Written by Sarah Siese
From the rumble of a million hooves to the arc of an endless blue sky, you’ll be captivated by Africa.
There are certain things about Africa that just keep you coming back. The big skies. The quiet that stretches for mile upon mile in every direction during the day that turns to a cacophony of calls at night. The fact that church is under a tree (and the colour of God is blue). And then there’s gentle placement of an elephant’s foot that defies its weight, the skittish trot of a zebra, and the reassuring rattle of a ring-necked dove.
Going on safari sees the great outdoors at its most exciting. Raw, natural encounters with the wild serve as Mother Nature’s aphrodisiac. You fall in love with the planet over and over again, watching each new sighting bring a fresh revelation.
In less than a century, Nairobi has grown from a swampy watering hole used by Masai tribesmen into the largest city between Cairo and Johannesburg. Thousands of travellers pass through Kenya’s capital each year en-route to an east African safari, but very few linger long enough to explore its lively, cosmopolitan streets. This is a shame because modern Nairobi offers more than enough entertainment for visitors. Just outside the city, Nairobi National Park’s 117 square kilometres of plains, cliffs and forest are home to herds of zebra, wildebeest and buffalo as large as anywhere in Kenya. Not to mention the rhinos, cheetahs and lions – all to be found within twenty minutes of the central business district.
Then there’s Daphne Sheldrick’s famous elephant orphanage, where you can visit (and sponsor) baby elephants being nursed back to health before release into the wild. The excellent museum is worth a visit, as is the home of Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa. Of the dozens of places to stay, the most unusual must surely be Giraffe Manor, tucked away in the leafy suburb of Karen on the edge of the park. Built in 1932, this elegant mansion, surrounded by 140 acres of its own park and forest, provides an oasis of calm, and is an idyllic spot to spend a night or two to recover from jetlag and get in the safari mood.
On ﬁrst impression, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s an aristocratic English manor rather than an African home – but a glance out of the window at the giraffes strolling gracefully outside instantly dispels that misapprehension. The two original Rothschild giraffes brought by Jock Leslie-Melville in the 1970s have multiplied into a thriving herd, whose delightfully bold members are never very far away. The highlight is the excitement of these long necked visitors appearing at your bedroom window to guzzle a bucket of nuts. Giraffes really are delightful animals, and it is a rare treat to get so close.
An hour’s light aircraft flight south, Kenya’s Masai Mara is perhaps the most famous of all Africa’s game parks. Its 1,812 square kilometres contain some stunning scenery and a truly awe-inspiring amount of game, including the annual migration of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest across the plains, in search of fresh grazing. The river crossings en route offer spectacular – if gory – viewing of that remarkable phenomenon, as the shaggy, ungainly creatures attempt to dodge the enormous crocodiles lying in wait for them. To concentrate merely on the migration, though, would be to miss out on the many other splendours of the Mara, such as its huge number of big cats, its fantastic variety of plain game, its elephants and few elusive rhinos. It also boasts a rich cultural history, and the Masai tribes people still live their traditional life on the outskirts of the reserve.
Sarova Mara Game Camp offers spacious luxurious “tents” attractively constructed in light beige canvas with large “windows”, wooden flooring and a permanent roof. All have en-suite bathrooms with large mirrors, WC, hot and cold running water and showers, and are equipped with a fully stocked mini bar. The Camp is laid out over the sprawling grounds that include rolling manicured greens, a virtual mini forest of indigenous shrubs and exotic trees, a large pond stocked with fish, mini bird sanctuary and an authentic Masai village adjoining the camp. The camp includes 20 club tents, 51 standard tents, 2 family tents, a main restaurant, bar, many bush dining options and a swimming pool.
Best game viewing in the world
The majority of game viewing here is vehicle-based, with experienced local Masai guides. After a pre-dawn wake-up call, game drives set off just as the sun is rising. Food on safari is rarely a disappointment and Sarova is no exception. Breakfasts magically appear, after a couple of hours’ game viewing. The guides pick a picturesque spot – perhaps on the riverbank or on a hilltop – and proceed to unpack cereal, homemade bread, mufﬁns, coffee and fresh juice: it’s surprising how hungry you get after the very early start.
On returning to camp, there’s plenty of time for a shower and change before lunch, to more wonderful homemade fare. Taken outside under a couple of shady trees, the meal is interrupted every so often by the rumble of an elephant passing along the dark grey escarpments that contrasts with the beige plains. Siesta time is followed by high tea before the evening game drive. After sundown, guests return to camp to discuss the day’s sightings over drinks around the ﬁre, followed by a three-course dinner taken under the stars. The Masai Mara offers some of the best game viewing in the world, and the thrill of seeing it bought to life by fantastic guides is second to none.
For a completely different perspective, take a balloon safari. An unbelievably romantic and evocative way to experience the sheer scale and wildness of East Africa. Gliding over the Mara’s vast plains, teeming with herds of buffalo and wildebeest at dawn is about as unforgettable as it gets. Typically, balloon safaris start around 6am and last for between one to two hours, followed by a champagne breakfast in the bush, as a fitting end to a bucket list adventure.
Few things can match a hot air balloon adventure but neighbouring Serengeti National Park has an ace up her sleeve: the Ngorongoro Crater. Tanzania’s most celebrated destination, due to its unique volcanic topography and eco system is in a world of its own. This limited space is extraordinary in that it offers all things to all animals, making very easy game viewing. In fact lions are so habituated that they regularly seek shade from the midday sun under jeeps. Being centimetres from one of these big cats as it lazes in soporific splendour is both an unforgettable privilege and a challenge to remember you’re in the wild.
Like thousands of others, being in awe of the African bush and its unique offerings, is as natural as the circle of life itself. Its unfolding magic is something everyone should encounter at least once. It certainly lives up to the cliché – as a holiday of a lifetime.
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