If you're into Africa, a luxury flying safari is the way to see - and taste - the continent at its best, writes Sandy Kilgour.
After visiting Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Tanzania and Rwanda over the past four years, I can honestly say that driving in peak-hour traffic on Auckland's northwestern motorway is more dangerous and scary than anything I've encountered in Africa. But there is nothing in our land quite like coming face-to-face with the big beasts of an East African safari.
If you have the means, a luxury-flying safari is the most glamorous, romantic, safe and stunning way to experience African safari.
Careful planning ensures you will have the best chance to see the wildlife and landscape you want. We customised our safari to include the popular northern Tanzania national parks, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater and the Western Corridor of the Serengeti (the June location of the great migration of wildebeest) as well as the lesser-visited Selous National Park. We added a pilgrimage to Rwanda to visit the mountain gorillas and threw in some time on Zanzibar to unwind at the end.
Full board is an excellent way to travel, covering accommodation, meals, drinks, laundry, transfers, safaris, local taxes and free wi-fi (even out in a tent in the middle of the great migration).
We got around in a Cessna Caravan with only 14 seats. It's an intimate affair, where you really get to know the pilot and other travellers. The planes are small, take off on a dime and have to deal with dirt runways that are home to giraffe, elephant, zebra and impala. However the ability to see Tanzania's landscape from the air, spotting landmarks and wildlife is well worth the beads of sweat.
At the end of a dusty day, you'll appreciate the luxurious touches. One day, I mentioned I like crayfish -- wouldn't you know it, in the middle of the bush, three lobsters appeared for dinner.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Photo / Supplied
After one walk, we stopped beside a majestic baobab tree. Hearing a rustle from behind the tree, we wondered why our guide, Heribert, wasn't showing his usual concern for our safety - Heribert carries a large gun. Around the other side of the tree was, of course, just the barman, the Land Rover, the snacks and - crucially - G&Ts.
At Selous Game Reserve, a World Heritage Site due to its dramatic landscapes and great diversity of wildlife, our open-air accommodation had a lovely veranda with a telescope so we could watch the elephants wander by. The room is left open all night. That does mean that the hyenas sound like they are at the end of your bed and the bats fly around your room. You'll get used to it.
We spent a morning exploring Lake Tagalala by boat, before having breakfast under a shady tree next to the lake which is home to more crocodiles than any other in Tanzania.
At Lake Manyara National Park, we stayed in a treehouse surrounded by ancient mahogany trees, the decks suspended above the forest floor. When using the outdoor shower, we had an audience of bushbabies and monkeys.
Lions in the Ngorongoro Crater. Photo / Jason Parmenter
It was here we met a Masai family and got to understand a little of their culture. Basically, more cattle equals more wives.
Leaving Manyara, we had to chase the elephants, giraffe and zebra from the runway before the Cessna Caravan could carry us on yet the short flight to the famous Serengeti.
We visited Serengeti National Park to experience the Great Migration, as three million wildebeest migrate into Kenya. The camp moves around the Serengeti to keep within range of the Great Migration.
The Serengeti was the site of many exhilarating game drives. I love that each day on safari is an adventure. The excitement that comes from tracking down the wildlife and watching them go about their lives carries over into great fireside stories. One of our best stories came after we had to chase a 4m crocodile off a submerged road while enraged male hippos fought in the river beside us.
We won't easily forget the night my partner Jason was bitten on the knee by a scorpion during a romantic dinner. A quick surf of Google identified it as an African red burrowing scorpion - not poisonous.
The dining room at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. Photo / Jason Parmenter
Another heart-pumping episode occurred when my afternoon nap was interrupted by an unhappy bull elephant just metres from the side of my tent. In a state of panic and remembering the staff chant "stay in the tent, stay in the tent", I immediately ran outside to take a photo as he trumpeted non-stop.
Our last stop was the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, home to more than 30,000 protected animals. It's an area of spectacular beauty and excellent game viewing with the animals in a more defined area than other park.
The 600m deep Ngorongoro Crater is the focal point. Nearly three million years old, the ancient caldera shelters a stunning wildlife haven. Black rhino are protected within its rim, the now hard-to-see giant tusked elephants wander the forests, lions stalk the grasslands and the flamingos party on the soda lakes.
Perched on the crater rim, Ngorongoro Crater Lodge has the most breathtaking view. Inspired in design by the Masai mud-and-stick manyatta (homestead), this is one of the most spectacular safari lodges in Africa.
Each handcrafted suite is adorned with antiques and grand chandeliers. Even the loo has views of the crater below. Rooms come with all of the luxury treats, lots of red roses, fresh homemade fudge by your fireplace, chandelier-lit bathtubs and personal butlers who discreetly tend to you - including drawing your luxurious bath with your name spelt out in rose petals.
The perfect finish to a day of adventure.
Getting there: Emirates' three daily flights from Auckland provide direct connections at Dubai with the airline's daily service to Dar es Salaam.
Further information: United Travel offers a variety of safari options.