Everything in Africa is an experience, from the intense rush hour traffic of Nairobi’s baffling roundabouts and the feeling of adventure when boarding a light aircraft heading out into the bush, to the incredibly warm welcome you receive on arrival at a safari camp ‘in the middle of nowhere’. My Dads side of the family is based in Cape Town so I had spent time on safari in South Africa both in the Kruger and Kgalagadi Trans-frontier national parks so I knew I should be excited about my introductory trip to East Africa but I wasn’t quite prepared for how amazing it actually was. We were visiting both the central and northern Serengeti in Tanzania, then hopping across the border to visit the private conservancies bordering Kenya’s famous Masai Mara Game Reserve.
After a brief but welcome night’s rest spent in a comfortable air-conditioned room in Nairobi, we were back on a plane heading towards the Serengeti National Park. A brief touchdown at Tarime, the most rustic international airport I have ever seen – consisting of just three brick huts, to clear customs and obtain our Tanzanian visa, and we were off again, completing our journey to central Serengeti by 10am. African efficiency at its very best! Within the first half an hour of being met by our guide at the airstrip, we had seen hippos wallowing and a lone lioness toying with the idea of hunting some gazelles. We drove south to the beautiful Moru Kopjies area where our first camp, Pioneer, was located. With sweeping views over endless plains, attentive staff, and extremely comfortable tents complete with running water and hot water bottles at night, I settled in quickly to the safari traveller’s lifestyle.
We spent the next three nights, winding across the plains of the Serengeti, hopping from one camp or lodge to another, inspecting each property and sometimes spending a pleasant few hours having lunch and chatting to the managers, each with their own individual stories of their time in the bush. Each drive from place to place always took longer than expected as it was hard to bypass a herd of elephants or ignore a rare serval sighting. We covered a great distance, moving through the beautiful but very busy Seronera region and then the ‘western corridor’ along the Grumeti River, before taking a quick flight up to Kogatende to explore the northern area around the Mara River and Lamai wedge. Each area had its strengths, The big cats of Seronera, the herds of wildebeest in the western corridor and incredible scenery of the northern Serengeti.
As our sojourn in the Serengeti came to a close, I was sad to leave it behind but onwards and upwards, and we boarded our third caravan flight of the trip up to the Mara Conservancies (via a land border transfer that worked seamlessly). First stop Mara North Conservancy. I was interested to see what Kenya had to offer compared to Tanzania, and it certainly did not fail to deliver. It was the warmth of the people and the expertise of the guides, and the exclusivity of the conservancies that impressed me most. We spent hours with leopards, lions, and cheetah – just us and occasionally one other vehicle. Admittedly it was early in the season, but the sheer lack of vehicles and the quality of the game viewing was really noticeable.
A particular highlight came on our second day in Kenya. We were yet to see a leopard, I was beginning to question whether it was all a big conspiracy and leopards didn’t actually exist. I moaned to Rob that I was just unlucky, we would never see one. He found that very funny, and made some comment about the ‘here and now’ society we live in. We set off on an early morning game drive from Kicheche Mara Camp with our extremely capable guide David and headed off to the aptly named Leopard Gorge – surely we would find one there! We quickly got distracted by lions very close to camp so hadn’t got very far when David received a radio call from camp. They had heard vervet monkeys alarm calling on the edge of camp, a sign that leopards could be about. We rushed back and sure enough found a stunning leopard. We quickly realised she wasn’t alone. She had her extremely playful, ever so fluffy cub with her. It was magical to be so close to this leopard and her cub. They had been based near camp for a while, so were quite accustomed to being around vehicles. We watched as they went about their morning – the regal mother padding softly through the bush, the young cub playfully pouncing on her tail or leaping from trees. I was so lucky to have this on my first trip and certainly will never forget it. Have a look at our footage of the leopard mother and cub.
Having spent a year in the Safari Consultants office, I had heard stories of amazing safari experiences, seen countless incredible pictures, read numerous articles and trip reports but nothing does the experience justice. Until you are actually there, watching the African sunsets with a beer in hand, sleeping in the tents with lions roaring in the distance, and learning from the guides who have been working in the bush for decades, that’s when you really get it.