Landing on a grass strip in the middle of Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania, you are suddenly conscious of being surrounded by untouched wilderness. The 1,100 square miles of the reserve are a mix of swamps, acacia woodland and savanna dotted with enigmatic conical hills. The park is watered by the permanent Tarangire River, a muddy flow interspersed with rapids, beside which sizable herds of buffaloes graze the lush riverine grass. Tarangire is famous for the density of its elephant population, and unlike some other areas of Tanzania, the elephant have not been harassed or hunted and in consequence are astonishingly calm. Little Chem Chem is a camp of just six lavish tented suites, set on a 62-square-mile private concession contiguous with the national park. Lounging on your daybed you can watch impala and waterbuck grazing on an expanse of savanna that extends to the shores of tranquil Lake Burunge.
A three-hour drive north along the eastern shore of Lake Manyara (another of the Rift Valley lakes), brings you to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a region of volcanic highlands that rises to the summit of 12,080-foot Mount Loolmalasin. The centerpiece of the area is Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera. Twelve miles wide, it was formed around 2 million years ago, when a volcano that may then have been as big as 19,000-foot Mount Kilimanjaro exploded and collapsed. Today, the grasslands of the crater floor lie at an elevation of 5,700 feet. On this occasion, I opted to stay at The Highlands, a remote camp of eight futuristic bubbles, made of canvas and glass, with narrow decks that have a view of the distant Serengeti plains.