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Julia travels around Kenya – December 2016

In December, Frances and I returned to Kenya, very excited to be exploring regions that were new to both of us: Amboseli, Meru, Samburu and the Kenyan Coast along with revisiting some other key areas in more detail: the Laikipia region, the Masai Mara conservancies and the National Reserve itself.

We flew out with British Airways and thanks to a full flight we were upgraded to World Traveller Plus. At just under 6-foot tall, I thoroughly enjoyed the extra leg room/elbow room and foot rest. We both enjoyed the glass of bubbles too, even though it was 08h30 in the morning!

In Nairobi we were met by the ever-smiling face of Jackson (from our local transfer company Benroso) and our late evening arrival meant very little traffic and a quick 25 minute transfer to the comfortable Palacina Hotel for our overnight stay.

We were up early to connect with our morning flight to Amboseli and it was breath-taking to see Mount Kilimanjaro looming large in front of us as we flew towards Amboseli National Park. The snow-capped mountain emerging through the clouds with acacia trees dotted across the savannah is an iconic African image and truly spectacular!

We stayed for one night at Tortilis Camp, aptly named after the ‘flat-topped’ umbrella Tortilis acacia trees, located in the Kitirua conservancy which borders the National Park. The camp is set in a beautiful location and on a clear day offers lovely views of Mount Kilimanjaro – we caught a brief glimpse when the clouds lifted in the morning. This area is particularly famous for large elephant herds and an abundant variety of bird-life. We had a lovely sighting with elephants who slowly and quietly padded their way past our vehicle, smelling the air with up-raised trunks and a quick flap of the matriarch’s ears in our direction reminded us of whose territory we were in. The bird-life along the swamp was incredible too! We saw a goliath heron, both cattle and greater egrets, dozens of quelea, pied kingfishers, Egyptian geese, red-billed buffalo weavers, three species of eagle including tawny, fish and martial, and a pair eagle owls.

From Amboseli we travelled northwards to Meru National Park for an overnight stay at Elsa’s Kopje. This wonderful lodge is situated on Mughwango Hill, above the original camp site of George Adamson who raised and released orphan lions, most famously Elsa. The breath-taking view from our raised deck provided the perfect setting to reflect on the incredible work undertaken by those pioneer conservationists in such a rugged and untouched environment. We had arrived after the short rains so we drove through swollen rivers and very muddy red soil. It really felt wild and ‘untamed’ here and we realised how remote we were when the radio crackled with an SOS call. Another of the camp vehicles had got bogged and we were the only two vehicles in the park. It took us about 20 minutes to reach them and with the use of a tow rope and some skilful driving, our bogged companions were free. After a few cheers for our charismatic guide George we continued on our game drive hoping to find the 60+ reticulated giraffe we had passed on the way to our rescue. Sure enough George found them again but as we followed we too found ourselves bogged! The call went out and thankfully we were ‘rescued’ shortly after. At sundowners we were rewarded with lovely sightings of an eastern chanting goshawk and Wahlberg’s eagle.

The next day we drove north passing through many local villages and towns as we headed to the Kalama Conservancy which borders Samburu National Reserve. Our accommodation for the night was the simply divine Saruni Samburu. The lodge is perched on the top of the Kalama Mountains and is reached by off-road driving across an enormous boulder. On arrival I can honestly say I was speechless. The lodge has one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen. It is epic! Vast and staggeringly beautiful. The views were matched by the absolutely delightful team that welcomed us. After lunch, we set to work and swam in the ‘top’ pool with sweeping 360 degree views across the conservancy, took a complimentary massage, visited to the newly built hide and took a short game drive before dinner. The hospitality of the Saruni staff was truly outstanding and their enthusiasm, service and warmth made this a really magical experience.

On leaving Saruni Samburu we drove for approximately 30 minutes in the Kalama conservancy before reaching the Samburu National Reserve. Our morning’s game-viewing was very good and we saw a Lanner falcon, Beisa oryx, elephant, gerenuk, Kori bustard, eagle and crocodile all before our bush breakfast at around 09h00. By this stage we had reached the Ewaso Ngiro River and were delighted to find ourselves surrounded by a social gathering of over 200 elephant. There was so much activity; young bulls mock fighting, splashing and rolling in the mud, mums protecting young calves, and loads of trumpeting, displaying and low frequency rumbles. There were also a couple of bull elephants in musth, slowly but assuredly making their way round the females checking to see who was ready for mating. Wildlife encounters on this scale are truly amazing and this is one I will cherish.

On leaving the Reserve we drove through to the luxurious Sasaab Lodge located in the West Gate Community Conservancy. The split-level suites have lovely views over the river and you can game-watch whilst relaxing in your private plunge pool. Having been in a vehicle most of the morning, we opted for an afternoon camel ride before a short hike up ‘sundowner hill’ to take in another beautiful African sunset.

An early charter flight the next morning transported us to the Laikipia region in the central highlands where we inspected several properties. In addition to game drives, Laikipia offers some varied activities including walking, fly-camping, camel safaris, horse-riding, swimming, tubing and visiting local communities, which makes this a fantastic area for exploring out-of-vehicle. There are also a few camps that are part of a Wild Dog study group so tracking them is an option too. Finding wild dogs is notoriously difficult, and although the tracking device narrows down the location it is still a challenge to see and follow them, particularly when they are hunting. Our guide Berand from Laikipia Wilderness was exceptional. On finding the dogs he was able to read their behaviour and predict their hunting formation – which we saw in action! It was an extremely exciting game drive and l learned so much about this endangered species.

From Laikipia, Fran and I then flew back to Nairobi, before heading onto the incredible Masai Mara. You can read Fran’s report for the second leg of our trip which includes the Masai Mara and the Kenyan Coast.
Julia stayed at Palacina Hotel, Tortilis Camp, Elsa’s Kopje, Saruni Samburu, Sasaab, Laikipia Wilderness, Cottars 1920’s Camp, Rekero Camp, Bateleur Camp, Richard’s River Camp, Saruni Mara, Kinondo Kwetu and Water Lovers

Julia site inspected: Ol Malo, Loisaba, Sosian, Sand River Camp, Sala’s, Naibor, Nkorombo, Little Governor’s, Angama Mara, Kilma, Kichwa Tembo, Olonana, Mara Expedition, Mara Plains Camp, Elephant Pepper Camp, Serian The Original, Acacia House, Saruni Wild, Saruni Ocean, Msambweni Beach House, Pinewood Beach Resort, Almanara Resort, Afro Chic, Baobab Beach Resort, Diani Blue and OneFortyEight Nairobi.