Sa fari so good

GOING on safari used to be the holiday of a lifetime, but today there are more affordable options to explore the wilds and watch Africa's wildlife. COLIN WEBSTER reports on a trip inspired by Disney.

GOING on safari used to be the holiday of a lifetime, but today there are more affordable options to explore the wilds and watch Africa's wildlife. COLIN WEBSTER reports on a trip inspired by Disney.

WATCHING a musical does not normally inspire people to go on holiday, but it was The Lion King that sparked my yearning to visit Africa: a land where the animals are indeed kings.

The show is a performance of extraordinary animal magic, but the real thing is even better and is being staged in the African bush every day of every year. So what is the best way to turn fantasy into reality?

We chose Kenya. Many countries in Africa offer excellent opportunities to get up close and personal with wildlife, but Kenya is a friendly country that has been showing off its natural wonders for decades.


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The place is teeming with wildlife in vast game parks, and you can bask on the Indian Ocean beaches, dive or snorkel the reefs, swim with dolphins, fish for marlin, climb mountains or watch the ancient rituals of Masai warriors.

We chose to go in January - to escape the British winter - and took advantage of a new programme offered by First Choice Holidays, which has convenient Friday evening charter flights out of Gatwick and Tuesday flights from Manchester.

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From Gatwick, you can be on the plane after a week's work and be on the tropical Kenyan coast for breakfast on Saturday morning - a great way to end the week.

It's an eight-hour flight, but First Choice go direct to Mombasa, avoiding a time-consuming stop in Nairobi.

In Mombasa, the standard of hotels along the coastline, north and south, is surprising. No high-rises here: all the hotels are set in their own extensive grounds, usually on the beach and rarely more than a couple of storeys high.

We stayed at the four-star Severin Sea Lodge, just north of Mombasa, which has direct access to the beach and offers excellent watersports facilities, including snorkelling and diving.

But the delights of the coast must wait for later. The safari was our reason to go to Kenya and most holiday companies will take care of the details.

There's a huge choice: tented camps or lodges, light aircraft flights or four-wheel drives, for one day or for a full week. Whatever you choose, accommodation standards are high.

So, if like me you have an aversion to creepy crawlies, you need not fear. Even in the tents, you will find tightly-zipped seals, flushing loos and showers.

There's good security too, which was just as well in one camp we visited where the "boss" was a huge elephant, affectionately nicknamed the Landlord who needed a little gentle persuasion to keep his distance at night!

Kenya has huge game parks dotted around the country. A favourite in the Mombasa area is Tsavo. The park not only has every type of wild animal, but, in Voi, has a lodge with a spectacular panorama.

Inside the game parks, nothing prepares you for the sounds and the scents of the bush. The lion is indeed king, but the leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo are not far behind. And there are also cheetahs, giraffes and zebras to name just a few in the colourful supporting cast.

A good driver or guide will usually make sure you see all of the 'big five' animals, and the experience of coming across them in their natural habitat is enthralling.

A pride of lions basking in the dusty road across your route is not something you will quickly forget. With no question of them moving until they are good and ready, visitors do well to know their place.

Our safari trail first took us north into the Great Rift Valley, across the Equator and on to the northern game park of Samburu.

On the way, we stayed overnight at Treetops, the renowned lodge where the young Princess Elizabeth was game watching in 1952 when her father died. It's a great place to see all kinds of animals gather at the waterhole.

At Samburu, you can enjoy a true jungle experience. Elephants crossing the river tail-to-trunk, lions basking on rocky hillsides tormented by their cubs gamboling across their bodies, crocodiles drifting down river with only their eyes above the water, and leopards hunched on tree branches at night, not moving a whisker in their quest to surprise unsuspecting prey.

All very sinister and exciting, but there's also plenty of light relief, particularly from the monkeys. They seem to have a penchant for pinching shiny things like the stainless steel sugar bowls, cutlery and anything else they can get their hands on in the camps. Few tire of watching their antics.

When the safari was over, we headed for the coast to enjoy delights of another kind. Bleached white beaches stretch from south of Mombasa to Malindi in the north.

The marine parks are as exciting as the game parks, but even more colourful. The sea is crystal clear and you will see many species of fish, from delicate sergeant majors to sinister silver barracudas.

Five of the world's seven species of turtle live around the Kenyan coast. Seeing them gliding along the reef is breathtaking, and we watched them scramble up the beach to lay their eggs.

For an even more stimulating experience, splash out and spend a morning watching or swimming with dolphins.

The more adventurous might try deep sea fishing. We took out a sports boat off the northern coast, and there's nothing more exhilarating than hauling in a black marlin or majestic sailfish - to be tagged and returned to the ocean, of course.

As befits all of the wildlife in Kenya, whether on land or in the ocean, it's there to be admired. The only things you should take are photographs, and they will give you fond memories for years to come.

Where: Kenya, Africa

How to get there: An eight-hour flight from gatwick,

What to do: watch the wildlife, fish, dive, snorkel.

Cost: Seven nights all inclusive at the Severin Sea Lodge, Bamburi, start at £489 this summer. Seven nights' half board at other hotels is available from £369, including flights. A combined hotel/Tanzania safari 14-night holiday stay starts at £1,708.

Contact: First Choice reservations: 0870 850 3929 or visit www.firstchoice.co.uk For an information pack send an SAE and £1.10 to Kenya Tourist Boar at Underlyn Lane, Marden, Tonbridge, Kent, TN12 9BQ.

Hospitality: the author was a guest of First Choice Holidays.

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