People think they know Kenya: they’ve seen the BBC’s Big Cat Diary in the Masai Mara and more recently they might have watched Saba Douglas-Hamilton and her young family adjust to running Elephant Watch Camp in the Samburu Reserve. But those famous safari areas and their lions and leopards are only part of the story of this wonderful country; diverse in landscapes, people and experiences.
Flying internationally you land in Nairobi and, before you even leave the city, a stay at Giraffe Manor means sharing breakfast with the Rothschild giraffes that call this sanctuary home. They love to be fed pony nuts through the windows of the manor, but the table decorations also make a very acceptable meal too.
Just south from the plains of Amboseli you can watch elephant herds with Kilimanjaro, as a backdrop. At 5,895m it’s the world’s highest freestanding mountain and rises from the sweltering African plains to a snow-capped peak.
And on those wildlife drives you might find yourselves getting closer to some of the predators than you ever thought was possible. In the Masai Mara cheetah have realised the potential of a 4WD game viewer as somewhere from which to spot their next meal.
And it’s the grassy plains of the Masai Mara that play host to the wildebeest migration between July and October each year. A million wildebeest and half as many zebra track through the Serengeti in Tanzania before running the gauntlet of the fast water and crocodiles as they cross the Mara River to reach Kenya and good grazing.
Further north, on the Laikipia Plateau towards Mount Kenya, it’s four legs rather than four wheels being used for game viewing in the Borana Reserve. Wildlife trusts other wildlife, which includes horses, so it’s possible to get relatively close to animals such as these giraffe without spooking them.
In the neighbouring Lewa Conservancy one of the wildest marathons is run each year in aid of Tusk. Runners follow a 26 mile route through the reserve with rangers ensuring their safety from animals, but with the occasional piece of wildlife joining in.
Lewa is also the base of Will Craig’s yellow biplane which offers visitors the chance of a scenic flight or a romantic way to get to their next destination. With just a leather-flapped aviator helmet between you and the rushing air, this is flying at its most raw and a wonderful way to view the wildlife dotted plains below you.
Of the many tribes in Kenya, the Samburu in traditional dress are one of the most colourful with both men and women wearing beaded jewellery made by the women. The name Samburu, meaning ‘butterfly’, was given to the tribe by neighbouring tribes who admired their beauty.
At Loisaba there’s the chance to sleep under the stars in a four-poster bed on Land-Rover wheels, handy for a quick escape under the nearby thatch if the sleep-out proves too much of an adventure. A Samburu night-watchman is on hand for a bed-time story and babysitting for younger visitors while parents enjoy a night-cap by the fire.
Kenya is about wildlife. It is about the predators from the television programmes. But there’s more to it than just game drives. Lots of activities to enjoy, landscapes to gaze at in wonder, and people to spend time with and learn from. And we haven’t even looked at the coast… another time.
Richard Smith is Operations Director at Aardvark Safaris.