All posts by sara@realafrica.co.uk

The 2019 wish-list (continued): Tanzania’s time to shine

‘Beests, beaches & natural bounty

Tanzania epitomises ‘safari’ Africa. Whether it’s a herd of elephant crossing in front of you, a stampede of wildebeest or a perfectly framed giraffe and acacia in the sunset, the scale of the place,  and the sheer beauty of its natural bounty cannot fail to impress.

For a holiday, Tanzania is a smart option – there is very little time change (GMT+3hrs) so you don’t spend all your time off feeling scrambled,  it’s accessible for much of the year, depending on what you want to do and where you want to visit, and there’s great variety – you can climb a mountain, enjoy safari on foot, bicycle and by 4WD, spend nights under canvas or in luxury lodges,  head for the beaches or escape to the hills.

elephants- julianPicture 073Dhow on ZNZ beachThe Northern Circuit parks (Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Manyara and Tarangire) are a great destination for families  and first-time visitors. Your journey includes descending steep crater walls to the floor of the iconic Ngorongoro Crater. Our tip – don’t try to do too much if short on time and if budget allows – fly back from the Serengeti (…and on to the beaches of Zanzibar!)  The south offers vast reserves (Selous and Ruaha) where traffic density is very low and wildlife encounters are hugely rewarding. We also organise fly-in safaris to the remote western area of Tanzania (Mahale and Gombe) for adventurous chimp trekking  or if adventure is what you seek – how about  climbing Kilimanjaro?

Tanzania has been out of the spotlight for the last couple of years –  the governments decision to impose 18% tourism tax on services previously exempt from tax, with only a few weeks notice back in July 2016,  was undoubtedly damaging to visitor numbers.

However, a couple of years on and things have settled. Tanzania has seen new camps/lodges open, there are some competitive airfares, with airlines like Qatar flying into Kilimanjaro (Arusha) and Zanzibar, there’s a new online visa system and efforts continue to safeguard migration corridors and protect wildlife.

25% of Tanzania’s land is protected and the growth and success of eco-tourism is hugely important to not only the wildlife, but to local communities.

With such an undeniable bounty of natural riches, we see Tanzania coming back strong in 2019.

Here are five reasons to include this spectacular country on your travel radar:

WWshutterstock_1395341961.The Wildlife IMG_2192Tanzania has the largest concentration of animals in Africa – we’re talking 4 million wild animals. The Serengeti is a must-visit for a dizzying diversity of species, including an impressive list of predators. Rhino remain hard to see but they are there – you may be lucky and get a glimpse in the  Moro Kopjes area, or in the neighbouring Ngorongoro.

Tarangire is the best place for huge impressive herds of elephants while the west of the country is where you can search for primates in the beautiful Mahale Mountains or world-famous Gombe National Park, where Dr Jane Goodall has been so influential in the conservation of chimpanzees.

Long beaked common dolphins shutterstock_527159677Marine reserves around the Spice Islands offer safe haven for turtles, rays, dolphins, whales and other species. Whether you want a Robinson Crusoe meets Jacques Cousteau experience at somewhere like Pemba or Mafia Island, or to relax on the soft sands of Zanzibar watching the dhows sail by plus a night or two in atmospheric Stone Town, Tanzania offers plenty of opportunity to dip your toes in the Indian Ocean.

2.The Great Migration

WWshutterstock_221791825For 75% of the year, the annual Wildebeest Migration roams the Serengeti and Greater Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This is the world’s longest overland migration and involves 1.5 million animals. The river crossings in the northern Serengeti mark the pinnacle of the migration rewarding visitors with dramatic scenes akin to television documentaries. This experience is sure to get the heart thumping. Find out more>>>

 

DSC_00863.The Roof of Africa – Kilimanjaro

Majestic Kili at 5,895m is Africa’s highest peak and the world’s highest walkable mountain. Gaze in awe at its snow-capped peak or become one of the 25,000 trekkers scaling its slippery slopes annually.

4.The Spice Islands 

mnemba-island-lodge-51.jpg.950x0Safari and beach is a dream holiday combo and in Tanzania you are truly spoilt for choice. For those exploring the northern circuit safari parks (Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Manyara, Tarangire), a few days on Zanzibar or Pemba pre or post safari works a dream. For those further south in the Selous or Ruaha, opt for Mafia Island, or stay on the beautiful mainland coast at somewhere like Ras Kutani. Find out more>>>

RA fleet & drivers Kenya DSC_71105.The People

There are over 160 different tribes living in Tanzania. Getting to know a bit about the local customs and culture is a major part of a trip to Tanzania – you’ll find the people warm and incredibly hospitable. The best way to get to grips with the Northern Circuit parks is to head off in your own private 4WD with a driver/guide. All our guides are local and take great pride in introducing you to their country.

Thinking of a holiday to Tanzania? It couldn’t be easier – just give us a ring on 01603 964 730 or email your enquiry to paul@realafrica.co.uk

To find out more about holidays to Tanzania you may like to browse the information pages on our website.

The Northern Circuit Three Ways:

On a Shoestring ?  See Small Group Escorted Safari here.

Looking for luxury? See sample Tanzania in Luxury Safari here.

For the Ultimate Tanzania Safari please click here.

 

webDSC_0756Easy-peasey-visa

Tanzania now offers an easy online visa application service – single entry visas are $50USD and can be paid online with a credit card.

Find out more here.

  • New for 2019

There has been a crop of new camps and lodges open in Tanzania, strengthening the offering and increasing choice for visitors. You may be interested in the following:

Lemala-Mpingo-RidgeTarangire

Lemala Mpingo Ridge Tented Camp –

We are very excited about this addition to the Lemala portfolio allowing guests to combine Lemala properties in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Tarangire.  Each of the 15 spacious tented suites have been carefully positioned to maximize  views over Tarangire. All offer en-suite bathrooms, private decks, sunken outside lounges that convert to afternoon siesta beds and one of the suites has two bedrooms, perfect for families.
The elevated main lodge has a large lounge and bar, indoor and outdoor dining areas, a spa and swimming pool. Sundowners, early morning walks and game drives in new custom-designed vehicles accompanied by Lemala’s highly-knowledgeable and experienced guides are some of the activities guests can look forward to during their stay.
Serengeti
Lemala Nanyukie Camp opened to guests in October 2018 and is located a 45-minute drive east of the Seronera Airstrip in the park’s central region, and is superbly located with outstanding views across the plains. The camp itself sits on a grassy savanna dotted with rocky kopjes and shaded by ancient giant acacia trees. There are just 15 guest tents.
Melia Serengeti Lodge – this is the first state-of-the-art sustainable hotel by MHI, and the hotel of around 50 rooms offers ‘off the grid’ living and a great viewpoint for the annual migration. This new -ish property suits people not keen on tented camps and after a few more facilities. It’s a lot bigger than most of the properties we tend to offer but we like the commitment to sustainability.
Kati Kati galeria_KT_3Kati Kati Mara/Ndutu camps are solar-powered stripped back ‘explorer style’ mobile camps complete with safari bucket showers. The camps are positioned to get you to the heart of the action and move seasonally for the Great Migration. Kati Kati Mara is located in northern Serengeti for the river crossings (Jun – Oct/Nov) and Ndutu is in the southern Serengeti for wildebeest calving season (Dec – Mar). There are 11 tents plus one family tent.
Zuri 2018-07-19-02-56-03-d4faa8f0e1c1273dfe6f57055dba72ff Zuri Beach 2018-07-19-02-58-22-19865dd2e9da80604e2e30d2a475c65bZanzibar
Zuri Zanzibar opened in summer 2018 and offers guests access to one of the most beautiful (and non tidal) beaches on Zanzibar, Kendwa Beach.  Zuri sits on the north-west shore around 50km from Stone Town. There are 55 suites, villas and bungalows with sunset views. This would be great for a few days after a safari or as a week long holiday in its own right.
Yes please!
>>>Up next…why Malawi is a dream holiday destination

 

 

The 2019 wish-list: top five safari destinations to explore in 2019

Over the next few weeks we’ll focus on five different safari destinations worthy of making your 2019 wish-list. We’ll look at new camps, lodges and activities and give you ideas for amazing holidays in 2019. 

This week – it’s Zimbabwe.

1.ZIMBABWE

Kanga-Camp-Mana-Pools-Zimbabwe-African-Bush-Camps-Safari-Tented-Camp-Main-Area-2-1200x750Kanga Camp, Mana Pools

Zimbabwe is firmly back on the safari map with a more stable political climate, investment going into developing its tourism infrastructure and the Univisa making holidaying in both Zimbabwe and Zambia easier.

This land-locked country in Southern Africa offers magnificent wilderness , exceptional guiding and a fantastic array of activities. You can canoe the Zambezi, walk in Mana Pools, zipline over Victoria Falls and stake out a waterhole from a hide in Hwange in the space of a 10 day -two week trip.

Prime safari areas are easily accessed via the international gateways of Victoria Falls and Harare. The best time to go is between May and September although many of the camps are open from April to mid November.

Find out more about Zimbabwe and see sample safaris here.

Call us on 01603 964 730 or email enquiries@realafrica.co.uk to discuss a safari to Zimbabwe.

Mana Pools

Rukomechi287There’s a real buzz about Zimbabwe as we start 2019, and especially beautiful Mana Pools.

If you saw the BBC Dynasties episode on the Painted Wolves of Mana then you’ll have some idea why this World Heritage national park has attracted so much attention in recent months.

This wild and beautiful region is only accessible during the dry season (April to November) there are very few vehicle tracks and only a handful of safari camps.

Activities include walking, canoeing and 4WD safaris with wildlife viewing off-the-scale. The area is very well-known for its large bull elephants – encounters can be thrilling (especially on foot) – as well as a full cast of predators.

Well-established owner/run camps such as Vundu Camp where wild dog expert Nick Murray who appeared on the Dynasties episode is based, or Goliath Camp, home of Stretch Ferreira stand the test of time with emphasis firmly on quality guiding.

2017 saw the opening of John’s Camp,  and Zambezi Expeditions and Kanga Camp from African Bush Camps.

2018 sees further new camps with each one below having a strong focus on responsible travel and conservation.

1.Chikwenya

Chikwenya large_focal_g4310-chikwenyaChikwenya is part of the Wilderness Safaris portfolio of camps and lodges. The camp has always been in this magical position on the far eastern boundary of Mana overlooking the Zambezi but in autumn 2018 it opened with a completely new look. There are just seven glorious tented suites  complete with outdoor showers, with two family units to follow in Spring 2019. Activities range from walking and boating to day and night drives. A stay here would work well with one of its sister properties in Mana, Ruckomechi or Little Ruckomechi on the western boundary or with one of the excellent Wilderness camps in Hwange (Davisons. Linkwasha, Little Makalolo). The camps are all accessed by nearby airstrips and the services of Wilderness Air. Enjoy a 5% long-stay discount on 6 night+ safaris in any combination of their Zim camps/lodges for stays until 31 May and from 1 Nov 2019 (subject to availability – special dates apply).

2.Nyamatusi

Nyamatusi-Campmain-area-outside-Mana-Pools-National-Park-Zimbabwe-5Owner-run African Bush Camps is due to open six suite Nyamatusi Camp in April 2019 giving clients three wonderful but very different camps to choose from in Mana Pools. Nyamatusi is a luxury option in a private concession in the eastern area of Mana with all suites offering plunge pools and wonderful views.  We love ABCs new Wild Dogs of Zimbabwe itinerary which splits time in Mana between Kanga Camp and Mana Expedition Camp,  a characterful mobile camp on the banks of the Zambezi. The itinerary also visits Somalisa Expedition Camp in Hwange and Thorntree River Lodge on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls.

3. Greater Mana Expedition Camp

Greater Mana great-plains-manaexpedition-gallery-13Great Plains Conservation also now offers an exciting itinerary option in Zimbabwe with the opening of Mpala Jena close to Victoria Falls. Mpala Jena has just four tented suites, and works brilliantly in combination with Greater Mana Expedition Camp in the private Sapi Reserve on the eastern boundary of Mana Pools. Mana Expedition hosts a maximum of six guests and the emphasis is very much on activity and adventure in this pristine and beautiful environment.

Here are some other new camps/lodges in Zimbabwe to look out for and consider for your holiday:

Matusadona/Lake Kariba

Bumi-Hills-Safariimbabwe_Luxury-Safari-Lodge_Lake-View_Viewing-Deck_-African-Bush-Camps-88-1200x662Bumi Hills reopened in 2018 after an extensive refurbishment. There are ten suites with spectacular lake views. Lake cruises, walking safaris and game drives are all on the agenda. This is a stunning spot to simply relax and admire the colours changing over Lake Kariba. One of the highlights of any visit to Matusadona is learning about rhino conservation here and the background and success of the Intensive Rhino Protection Zone.  Other well-established options in the Lake Kariba/Matusadona area include Changa Safari Camp and Rhino Safari Camp.

Hwange

Verneys MachabaSafaris-verneys-camp-gallery-13Verney’s Camp is a new opening in Hwange and sits in a private concession within the south-eastern zone of the national park – a low traffic area. This classic tented camp, part of Machaba Safaris is an exciting prospect and offers eight tented rooms plus a further two family rooms. All tented rooms look out to the waterhole in front of the camp. Verney’s further strengthens the excellent camp offering in Hwange which can be reached very easily by road from Victoria Falls – the main gate is around a 2 1/2 hour drive away. There is also an airstrip for fly-in safari access,  but road transfers, especially if travelling in a group or as a family, give flexibility and allow you to have more freedom with your baggage! Fly in safaris impose very strict baggage guidelines!  Road transfers also help to keep the cost down while  allowing you to see more of the country. The Hide Hwange remains a favourite option with the waterhole very close to camp  along with Camp Hwange and Davison’s. African Bush Camps offer three high quality options with Somalisa, family friendly Somalisa Acacia and Somalisa Expedition. Some camps offer the chance to get a behind-the-scenes conservation experience with visits to the Painted Dog Conservation Centre or by joining a Hwange Pump Run. Find out more about Hwange here.

Victoria Falls

ZimZam slider shutterstock_129335261There are dozens of places to stay in Victoria Falls – you can stay in an economical  guesthouse in town,  a colonial grand hotel with lawns rolling virtually down to the Falls, a safari lodge or a river lodge. Victoria Falls is a great place to arrive and relax following an international flight. It’s a good destination for families with many exciting activities on offer, for example the Flying Fox or canopy tours. Victoria Falls combines brilliantly with a safari to Hwange since you can transfer easily and affordably by road, or with Chobe in Botswana. In the last year several new properties have opened around Victoria Falls.  At the top end is spectacular Mpala Jena from Great Plains.  Old Drift Lodge is also new, around 7km upstream of Victoria Falls on the banks of the Zambezi. The lodge is owned by Wild Horizons who also offer The Elephant Camp at Victoria Falls. The tented lodge opened in May 2018 so has had a season to settle in. There are 10 suites here plus an additional four family suites. As well as being able to enjoy river cruises and game drives on the banks of the Zambezi, guests are close enough to visit the Falls themselves and enjoy some of the many activities. Masuwe Lodge is in a similar location and has re-opened after extensive refurbishment. You can also stay on the Zambian side of the Falls – known for its beautiful river lodges – great places to kick back pre or post safari and to get out on the water, but you’ll have to wait to read the blog on Zambia…

Next week: why a holiday to Tanzania should be on your wish-list.

 

The joy of Private Conservancy Safaris

 

DSC_6229Mara DSC_6236

There are so many safari options, it can be tricky working out what’s best for you. Here we look at the joy of private conservancies and how they differ from a national park/reserve experience.

Mara DSC_6446Private Conservancies vs National Park Private conservancies are privately owned and run conservancies or reserves which tend to be located just outside the main national park or reserve. To maintain migration corridors national parks (like Kruger in South Africa or the Masai Mara in Kenya) are unfenced wilderness areas allowing for the free movement of wildlife.

National parks are managed by local councils and government bodies who are responsible for monitoring wildlife, anti-poaching, security and maintaining roads and facilities. Lodges are usually quite large to accommodate demand and visitor numbers are not usually limited. In peak seasons there can be a high density of vehicles. There are strict rules in the national parks – drivers must keep to designated trails and safaris can only be enjoyed between sunrise and sunset.

Private conservancies in contrast,  work in partnership with the local community landowners. Because they are owned and managed privately, visitor numbers are strictly controlled. In Mara North in the Masai Mara for instance there is one guest on average to every 350 acres.  Camps and lodges tend to be small so guests see very few other vehicles compared to the national park.

There are significant benefits of the private conservancy model for both the visitor and the local community:

  • Environment Private conservancies protect important ecosystems, for example the Greater Mara Eco-System in Kenya and the Okavango in Botswana. They help to stop the degradation of these eco-systems, conserving wildlife and bio-diversity and allowing the habitat to recover.
  • WWDSC_5360Community Local people are able to earn an income from eco tourism and wildlife conservation. In Kenya, Maasai landowners are able to benefit directly from working in partnership with camps and lodges, being paid a ‘bed night’ fee for every guest staying.  In South Africa’s Greater Kruger the conservancies operate in the same way – collaborating with the local communities.
  • Eco-tourism Private conservancies champion low density responsible travel. In a nutshell this is the best way to safari without the crowds.

Serian Lion Cubs DSC_6888The exclusive private conservancy safari experience

Private conservancies are often accessed by light aircraft flight, served by their own airstrip. Flying-in helps to maximise your holiday time and gives you a wonderful bird’s eye view in the process.

Guests can enjoy a wide range of activities. These include 4×4 safari, night drives, walking, bush dining and sundowners on the plains. You don’t have to be back in camp by sundown so you can enjoy the conservancy to the full – stopping for a gin and tonic at sunset or heading out on a night drive with flashlights after supper.

Private conservancies offer a quality, low density experience.  Instead of large lodges you can stay in small tented camps/lodges. You’ll see fewer vehicles and enjoy better quality game viewing.

You can get closer to the action. It’s good safari etiquette for guides to stick to trails to prevent grass erosion, however in private conservancies should you come across something exciting, like these gorgeous lion cubs,  you can go off road to observe more closely – something you are prohibited to do in a national park.

You can safari in the knowledge that your stay will be benefiting the local community and contributing to wildlife conservation.

Mara DSC_6556Focus on Mara North, Kenya

The Mara North Conservancy offers 64,000 acres of prime wilderness situated immediately to the north-east of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, and works in partnership with local Maasai landowners. In MNC, there are eleven member camps. Each is represented by a land management committee. The committee meets monthly with the Maasai Landowners Committee representing over 800 Maasai landowners, who have opted to lease their land for conservation. The MNC is one of the largest community and private sector owned conservancies in the world and this is the first time many Maasai have been able to receive a direct income from wildlife.

Crucially, all the camps in the private conservancies promote low density tourism. This ensures an exclusive safari experience and minimal impact to the environment and its wildlife. This is the same across Eastern and Southern Africa.

Take your pick from Olare Motorogi and Mara North to name just two of many fantastic conservancies in the Masai Mara, Chyulu Hills on the edge of Tsavo and Amboseli or undiscovered Kalama or Sera north of Samburu. Kenya has many wonderful conservancies to choose from.

Explore Kenya safaris

Tanzania also offers wonderful private conservancies including five star Singita. Further south you can enjoy legendary Selinda or Linyanti in Botswana’s Okavango among many other excellent choices, Linkwasha in Zimbabwe’s Hwange, Ongava in Namibia, or Sabi Sands and Timbavati in South Africa’s Kruger. Private conservancies offer guests the chance to get off the beaten track, for example Tswalu Kalahari also in South Africa, or Namunyak in the Mathews Range of northern Kenya.

 

 

 

Big cat central: a review of Mahali Mzuri, Masai Mara, Kenya

Blog DSC_8585Blog DSC_8586“Welcome to Olare Orok” grinned the barefoot co-pilot as he flung open the doors of the Cessna Caravan and pulled down the steps to let the sunshine in.

Waiting at the tiny airstrip were our Masai guides John and Dickson from Mahali Mzuri, Sir Richard Branson’s safari camp, one of five camps in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy in Kenya’s Masai Mara, an hour’s flight west of Nairobi.

Branson’s camp opened in 2013 and works in partnership with the Maasai landowners to protect the ecosystem for the benefit of both community and wildlife. We’d had a number of guests stay at the camp in 2017 but I had not visited for myself so was very much looking forward to our stay.

Blog DSC_8592The transfer to camp in open Landcruisers is no more than 20 minutes but easily stretched to an hour as we discovered a beautiful female cheetah relaxing in the shade of an acacia within moments of leaving the airstrip.  We then came across a huge herd of buffalo – 100 or more flicking their ears and munching the lush grass, enriched by early rains in the Mara.

blog DSC_9055I was travelling with my wider family – seven of us in all. For the grannies, who both grew up in Kenya in the 50s it was a welcome, and emotional return. For my children, it was their first taste of East Africa.

Mahali Mzuri means ‘beautiful place’ and we were not disappointed.  The emerald cloak of the Mara in late March was captivating. Early rains had given the landscape a freshness and vibrancy.  The camp itself overlooks a valley with a rocky river at its heart. Giraffe lolloped along the valley as we settled down to an alfresco lunch, ably looked after by Johnstone, who had all our names within the first five minutes. Swahili started to come back to the grannies after a wine or two, much to his amusement and delight. A plump hippo waddled on the river bank and monkeys chattered nervously in the acacias.

blog DSC_8811Blog DSC_8691blog DSC_8820blog DSC_8827Mahali Mzuri does not have the look of your average tented camp.  The striking design, by Kenyan architects, pays homage to the local Ndorobo tribe who in times past used the ridge as a lookout,  while the interiors are inspired by the landscape with a natural palate of stone grey, red-oat rust and sun gold injected by bold prints, art and basketry all sourced locally. All the wood was harvested from sustainable sources and the site’s environmental impact was also addressed, with each canopy structure only touching the ground at three points, and all waste water being processed through gravity-fed anaerobic bio-digesters.

Each of the twelve tents is strung high above the valley, with six either side of the main camp area.  All enjoy wonderful panoramic views and are linked by a series of walkways. Each tent is raised up on a concrete plinth and stretched on a giant arching steel structure, surrounded by a spacious wooden deck. The interior, which is linear in design features a bedroom, living space and luxury bathroom complete with shower and roll top foot and claw bath. The tents are breeze cooled and incredibly comfortable – perfect for our multi generational group. Two of the tents are configured for families and can accommodate four sharing.

Although the tent interiors don’t feel huge, especially the family tent where our teenagers slept on wide sofabeds in the living room,  there’s everything you could possibly need, from torches and filtered water to bug spray and sunscreen. There’s even a complimentary mini bar in case you fancy a cold Tusker on the deck and don’t fancy the stroll to the main bar.  The outside area really does feel generous and has the most wonderful vista.

The communal camp area consists of three main sections. The main dining tent has several large dining tables arranged both indoors and outdoors on the deck, with  fallen trees as their bases and solid glass tops, as well as smaller tables.  The second central tent is a welcoming  lounge and bar area where tasty snacks appear three times a day at dawn, tea and during sundowners.  Both of these two open fronted tented areas are linked by steps to a lower decked tier with a large fire pit and further seating. Softly illuminated by lanterns and the glow of a camp fire, this was a wonderful place to sit with a nightcap as Olare’s big male lions warmed up their roar.

The third section of the communal camp area, also linked by decking, and favoured by the resident camp hyrax families offers a small gift shop, the office and washrooms. Steps down from here lead to a glorious sundeck and infinity pool, with a small spa on the level below.

Stays at Mahali Mzuri are all-inclusive from bubbles on arrival at the airstrip to a warming after dinner amaretto or whatever you fancy  – it’s great to be able to budget for all this from home rather than during your holiday and we found it extremely relaxing to know everything was included from the word go. The only exceptions to this rule are the additional activities, for example the spa, community visits and hot air balloon safaris.

Food was of a very high standard with several choices offered at lunch and dinner – both being leisurely three course affairs. All our dining was private with our own table set up. The chef would often come out to chat with diners which was a lovely touch. Breakfast included fresh fruit, juices, toast and preserves, pastries and an expansive cooked menu from eggs and bacon to pancakes.

Blog DSC_8682blog DSC_9001For the next three days we followed a safari routine,  rising at around 530am in the dark, and escorted by the waiting ‘askaris’ to the lounge for a hot brew and a warm pastry as dawn unveiled the valley. We’d leave at first light, by 630am, kept cosy in the open Landcruisers by lovely hot water bottles,  ponchos and Maasai blankets, provided by camp. We’d be out until 930/10am, peeling off layers as the sun got higher in the sky, ready for a big breakfast back at camp mid morning.

The middle part of the day was spent having a swim, reading on the deck, watching the wildlife come and go from the valley and eating and drinking. The pool was a great distraction in the heat of the day, especially for the children. The pool deck offers some lovely deep shade. We’d meet in the lounge at 4pm for tea, which was always very sociable with the other camp guests,and be out on safari from 430pm till around 7pm when we’d return for a gin and tonic on the deck before dinner. On our final night we dined by the pool, surrounded by lanterns. After sundown the askaris guide you around camp, ensuring your safety.

blogDSC_8904We were able to explore a number of different areas in the conservancy during our stay, crossing rivers and crawling carefully down rocky hills to the wide open plains below, the children taking turns to sit up front with Dickson, completing their ‘warrior’ booklet as they went. Children 6 years+ are warmly welcomed.

On our first morning game drive we explored the valley immediately below camp. Some of our best wildlife sightings were right here. We had not long been on the valley floor when Dickson’s efforts were rewarded. The monkeys were nosier than usual and the birds were squawking. Then we saw her…

Blog DSC_8714Slinking along the valley, on the opposite side to the river from us, with her coat golden in the morning sun was a lioness. Dickson recognised her and said she had four cubs up on the slopes further along from camp. We waited patiently as she crossed the river and came towards us, almost brushing the tyres of the Landcrusier as she went.

blog DSC_8760The monkeys continued to chatter nervously and as we followed the lioness, a large hippo appeared on the horizon – I’ve never seen a hippo so far from water  – it looked like a huge boulder.

Suddenly there was a great explosion of movement from a thicket lower down the slope. What looked to be a leopard shot out of the bushes at lightning speed, pursued rapaciously by our lioness, who stretched herself up the tree as far as she could, clawing at the bark.

We held our breath. All was still again save for the hippo who continued to traverse the hillside. The lioness lay in wait for a few moments before deciding to continue her journey along the valley. We sat and watched. And waited in the hope the leopard would emerge.

blog DSC_8748blog DSC_8738The dark rosettes of the leopard could just about be seen with the binoculars but he was well concealed in the highest boughs of the tree. It took about 15 minutes until we saw any movement at all. Gradually, gracefully he picked his way down the tree. He was a huge thick-set male leopard. He sidled casually along the river bank, standing proudly in the long grass before disappearing out of sight…

We never did catch up with the lioness and her four cubs – we saw them from a distance and we glimpsed them playing in the trees as a dramatic storm swept through the valley one afternoon, pelting our Landcruiser and turning the sky black and moody. The storm curtailed the afternoon drive a little but it was very exciting.

blog DSC_8802We may not have spent time with the lioness and cubs but our stay in the Mara was not short of big cats  – this area is densely populated – we even got to watch a ‘super pride’ of 17 lion hunting warthog, and we also found the two huge male lions who woke us every night with their spine tingling roars. On the second night the roar was so loud it literally felt like the lion was right outside the tent. Thrilling.

blog DSC_8984In the valley and area immediately around Mahali Mzuri we did not see another vehicle – on the other side of the valley, down on the plains, we did see other vehicles, but most of our sightings were enjoyed on our own or with only one other vehicle. This included watching the wonderful cheetah brothers.

One of our highlights at Mahali Mzuri was coming across a one hour old baby elephant being nursed by her mother. Truly magical. We stayed watching until well after 1030am before returning to camp for a late breakfast.

We stayed three nights at Mahali Mzuri and wish we had stayed four – testament to the fact we had a great time.  We loved the staff who were all so warm and friendly, from our superb guide Dickson, to the managers Mariana and Wilson. We were incredibly comfortable, saw some amazing wildlife and laughed continually for three days. What more could you want?

Blog DSC_8597Green season travel

blog DSC_9126We chose to travel in the Green season – we enjoyed hot sunny days, some incredible sunsets and sunrises and only one big downpour which arrived just before sunset and lasted several hours. Some of the roads were badly damaged by heavy rain earlier in the month and we had to travel to the larger Ol Kiombo airstrip an hour away from camp to fly on to our next stop because Olare Orok was too soft to land on but other than that the weather did not impact on our plans. Mornings and after sunset it got quite chilly and you needed to dress with plenty of layers but the middle of the day was blazing hot. There are many young animals during the Green Season, the birding is fantastic and the landscape is beautiful. I love visiting at this time of year.

Special Offers

The benefit of the Green season is that there are very few other visitors in the Mara and you can take advantage of lower rates and special offers, for example Mahali has stay and pay offers and also a ‘children go free’ offer running at certain times of year. Look out for these for travel between March and June and often in November time too.  We include some offers on our ‘Special Offer‘ page on the website.

To find out more about Mahali Mzuri please click here.

To find out more about Kenya as a holiday destination please click here.

To discuss your family journey to Africa, or for a tailor-made itinerary,  please call us on 01603 964 730.

17 April 2018, by Sara White

 

Rhino conservation in Kenya – Borana and Lewa, dog squads and evening deployment

This is the second part of my blog about my trip to Kenya last May to see specific rhino projects which Real Africa is supporting through our partnership with Save the Rhino International. To find out more about this partnership or to support our #RealRhinos campaign please click here. To find out about our new partnership with Animals Saving Animals, a small organisation working in sub-Saharan Africa to train and deploy anti-poaching dogs, please click here.

We arrived at the gates to Lewa late morning. An open 4×4 pulled up with two armed rangers fully clad in camouflage fatigues. Rianto beamed at us, taking out a cake tin to reveal freshly baked banana bread – it was still warm. He passed back a battered holdall which tinkled with the sound of bottles. Then came a bottle opener as we headed off down a track, “Beer?”

 

Driving across the Lewa Conservancy, jewel green following May rain, we saw a plethora of wildlife – huge herds of zebra, including Grevy’s Zebra with their distinct stripes and white bellies, antelope scattering as we made our way, and warthog raising their tails in alarm as we passed.

After around 20 minutes we stopped as Rianto grabbed the binoculars and pointed to the horizon,  where focusing our gaze we saw at first one, then two, then five rhino – a mix of both black and white. Rianto then counted and announced “Eleven Rhino” – we looked again, scanning the horizon, and sure enough wallowing in the mud and high on the brow of the hill were more rhino. I’ve never seen so many all in one place before – a great testament to the work of the Borana and Lewa rangers and conservation teams.

We carried on until reaching the headquarters of the Anti-poaching Dog Squad, one of the projects supported by Save the Rhino International which I had specifically come to Kenya to visit.  I could see a large bloodhound, poised and ready for action and the rangers all gathered around a small thatched boma. After being introduced to softly-spoken Wilfred and the rest of his dedicated team of rangers, Rianto helped to explain how the dog squads are used on Lewa and Borana to protect the rhino. There are around 160 precious rhino across the two conservancies – around 97 black and 63 white, although with the rhino successfully breeding this number will hopefully increase. Some of the rhino have the most spectacular horns, like Wai Wai, a female black rhino who has reared a number of calves on Borana –  all need to be protected – patrolled day and night against the threat of poachers. All the 4×4 safari vehicles have detailed ID booklets with pictures to allow you to identify the rhino as you move around the conservancies.

The anti-poaching dogs have two key roles: to track and attack poachers.  Bloodhounds are the trackers with the ability to cover vast distances over tricky terrain, tracking scent from a single footstep for over 24 hours. Belgian malinois are the attack dogs although they also have the ability to sniff out illegal arms and caches of ivory and horn.  GPS tracking devices are attached to weapons when they are discovered by the dog teams, who then retreat, waiting for the poachers to return for them. They can then apprehend the whole group. With regards to attack, dogs are naturally feared in Africa so add to this a dog which has been specifically trained to attack and disable the ‘gun arm’ and you have a very powerful deterrent.

Wilfred was keen to show the dogs and the rangers in action having given us a summary of their skills. Tony the malinois was out on a mission so the job lay with Tipper the bloodhound. It was decided that my husband Mark become a dummy ‘poacher’ and I would join the tracking team to see the process from start to finish.

Mark was asked to walk on the stony sand, leaving a single footprint, before heading off across the grassy plains accompanied by some rangers. I stayed with Wilfred and his track team with Tipper. First Wilfred explained how Tipper had been trained  – when the chest harness is put on to the dog, he knows it is time to go to work. True enough, as soon as Tipper was harnessed his body language seemed to change and he was eager to move off, just like a dog at home waiting for his walk.

One of the rangers then put gloves on and got a polythene bag with a gauze pad within it. Being very careful not to contaminate the gauze, he pressed it down hard on the stony sand where Mark’s footprint was. He then placed the bag containing the gauze over Tipper’s nose for no more than a few seconds. Tipper immediately started to pull his handler and off we went, first along the stony sand track at a fast walk, then a gentle jog and before I knew it we took a sharp left, leaving the track, running through the long grasses of Lewa.

The track team, who train hard with long runs led by Pete Newland, ex British military, had no trouble keeping up with Tipper. I wish I could say the same!  In the back of my mind I was thinking about puff adders in the long grass where we were running!  When we finished the exercise and had regained normal breathing I did ask Pete about this and he said they haven’t had too much trouble at Lewa/Borana but further north in the Sera Conservancy where he also works with the Northern Rangelands Trust,  puff adders can at certain times of year be a problem. He had just purchased six viles of antidote at $1,000 US a vile . The antidote can be used for rangers and also for the dogs should they be bitten.
Tipper was incredibly focused on his path and there was no dithering about. A few kilometres later, we found ourselves on a dry river bed and by the time I caught up with the rangers, Tipper was happily slobbering all over Mark who had been primed for his arrival with a treat. It was an impressive display of how these track dogs play an important role in protecting rhinos.

50% of the money that we raised through our #RealRhinos campaign in aid of Save the Rhino International has gone to help the Dog Squads in Kenya. We hope to buy vital equipment for them, from bite suits which cost around £500 each to dog food at £7 per week. We want to help pay for veterinary care for the dogs and also the rhinos – to pay for a vet to treat a rhino that has been shot costs around £1000. The rangers need our support too – they need basic supplies like boots and hats so that they can carry out their day to day duties. To date our campaign has raised £6500. By going on safari with us or buying a rhino Tshirt from our Real World Store you can help us raise even more.

We have also ‘adopted’ a puppy – a Belgian Malnois – who is now 5 months old, has had his vaccinations and has started his training with Daryll Pleasants from Animals Saving Animals. The puppy will eventually be deployed to an anti-poaching dog squad working in the Save Valley in Zimbabwe where one of only eight viable black rhino breeding populations can be found.

Visiting Borana or Lewa

This was my first visit to the eastern Laikipia region – I  wish someone had told me how beautiful this region is as I would never have waited so long to visit. Part of the appeal of this area to me is seeing how the traditional cattle ranches have diversified, embracing conservation and tourism. The lodge at Borana has a real homestead feel, with beautiful gardens and guinea fowl casually strutting across the lawns. The walls are adorned with historic black and white images telling the story of Borana from the trophy hunting days to the forefront of the modern conservation movement. Borana remains family owned,  by Michael and Nicky Dyer .

There are just eight beautiful cottages perched on the side of the valley – all thatched, with decks and log fires. We were in Room 4 – a very pretty room close to the main area decorated in blue and white with a huge four poster bed carved from local wood at the centre of the room. Downstairs was a lovely bathroom, fashioned from the rock. We enjoyed an alfresco lunch at the pool, with produce from the farm –  quiche with salads and beef carpaccio. The beef comes from the Borana cattle and is supplied by Michael Dyer’s son, the ‘Well Hung Butcher’ . Cattle ranching is how Borana started but nowadays although cattle still graze the grassland there is holistic land management with their grazing carefully monitored in order to enhance grazing for wildlife. Cattle play an important and often overlooked role, reducing moribund grass biomass, promoting seed dispersal and increasing the nutritional value of the grass while decreasing the risk of bush fires.

Milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables are harvested from Michael’s parents garden, Tony & Rose who still live on Borana – Tony just celebrated his 90th birthday. All this fresh produce and a wonderful kitchen team ensured all the food we enjoyed was just delicious.

In the afternoon we joined Flick, who manages the lodge, for afternoon tea and cake before Rianto collected us and took us to the anti-poaching headquarters to meet Flick’s husband Sam Taylor, who heads up operations. It was fascinating to see the HQ and speak to Sam and the rangers about their work. We were invited to join the rangers on a deployment. On our way we saw lots of wildlife including a very friendly herd of elephants. It was great to see the rangers all whip out their phones to take photos for their families and get as much joy out of the encounter as us.

The rangers talked us through their kit, which includes weapons and a heat seeking camera per team. They explained how they stay in the same team of four of five rangers – this way they get to know their roles and how best to work together. The rangers receive training, board and lodging and a good salary in Kenyan terms of around $500 US per month. What struck us was the pride the rangers took in their position – they want to protect the rhinos just as much as we want them to.

During our short stay it was overwhelmingly apparent that the conservancies work very much in partnership with the community. From funding a mobile clinic which roams for miles providing health care in areas that would have very little access otherwise, to an education support programme which has helped to put dozens of children through school.


We checked in on Linda, one of the rhinos that the team we had joined were working to protect before reaching a site on the western border of the conservancy where the rangers were to set up their overnight watch. We watched the rangers go through their routine, climbing to a brow of a hill to make a camp before setting off. The sun was starting to dip, jackals crossed our path and a huge herd of buffalo seemed to surround us as we made our way to neighbouring Laragai House for sundowners. A perfect setting for ice cold gin and tonics and nibbles.

Returning to the lodge, after negotiating hyenas, we found a cosy glow from the newly laid fire in our cottage and steaming hot water with an abundance of lovely Cinnabar Green natural soaps and shampoo to enjoy.  Dinner was a real ritual and felt very special- first we met for drinks in an imposing sitting room with long bar and a vast fireplace surrounded by comfy sofas and arm chairs with dogs snoozing on the rugs around the room. We then moved  into the dining room to sit at a huge wooden table for a leisurely candlelit dinner. The chocolate souffle (with a glass of Amaretto) was divine!

Exclusive Offer – book by 31 March 2017

One night free at Borana – valid for travel all year excluding Christmas/New Year. Borana Conservation fee of $105 per person payable for free night.

You can now stay 3 nights for the price of 2 at Borana – exclusive to Real Africa’s #RealRhinos campaign. In addition to you benefiting from a wonderful free night, the Dog Squad will also benefit as the Real Africa Trust will make a £50 donation to Save the Rhino International,  per person on behalf of all clients booking this deal.

To find out more please click here.

Visit the Dog Squad

To visit the dog squad from Borana costs an additional £90 per person – this comprises a small fee for the dog squad plus the Lewa conservation fee of $105 per person per day. We recommend heading over to Lewa for the whole day, enjoying a safari on this side of the conservancy, a dog squad visit and a lovely picnic lunch before returning to Borana.  Please ask us for details.


 

Laikipia is currently experiencing a drought – you may have read reports of looting in the western region of Laikipia – please visit our News section for an update here.