An early morning outdoor bath with a view of the crocs on the river bank below feels pinch-yourself unreal. Even though we have only known our campsite team for 48 hours, it’s emotional saying goodbye – the experience is so personalised at every level.
We take a 40-minute flight to the Singita Sabora camp, which is designed to replicate a luxurious turn-of-the-century camp, replete with dark Edwardian furniture, rugs, high-backed chairs and crystal, which whispers that Karen Blixen’s nostalgia-charged Out of Africa is still within reach. There’s even a clay tennis court and a fully equipped gym in a tent, plus a swimming pool with panoramic views in every direction. Buffalo wallow in a mud pool that’s a stone’s throw away.
We’re disheartened to see one family parked beside a fresh cheetah kill, playing chess on their mobiles. Robert, our guide, is sanguine about this and, with a knowing look, drives us off in pursuit of other game-filled pastures. The game is all. He intuits perfectly where to park to catch a potential “chase”, when to move forward, all the while sharing his fathom-deep knowledge of every bird, plant, insect and animal.
TIME Has stretched here in a way that makes us feel as if we’ve been away for at least a month
Next it’s a dawn drive to yet another game-filled plane, including a dazzle of zebra, herds of impala, wildebeest and topi antelope standing to sculptural attention, looking out for the throng of Thomson’s gazelles around them. A set of snorts warns of approaching danger, prompting the grazers to retreat, and, sure enough, five lions come loping into view directly ahead of our vehicle. They stop off at a waterhole to quench themselves, then heartstoppingly walk within inches of our open-sided and doorless Jeep. Robert has advised that we are not seen as bait or considered worthy of attack, but in the moment we’re eye to eye with these carnivores in such close proximity, it’s hard not to imagine being Simba’s choice for lunch – a true “hold your breath and don’t move a muscle” moment, before you realise you’re safe.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, nature proves otherwise. Watching these cats climb high up into a tree to escape the flies and get a better view of their next meal, with added shade, has us transfixed for hours. During our evening drive back to camp, we encounter a cheetah chasing and killing a Thomson’s gazelle to feed her two waiting cubs, only to have half of it stolen by a hyena. Later, dinner by the pool lit by lanterns, and a rose-petal-strewn tent with an already-run bubble bath, eases us into the sleep of dreams.
We move on to Singita Explore camp, where we’re the only guests. The barbecued food served to us under the stars is expertly cooked by chefs Bianca and Stanley. Like Mara, this feels much more intimate and simple than Sabora. Every camp has its own signature style and this feels closest to my childhood experience of going on safari, but at a mightily welcome five-star level. No Wi-Fi here, and all the more liberating for that. Later, we walk into the bush with two armed guards and our guide. It’s an amazing feeling to be in the landscape rather than driving through it.
As the sun sets, Robert times our return drive to perfection, arriving at a lone tree hung with lanterns, a barbecue below, and 16 dancers and musicians to party out the day. There’s a brief moment when I feel like a westerner from outer space, but we are welcomed and invited to join in and end up dancing in a conga line around the fire. Going to sleep, with only a stretch of canvas between us and the keening hyena outside, is like being a child again, “safely” tucked under the covers, imagining demons under the bed and in the wardrobe. Robert tells us about a couple who flew home after only one night, such was their terror at being in the bush.
From the most basic but personalised camp, we move on for our safari farewell, to Singita House, which is for the exclusive use of a family or friends. Ours alone. Uber-luxurious, it boasts high-ceilinged rooms, books, games, a veranda, infinity pool and immaculate service, as well as sublime food and every comfort you could wish for. Time has concertina’d and stretched here in a way that makes us feel as if we’ve been away for at least a month.
Yet, whether deluxe or threadbare louche, hunting for game with only your eyes is the key to everything: it’s the single-focused pursuit that edits out everything else scrambling your brain. The waiting, watching and wide-eyed wonderment of being a silent witness is something so pure and perfect, it’s worth whatever price you’re able to pay for.
Scott Dunn offers a 10-night family adventure in Tanzania from £4,800pp, based on a family of four travelling together on an all-inclusive basis while on safari, and including a stay at Singita Faru Faru Lodge as well as flights, transfers and game drives. Call 020 3603 3566 for more details