Into Africa, out of season

The best time to see the Serengeti is when the crowds go home. Adrian Mourby reports
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The Independent Travel

I've always liked out-of-season holiday resorts but nothing beats Klein's Camp. Getting there is a bit more difficult than nipping up to Blackpool for the weekend. I needed three planes. A big one to Dar es Salaam, a medium-sized one to Arusha, "Gateway to the Serengeti", and then a very small one indeed to a field somewhere on the Tanzania-Kenya border. Ducking down and squeezing hard to disembark, I saw a dark green Toyota Land Cruiser waiting for me and, next to it, a red table top on which had been placed bottles of Coke, Sprite and Safari Beer. My welcoming party consisted of Elijah, resplendent in khaki safari gear and apologising that the herds had already departed.

What Elijah didn't realise, and what I spent the next 90 minutes explaining, was that I had timed my visit to avoid the great migration over which I'd already flown that morning. The sight of wildebeest and zebra spreading to the horizon is impressive, but it's the same every year - that is its problem. Klein's is also the same every year - that is its beauty.

As a place to get away from it all, Klein's Camp is difficult to beat, particularly when all the Big Game photographers have cleared off. A series of circular white-washed huts on the top of a brushy escarpment, it takes its name from Al Klein, an American who hunted here in the 1930s. The whole place recreates the old leather and polished wood feel of Al's era. Simple and thatched on the outside, the huts are cool, dark and luxurious within and the bar, with its impressive range of single malts, has perhaps the best view in the world - a 180-degree sweep across the Serengeti.

I had some books and magazines, a pair of field glasses and a sketch pad. I also had Rajabu, my Klein's butler. All the other guests had gone, so I was Raju's pet project. He was determined that my glass should never be empty and he clearly loved his job. Over the next few days I found him preparing little surprises for me, a dozen candles lighting the room on my return, a crowd of Maasai singing to welcome me to dinner, lunch at the poolside watching garish Agama lizards sun themselves. But it was the afternoons I liked most. There is perhaps no greater pleasure in life than nodding off while shadows drift across the silent Serengeti.

My idyll couldn't last forever. Klein's was about to close for the rainy season so I'd booked to fly down to Lake Manyara to a tree lodge some 17 miles inside the national park. The drive is on a single track through forest and acacia glade and takes hours, especially when the road is blocked by the swollen Endebash river. We were also delayed by baboons on sit-down strike and randy elephants hoping to impress me with their erections. I may have kept the game at a distance in Klein's but I certainly wouldn't here.

Because of its lake, Manyara attracts animals all year round; zebras, giraffes, warthogs, buffalos, and lions for whom the park is one big restaurant. The only drawback is the tsetse flies whose bites hurt like hell. The lions have even got this one sussed. Unusually, Manyara lions have learned to climb trees. I thought my driver, Nathaniel, was joking until I saw four heavy cats snoozing in a large acacia tree, tails dangling, as they lolled safe from the ground-based tsetse-flies.

The richness of wildlife along the shores of Manyara slows up any journey. Hippos dozing in waterlogged piles or bursting out in front of our vehicle, giraffes running away in dignified slow motion and 500,000 flamingos, like a distant smear of pink paint across the horizon, were sights that I photographed to death. We arrived hours late for dinner at the Manyara Tree Lodge, the hotel raised on stilts in the jungle that lies at the south end of the lake.

After so many hours in Nathaniel's jeep, I would have slept in a cardboard box providing it was stationary and free of tsetses, but what awaited me here was something out of film fantasy. Down a jungle path was a small sandy clearing, or boma, overlooked by what looked like a theatre set built of decking and comfy sofas. The restaurant, situated stage left, looked like a chic chromium and sandalwood West End diner transplanted into the jungle. Frozen vodka tonics were served up a flight of broad mahogany steps in a nearby tree.

Francis, the manager, stood there with his team to meet me and hand me over to Abdullah who would be looking after me. Dullah was grinning from ear to ear. He had that inner happiness that comes from knowing he had just run me the deepest, foamiest bath ever and that I would be in his debt for the rest of my life. "Welcome home!" he announced and I knew it was going to be difficult to leave.

That night I hardly slept. The Pan-African cuisine was so rich and plentiful, the crickets never stopped and the baboons had an all-night orgy. Then, just as I was dropping off, the rains came with the din of a million giant coins emptying out of a celestial slot machine. But when I opened my eyes the next morning and saw mist rolling down the escarpment and into this jungle hideaway I knew I'd found my second paradise within four days.

GIVE ME THE FACTS

How to get there

Adrian Mourby flew to Dar es Salaam with British Airways (0870-850 9850; www.ba.com), which offers return flights from£600 in September.

He travelled to Klein's and Lake Manyara with Rainbow Tours (020-7226 1004; www.rainbowtours.co.uk), which offers seven-day safaris in Tanzania from £1,985 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights and full-board accommodation.

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