Shattered glass flew everywhere as the rhino’s horn slammed against the driver’s side window of our Land Cruiser. They say never wake a sleeping animal, and my father and I quickly learned that lesson when we came face to face with an endangered black rhino during our luxury safari trip in Tanzania. By Katie Lockhart
A luxury safari is great for some father-daughter bonding time
In search of the Big Five on a full-day game drive through the Frankfurt Zoological Society’s rhino conservation area in the Serengeti, we spotted a barely visible rhino resting in the long grass. On our guide’s instruction, we slowly approached the rhino, stopping 30 feet away and shutting off the car engine.
Within seconds, the rhino got up, turned around, and began to lumber toward our vehicle. He crashed into us once, shifting the car and us to the left, then backed up and hit us again, denting the steel-reinforced door, snapping the driver’s side mirror off, and destroying a window. He was gone as quickly as he struck.
Once the shock wore off, we all sat there stunned that everyone, including the rhino, went unharmed in an extremely rare, practically unheard of encounter.
Rajabu, our feisty rhino, is the oldest male rhino in the anti-poaching conservation area. He, two other female rhinos, and countless rangers have done the critical work of growing and safeguarding the endangered rhino population from three to more than 40 over the past 25 years.
For us, spotting him meant we accomplished our goal of seeing the Big Five while on safari in the Serengeti. And after fulfilling a lifelong dream for my father, he turned to me and said, “I could fly home tonight, and it’ll be the best trip of my life.”
For decades, a luxury safari had been on my father’s travel wish list. So, when I got the opportunity to adventure to Africa for a safari with the Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, there was no question who my plus-one would be.
After touching down on the dirt airstrip, we were barely two minutes from the airport when a herd of zebras darted in front of our safari vehicle. During the 45-minute drive to the Four Seasons, we saw antelopes, giraffes, topi, and buffalo grazing in the plains. The amount and variety of animals we saw before even reaching the lodge was a stunning surprise.
Over the next five days, we did two half-day game drives and one full-day game drive with our Four Seasons safari guide, Herman. It was as if he had a map of where every single animal would be at just the right time. We were lucky enough to see six cheetahs in one day — a new record for Herman — as well as prides of lions seeking shade under acacia trees and having a toothy yawn in the sun. We admired the herds of elephants caring for their weeks-old babies and chuckled at the awkward run of the giraffes.
A fear of heights kept my father from a sunrise hot-air balloon ride over the plains with Serengeti Balloon Safaris. But I shared stories of the ponds full of hippos and videos of the sprawling views during a post-ballooning Champagne breakfast.
While on an afternoon walking safari with Atlas, the lodge’s resident naturalist, we examined animal dung and bones up close and marvelled at how much further away the animals stay when you’re on foot versus 4×4.
When not trying to catch a glimpse of the animal kingdom in action, the Four Seasons property was a sublime place to relax. Each villa has a plush daybed and an infinity pool with uninterrupted views of the landscape. And after long hours on bumpy roads, an open-air massage at the spa worked out our tight muscles.
Each night, as the sun started to set over the acacia trees, my dad and I met at the Maji Bar and Terrace for a fresh watermelon cocktail. We talked about our favourite moments from that day’s game drive and shared the best photos and videos on our phones.
On our last night in the Serengeti, the Four Seasons created a memorable bush dinner for us, lit by torches and a big bonfire to ward off any hungry animals. We had a surf and turf feast as the sky turned from orange to red to black. Once again, my dad told me it was the best vacation he’s ever been on, and the most special part was that we were able to do it together.
This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com