The Migration With a Royal Flair
I had such a relaxing, fun five days at Royal Migration Camp that I didn’t want to come home. “Pinotage Pool,” amazing game drives, exquisite decor, tales around the campfire, and massages….why would I want to leave? It was truly an “Out of Africa” experience with a royal flair. This was my second trip to Tanzania during the pandemic – more on testing at the end.
Because of specific nutrients in the grass, Ndutu is where the wildebeest go to give birth during their annual migratory trek south. While Ndutu is basically the same eco system as the Serengeti, it’s part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and not the national park system. That means one can do walking safaris and drive off road.
I’m just back from spending 5 glorious nights / days at Royal Migration Camp that puts up camp in Ndutu from January – April before moving up north to the Kogatende area for the northern movement and river crossings.
This intimate, luxury camp consists of 6 spacious and beautifully appointed tents along with a separate dining tent, separate lounge tent and a separate bar tent with billiards table. Four of the tents are “royal” tents, one of which will be converted to a family tent and two of the tents are “compound” tents that have a separate lounge tent for reading, writing or napping and a little privacy.
Unusual for seasonal camps that move, Royal Migration Camp has running hot and cold water in the showers instead of bucket showers. There’s running water in the sink basin along with flush toilets and a claw foot tub for a soothing bubble bath. Electricity is solar powered with a back-up generator. It was rainier than normal in February and one morning my tent had no electricity. I called the camp manager via walkie-talkie (in every tent) and within 7 minutes, my lights were back on! There’s an electrician and plumber who stay in camp should a quick fix be needed.
As a vegetarian, my belief is if a chef can keep me well fed with nutritious, delicious food, then carnivores will be happy too! My “big beef” when traveling is all the pasta (carbs) that lodges / camps serve. Not at RMC! Out of 5 days of meals, I was served only one pasta dish – the rest of my meals consisted of Indian food, an abundance of vegetables, stuffed avocados and aubergines, grains, beans and nuts. My drink of choice is Pinotage which I had nightly although there is a fully bar stocked with wines, liquors, champagne, and after dinner drinks. You’ll find whisky and a lovely sherry in your tent. There isn’t a formal menu per se – the talented chefs and cooking staff will prepare meals based on your requests and availabilities. Sadly my multiple requests for dark chocolate with peanuts were fulfilled each time!
In addition to the crystal, bone china, silver serving dishes, vases, beautiful furniture, textiles, photography artwork, books, that create such an captivating atmosphere, it’s the RMC team that make such a difference. They hail from Tanzania’s highest-end tented camps / lodges and know luxury safari service. You will find them warm and gracious with welcoming smiles, and that extra “royal” attentiveness that will make your Royal Migration Camp stay distinctive.
Each of the 6 tents will have an Aide de Camp and Msaidizi assigned to each tent. The ADC is your safari guide who will also function as more or less as your valet. Your msaidizi (helper, in Swahili) is your housekeeper who also will assist with packing / unpacking and give head / hand / foot massages whenever you want. I recommend the head massage in front of the campfire while drinking your sundowner beverage of choice. Massages are also available – Shemim is a talented masseuse with a real massage table who might put you to sleep like she did me!
Another aspect that makes RMC so special are the owners, one of whom will always be in camp to host your guests. Saad bin Jung is from the royal family of Bhopal and brings all the finer touches and experiences from his royal upbringing as a prince, and the family’s love of safaris and wildlife. Saad, his father and grandfather were all international cricketeers, he’s a well known conservationist, owns a luxury jungle lodge in India and has written three books…a fascinating character. One of his many hobbies is painting and if your clients want to paint with him, there’s a watercolor set available in the lounge tent. Saad’s Tanzanian partner is Ally Kea Ally who has been in the safari business and knows Tanzania’s wildlife and eco-systems inside and out. Your guests will be well taken care of with a royal flair!
On to the wildlife experience in Ndutu – it was simply amazing! While I was determined to see wildebeests dropping babies this time, I did not. Had we (Saad, Ally, our guide, Halifa, and I) sat for a few hours and watched a wildebeest herd, I’m sure we would have see live births. I did see babies about 2-3 days old and sadly too many baby wildebeests as kill. Predators don’t go hungry this time of year.
What we did spend our hours watching were the predator hunts! On my safaris, we saw 49 lions, 7 cheetahs, 1 serval, 1 caracal, too many hyenas and lots of jackals. We watched 2 cheetah hunts, a cheetah and Coke’s hartebeest standoff and a lion hunt that resulted in 2 baby wildebeest kills. Bottom line, the wildlife in Ndutu is spectacular – remember it’s the same eco system as the Serengeti. You’ll find elephants, zebra of course, giraffe, antelopes galore, birds, bat eared foxes and more.
Back to the migration…..I did see 2 water crossings as the herds swam across Lake Ndutu. Sadly many hours later, we saw too many dead wildebeests floating in the lake as they drowned. Halifa said they get their hooves stuck in the mud and drown – it was startling and sad to see.
You’ll see zebra with the wildebeest herds but it’s always cool to see huge herds of zebra with a few wildebeest in the group. I’m obsessed with zebra that have aberrant striping so here’s my one photo of a zebra with a dot! If you look closely, there are also 2 small circles on the leg and underbelly.
Let’s chat about testing. Things are vastly different from my trip in November where I along with the 5 agents traveling with me all tested negative upon our return home. Requirements changed dramatically in January with the US rule to have COVID test upon re-entering the States. Don’t be mislead about PCR vs. rapid tests (long story, I made that mistake flying over) and instead rely on what the airline, connecting and destination country requirements are. I had to have a PCR test to board in Denver and then a rapid test in Atlanta to board my flight connecting through Schiphol on KLM. Security agents met us at the jetway to see our tests. Coming home, I had a PCR test in Tanzania, then another rapid test outside the JRO airport before boarding my flight connecting through Schiphol again. Both tests were checked by Amsterdam security at the boarding gate for my Delta flight home. Rather annoying, not one US airport official asked to see any COVID test paperwork at all. Five days upon my return home, I once again took a PCR test to demonstrate my experience in Tanzania. For the second time upon returning from Tanzania during this pandemic, I tested negative.
Although Tanzania is currently getting bad press for its handling of the virus, rest assured that the Ministry of Health is working with tourism stakeholders and there are strict COVID protocols out in the bush at the camps. You might be shocked driving through Arusha and Karatu at the lack of mask wearing. At the camps including RMC, staff wear masks, there are hand washing stations and sanitizer throughout camp. Temperature checks are done for staff every morning and there is an isolation tent should anyone need to be separated. For 2021, RMC is buying the $40 Flying Doctors’ insurance policy for all guests. Of course, anyone traveling abroad should have their own international insurance policy.
Please email me for more information about staying at Royal Migration Camp! All the camp photos were taken with my iPad, and wildlife with my Sony mirrorless camera. If you want to see professional camp photos, please go to www.royalmigrationcamp.com.