Game on – Kenya with the whanau
After several weeks of roughing it, bouncing over 1000 km of rough, remote roads, wildcamping every night, covered in dust, sweat and our own stink (thank goodness Icebreaker sponsored us and provided us with so many unstinky clothes – simply perfect for a trip like this!!) living out of a rather cramped car in blistering hot weather eating VERY meagre, basic rations after running out of food….….. What better way to recover from our adventure than a full three nights in Samburu Game Lodge! We had the excellent company of the entire Horwell whanau (who were in fine form), a huge comfy room, 5 course buffet meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, a pool to cool off in AND a full crate of tusker beer conveniently chilling in our on-board fridge. This is what I call game driving! Needless to say Brett and my eyes were out on stalks with the sheer abundance and deliciousness of the food. Ahhh, I love full board and love buffet styles even better. I think the Horwell’s were rather surprised by just how much we ate. After every meal it was mandatory lie-down time to rest and digest the enormous volume of food eaten.
This family reunion was a trip down memory lane for the Horwells. Brett’s family lived in Kenya for several years back in the ‘80s and this was the first time any of them had been back to visit. Family holidays to Samburu Game Reserve were fondly remembered as we drove round the park on our game drives, encountering elephants, giraffes, dikdiks, lions and gerenuk.
After Samburu we headed south to the green shores of Lake Naivasha, to stay in the very house the Horwell’s lived in 1984, Mugaa House on Loldia Farm. The farm has a superb setting at the northern end of the lake, with mature forests fringing the lake and loads of game, and magnificent views down to Mt Longonot on the other side of the lake. We went on a number of game drives and saw a diverse range of wildlife, including impala, dikdik, zebra, waterbuck, eland, buffalo, warthogs, and an Egyptian cobra by day, and a myriad of weird and wonderful creatures at night including a zorilla (a black and white creature a bit like a skunk), loads of spring hares, bat-eared foxes, hyenas, hippos, nightjars and a genet cat. The house was a wonderful place to relax, and the standards of Kenyan gastronomic delights we encountered in Samburu were by no means any less here. The house comes with a cook, David who enthusiastically prepared us mountains of delicious home-cooked food including roast eye fillet, roast lamb, lamb curry with chapattis (which were a particular hit with the Horwell kids who seem to have a wee bit of an obsession with the humble chapatti) freshly baked wholemeal bread, roast potatoes, and a delicious home-grown salad and fresh beans from the farm every night.
One day we were fortunate enough to be invited down to Oserian Private Game Reserve for a guided game drive. Oserian is home to a healthy population of the highly endangered white rhino. Three fat bums were spied across the field and soon enough we were parked next to these bulky beauties who soon trotted off across the grasslands. Afterwards we headed down to Elsamere, the lovely lakeside house and gardens where Joy and Gorge Adamson used to live. Guess what, they had a buffet lunch and we indulged. I was most excited to find pavlova on the desert table and put a fair dent in that, to the detriment of any afternoon escapades. We did manage a wander down to Olkaria and the house the Horwells lived when they first arrived in the country in 1981.
Fully rested, fattened up and rejuvenated we set out on the horrendous road to the Masai Mara Game Reserve. Although the road to Narok has thankfully been resurfaced, the remaining 90 km to the Masai Mara is in an unbelievable condition, old tarseal littered with diff-cracking potholes that could swallow a small elephant – not a fun road to drive.
The Masai Mara did not disappoint. From the moment we entered the park there was a mind-boggling array of animals, with a particularly high concentration of cats. The scenery is stunning too, with grassy green hills rolling on to the horizon, the occasional architectural lines and symmetrical simplicity of acacia trees just waiting to be photographed. The contrast of stripy black and white zebras, vivid green grass, bright blue sky erupting with storm clouds. Shaggy-maned lions effortlessly blending into the plains they are so suited for. It was simply incredible.
All the big tick animals were there. On the first night we saw a pair of lions mating, and then on the mad dash to get back to the gate before it shut we had to stop for an incredible sunset, then two cheetah teenagers and their mum playing on the road. Wow!! The next day we came across a pride of lions with three females and six extremely cute cubs. They walked within metres of the car, the lioness looking directly into our eyes as she passed by, sending a shiver down our spines. The cubs were very playful, and we were lucky enough to see them several times over the next few days.
We took a Masai guide from the camp with us who was always on the look-out. While we were looking at the cubs, his eyes were cast over the far hills in the distance, keeping a careful eye on something. As soon as we had our fill of the cubs he announced “rhino, running, drive fast” and directed Brett with a series of quick hand movements. We flew over the fields, down into the valleys, up the other side, over the crest of the hills, slideways around the corners with all the speed Rodders could muster. Then we saw the magnificent beast, and it certainly was running, full tit, looking remarkably similar to a giant rotund warthog trotting along with its tail up!! It was a black rhino and something had given him a hell of a fright. Once our giggles had subsided we carried on and soon came across another black rhino, this one rather more relaxed. It walked within metres of our car, its big horn looking fairly menacing.
We set off over the hills to the southern edge of the park where the Masai Mara borders Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. The migration had started and we were keen to check it out. While some valleys were completely devoid of wildlife, others were full to the brim with giant herds of zebra and a smattering of wildebeest. The main migration wasn’t to come through for a few weeks, but the zebras were impressive enough. We checked out the Sand River and sneaked up to the steep banks to catch the hippos unawares out of the water. The hippos rose and sunk in the river like players in a video game. The ones upstream would float down the river, occasionally bumping into other hippos facing upstream, and there would be an explosion of activity, heads thrashing, teeth nashing and all sorts of grunts and air bubbles being emitted from the murky water.
Various close encounters with lions, cheetahs and elephants rounded off an excellent day and we retired back to the camp outside the park gates exhausted but grinning from ear to ear. The camp was run by Masai and at night we would all sit around the campfire entertaining each other with songs, games, dancing and some fairly impressive ukulele sessions.
The day dawned clear and bright and we all had one thing on our minds – chui, the Swahili word for the elusive leopard. As we drove down to the park gates we practiced our animal signs we used to communicate between the two vehicles so the one behind knew what animal we were looking for. Two hands bent into claws thrust out the window was our symbol for leopard. We entertained ourselves with a few prides of lions and a pair of cheetah, but we soon got the sign we’d been waiting for. Brett’s dad’s car lurched forward as if on a high speed police chase, and he hurriedly poked two claw-shaped hands out the window. CHUI we squealed with delight, and off we sped.
We looked up in the small tree and our eyes met the vacant stare of a dead impala, its neck wedged in a fork about halfway up. Scanning the ground below we eventually spotted our leopard, well camouflaged amongst the foliage, alternatively gazing at its prey in the tree, and at us, wondering what to do. It’s eyes locked on a herd of impala behind us and instantly switched into hunt mode, slinking down the small river bed separating us from it, moving silently, fluidly, stealthily. Unfortunately the prey moved out of striking distance and the leopard lost interest. It jumped up out of the creek, with a flick of its tail shot us a glance, then disappeared into the undergrowth.
Wondering if our day could get any better than that we headed back to the camp for some lunch. But the Mara had a few more tricks up it’s sleeve. Firstly, Rodder’s rear half shaft started working it’s way out. Somehow the six studs that connect the half shaft to the rear hub had come loose and we were moments away from the rear axle coming completely out. That would not have been good in the middle of the Mara! We unpacked the boot to get out the tools and spare parts boxes. Brett replaced the studs while I stood on the roof keeping a close eye on the nearby lions. I wondered how many lions there were around us that I couldn’t see! Quite scary! Secondly, the trio of cheetahs we had seen over the last few days had just caught an impala and were devouring it right beside the road. Wow!!! The sounds of flesh tearing, tendons and ligaments breaking, and three cheetahs ripping the skin off the impala were fairly gruesome, it was a fascinating sight!
That afternoon the rest of the Horwell clan went on a guided walk outside the Game Reserve, but Brett and I couldn’t resist and went back into the Mara for one last look. This was our first game drive in the Mara without our legendary Masai guide, Nguroya, and we were a bit nervous we weren’t going to see anything. We decided to head back to Leopard Tree and see if we could see our old friend, chui. As we got close we saw at least two dozen vehicles, surrounding some poor animal. Our hearts sank, please don’t let it be our leopard! As we got closer we saw it wasn’t old boy chui at all, but a pair of lions. Steering well clear of the masses we headed down the other side of the creek and were rewarded with our very own, gloriously shaggy-maned lion whom we got to enjoy all by ourselves. He was just lovely, rolling around on his back in the grass and doing whole body shakes of his mane just to give us a wee thrill. Couldn’t stay for too long with him though as chui was calling. We drove the short distance to Leopard Tree but our old friend chui wasn’t there. We waited patiently, drinking the last of our sundowners until we could wait no more. It was getting late and we were a long way from the gate. We set off, but decided to go back via the other side of the river. On a whim I suggested we go check out Leopard Tree from the other side of the creek, just one last time, just in case old boy chui was there. The sun was nearly down, casting a pink glow across the plains. Then Brett saw him, down in the bottom of the creek. I craned my neck but couldn’t catch a glimpse. He was on the move, slinking down the creek bed, carrying something in his mouth. Only ten metres from us he stopped, and started chewing – he must have caught another animal as the impala was still up in the tree. We sat watching, completely captivated by this beautiful beast until we really, really had to go or we would be in big trouble at the gate. We bid farewell to chui and sped at breakneck speed along the bumpy tracks. On the way back we saw three sets of lions, one pair posing beautifully in front of the sunset, a quick snap was all we had time for and we were off again, making it to the gate at one minute past seven. What a brilliant few days! Game ON Kenya!
Check out our photos page here.
Tips and Tricks
Samburu Game Reserve
- Samburu Game Reserve was beautiful, but the wildlife was a bit scarce as the river had dried up the week before. It costs $60 per person per day and $10 per day for the car. You can drive freely between Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs Game Reserves on the same entrance fees. If you enter at 7am, you’ve got until 11am the next day to exit.
- We got a superb off-season deal at Samburu game lodge at only $60 pppn full board. Highly recommended!
- The roads in Samburu Game Reserve were pretty corrugated. There is now a brand new tar road from Isiolo to Archer’s Post which makes it pretty easy to get up there from Nairobi.
Masai Mara Game Reserve
- Permits for the Masai Mara cost $60 per person per day and $4 per day for the car. We entered at 3pm on the first day and exited at 7pm on the final day – so got 3 ½ days for the price of three.
- Get a Masai guide – they are definitely worth it! Apparently there is a great Masai guide called “Lion Man” who lives somewhere near the Talek Gate – google it.
- We’ve heard about a free way in or out of the Mara… We didn’t try it but we met people that wild camped inside the park and then took the free way out, or came in and out each day… Try it if you’re game! It’s on T4A at S1 24.955 E35 11.821.
- The Masai Mara was one of the best game reserves we’ve been to, simply an astonishing amount of animals, especially cats.