Leaves rustle just below my feet as the basket grazes treetops of the acacia woodland. As I’m suspended 150-feet or so above the dewy morning landscape, the sun spills over the horizon, long shadows stretching across the plains of the Maasai Mara. A herd of waterbuck graze lazily among the marshes, only briefly glancing up at the strange floating creature high above them. Elephants walk single file toward the banks of the Mara River where hippos return to the shallow, mudded waters before the heat of the day sets in. This is safari by hot air balloon, the crescendo of my intrepid Kenyan adventure.
There’s much that came before this though, starting on the sleepy shores of Lake Naivasha at Governors’ Loldia House. Under the shade of an ancient fig tree, the traditional Kenyan home oozes colonial charm, complete with a windmill and thatched roof cottages dotted across the farm’s grounds. Greeted by the chorus of songbirds at dawn and the occasional snort of hippos just out of view, hidden among the papyrus, a new day emerges. Fish eagles and cormorants dine on a feast of tilapia in the mirror-like lake, while fisherman pull in their catch by hand in the early hours. Life moves slowly here in the Great Rift Valley, time allowing you to absorb every precious moment.
It is beyond the grounds of the farm, in Lake Nakuru National Park that the pace quickens. Dik-dik bounce between shrubs, while olive baboons groom one another, picking at the unwelcome hitchhikers caught between their fur. Rothschild’s giraffes crane their necks to suck the tastiest leaves from the tips of yellow-barked acacias, as flamingos gather in their hundreds along the shoreline casting a pink glow across the surface. It’s here, between the thickened shrubbery and vast expanse of Lake Nakuru that an endangered black rhino watches me. His head rising between each mouthful of grass, though he’s more interested in his meal than my admiration.
Heading north, the landscape changes dramatically. Vegetation thins, leaving much of the scorched copper-tinged earth to turn to dust and signs of human life are rare. Coming into view as I enter Mugie Conservancy, a house perched high on the hill is characterised by enormous windows to take in the sweeping views across Laikipia County. There’s a sense of luxury at every turn at Governors’ Mugie House, afforded even more by the private wildlife viewing opportunities. As a private wildlife conservancy, almost 50,000 acres play home to a magnificent array of local and endemic wildlife here in Northern Kenya.
Grevey’s Zebra graze in the late afternoon, surrounded by eland and Thomson’s gazelle. But it’s the 50-strong elephant herd that captivates us. Turning to my partner Otis, our smiles are the only sign needed to appreciate the power of what we’re watching unfold. The wise and respected matriarch leads her family to the watering hole while calves wrestle, still learning to control their trunks at such a young age. Teens watch on, too cool to be caught up in the shenanigans of younger family members. An hour whiles away as we watch their afternoon play out – time; the gift we’re afforded by the privacy of our stay. We only leave as the sun sinks, a gentle orange glow cast across the landscape.
Patience is a virtue we’re not always afforded in the hustle and bustle of daily life, but that changes on safari. One morning was spent quietly admiring the spotted beauty of Zuri, a male cheetah that is collared as part of the conservation efforts at Mugie. Sharing an hour together we’re afforded an intimacy rarely possible on most game drives. Lazily spread out on the sloping side of a termite mound, he basked under the early morning sun, periodically stretching, masterfully performing his cat-cow poses. It’s only when my stomach interrupts with a low grumble that I’m reminded a bush breakfast awaits. Set on a hill overlooking the conservancy, I enjoy refuelling with one of the best views I’ve been offered for a meal.
Leaving Laikipia by a small propellor plane, the landscape below unfolds revealing Mount Kenya visible in the distance. After a little more than an hour passes, the lush, green plains of the Maasai Mara fill the scene. From above, elephants could be mistaken for huge, grey boulders peppered across the panorama and great herds of cape buffalo appear shadow-like below. As I’m shown to my luxury tent at Governors’ Camp on the snaking banks overlooking the Mara River, dwarf mongoose and warthog pass by, the welcoming committee on duty today.
One of the greatest wildlife viewing destinations on the planet, the Mara does not disappoint. A litter of spotted hyena pups play, peek-a-booing from their den just after first light. Dominant males of the Marsh Pride, Halftail and Logol, return to the marshes at dawn, crossing the flattened ground of the Musiara airstrip. Brightly coloured lilac-breasted rollers flit from branch to branch and great crowned cranes move with grace as they scan the marshy landscape for their breakfast. All this in just a few hours in the Maasai Mara.
Most memorable though was the luxury of time spent with Romi, a female leopard in who’s company I spent three hours as she hid among the grasses of the forest. Finally, as the light warmed in the glow of golden hour, she pounced up from her hiding place, revealing her muscular physique as she nimbly leapt into the crooked tree before settling in to sleep. I rarely find myself with the freedom to spend three hours so peacefully and at liberty to wait for the perfect moment, but Kenya gifted me exactly that. And so, I waited, and I watched, and finally, I was rewarded. A truly intrepid Kenyan adventure.
Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Becky, who's travelled extensively in Kenya. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember - the rangers who'll ensure you'll spot the best wildlife in the Mara, the village chiefs who'll give you a genuine insight into local life and the camp managers who can recommend the very best spot for your sundowner.
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