via the manager, who confirmed this with the man who ran the watersports hut. At 2, she said that obviously that wouldn’t work as his advice that it was the right time was obviously wrong (the sea was too low). And anyway there was no one with a key – so we re-arranged for 3. Still no one there. Finally, at 4 the watersports people came and gave the kayaks, and we only got about 40 mins before it became dangerous due to the waves against the rocks. Then the watersports man came and asked John to pay in cash (he said he would pay at the end bill instead). He asked again, still got the answer no, so he then came to me and asked me. It turned out in the end that the manager (who was new) had already told him that she would not be charging us as the boats had been so late. So it was a scam to get dollars off us. It left an impression of a hotel not properly managed yet. Perhaps the new manager (who was very nice) will manage to sort that out. We were also warned not to carry any cameras or valuables down the beach as the town has become less safe. A high point was the turtle conservation place just a few minutes walk away – we really loved that.

You may be interested to know that Yacht Julia, which moors in that town, was quite fantastic and turned around those 3 days, so we don’t regret the trip there and had wonderful food and diving/snorkelling for 1 1/2 days.

Finally, you will not be surprised that we had the highest opinion of Pongwe. It was a wonderfully run hotel, the staff was quite amazing and the food great. The rooms were great, and the beach/swimming/palms/hammocks/views/attitude/cleaning/cocktails were all without fault. It is my idea of a perfect hotel for the end of the holiday – not unnecessary luxury, but perfectly judged provision of all necessary to give you a tonic before you go home. I’m not sure John knows what to do on a beach holiday, but you managed to fulfil Rosie’s dream of a tropical paradise completely. Although you were trying to get us in there for longer, perhaps it was all the sweeter for being at the very end.

so…….overall, I can’t think of any element I would have missed out. We had the occasional moment (tste flies, bar music, annoying attempts to defraud the hotels, security worries) but these passed and made the whole thing more interesting. I briefly regretted the Songata Falls Lodge for the first evening, but in the end did not regret that and very much appreciated meeting a local woman building a business of her own, who was a great home cook! While I wouldn’t have missed the overall care and expertise of Zambezi and your agents for the world, stepping outside the envelope for a short while and finding our own way around was very worthwhile. It also got us talking and seeing a bit of ‘non tourist’ life. And made us appreciate stepping back into your care again!

Many many thanks for organising this for us. It was not, I hope, the trip of a life time (that would be giving up…) but it is certainly right there at the very top.

Warmest thanks