Rob visits the Mathews Range in northern Kenya – March 2011
As part of my recent exploration of northern Kenya, I was fortunate to revisit one of my favourite places in Africa, the Mathews Range.
To the north-east of the Laikipia and Samburu regions are the remote and stunningly beautiful Mathews Range. These mountains rise in dramatic fashion from the surrounding plains and create a forest ecosystem rich in wildlife and birds. At the southern end of the range is the Namunyak Conservancy, a story in itself, where the lovely Sarara Camp works closely with the local communities to protect an increasingly large and diverse area of land. Sarara Camp is a real gem with wonderful views and a relaxed atmosphere. It is sometimes hard to describe why a place is magical, but every guest who visits Sarara seems to come away with that understanding.
One of the things that struck me on this visit was the birdlife. The tents are set on a hillside amongst woodland, and from my verandah I could watch orange-bellied parrots, ridiculously named ‘Go Away’ birds (grey louries) and green wood hoopoes hopping around the treetops, squawking noisily. The bird song in the morning is something I will always remember, just like the magical views.
One of the key activities from Sarara is walking, either gentle walks on the plains or slightly more strenuous walks exploring the slopes and forests of the surroundings mountains. Sadly, my visits to Sarara have never afforded me the time to explore this part of the Mathews in depth, but as owner Piers Bastard flew us into camp, we circled over dense forests on the mountain tops which are home to exotic birds, primates, leopards and elephants. One day I will go back on holiday and spend some time in those forests! The ideal way to do this would be fly-camping, which Sarara now offer as an overnight (or multi-day) safari.
Closer to camp, we visited the famous ‘singing wells’, and watched in wonder as local villagers swarmed around the wells and sang their individual songs to guide their herds to water. The wells were only about three ‘men’ deep when we were there, but at the end of the dry season (August to October) it is not uncommon for them to become seven or eight men deep. With the melodic chanting and the bustle of people, cattle, goats and camels, it is a cultural experience to remember.
The Namunyak Conservancy is not a premier big game region, with elephant, buffalo and leopard being the only notable big game species you are likely to encounter (but good viewings quite likely). However, even without high game concentrations the Mathews are well worth a visit. I am sure Sarara will remain one of my favourite camps in Africa for a long time to come.
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