If you have never had a game watching experience, I would recommend the Masai Mara. It’s perfect for time poor travellers, who want a safari experience but don’t want to take hours travelling there. Nairobi is less than a five-hour flight from Johannesburg, an important hub. If you are visiting Cape Town, for example, you could go via Jo’burg, stay overnight at the airport if necessary (The Intercontinental is excellent) and then visit the Mara the next day for a couple of nights.
From Nairobi, it’s a five-hour drive but far better to fly. On the small aircraft that seat only about 16, you fly low over the bush and have a good view of the various herd animals and interesting geographical features. The flight took about forty-five minutes and was splendid. On arrival at the Mara, your jeep is waiting to take you to your lodge.
The 40-minute drive in the jeep, through the bush, is another opportunity to see the wildlife. We watched a cheetah, with her three cubs, trying to catch an antelope for supper. The mother looked tired after her abortive sprint and I could almost share the disappointment of the cubs with no food. (And notice the hyena in the foreground, who knew what she was up to.)
Arriving at the lodge, there are no fences, just a roundabout made of old wood and dried animal bones with the Kempinski and the national flag flying. It struck me that this was like a zoo in reverse; the people are kept in cages and the animals roam freely outside. Individual villas surround a central lodge.
The Olare Mara Kempinski is situated in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy. It spans 35,000 acres and is home to lion prides, cheetahs and leopards. Although it’s a luxury lodge, every effort is made to blend in with the environment and cause as little damage as possible.
The land is leased from the Masai Mara people, guaranteeing them a regular income and some of them work at the reserve as well.
Use is made of solar panels and when we were there, we were encouraged to plant a tree to afford vital shade and reduce water needs. There is also a restriction on how many people can stay overnight; I did feel the lodge was making a genuine effort in conservation and striking the correct balance between allowing guests to view animals and yet affording the creatures their natural freedom.
Our villa was part tent, part wood, beautifully decorated and spacious. Floor to ceiling windows the whole length of the building led onto a terrace, where one had an uninterrupted view of the bush. At the far end was a dipping pool and beyond that, a steep sided slowly flowing river.
During the day, you can come and go as you please but at night, you have to be escorted. On arrival, we were led through to the wooden outdoor terrace where we enjoyed a tasty lunch. A monkey stole my bread roll, leaping down and taking it off to a nearby tree, right before my eyes. He probably looked at me and thought, “She really doesn’t need that.”
Twice a day game drives in Land Cruisers are included in your stay here and you usually go in your group, rather than having to share, if that is what you prefer. There is nothing like the inimitable smell of the bush and the sense of freedom a game drive engenders.
Some people are keen to see the rarer animals, but I’m happy with the huge variety of birdlife, wild cats and zebra. We did see some sleepy lions, a cheetah, several water buffalo, elephant and giraffe as well. And of course, there’s the obligatory sun downer with a snap for posterity.
Later on, it’s a superb candle-lit dinner and a cocktail in the delightful lounge before being escorted back to your villa. The night sounds could keep you awake for a while, but then I drifted off and they mingled peacefully into my dreams. The beds are extremely comfortable and the bathrooms spacious and well equipped.
The next morning, after a walking tour of the camp, we went on another drive and planted our tree. I was very sorry to leave, but had the drive to the airstrip to look forward to and that amazing flight across the bush.
Disclosure: We were guests of Kempinski but paid for our flights to and from the reserve. As always, my opinions are a true impression of my whole experience.