Tanzania: Junior Safari In The Volcano

There's enough exotic wildlife stalking Tanzania's Ngorongoro crater to keep any child entertained. Adrian Mourby reports

From the window of our bungalow we can see a pink smear down in the crater. With the aid of binoculars it transforms suddenly into an enormous flock of flamingos on thelake.

The Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania is remarkable, a collapsed volcano 16km wide and 300m deep. From where my daughter and I sit, high on its rim, there's a complete eco-system of grassland, trees and lakes spread out down there. The crater is pretty much cut off, with only one way in, a vertiginous single track - and one way out. It's like the Lost World in reverse. You go down, not up.

Livvie is keen to get out there and see the animals. What 11-year-old wouldn't be? But my wife and I want breakfast first. Simon, our Masai butler, has already brought coffee to our porch, and there are eggs, bacon and fresh rolls waiting for us in the lodge. This sumptuous building is our club house.

At the moment Kate is in the bath, a huge freestanding structure with its own view of the crater. Last night, before we arrived, Simon scattered rose petals all around it. This place knows how to pamper.

We're due to meet Ambrose our ranger after breakfast. "Can we see the leopard?" Livvie urges. Last evening Ambrose told us how he had seen the leopard in a tree, eyeing up the zebra. Livvie is consumed with hyperactive glee, even though Ambrose says it will have moved on.

Outside the lodge we find that Cape buffalo have wandered on to the lawn and are blocking us in. A security guard is throwing pebbles at the creatures to move them off. Cape buffalo have unfortunate headgear, horns that flick up like a bouffant 1960s hairstyle. Maybe that's why they're so vicious. Whatever else you do, you don't laugh at them.

Half an hour later we are descending into the crater and I notice with pleasure that Ambrose has packed our Land Cruiser with picnic hampers, tables and chairs. Fifty years ago this mountain range was empty except for the Masai and just about every African creature you could imagine. Hippo and rhino, leopard and lion, elephant, cheetah, bison, wildebeest and zebra - everything except the giraffe which, according to Ambrose, cannot make it down the crater's steep sides. The British commissioner hunted here, but since the 1990s CCAfrica has run this natural game reserve, turning it into the ultimate in luxury eco-tourism.

Livvie loves the hippo pool and squeals at a mother and baby keeping their distance. The remainder rest their huge heads on each other until a sudden conflict springs up. No leopard today but I notice rhinos in the distance. We also see a disgusting-looking hyena, lolling in a shallow pool of mud, suckling its overgrown daughter. Ambrose explains that hyenas have become the primary predator on the crater floor. "These days it's lions who scavenge after what hyena leave behind."

"Cool," says Livvie, no doubt remembering the coup staged by hyenas in The Lion King.

We're all so impressed by the rangers. They prepare meals, drive, tell us when it's safe to get out to take photos and never grow tired of answering an 11-year-old's questions. On our way back up to the lodge Ambrose spots a cheetah lying low to avoid two Masai who are herding their cattle. She looks lean and hungry but evidently won't hunt until these lean, red-robed herdsmen have walked on.

Our six-seater arrives back at the lodge just as it starts to rain. Three butlers are waiting with umbrellas. When Liv declares that it's her turn for a pre-prandial bath with a view, an askari guard is summoned to escort her and Kate back to our bungalow. No one walks alone after dusk, just in case the big cats are prowling.

"Wow, really?!"

She may be a noisy child but she has just the right attitude for a trip like this. Everything excites her and there's a lot to be excited about in Ngorongoro. Me, I accept another glass of whisky and stretch back in a leather armchair. I have just the right attitude, too.

Time to emulate the High Commissioner, fall asleep in front of the fire and dream of all the animals I didn't kill today.

Rainbow Tours (020-7226 1004 ; rainbowtours.co.uk) offers a family of two adults and one child under 12 an all-inclusive week at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge from £7,190. The price includes international flights, transfers, six nights at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge on a full-board basis with most drinks, scheduled game activities into the Ngorongoro crater, all national park fees and crater fees.

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