Just Back From… Kenya Safari

Lesley Feeding Giraffes in Kenya

My journey began after an eight hour overnight flight from Heathrow with Kenya Airways. First stop was The Aberdare National park, about a four hour drive from Nairobi. Traffic in Nairobi was pretty awful, although they are building a new flyover which should ease things once completed.  

First overnight was at The Ark, a perfect base as it features a floodlit waterhole and salt lick which attracts a host of awesome wildlife. There is also a ground level bunker – the perfect hideout for the discerning photographer. You can see from the photos, some of the wildlife I encountered whilst being here. From this base I was also taken out in the Jeep to a game viewing in the Aberdares mountain range, a section of the eastern rim of the Great Rift Valley. The Aberdares are also the location of the famous Treetops Lodge (where Princess Elizabeth was staying when King George VI passed away). It’s currently closed, but would be an interesting location to visit when it re-opens.

The Ark Waterhole

At 01:30 an alarm rang to advise there was interesting wildlife around. I nearly went back to sleep but the hysteria of approximately 30 hyenas devouring a water buffalo below your window, just can’t be ignored! A good hour was spent watching the mayhem, with a large elephant charging the hyenas to try and protect the dying beast. There was a definite hierarchy to the hyena pack, the smallest and youngest being last to get the leftover scraps.

I then went onto Sweetwaters Camp and was brave to get close enough to touch one of the Rhinos, featured in the photo below. Would you be brave enough? This camp is set for a visit you won’t forget. Located within the sprawling Ol Pejeta Conservancy, one of Kenya’s most noteworthy conservancies and home to the ‘Big Five’ (Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Buffalo and Leopard), Sweetwaters Serena tented Camp offers a holiday experience unlike any other. Lions roaring in the night could be heard, but probably further away than they sounded! In the morning, a huge herd of Buffalo trundled their way down to the watering hole and by 08:00, they’d disappeared off into the Savanna.

Me with a Rhino.. can you believe it?!

We left Sweetwaters Serena Camp and arrived at Lake Naivasha Country Club. Hippos wallow in the waters lapping the extensive gardens, with security guards to take us back to our rooms in the evenings, just in case!

Ready for the boat trip over Lake Naivasha Country Club

The group donned life jackets before embarking on a boat ride on the lake, where we were able to see the Kenyan wildlife from a different perspective! The boat ride takes you to the Crescent Island Private Sanctuary. As you can imagine, an abundance of wildlife was spotted, plenty of Zebra, towers of Giraffe & even a Gnu. The island was where part of “Out of Africa” starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep was filmed, the airplane runway is still visible. It was an adventure on the way back to Lake Naivasha Country club, the jetty being protected by a family of Hippos, who took a while to get the hint that we wanted to get past!

The next adventure was to the Mara Leisure Camp for a two-night stay. Set in what is considered Kenya’s premier wildlife area, The Mara Leisure Camp is located along the Talek River, at the confluence of the Masai Mara’s four wildlife viewing areas, on the northern boundary of the Masai Mara Game Reserve. Tents were more basic, but adequate and a great location for several jeep safaris, both morning and night. There was a big thunderstorm one afternoon, which despite not being so good for having the roof up, still gave us the opportunity to see wildlife as they recover from the downfall. Families of Lions shaking themselves down after the rains, Leopard sheltering in a tree and Cheetah hiding under rocky hills.  

Mara Leisure Camp

I could not believe my luck! We were offered a hot air balloon ride over the Masai Mara! WOW! Here I was able to see the sun rise over this stunning location. Where again, all wildlife was able to be spotted from an amazing birds-eye view. The adventure began just before dawn. Departure was from a perfect natural launch site behind Little Governors’ Camp and flames from the hot air balloon burners lit the darkness as the crews inflated their craft. The first pink tongues of sunlight flickered across the skies as the hot air balloon filled then rose into the air. Suspended in a basket beneath the rainbow-coloured canopy, we were off for a wildlife viewing adventure with an entirely different perspective.

Ready to go up in the hot air balloon

The hot air balloon landing was a gentle one (not always the case!), followed by a luxury champagne breakfast on a plain of the Masai Mara, with ‘loos with a view’! White table cloths, full buffet breakfast and plentiful champagne, total bliss!

A morning visit to a Masai village had been arranged, which was fascinating. Without feeling like we were intruding we watched the tribe dressed all in their finery having afternoon competitions with neighbouring villagers. Chanting, dancing and stomping, the tribe got closer and closer to us, quite intimidating, but apparently it’s a welcome dance! The homes are still circular mud huts, very dark, but our eyes soon became accustomed. The Masai guide ‘Boe’ was educated, at university in Nairobi, but still wanted to live back in his village and continue educating the villagers.

Masai Village

We also visited a school, part of the Geoffrey Kent Philanthropy.

How the drivers navigate the huge plains of Masai Mara is a wonder in itself, tracks leading off in all directions and few visible navigation points. The driver did get lost one evening, but only for about ten minutes, finally getting his bearings and getting the group home before darkness.

Whilst at the Masai Mara, I went to visit Sanctuary Olonana, an exceptional luxury safari lodge, set on a private stretch of the Mara River, with Hippos plodding their way along the river bed. The property has Classic Masai Mara rooms, 14 glass sided suites and as well as family suites and the stunning Geoffrey Kent (of Abercrombie & Kent) three bedroom suite. A fine dining lunch was had in the restaurant, overlooking the Hippos from the balcony.

Last morning in the Masai Mara, with an 08:30 flight from Masai Keekorok Airstrip, an airport like no other… basically a hut, with red brown earth runway. The drive to the airport was an adventure in itself, seeing Lions for the final time and getting stuck in rush hour traffic – a herd of Elephants leisurely crossing the road. On arrival, the rucksacks were placed at the edge of the runway, waiting for the small 11 seater plane to arrive. A short 45 minute flight and we arrived in Nairobi domestic airport. It took all of about ten minutes to disembark, get our bags and board the luxury leather seated minibus.  

First stop was Giraffe Centre, next door to the famous Giraffe Manor. One of the most fascinating things about Giraffe Manor is its resident herd of Rothschild’s Giraffes who visit morning and evening, once the Giraffe Centre is closed, poking their long necks into the windows in the hope of a treat, before retreating back to the centre. Food is provided at Giraffe Centre and half an hour was spent giving treats to the attentive Giraffe.

Giraffe Centre

After this, lunch was taken whilst watching ‘story telling’ by some local artists, singing and dancing around a fire in the woods. Followed by a walk through the woods, seeing birdlife and waterfalls and lots of school children enjoying nature.

Karen Blixen museum was next, again from ‘Out of Africa’, a well known novelist and entrepreneur in Nairobi. She owned swathes of land and all the area looked like a European village.

The last night was spent at the Tamarind airport hotel, a modern hotel with comfortable beds about 25 minutes from the airport. Dinner was at a restaurant called ‘Carnivore’, great for as much as you can eat meat! We were joined by the Kenya Tourist board team which gave us an opportunity to thank them for all their help in arranging such a memorable trip.

Overview

Kenya airways operate a new 777 dreamliner, comfortable, friendly service and a reasonable selection of entertainment.  It’s definitely worth paying the $80 to upgrade to extra legroom seats.

Covid wise, Kenya is taking it all very seriously requiring face masks indoors and outdoors, hand sanitising stations everywhere and temperature checks at all hotels/restaurants etc. The Passenger locator form to return to the UK was a struggle to do (took us about an hour each), impossible without Wi-Fi and you definitely need paper print outs of all documents.

Kenya is magical and breathtaking. We felt safe everywhere and tourists are still in the minority at the moment, so would recommend visiting sooner, before things return to being crowded.  

Lesley Reeves

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