Focus on: The Mara North Conservancy

A rolling savanna of more than 28,000 hectares; the Mara North Conservancy is home to a spectacular array of plants, reptiles, birds and mammals, including elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard and massed concentrations of wildebeest, zebra, gazelle and other migratory wildlife. It is home to some of the finest camps in the Masai Mara region and their strict game-viewing policy ensures that the experience you get is authentic and exciting. The partnership of Masai villagers and the camps is a great example of how tourism can help the Masai people as well as the animals themselves, the villagers help the camps and the animals and the animals benefit from a safe and protected habitat.

In their own words:

Year round, the Mara is always outstanding.

December to January 

The savannah is green and lots of new born gazelles make an easy prey for the big cats.

Credit: Mara North Conservancy

February to April 

The savannah is drying up and thousands of wildebeests are born daily in the month of February. This is a favoured period of the big cats.

April to June: Loita wildebeest migration

The rain brings life to the savannah with an abundance of game seeking areas for grazing. The Loita Hills migration especially makes gamedriving fantastic since thousands and thousands of wildebeests and zebras come to the area. Hefty rains with thunder usually occur in the late afternoon or late at night. The grass is growing longer and longer as if the plain prepares itself for the wildebeest migration. This is a period of stunning scenery with amazing game viewing.

June to November: The Great Migration! 

‘The best time to see the migration is from end September until early November’

For countless years Africa’s big migratory herds of wildlife have roamed across the open savannas with the seasons.

Many people ask, when is the best time to see the Great Migration and witness one of the famous and dramatic wildebeest crossings? The general rule of seasons is as follows:

Over 25% of the wildebeest and zebra population are resident year out in the Masai Mara. From June their numbers are augmented by over 1 million wildebeests and zebras following the lush grazing to the Masai Mara in search of greener pastures and to reproduce. In their thousands the wildebeest cows and bulls meet on the plains of Mara to mate. Later, in mid October to December when the grass is short many start to head south.  If you wish to see the famous and drama-filled river crossings, then NOW is the season to visit the Masai Mara ecosystem.

Avoiding the busy holiday season of July and August, means the Conservancies and Reserve are quieter and more private.

Winner of Geographical Magazine competition announced

As a Corporate Member of the Royal Geographical Society, and with a Fellow of the RGS within our ranks,  it was with great pleasure that Real Africa teamed up with Geographical, the magazine of the RGS this autumn to offer their readers and supporters the chance to win a fly-in safari to the wonderful Masai Mara in Kenya.

Many of you read Robert’s article on private conservation in the Mara, Nature in the Balance, which appeared in the September edition of Geographical and in turn, many  of you entered the competition to win a safari which closed on 30 November. The prize,  a 3 night fly-in safari to Karen Blixen Tented Camp in Mara North Conservancy, the conservancy discussed in Rob’s editorial piece, gives the winner the opportunity to witness private conservation first-hand, and also to gain further insight into the running of the conservancy when meeting with Justin Heath over sundowner drinks, manager of Mara North.

All you had to do to be in with a shot at winning this wonderful prize was to name the animal lurking in the long grass…

Did you get it right? It was of course a lion, or as many of you pointed out, a lioness. We did get a few tigers and leopards (mainly from those entering late at night) but on the whole the animal was identified correctly.

We can now announce that the winner of the Geographical/Real Africa competition is Mr C.Wilson from London. Many congratulations!

When the team spoke to him to tell him the news his response was, “This is an absolute shock and a lovely Christmas present. I’ve always wanted to go to the Masai Mara and getting to see such a new part of it looks amazing.”

We hope you have a fantastic trip Mr Wilson, see lots of lions and we can’t wait for you to report back on your experience. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Lily’s Kenyan Safari – Karen Blixen Camp (Mara North Conservancy) and Satao Elerai Camp (Amboseli National Park)

This week Lily moves around the Masai Mara leaving the Mara Triangle and heading north to the Karen Blixen Camp before then heading south to Amboseli National Park.

The Oloololo Gate is the only road entry to this wild and uninhabited sector of the Masai Mara.  There are however a  few lodges that lie just outside the Masai Mara boundaries – most notably the excellent and long established Kichwa Tembo Camp and Bateleur Camp. Both these camps base all their game drives in the Mara Triangle.  We arrived at the Oloololo Gate by 1pm and drove the steep and rough road along the side of the escarpment looking down on the plains below towards Kichwa Tembo, Bateleur Camp and the Kichwa Tembo airstrip.  I have stayed at both these camps years ago but never really looked up at the escarpment. It is interesting to note what a different aspect one gets when looking down on the camps and its easier to work out the logistics of how the migration works! What a sight to be up here looking down on the plains thick with hundreds of thousands of plains game!  As we drove along a small herd of eland were grazing about 20 yards from the track and we stopped and watched them for a short time. This is such a rare treat as eland are very shy creatures, despite being the largest antelope (6 feet at the shoulder).  The road then dropped down to the wide and brown Mara river (swollen due to heavy rains) and crossed the bridge into Mara North Conservancy.  We were definitely in Masai tribal territory with plenty of herds of cattle and their attendant herd boys that we had to edge past in our mini bus.  Finally at the end of a long journey we arrived at the Karen Blixen Camp where we were very warmly welcomed by Sharon and Lilian. Can I just say a huge well done to Sammy for getting us there safely as it had been a very, very long drive on the circuitous route from the east to west side of the Mara via the Tanzanian border!

The Karen Blixen Camp, Masai Mara North

We were then shown to our tent which was number 5 which was on one side of the main mess area and across from the family tents (which consist of two tents on one platform). The tents are all gorgeous; spacious and beautifully appointed with fittings from the 1920’s (the author Karen Blixen’s era). Each tent has a large outside shower area which would be blissful during the hottest part of the day. After settling in to our tents we then made our way to the mess tent for lunch which was delicious.  We also enjoyed marvellous service from our waiter… with apologies but I can’t remember his name.  But I do remember the name of the hippo who was ‘playing’ in the muddy Mara keeping us entertained… he was called Harry!  Not long afterwards we were treated to afternoon tea at 4pm before then getting ready to head out on our afternoon game drive. We met up with Peter, our ranger and guide before climbing aboard an open sided Land Cruiser (with canopy). Peter was a very knowledgeable Masai guide from nearby Rianta Town who has been at Karen Blixen Camp for 7 years already. As we were staying in the Mara North Conservancy, that is where had all our game drives and we didn’t need to go into the Mara National Reserve. However I do know that our clients who stay for several nights usually spend a day game viewing in the Mara National Reserve as well – especially in migration time.

We then drove back up the track and headed for Leopard Gorge and lo and behold, lying on a rock giving the safari vehicles plenty of great photo opportunities was a stunningly beautiful leopard!  It should be pointed out that in the conservancy areas which border the National Reserve, you are allowed to go off track and also to do night drives but they also limit the number of visiting vehicles to just 5 per sighting.  The camps in this individual conservancy areas are smaller and therefore there are less vehicles and visitors so this works well.  After the exciting first viewing of a Mara leopard, we had more amazing viewing when we encountered the Cheli pride of lions feasting on a buffalo ‘kill’.  Peter was very knowledgeable and told us so much about the wildlife we were viewing including birds such as crowned plover (lapwing) and grey back shrike. 

We ended up back at camp around 7pm  where we ‘freshened up’ then enjoyed a tasty supper in the company of Sharon our hostess.  All the food served was wonderfully fresh and beautifully prepared with great attention to detail. We loved the ambience of this camp and I can see why it is so popular with our Real Africa clients.  It is also truly great value for money compared with many of the other Mara camps and lodges of a similar size.

Satao Elerai Camp, Amboseli National Park

After leaving the Masai Mara I headed via Nairobi to my next destination Amboseli National Park. I found the journey to be fascinating as we passed the Nairobi  National Park and various interesting towns en route.  From Nairobi to Kimana Gate in Amboseli is s 4 hour drive (approx 280 kilometres).  We arrived at Satao Elerai camp to met with spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro across the border in Tanzania.  We had a  mountain view tent  which was very spacious with imaginative use of natural furnishings like wood and stone.  There is even a loo with a view looking out to the mountain!  Lunch was served in an attractive area built into a kopje offering great views over the waterhole below.  We got to see a small herd of elephant having fun plus there were plenty of Masai giraffe wandering around. In the late afternoon we got to enjoy a ‘walk with the Masai’. We even had an askari walking ahead checking out for danger e.g. lion!I really enjoyed this experience and just wished that I had enough time to have done some of the other activities that the Camp offers such as a trip to the Elerai Masai community to see the Masai as they live traditionally or to enjoy a chance to walk with their cattle as they set out for the day’s grazing. The evening was spent relaxing by a big log fire in the comfortable lounge area with big chunky leather settees, a small library of books and lots of Masai memorabilia.  

The following day we were up at crack of dawn to see if we could catch Kilimanjaro without its cloud cover and sure enough, there it was and what a sight!  Mount Kilimanjaro has its three volcanic conesKiboMawenzi, and Shira.  It is also the highest free-standing mountain in the world at 5,895 metres or 19,341 feet. After breakfast we set of for our first game drive in Amboseli National Park. Because Amboseli is flat and open country, visibility is excellent and it is possible to see for miles and notice how many ‘roads’ there are dissecting the park making it very accessible but also sometimes busy in certain areas. There are some great views from Observation Hill. We parked at the bottom and climbed up the steps to the top where you get the full 360 degree view across the whole park. You could see as far as Kili to the south, dust devils whipping up the dry earth, the swamps of Enkongo Narok looping in a brilliant green emerald sash, and concentrations of elephant, buffalo, and waterbuck both in and along the side of the swamp.  I stopped off en route to visit the Amboseli Serena. The Serena is a big lodge with excellent views to the mountain, lots of space and great facilities.  The only other lodge in the park and most centrally situated is Ol Tukai, an important Amboseli land mark, set in the swampy heart of an area known for its high concentration of elephants.  This was the first camp to be built in Amboseli in 1948 for the movie The Snows of Kilimanjaro and although the original huts have been demolished, it still remains the site of Ol Tukai and its magnificent views of Mt Kilimanjaro.  

On our journey around Amboseli we were lucky enough to see big herds of elephants of around 50 and felt very privileged to sit quietly in the vehicle while they ambled around us taking the occasional dip in the swamp, mock jousting between the young males or just standing in a ‘huddle’ content to be together as a family.  It was a long and happy day with amazing wildlife especially amongst the elephant herds and big tuskers.  At first, Amboseli National Park seems a flat and somewhat less interesting place in comparison to the other national parks with their highlands, rolling hills and diverse landscapes. However actually on further investigation, this park is really alive with game and especially during the rains where Lake Kioko is partially filled and the other seasonal lakes and ponds are home to flocks of pelicans, flamingos and other migratory species. It is also one of the best places in East Africa to see elephants!

Posted by Lily