AFRICANGLOBE – The last leg of your journey to Mwiba Lodge, a new tented camp in a luxurious league of its own, is a 40-minute flight that lifts you over Tanzania’s Serengeti Plain until the Great Rift Valley opens on to a sky-high plateau like something out of Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. The Northern Air charter plane from the international gateway city of Arusha lands on a grassy strip dramatically close to the plateau’s edge, where a waiting Land Cruiser whisks you off to the lodge.
The local staff greets you, with warm hand towels and Champagne, on a platform in the middle of the bush. There seems to be, at first glance, no where there. Mwiba Lodge, it turns out, is all around you, scattered among the massive boulders and vegetation, connected by wooden walkways and perched on an escarpment overlooking a river gorge–all surrounded by a 125,000-acre private wildlife reserve.
Mwiba has the cool, understated look of, say, an Aman Resort, but with only eight suites, it feels more like a secluded personal compound. That’s not surprising, given that the lodge–like the charter airline that brings you there–is owned by Texas-based billionaire Dan Friedkin, the chairman of Gulf States Toyota. His family trust, the Friedkin Conservation Fund (friedkinfund.org), is deeply involved in East African conservation and leases an astonishing 6 million acres of Tanzania’s wilderness with an eye toward “protecting it”.
Mwiba itself, remote and private, was built to have a near-stealth presence in the landscape. Says Friedkin, “The design execution was a collaborative effort, but my wife, Debra, gets all the credit for the vision of the experience we wanted to offer our guests.”
First up is a visit to your “tent.” Mwiba’s eight canvas-sided suites are all but invisible to one another, with proper doors, hardwood floors and decks cantilevered over a rushing river with chaises ready for post-safari snoozing. The canopied king-size beds have green air-conditioning systems that cool the bed areas. The living space has linen-covered sofas and copper lamps, while the bathrooms have soaking tubs, indoor and outdoor showers and antique fixtures. It’s not only sexy and theatrical, something most safari accommodations are decidedly not, but offers the height of luxury: complete peace and solitude. (If it feels like Aspen come to Africa, that may not be a coincidence–Friedkin recently became chairman of the board of Auberge Resorts, which owns Aspen’s newly renovated Hotel Jerome.)
The showstopper at Mwiba is the main lodge. You enter a narrow space between boulders worthy of an Indiana Jones set, and that space then opens into an enormous, thatched-palm-roof great room with elegant sitting and dining areas and a view that goes on for miles across the high grasslands of the Serengeti. There’s a stone fireplace, a bar and a separate library, where more intimate dinners can be served. While the menu varies, ours was pointedly aimed at traditional Western palates, featuring dishes such as Caesar salad, an expertly prepared steak and a fig tart with a South African Cabernet.
The nature of a private concession like Mwiba is that you have absolute freedom to go off-road, day or night, and encounter only wildlife, not a dozen other safari vehicles. One evening game drive began with cocktails to accompany the sunset, segueing to a full-moon night tour that yielded a dozen big-eyed bush babies in the trees, giraffes, a curious hyena, a chameleon and a fun if fruitless effort to track a leopard. And that’s just some local color. The lodge’s location, bordering the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, means that it commands a prime spot for viewing the Great Migration of a million and a half wildebeests and their entourage from December to March.
“Mwiba is the wave of the future,” says Friedkin of this isolated aerie. “It’s a benchmark for future developments.” Contemplate that while dangling your legs in Mwiba’s gray slate infinity pool, sun?downer in hand, as elephants and zebra come to drink at the springs below.
By: Everett Potter