We never asked for crockery, picture frames or pots and pans when we got married in April, we asked our guests, with the help of the fantastic Audley Travel, to create our perfect honeymoon. This started with a trip to the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania.. a visit that will live with us for the rest of our lives.
After boarding three planes of differing sizes via Birmingham, Dubai and Dar es Salaam, the final leg of the journey saw us climb aboard a 4 seater machine that would embark on the 45 minute flight into the bush. The "it may be a bit bumpy on the way up" statement from the wannabe Maverick (or Goose) pilot was a huge understatement, and for someone who has never suffered from any form of travel sickness, I couldn't wait to get off.
As we touched down at the second attempt we were greeted by giraffe lining the airstrip that if we didn't know better you may think they are placed there to start everyone's safari off in style! The drive from airstrip to camp was around an hour but this was no ordinary airport transfer. After seeing lots more giraffe, the first of many impala, zebra and a glorious sunset we eventually reached our based for the next five days - The Lake Manze Camp. Located on the edge of the aforementioned lake this was a camp like no other.
We were introduced to Shaun and Milly, our torchlight wielding camp hosts and were immediately told of the actual dangers and the animals that frequently pay a visit to the camp. "Look and Listen" and never walk anywhere without the Maasai - the spear and wooden mallet brandishing camp guards. These guys are amazing. They literally just appear when you wish to go somewhere like the 100 yards to our tent and back again!
The tents were wonderfully basic. A concerned Jess from Audley had worryingly, and continually, warned us that it "is very rustic. It's in no way glamping or luxury" and would defend it by saying "but you are in the middle of it all". What Jess didn't realise is that no electricity and wifi were a couple of things we were looking forward to most. The flushing toilet and shower, albeit out in the open at the back of the tent, were all we needed. We reached tent number 3 where two lanterns were alight on our verander that looked out towards the lake. This was a room with a view!
We got changed, zipped up our tent as a Maasai appeared, and wandered back to camp where we decided, over a bottle of Tusca and a G&T what we wished to do the next day. We opted for a morning drive and lake safari. This, we thought, would give us the best idea of what to expect during the rest of the week. Dinner was then served on a long table and we were ushered to one end. We didn't realise until the penultimate night that there was a pecking order at meal times - by day 4 were sat right next to Milly and Shaun - We had earned our safari stripes!
After waking at 5.30am on day one to the hippo alarm clock I looked out towards the lake waiting for the sun to appear. The sound of the animals coming to life on a new day was magical. We were escorted to breakfast and saw the camp in daylight for the first time. It was surrounded by palm trees and looked as though it was built using only material within 100 meters. There were no walls which gave you a 360° panoramic view out towards the lake and into the bush.
Our Landrover defender arrived and we met our guide - Haroun, and driver - Emmanuel. We hopped in and were off into the bush. Shaun had informed us that there had been a lion sighting but it was still down to luck as to whether we got to see one or not. We saw many impala and baboon withing 30 meters of the camp and as we ventured deeper there were lots of giraffe, wildebeest and incredible looking birds. It was around an hour in when our driver thought he had spotted a lion stalking two wildebeest heading for a drink. He wasn't wrong and we waited to see if there would be a hunt. After a few minutes the lion started calling in the direction of a tree where two cubs, a two year old male and an older female were sat. We later learnt that this was Grandma, grandchildren and mother. We drove up surprising close and they were not phased at all. They were actually so calm that it looked like you could hop out and give them a stroke.. "make your last wish before you do" Haroun advised!
We sat with the lions for a good 20 minutes and followed them as they went to find mum who had finished scaring wildebeest. We watched them for around and hour. I could have sat there all day. We drove a little further and it wasn't long before we discovered another pride with two younger cubs who were equally as placid and rather just fancied a sleep in the shade than being bothered by some English tourists! This was a our first morning and we were being spoilt.
On making our way back to camp for lunch there were reports spreading of a leopard sighting and there like a flash it flew by and headed for some thicker undergrowth. We searched for a while but to no avail. Little did we know that this was the start of the search for the very elusive big cat! Lunch was served as we all chatted about the morning and how each of us had very different experiences and we waited until it was time to visit the lake.
After a short drive we reached the banks of Lake Manze and were introduced to Pascal our guide and potential lifeguard. He would drive the boat towards the edges where we'd come face to face with a crocodiles until they slid gracefully into the water. We caught our first sight of hippos and headed closer. Their raucous calling made us realise that when we heard them from our tent that they were probably about 500 meters away and not just outside the door like we first thought! They were bloody massive and had what looked like the easiest life going. Wake up. Eat Grass. Go to the Water. Stay there until dark. Eat more grass. This was a lifestyle that could last for 40 years!
The light was fading and the sky was turning slighty fiery but nothing prepared us for the natural beauty that was just about to occur. Within minutes there was the most incredible sunset you could ever imagine and images that you never really believed existed!
It was truly spectacular but never really had time to take it all in as darkness fell and we were soon back in camp for dinner and deciding what we wanted to do the following day.. we choose a full day safari drive with lunch in the bush as we wanted to see more lion and anything else the bush had to offer. The day started by seeing an elephant wander past the lake outside our tent. As we reached breakfast, the elephant and five friends had reached the camp. They were about 20 yards away from where we were having breakfast and stopped there for at least half an hour eating fruit from the trees before bashing there way on further along the edge of the lake. This was very special.
The full day safari drive is far more relaxed although you are on high alert all day. You get to study the habits of the animals a lot more and although we didn't see lion there was an abundance of wildebeest, buffulo, waterbuck, warthog, kudu, monkeys, baboon, giraffe and of course impala, aptly nicknamed Macdonalds - Fast food! We were also informed that although Selous didn't have the "big 5" (as there were no rhino) it did have the "ugly 5" which included the Marabou stork, hyena and the aforementioned warthog, baboon and wildebeest!
We drove for hours until our Landrover, that had reached 260,000 miles on the clock, went bang. This wasn't an issue as they sent out another straight away while we enjoyed a delicious lunch in the middle of nowhere after which we went on a hunt for leopard. I think we checked every tree in Selous that had the right sort of canopy and every shaded gully in the ground but there was no sign and we eventually headed back "home". On the walk back to our tent we were stopped in our tracks as elephant were gathering near our verander. After a couple of spear on mallet taps from the Maasai, he soon meandered off into the bush. A wonderful fish dinner was served and we were gradually creeping up the table!
After another morning drive without a lion spotting it proved how fortunate we were to see two prides on our very first morning. We discovered a lone elephant and after getting a little closer we noticed that there were a few more behind. We followed them for a few minutes and switched off the engine to watch them pass. This is where an overprotective group member got a bit shirty flapping his ears, kicking some dirt and raising his voice. He was close. Like 4 feet away from the Landrover close. A rev of the engine is enough for them to keep their distance but the new Landy had either a dodgy starter motor or battery - whichever it was, it didn't start! The driver banged the side of the vehicle and the elephant eventually retreated! Ourselves and the guide loved it. Emmanuel wasn't so keen!
We took another relaxing trip on the lake that afternoon and the hippo were more vocal with one coming a little too close for comfort to our boat that was no bigger than a rowing boat. "No problem" said a smiling Pascal. I presumed he had sensed our fear as those were not the words I was using! We spotted a lone buffalo and watched him munch the foliage for a while without a care in the world - us and him!
That evening we headed back to the tent to prepare for dinner. After reaching camp and organising the next (and our last) morning activities we were told to pack up our things. What had we done wrong? Well actually nothing.. Milly and Shaun had prepared a champagne meal for us on our verander for our final evening. It was a wonderful gesture and again the food was truly delicious. It felt as if we had won a trial on I'm A Celebrity and a perfect way to spend our last night.
The following morning we said our goodbyes. We had only known the place for 5 days but we were very sad to be leaving. It was genuinely a home from home and Milly and Shaun were the most perfect hosts.
Again the transfer to the airport was like no other. We left camp at 8am to catch our 12.50. En-route we saw one of the prides of lion that we had seen on day one and then a couple of hyena enjoying a wildebeest breakfast under the watchful eye of a menacing wake of vultures. It all seemed so natural. There is a food chain that you respect and appreciate. It's the way it is and the way it has to be.
We reached the airstrip hoping for a better flight out. This was the greatest experience that we had ever had and we didn't want to leave. But with an order to put your belts on by the pilot we were wobbling around in the air and within minutes the bush disappeared out of sight and we were heading back to Dar es Salaam.