First time safari Kenya (Part 1)
Africa expert Hannah Busby’s passion for travel stems primarily from an interest in people and culture. However, after spending some time in Kenya, Hannah discovered a new found love for wildlife.
I love nothing more than walking around a city, town or village, learning about the culture, eating the local food and soaking up the atmosphere. However, ever since watching The Lion King as a child, the idea of going on a safari holiday has intrigued me greatly. Working at Cox & Kings, I had grown familiar with the language of the safari holiday, the ‘game drives’, ‘the bush’, the ‘sundowners’, the ‘Big Five’, but had still not experienced any of this for myself. When the opportunity arose to go on a safari holiday in Kenya for a week, I jumped at it.
My journey began at the Sweetwaters tented camp, a private conservancy set in the foothills of the Aberdares and Mount Kenya, about three hours’ drive north of Nairobi. On arrival, I was keen to get going on my first ever game drive. It was extremely thrilling and I was happy with each animal sighting; giraffes, elephants, warthogs, jackals, buffaloes, black rhinos, zebras, etc. Even the many impala sightings were exciting. Within an hour I had seen three of the Big Five, but then it rained. November is the season of the ‘short rains’ and so downpours can happen. When it rains, the animals shelter under trees, making it much more difficult to spot them. Consequently, I didn’t see any big cats on this occasion.
Ol Pejeta has a higher concentration of wildlife compared to any Kenyan national park, as well as having all of the Big Five. I have no doubt that, had I been staying there for an additional day, I would have seen lions and possibly more elusive leopards too. The conservancy has the largest black rhino sanctuary in east Africa, an animal that is critically endangered after years of illegal poaching. What I particularly liked about the area was the lack of tourists. I saw only one or two other vehicles while I was there and even then, only for the briefest of moments. It really felt like it was just us and the animals.
I continued to Mount Kenya National Park, just a short road journey from Ol Pejeta. I stayed at the Serena Mountain Lodge, located 2,134 metres above sea level on the slopes of Kenya’s highest mountain. The lodge is a rustic timber building, fairly simple but with a warm and friendly atmosphere. I did a guided nature walk in the forest accompanied by a gunman to protect me from any potential danger and Benson, a guide so informative and animated that this short walk became a real highlight of the trip. The walk I did was a gentle stroll, although longer and more difficult walks can be arranged. I observed a variety of flora, including the dramatic-looking strangling fig tree, and some wildlife including an assortment of birds, a hyrax and some colobus monkeys. However, it was the knowledge that Benson imparted and the enthusiasm of the delivery that I most remember. Before this excursion, I knew relatively little about Kenya and the wildlife that lives here, but now I can tell you a great number of things from how Kenya got its name, to the gestation period of an elephant, to how to identify hyena dung.
Aside from the nature walk, the wildlife experience at Mountain Lodge was much more about waiting for animals to come to us. The lodge is built on stilts so animals can walk freely underneath it. It overlooks a watering hole and natural salt-lick; with a viewing platform, a hide and balconies in every room, there was plenty of opportunity to sit back, relax and observe nature at work. Before dinner, I sat on my balcony and watched as a herd of buffalo came down to the water, and then two genets started rolling about playfully below, before an elephant ambled slowly out of the trees, all the way to the front of the watering hole, had a drink and sauntered off.
After dinner, I rushed to the viewing platform to enjoy a glass of wine and to continue watching the stage below. Even though I knew I had another early start in the morning, I didn’t want to go to bed in case I missed anything. Luckily, the hotel will give you a wake-up call should any animals you have specified be spotted during the night. After spotting a hyena on the prowl, I finally headed off to bed in the safe knowledge that I would be woken should a leopard make an appearance, and with three sightings of leopards in the past week, I was feeling hopeful. When morning came, I had still not seen a leopard, but I was greeted with spectacular views of Mount Kenya’s peaks, crystal clear in the morning light.