In March, I returned to Kenya for a very special safari with my mum and sister who had flown in from Australia. Knowing my family love a variety of scenery, activities, culture and wildlife, our holiday included three diverse areas. Starting in central Kenya, we visited the pristine wilderness of the Mathews Range, followed by the big game conservation area of Lewa in the Laikipia region, ending with the famous, rolling plains of the Masai Mara. It was a fantastic trip with stunning and diverse landscapes, remote wilderness, fascinating tribes, conservation projects and superb wildlife.
With great excitement on day one, we departed from Wilson Airport, our 12-seater light aircraft flying out over the urban sprawl of Nairobi, heading northwards over villages and farmlands and past Mt Kenya. Flying further north, the villages started to thin out as the vast plains began to open up in front of us. We landed at Samburu’s bush airstrip where we met Flipflop (Philip), our pilot for the onward flight on a much smaller 4-seater plane. After a safety briefing, headphone and microphone check, we flew further north, up and over the Mathews Range to the remote wilderness of the Namanyuk Conservancy. What a stunning flight! The rugged mountains of the Mathews Range dominate the surrounding plains, and the dense forested slopes create a picturesque and lush landscape. There were no longer any villages, just expansive wilderness and from the air we could spot elephant and giraffe, along with birds of prey. We then saw a clearing in the forest and Flipflop expertly guided us down, arriving at beautiful Sarara Camp. This really was an amazing flight and such an impressive start to our holiday! Our private charter flight from Kalama was around 15 minutes, and thoroughly recommended. Road transfers from Kalama to Sarara are also possible and take around 1.5 hours.
Sarara Camp is a tented lodge built into the lower slopes of the Mathews Range and the views are breathtaking. The location is simply awe-inspiring and the views from the infinity rock pool are stunning! The pool overlooks a watering hole, and as we swam we saw elephant drinking and splashing below – incredible! The scenery is truly magical and the serene setting has an irresistible, calming effect. Sarara is a family-managed lodge (Jeremy grew up here and now manages with his wife and young family) and there is a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere with warm and caring staff, many whom have been with the lodge for years. Robert, our Samburu host was superb; great company and so knowledgeable, we could’ve sat for days listening to his stories and learning more about him and his culture.
Sarara is located on the exclusive Namanyuk Conservancy. The lands here are community-owned by the Samburu and this is one of the best places to witness traditional tribal life. We saw Samburu herdsman and children moving their cattle, goats and sheep through the conservancy. Young warriors were adorned in brightly coloured cloths, with bracelets and headdresses made of beads and feathers; they were so striking against the natural colours of the landscape. During our stay, we visited a Samburu village, which is very much an authentic experience here. Photos are not allowed and there is nothing for sale. It is just a small community living by basic means and everyone, young and old, are tending to their precious livestock. A very relaxed and interesting cultural experience.
Another highlight was our visit to the nearby community-owned Reteti Elephant Sanctuary. Opened in 2016, the project rescues and releases orphaned and abandoned calves, as well as educating the local communities. Seeing young elephants run excitedly towards the handlers for a milk bottle is a heartwarming sight, and the speed with which they slurp down the entire bottle is something to behold! The project is having great success at ‘re-wilding’ the orphans and is having a very positive impact on community engagement.
Game-wise we saw plenty of elephant, reticulated giraffe and an array of birds and antelope, along with the rarer long necked gerenuk. Leopard are often seen on night drives too. But the key reasons for making the journey to this dramatic and remote place, are to enjoy the wilderness, marvel at the stunning landscapes, interact with its fascinating people and if you wish, enjoy some first class walking and birding.
From Sarara, we then flew with Flipflop, back over the Mathews Range and the sacred Mount Ololokwe and onto the extremely lush Lewa conservancy (it was particularly green after some heavy, unseasonal rains in February). Lewa is a big game area, home to a diverse range of species and due to the success of their ongoing conservation work, the rhino populations are excellent too. Lewa is scenically very beautiful, surrounded by mountain ranges with Mt Kenya in the distance. There are open grasslands, forests, rocky gorges and ravines along with a swampland, which is a haven for birds and a year round water source for the wildlife. We had some wonderful sightings in Lewa! Highlights included a 200-strong herd of buffalo, 50 elephant (one family), a herd of 40 Beisa oryx; a pair of fighting giraffe and a black rhino with her young calf. We also saw some rarer species; the grey legged Somali ostrich and plenty of finely striped Grevy’s zebra.
We stayed at the wonderful, family owned Lewa House, set in a lovely position with views over an active waterhole. A stay here is a truly intimate and personal experience, hosted by Sophie and Calum. Sophie grew up on Lewa and her stories of life in the bush are fascinating and hilarious. Calum is a zoologist with an encyclopaedic knowledge of wildlife along with a personal interest in ancient civilisations and is a captivating storyteller. We spent an absorbing afternoon with Calum, visiting Lewa’s pre-historic archaeological site and learning about the tribes and the Acheulian hand axes they developed.
From Lewa, we then flew westwards on a scheduled flight (back to 12 seats!) to the Masai Mara, landing in the private Mara North conservancy, which borders the national reserve. For our first camp in the Mara, we stayed at Ngare Serian, located on the banks of the Mara River. Access to camp is only on foot via a suspension bridge, and due to early rains, the river was in full, thunderous flow! It’s an adventurous way to arrive at camp, and we could really feel the power of the fast moving river below us. Ngare is an intimate camp with just 4 tents and offers wonderful exclusivity in a game-rich area. For our second camp in the Mara we stayed at Kicheche Mara Camp, set in a beautiful secluded valley overlooking the seasonal Olare Orok stream with expansive views over the plains. When we arrived at Kicheche, chef Wellington had prepared the most delicious lunch (arguably the best of the trip!) and we dined al fresco under the shade of a massive tree. The setting, the view and food really was sublime!
Our game viewing highlights in the Mara, were all about the cats! We saw a pride of 17 lion, with many cubs and sub-adults, and spent a couple of very happy hours with them, watching as they played, wrestled, groomed and climbed over fallen tree trunks. With the setting sun, the alpha lioness began to stalk prey in the far distance. She was joined by her sisters, whilst the young stayed behind, all keenly watching the lionesses progress. Although none of the hunts were successful, when the alpha lioness returned she was greeted with great excitement and smothered with affection from the entire pride. We also had a lovely sighting with Armani, a very successful female cheetah, who was heavily pregnant. Even though she was uncomfortable with her swollen belly, she elegantly and deftly whipped away irritating flies with her tail, as they buzzed around her face. We were lucky too, to spot a beautiful female leopard on our approach back into Ngare one evening, and she was less than 100 metres from camp!
We had such an amazing time travelling together. Sharing such wonderful, joyous moments with family on safari really is so special and unlike any other holiday experience. We can’t wait for our next safari together ….
Julia stayed at Sarara Camp, Lewa House, Ngare Serian and Kicheche Mara Camp.