The magic of Kenya started to unfold as we flew north from Nairobi over the Aberdare National Park towards Lewa. The Aberdare Range forms part of the Great Rift Valley and the high mountains and lush deep valleys were something to behold from our 12-seater aircraft. On arrival into the Lewa Conservancy I was immediately taken by the beauty of this region, and within 5 minutes – to my utter amazement – we had found two black rhinos. My guide Mungai excitedly told me the rhino population had been growing steadily in recent years and I would definitely see more on my stay. Sure enough within 2 days I had counted over 30 rhinos, both black and white, and I had learnt a great deal about the conservation taking place in Lewa. Now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, their model of wildlife conservation, sustainable development and responsible tourism has now provided the framework for many other conservation groups in the region. The collaboration and support between the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, local land owners, communities, guides and staff was evident in every interaction with guests and I can see now why people return time and again to Lewa.
My game drives in Lewa were rewarded with sightings of over 100 elephants, 80+ buffalo, oryx, elan and the rarer Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk and a brown snake eagle. Lewa Wilderness has a very impressive stable with 40 horses, so I enjoyed a morning horse riding safari spotting many giraffe, baboons and zebra. It was such a wonderful experience getting so close to animals on horseback and as a novice rider would definitely recommend it. After a delicious bush breakfast with lots of Kericho tea (my favourite!), I was surprised to see a camel being led towards me. This was my ride home! I found the ride to be surprisingly comfortable and was led by a very knowledgeable guide, Supukia, who showed me how to recognise animals tracks and identify which animals had been grazing in the area by the way the grasses had been eaten and torn. I was really taken by this area, even when the sky turned deep purple and a thunderstorm rolled in, the landscape seemed to intensify in its Eden-like beauty.
I then headed south-west, driving through Nanyuki en route to Ol Pejeta Conservancy. It was interesting to see the change of landscape, opening up to agricultural land where farmers have fenced areas to keep elephants from eating their crops. We passed through towns and villages, all bursting with shoppers and colourful markets. The motorbikes weaved along the road, heavily laden with multiple baskets stacked high with produce, threatening to topple over at any moment!
After the hustle and bustle of the villages, we arrived at the entrance to Ol Pejeta Conservancy – a 90,000 acre private wilderness managed by Fauna and Flora International. The combination of wildlife tourism and a successful cattle breeding program mean profits are reinvested into the community and developing the local area. Another great initiative making a significant impact. Some special sightings on our game drive included a black rhino with her calf, Grant’s gazelle, Jackson’s hartebeest, a honey badger (briefly!) and a very cute baby hyaena! There are only five camps in the OPC and Kicheche Laikipia Camp’s central location meant we only saw one other vehicle on our game drive and we had all these wildlife encounters exclusively to ourselves.
From Nanyuki I then caught a light aircraft flight and headed south-west towards the Masai Mara. For the next 4 days I explored the private conservancy areas of Olare Motorogi, Naboisho and Mara North. On arrival at Kicheche Bush Camp it was exciting to see the bush literally a metre or so from your tent and you really felt like you were amongst the elements here. This camp has a strong reputation for photographic safaris and on my afternoon game drive I could certainly see why. My guide Patrick seemed to position our vehicle perfectly taking into account light, colour and aspect. The wildlife was great, we saw zebra, buffalo, hippo, cheetah, lions with cubs, elephants, hartebeest, a Verreaux eagle and nightjar.
My next night was spent at Kicheche Valley Camp in the Naboisho Conservancy. The raised tents have wonderful views over the surrounding savannah and valley as do the dining area, fire pit and guest lounge. Again we were spoiled with the exclusivity of this camp, only seeing one other vehicle on our afternoon game drive. Our guide Mika had been keeping a close eye on ‘Willow’ a single lioness raising and protecting 2 cubs on her own. Under threat from some male lions moving into the area, she was constantly moving and hiding her cubs. We had a lovely sighting of Willow as she chased a prowling hyaena away, and her well trained cubs stayed hidden.
Then onto Kicheche Mara Camp in the Mara North Conservancy, where the camp is nestled in a beautiful acacia valley overlooking the Olare Orok stream. A big wildlife highlight for me was watching a cheetah with her two young cubs. Unfortunately these amazing cats are under threat and the cheetah population has been dwindling over recent years. There is a dedicated conservation project now in place within the greater Mara region and hopefully they will be able to develop sustainable solutions to mitigate the threats. On our return to camp we were greeted by over 40 elephants and then lions serenaded us over dinner and late into the night with their low guttural growls. Bliss!
One of my greatest joys of being on safari is a bush breakfast! After a couple of hours of morning game drive your stomach starts rumbling like a resident hippo and it’s time to stop and eat. My wonderful guides, Joseph and Kamini, from Offbeat Mara Camp found a perfect location overlooking a salt lick and it’s a great time of the morning to quietly sit, relax and take in all the sounds of the bush. I particularly like bird spotting too and some of my favourites on this drive were the secretary birds, a pygmy falcon, a goshawk and vultures.
I really loved this trip to Kenya, there was such an interesting mix of culture, conservation, incredible landscapes and the wildlife is varied and abundant. The vast open plains of the Mara certainly provides the quintessential wow factor and combined with the exclusivity of the conservancies means you get to enjoy it with only a handful of others. Superb!
During Julia’s visit to Kenya she stayed at Lewa Wilderness, Lewa House, Kicheche Laikipia, Kicheche Bush Camp, Kicheche Valley Camp, Kicheche Mara Camp and Offbeat Mara Camp. She site inspected The Boma, Sirikoi, Elewana Lewa Safari Camp, Topi House, Naboisho Camp, Ol Seki Hemingways Mara, Serian Camp, Ngare Serian, Karen Blixen Camp, Mara Plains, House of Waine and Palacina Hotel.