'Serengeti' Creator Simon Fuller's Travel Diary: "A Joyous Introduction to Africa" for My Daughter (Guest Column)
The producer of Discovery Channel's docuseries, premiering Sunday, writes about taking his child, then 7, on the ultimate safari: "We saw every animal Grace could dream of."
Nothing compares to Africa — in particular, the Serengeti, where you witness the lives of animals, from family bonds to courtships to a zest for fun. My visit last year with my daughter, Grace, then 7, was extra special: When I was her age, I lived in Ghana, where my father had a school. The pride and joy I felt taking Grace to Africa for the first time made the trip especially meaningful.
After flying in from London and a good night's sleep at Hemingways Nairobi (from $325), we headed to Singita Sasakwa in the remote Grumeti Reserve via private charter. We were greeted by a most gracious staff and a dazzle of zebras. It was a short drive to Singita Sasakwa Lodge, and our guide stopped several times to point out a loping giraffe, grazing deer or a determined dung beetle struggling to push 10 times his body weight.
Singita Sasakwa Lodge is a magnificent hotel set on the highest point of the reserve, with a truly remarkable view overlooking the Serengeti plains below. It's a colonial-style manor house with every amenity you could wish for. The accommodation I most love is the serene Serengeti House — exquisite, understated luxury at its absolute finest. (The private site sleeps up to eight, has an 82-foot lap pool, fire pits, eat-in kitchen, media room, full gym, staff and full-time guide for customized activities and meals; from $6,565 a night.)
Over the next few days on game drives, we saw every animal Grace could dream of, from the biggest male leopard I'd ever seen, dozing in a tree by the river, to a pride of nine lions strolling past our vehicle. We were very fortunate to be there during the great migration. From the lodge you can see thousands of animals in the valley below, a most spectacular sight. We drove down to be among them, and the sound coming from this endless sea of animals is utterly extraordinary.
Singita has other properties, including Faru Faru Lodge, and Grace and I spent two nights at the amazing Sabora Tented Camp (from $1,475 per adult). For our last few days, Grace's biggest wish was to see her first elephant at the break of dawn. After watching hippos play in a small lake, seeing two young male cheetahs, and getting very up close and personal with a slightly grumpy herd of buffalo, we turned in to prepare for a very early morning treat.
I had arranged for a hot air balloon ride, and we had to get up at 4:30 a.m. (from $4,107 with Serengeti Balloon Safaris). In the pitch black, wrapped in blankets to keep us warm, we sped along dirt roads. Suddenly, the driver came to an abrupt stop. In front of the vehicle, gigantic dark figures moved silently across the road. Grace whispered, "Dad, elephants at dawn! My wish came true!" The majesty of those elephants is a memory that will stay with Grace and me for a lifetime.
The hot air balloon itself didn't disappoint: the roaring, flaming burners and then the breathtaking quiet as we gently traveled across the Serengeti. It was stunning to watch the sun rise and the animals begin their day from an entirely new perspective.
Our final days were filled with countless more magnificent moments, including a gathering of some 50 elephants surrounding us while leisurely socializing and snacking. For Grace, it was a joyous introduction to Africa and the Serengeti, while the purity of the animals' lives inspired me in so many profound ways.
This story first appeared in the July 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.