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3 Places to Experience on Your First Safari

3 Places to Experience on Your First Safari

Petra’s work trip to Kenya gave her the perfect opportunity to spend a few extra days to go on a safari.  Her friend had lived in Kenya and so she asked for a recommendation – that was us!  We planned a six-day safari to Maasai Mara, Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha with a final lunch at the serene Kiambethu Tea Farm.  Extraordinary wildlife and startling a hippo on a walking safari were among her highlights.

Voted Africa’s Leading National Park for the sixth time in the 2018 World Travel Awards, the Maasai Mara National Reserve must be on a first-time safari itinerary.  It was Petra’s first destination and being late July, it didn’t disappoint.  She stayed at the lovely Aruba Camp near Talek Gate, right on the banks of the Talek River.  This time of year is when the migratory herds of wildebeest come into the Maasai Mara from the Serengeti so wildlife is plentiful – not just wildebeest, zebras and gazelles, but also the predators that follow such an abundant dinner plate.

Rift Valley Lakes

Lake Nakuru National Park was next, home to the endangered Rothschild giraffe and black rhinos.  She spent the night at Punda Milias Camp just a few kilometres away from the park, allowing an early entry the next morning for optimal game viewing.  She spent most of the day in the park, getting some awesome sightings of those Rothschild giraffes and getting up to the viewpoint that overlooks the whole Lake Nakuru and the surrounding national park.  In the afternoon, she made the short drive to another Rift Valley lake: Naivasha.

Lake Naivasha is the largest of the Rift Valley lakes in Kenya.  Most of the accommodation is lined along the shore of the lake and this is where Petra found her lakeside banda at Camp Carnelley’s.  In the morning she embarked on a walking safari in Wileli Conservancy.  More giraffes!  This time they were Maasai giraffes and there were even a couple walking on the track in front of her for a while.  As she walked along the lake (with a guide and a ranger) they startled a hippo that had unusually been grazing outside the water – unusual as hippos normally graze at night and stay in the water during the day.  Fortunately, as the humans approached the hippo made a run straight for the lake with an almighty splash.

After that excitement, Petra went with the guide for a different walking safari – this time in the village to witness rural Kenyan life.  The hustle and bustle down by the lake subsided the further they climbed up and away from the shore.  Eventually after a bit of tough-going they hit flat ground and a magnificent view over the lake, flower farms, various conservancies and the geo-thermal plant in Hells Gate National Park.

Would you like to visit some of these places yourself?  We tailor safaris to your time frame, interests and budget to ensure you get the holiday you want and need.  Contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com today to start planning yours.

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Walking With the Maasai and Other Adventures

Walking With the Maasai and Other Adventures

As they bumped along the road to the Maasai Mara, they heard a helicopter flying low.  This was the first day of Di and Leonie’s safari and a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) chopper was ushering an elephant back into the park.  What an exciting way to begin their week in Kenya!  This post tells of their June safari through Maasai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha and Amboseli.

On their arrival they spent the first night at Wildebeest Eco Camp nestled in the quiet, green suburb of Karen in Nairobi’s south-west.  Rested and refreshed, they headed to the Maasai Mara the next day.  It was on this drive to Kenya’s premier game reserve that they watched the KWS helicopter herding a stray elephant back to within the park boundaries.  Human-wildlife conflict is a constant challenge for conservationists in Kenya and elephants can be particularly destructive in a field of crops, which can result in retaliation from the community whose crops have been destroyed.  So it’s imperative to keep the elephants in the safety of the park to avoid such conflict.

They entered the park and enjoyed a game drive as they made their way to Aruba Camp where they would spend the next two nights.  During their time in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve they saw a leopard with its dinner – a Thomson’s gazelle – that it had dragged up into the tree.  They also saw a leopard tortoise, a Marshall Eagle, buffalo herds, Lilac-breasted Roller (Kenya’s national bird), giraffes, elephants, topis, hyena, lions, ostrich and a puff adder.  On their full day game drive, they enjoyed a picnic lunch in the middle of the savannah.  Before leaving the Maasai Mara, they visited a Maasai village, which was a longer walk than anticipated, demonstrating that the Maasai definition of “not far” might be a bit different to an Australian definition!

Lake Nakuru National Park

The next stop was Lake Nakuru National Park.  They stayed two nights a few kilometres outside the park at a camp called Punda Milias (“Zebra” in KiSwahili).  More buffalos here and also rhinos!  Makalia Falls at the south end of the park was gushing down as June brings an end to the rainy season.

A short drive took them to Lake Naivasha where they spent a night at Camp Carnelleys.  The excitement here was a break in!  Monkeys got in their room while they were out.

Finally, they went to Kibo Camp, for two nights at Amboseli National Park.  Flamingoes were plenty in Lake Amboseli – which doesn’t look much like a lake in the dry season so seeing flamingoes here is quite special.

Being the admin gal, I don’t often get to meet our guests, despite usually spending many months emailing each other planning their safari.  So if there’s an excuse to do an airport pick up or drop off or something similar then I don’t mind.  This time it was a camera case and battery left behind in the vehicle.  Di and Leonie had gone on to Tanzania and were flying back to Nairobi and then on home.  So during their transit, I went to the airport to try to deliver the items.  It was a bit of a mission and it was good that they had several hours to kill.  I was passed from pillar to post until one immigration official told me that Di and Leonie would have to talk nicely to the immigration officers inside to allow them to come out to meet me.  I almost gave up hope, but then Leonie found me wandering outside the terminal!  Amazingly it had worked.  Battery delivered, we made our ways home….one journey significantly different to the other, no doubt reflecting the significant differences in adventure each had just had.

Welcome the VIPs of Sunrise of Africa School!

Welcome the VIPs of Sunrise of Africa School!

Did you know there are about 300 Kenyan children receiving education due to the generosity of the global Christian Science (not to be confused with Scientology!) community?  And in July, some of those supporters came to Kenya to visit the school and see for themselves the beautiful school they had a hand in creating.  But they couldn’t come all the way to the land of safari without also seeing some animals.  Enter OTA – this is the story of the Sunrise of Africa School VIP visit.

Thirteen people made the journey out to Kenya to visit the Sunrise of Africa School.  Three were the grandchildren of the school’s founder.  Three only stayed a short while and didn’t join our safari as they had a couple of other schools to visit.  And then we added three Sunrise staff to the safari so we were back to thirteen when we set out early one chilly July morning for the Samburu National Reserve.  The group had been staying at the Hilton Garden Inn near Nairobi’s international airport.  It was opened in March 2018, and this being July of the same year, the hotel was still sparkly and shiny.  It would be a welcome sight after three days of dusty safari!

Francis, me, our baby Gabriel, Michelle and her daughter Amy squeezed into the van which was a supply vehicle first and foremost and thus was packed tight with all our camping equipment.  The rest were in the Land Cruiser with Julius and Sammy, the school’s Director, had three more in his vehicle.

We headed out of Nairobi before the traffic could build up and had our first stop at Sagana.  The curio shops slyly keep their toilets clean so tour vehicles will be more inclined to stop for a bathroom break.  They also slyly keep their toilets at the back of the shop so you have to walk past all their lovely trinkets on your way in and out.  Not having had much chance to buy souvenirs during the trip so far, the bathroom break became a bit longer.

Next stop was at the home of a friend of the school.  Her house is just before Nanyuki, and she had laid out a massive spread.  Too big for morning tea, too early for lunch, it didn’t matter what we called it, it was delicious!

But now the time was getting away from us as we were due at the lodge in Samburu for lunch.  So we motored on, pausing in Nanyuki to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables for the campers.  Now I should explain our trip a bit more.  The guests had been given the option of staying in a lodge/tented camp or bush camp, in order to cater for varying budgets.  Six of the international guests chose the tented camp option while Michelle and her children and the Sunrise staff opted to camp.  So, that’s why we had a van full of camping equipment but we were rushing to get to the lodge for lunch.

After lunch, they went out on their first game drive (the dash from the gate to the accommodation didn’t count).  They saw a massive tower of giraffes and elephants galore.  The next day they went out for morning and evening game drives, relaxing in their respective camps during the heat of the day.  More elephants, more giraffes, gazelles, gerenuks, impala, and hyena were the highlights.  Unfortunately no lions were forthcoming during those three days.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, our 11-month-old was having a whale of a time chasing monkeys, playing in the dirt, and falling in love with 7-year-old Amy.  He kept us all on our toes though, especially when the group was off on game drive and we were left to cook.  Luckily there were a couple of extra guys around cleaning the campsite and generally helping out, so they took on much of the babysitting.  There’s so much for a toddler to explore around a campsite: a charcoal cooking fire, buckets of water, a bucket of vegetable peelings, logs with all sorts of lovely critters crawling under the bark, the list goes on!  But I’ve come to see that in Kenya children are adored and doted upon, by clucky women and aloof men alike.  So I was comfortable with Gabriel exploring freely, knowing there were several other pairs of eyes always on him along with mine.

On the last day we drove out through Buffalo Springs Reserve.  The Samburu eco-system is made up of three separate reserves.  Samburu and Buffalo Springs are separated by the Ewaso Nyiro River and it’s very easy to cross between the two so long as the bridge hasn’t been washed away.  Shaba is across the highway.  So we headed south through Buffalo Springs to join the highway near Isiolo.  It’s always nice to replace some highway driving with more time in the parks.

We stopped for lunch at Dormans in Nanyuki where we had smoothies and milkshakes and salads and other treats that the guests had been missing after a week at the school eating Kenyan cuisine.  We also made the obligatory photo stop at the Equator.  From Nanyuki we didn’t stop again until we got back to the Hilton Garden Inn.  Our timing wasn’t perfect and we caught a bit of Nairobi’s rush hour traffic.

A visit to Kenya is not complete without a visit to the Giraffe Centre and Elephant Orphanage so that’s what we did the following day.  Then a final lunch together at the home of the school’s founder before the guests headed home.  They really saw all sides of Kenya: both interacting with the people while they were at the school and then interacting with the wildlife on their safari.

Maasai Mara with the Girls

Maasai Mara with the Girls

After three of my girlfriends asked me separately if we had any trips going to Maasai Mara they could join, it only made sense to make a group trip for all of them.  What fun – a girly weekend safari!  And miracle of miracles, we found a weekend that everyone was free!

Marion flew in from Kigali for the safari, the rest of us are expats in Nairobi.  Michelle took an extra day off work for a truly decadent holiday and flew to the Maasai Mara on Thursday while the rest of us slummed it on the road on Friday.  Unfortunately that road doesn’t improve, but an emergency chocolate biscuit stop in Narok saw us through to Sekanani Gate.

It’s been several months since I did a game drive in Maasai Mara and I always get the feeling that Francis only sees the good stuff when I’m not with him.  But the afternoon game drive around to our camp was incredible!  We saw a cheetah, elephants, giraffes, and two lion couples on a double date.  Of course there were also topis, impalas and gazelles galore.

On Saturday morning we headed out with picnic breakfast for an early morning game drive.  One highlight was a couple of lionesses prowling through the bushes with their eyes on a herd of wildebeest.  But we probably spent more time watching a group of young hyenas playing in a river with a stick.  Just like domestic puppies, they gambolled in and out of the water fighting for the all-important branch.

We headed up to the airstrip at Keekorok for breakfast and on our way spotted a group of four Ground Hornbills.  Michelle had told us that she had an all female crew on her flight to Maasai Mara and just as we were expressing our delight at this leap forward for Kenya, a flight landed which again had two female pilots, different to Thursday’s crew, indicating Air Kenya’s great support for females in a male-dominated industry.  Way to go Air Kenya!

We returned to the camp for lunch by the river and a short period to relax before heading out again for the afternoon.  Zebras bathing in a dust bowl and Celia’s quest for the perfect baby zebra photo marked this game drive.  As did the rain!  But first we spotted a cheetah munching on a recently-hunted gazelle and then a very large group of ostriches.  We could see the rain ahead of us and realised we were heading straight for it, but there was no avoiding that – the camp was there!  And down it came.  Marion relished the fresh air, the strong wind and the first drops for as long as possible, but eventually was driven down and the roof closed.  Living in a city like Nairobi really makes a person appreciate the fresh air of the bush and we were all left revitalised after this weekend away.

On Sunday we had to head back however.  Marion and Celia again drove with us, while Michelle took an afternoon flight.  Not surprisingly, we didn’t see Michelle in the morning before we left.  As we drove over the bridge into the park we saw just how much rain had fallen the day before.  The almost-dry river had become a raging torrent.  If there had been much more rain, the bridge could have been washed away!  We had a final game drive before exiting the park and commencing the long drive back to Nairobi.  Meanwhile Michelle relaxed for the morning, had a late breakfast, and then got to enjoy a cocktail at one of the very fancy camps from where she was taking her plane back home.  We arrived home at the same time, but I don’t think I need to say whose travelling day I would prefer next time!

A 10 Day Safari with 16 Photographers

A 10 Day Safari with 16 Photographers

The message came the evening before that their flight was delayed by seven hours.  Initially I felt relief at not having to be at the airport at 5am.  But as I considered the impact to the whole itinerary, 5am became a much better proposition.  However, there wasn’t much to do but succumb to the whim of the airlines and so at lunchtime on 31 August 2016, I met 16 photographers from Hong Kong at Nairobi’s International Airport.

Breakfast booked at Safari Park Hotel turned into lunch, which turned into lunch boxes scoffed the car by the time the group bought sim cards, we found our vehicles in the mess of a carpark currently at JKIA, and then we delayed another hour by two trucks who decided to collide head on in the middle of the bypass.  That day, bypassing Nairobi was not quicker!

We arrived at Ol Pejeta finally after dark – not an ideal situation to say the least.  We checked into our tents at Sweet Waters Serena Camp and enjoyed the spectacle of several black rhino at the water hole just outside the dining room as we ate dinner.  OK, now the safari has started.

The next morning the group went out early for a game drive.  No sooner out of the gate then they saw a couple of lions.  This was the theme of the whole trip – this group had a good luck charm for animals (not for vehicles, but that’s another story!).  After breakfast, we stopped at the Chimpanzee Sanctuary before departing Ol Pejeta for Lake Bogoria.

The road to Lake Bogoria was quite a bit longer than we had remembered, or perhaps it became longer the more I wished we were there already!  A couple of the vehicles made it to the lake for sunset, but unfortunately one of the vehicles had a problem and was delayed.  Lake Bogoria Spa Resort, I’ll be honest, is not worth the money you pay.  They have the fortunate position of being the only hotel there so they can charge what they want without bothering about crazy things like customer service.  Which was a shame as the guests had had a long day and probably could have used some customer care from lodge staff when notifying them about the scorpions they found in their rooms.

Watching the sun rise over a lake full of flamingos redeemed Lake Bogoria however and the group spend a few hours taking photographs.  Sadly, the local children have somehow been “trained” to run into the water, scaring the flamingos so tourists can get a photo of the flock taking off.  But this disturbs the birds and they don’t return for several hours after such an event, so that is the end of any photography session.  It took some convincing of a few different groups of youths that our guests certainly did not want them scaring the flamingos!  One kid almost got through our watch, but got shouted down by 16 angry photographers!  I’m not sure how they learnt this behaviour, but I see it as a definite negative impact of tourism on the environment.

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After a late breakfast, we headed to Lake Naivasha, arriving at Enashipai in time for lunch.  Finally we were back on schedule after the flight delay.  In the afternoon we headed out on boats to Crescent Island.  We saw many many different species of water birds and the boatmen fed the Fish Eagles – another contrived tourist experience designed for good photos, but spectacular I’ll admit.  On Crescent Island we enjoyed a walking safari where we saw zebras, waterbucks, impalas, gazelles and wildebeest.

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And then the main event: the Maasai Mara!  We battled the road all the way to Governors Camp, arriving at the Private Camp in time for a BBQ lunch by the river.  This was to be our home for the next four nights, with no one but the hippos for neighbours.  The days were spent on game drives – some of the group opted to take picnic lunches to go further afield on a full day game drive, while others chose to go for shorter game drives and come back to the camp for lunch and siesta.  Six of them went hot air ballooning one morning.

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Again the group were blessed with incredible wildlife sightings, with wildebeest herds crossing the river almost every day.  We even saw a crocodile slyly take one down…. although to be honest I didn’t actually spot this event until I reviewed my video back in my tent that evening!  We also saw two lionesses try to get a young wildebeest.  But the wildebeest suddenly started fighting back, bucking it’s little horns at the lions and generally dancing around.  It must have become confused or disoriented as it emerged from the long grass because it started headbutting its own reflection on one of the vehicles!  The lionesses gave up on the little fighter and stalked off, probably in search of an easier meal.

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We returned to Nairobi for a night, where we stayed at Nairobi Serena Hotel.  In the morning it was a convenient stop to pause at a lookout for a view over the city centre before heading back out of the town to Amboseli National Park.  My highlight for the afternoon game drive was watching a Goliath Heron defend its catch against a greedy Fish Eagle.  The Fish Eagle got its come-uppance however when a plover took offence to it and dive-bombed the bigger bird.  The Fish Eagle still eyed off the Heron’s fish dinner while ducking from the aggressive plover.

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Mt Kilimanjaro revealed itself on the early morning game drive on the last day – a spectacular end to a packed ten-day safari.  We returned to Nairobi for dinner at the famous Carnivore restaurant before heading to the airport for a rather late flight home.

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The safari was not without it’s challenges, not least of which were several mechanical issues which can always be expected on Kenya’s poorly-maintained roads unfortunately.  The importance of an international guest reviewing ALL the information a tour operator sends was highlighted a few times when expectations were much higher than anyone could deliver (if you want to go to a national park please don’t expect a perfectly tarred road all the way!).  However, the wildlife sightings and scenery the group encountered over their ten days was about as good as it gets and they were incredibly lucky!  And we hope to welcome them again someday to experience some of Kenya’s lesser-known parks.

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“Absolutely relaxed and responsible safari!”

“Absolutely relaxed and responsible safari!”

In January, Jasmin and Josh became our first ever AirBnB guests.  Jasmin had been studying on exchange here in Kenya and her boyfriend Josh came to visit her at the end of semester so they could travel together.  After a week in Kenya, Jasmin’s brother Fabio also joined them and Jasmin and Fabio decided they wanted to go the Maasai Mara after Josh returned home.

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We were able to find them two other travel buddies from Argentina so the four of them set off from Nairobi early one morning for a three day trip to Kenya’s top tourist destination.  They stayed at Mara Explorers and headed into the park almost immediately.  They spend the afternoon and all the next day in the game park watching wildlife.  Some of the group also went in for a final game drive on the last morning before returning to Nairobi.  That was the best game drive, because that was the time they saw lions on a hunt!

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Jasmin and Fabio came back and stayed a few more nights in our spare room before they went home, saying goodbye to the friends Jasmin had made during her semester here.  It was a pleasure to host Jasmin, Josh and Fabio both in our home and on safari and we hope they will return to Kenya again someday!

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Jasmin left us a lovely review on Trip Advisor: “Absolutely relaxed and responsible safari!”

Me and my brother made a safari to Masaai Mara. We already knew Francis and Tracey because we’ve spent some nights at their place in Rongai. They are really nice and helpful people and we had an amazing time with them. The safari to the Mara was one of the highlights of our time in Kenya.

I think Francis is a really good driver and I felt so relaxed in his car. This is important because it is quite a distance to the Mara park from Nairobi. Also in the park we felt that he really knows the area and that he exactly knew when he can drive through a waterhole (this time there were a lot of them) – we never got stuck. He also drove respectfully when animals were around, what I appreciated a lot. He really asked what we wanted and did not just stop at any souvenir shop like I knew it from other safari organizations (and I think can be a bit annoying). Finally, the place where we went for the two nights was also a great spot (The Mara explorer’s camps).

I totally recommend to travel with OTA because it is a small, really personal safari organization of such a nice couple with experience and knowledge.

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g294207-d3561827-r369153929-Overland_Travel_Adventures_Private_Day_Tours-Nairobi.html#
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Day Trip to Lake Naivasha

Day Trip to Lake Naivasha

How wonderful is it when a family member or friend moves abroad for a job opportunity?  Suddenly, questions of where to go for the next holiday are solved and that exotic destination becomes much more affordable (as you “live like a local”).  Well I’ve been living in Kenya for over four years and no one in my family has taken advantage of the situation.  Freda, on the other hand, is currently doing a four-week residency at a hospital north of Nairobi and her mother, sister and brother-in-law made the trek from the USA last week to visit her and experience Kenya.

But it wasn’t Freda who organized the day trip, rather Novem her sister connected with us.  We planned a wonderful day of walking safaris and a boat ride – fantastic activities for perfect Kenyan weather.  However it was November, when Kenya has less than perfect weather, and it became prudent to plan a rainy day alternative.  That would also be a nice day, albeit with activities that would be bearable in a drizzle, but not a storm.  Kenya is definitely a fair weather destination!

We agreed to decide which itinerary to go with when we met on the day and inspected the clouds together.  The forecast said there was a 100% chance of rain in Naivasha, but our local guide assured us the sky was clear.  So we took the chance and headed to the lake.

First stop was Hells Gate National Park.  The group opted to walk instead of embarking on the more popular cycling adventure.  On foot or on a bike, Hells Gate has some spectacular scenery and rock formations to marvel at.  And animals of course – they saw waterbuck, elands, zebras, buffalos, a secretary bird, impala, Thomson’s gazelle and so many warthogs.

After the early start and the hike, they were definitely ready for lunch which we enjoyed at a traditional restaurant in one of the lakeside villages.  The chef had prepared a selection of dishes so they could try a bit of everything.  We had beef stew, chicken, fish from the lake (Tilapia), rice, chapattis, ugali, zikuma wiki, and kachambari.

After the feast it was time to walk again.  This time we drive around the lake to Wileli Conservancy where there are a lot more animals than in Hells Gate.  There are not many predators in the Naivasha area, and so the herbivores can graze in relative peace and humans can mingle with them….to an extent!  As well as zebras, elands and impalas (which were getting boring now) the family saw giraffes.  It is so impressive getting close to giraffes when you are on foot.  You can see exactly how tall they are, but so gentle and graceful.

As we drive to and from Wileli Conservancy, we pass through a wildlife corridor, which must be my favourite kilometre of road in the whole of East Africa.  And this day was especially amazing!  We saw so many animals as we passed by: giraffes, impalas, elands, zebras and warthogs.  And the awesome thing was they were all grazing together in a Garden of Eden-style setting.  Usually you see groups of like animals together; it is less common to see many species all together.  Not today!

The grand finale of the day was a boat trip on Lake Oloiden.  This little lake is adjacent to Lake Naivasha with a 5 metre inlet/outlet separating the two.  The fun fact about these lakes is that Naivasha is fresh while Oloiden is salty.  This is the boat ride you take if you want to see hippos, which they certainly did.

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Novem, Chris, Freda and Lek, it was wonderful to spend the day with you.  And a few days later in Nairobi National Park.  We hope to see you again …. for a longer safari next time!

If you want your own Lake Naivasha experience, join OTA’s 13 Day Wildlife Wonder Safari in January 2019. Covering three of East Africa’s premier game parks, this trip circuits southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.  Watching wildlife and visiting communities of different cultures, this trip shows all sides of life in East Africa!  Email tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com for more information.

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