Ever since Gillian, at the age 10, read ‘Born Free’ a book by Joy Adamson describing her experiences raising a lion cub named Elsa, it has been her dream to visit Kenya, and this year her dream came true as she visited with her husband on our traditional 7 night Cheetah Safari.
This itinerary starts in the Aberdares Range followed by Samburu, home to some of the most unique wildlife in Kenya and a host of birds. It is also where Elsa the Lion lived with Joy Adamson.
Gillian and her husband then visited Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru, and whilst in Naivasha headed out to Crescent Island, which was used for the filming of ‘Out of Africa.’
Finally, the magnificent Masai Mara, famed for its vast numbers of plains game and the spectacular big cats.
We hope you enjoy reading about her trip as much as we did!
1. What made you choose to go on an African Safari? Was this your first time visiting Kenya and going on safari?
I have wanted to go to Kenya since I was 10 years old, after reading Born Free! Life got in the way of that dream, but my husband and I were finally in the position to research and book a safari in 2019. It had to be Kenya and I had to go to the area where Joy and George Adamson worked with their lion projects.
2. How did you hear about Somak Holidays?
I happened to pick up a Somak Holidays brochure from a travel agent, and it sat under my coffee table for six months before I actually read it thoroughly. I liked what I read about the company and their product, and decided to contact them directly.
3. Where did you stay whilst on your Safari and what was your favourite property?
We chose the ‘Cheetah Safari’ because it covered five different National Parks in Kenya, including Samburu which is close to where Elsa the lioness lived with Joy Adamson. Our first stop was the Aberdares Country Club in the ‘Highlands’ region of Kenya. We are Scottish and the Aberdare mountain range really is like Perthshire with sunshine and wildlife – it was amazing!
We took a nature walk and saw our first zebra, reticulated giraffe, warthogs, impala and baboons.
The stunning African Savannah
Our room for the night was in a cottage set on a hill with monkeys calling from the trees.
Next stop, for two nights, was Samburu – semi-arid and mountainous. We were on the lookout for the ‘Samburu Five’, which are, based on their rarity: gerenuk, Somalian ostrich, reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra and oryx. We saw four out of five on the first day, and found the Grevy’s zebra on the second day. I was disappointed not to see any lions here but it was wonderful to see the landscape and imagine Joy Adamson and Elsa walking through the bush, ever watchful for rhino and elephants. We were meant to be in a camp by the river but, due to floods, we had been moved to a Sopa Lodge and our room for the night was in a ‘boma’ which was very cute!
Then we headed to the slopes of Mount Kenya to the Serena Mountain Lodge, which is an amazing treetops hotel overlooking a waterhole with an abundance of buffalo. A very cosy room with wonderful views and food.
We had a long day the next day as we travelled to Lake Nakuru National Park where we saw white rhinos and Rothschild giraffes, flamingos in the distance, and lots of wonderful birds.
After lunch there we headed to Lake Naivasha and took a boat out to find the hippos and Crescent Island (used in the filming of Out of Africa). As a keen photographer, I loved the Lake and took some gorgeous photos. Our most luxurious accommodation was the Sopa Lodge at Lake Naivasha and I wish we had had more time to enjoy the facilities.
A Hippo in Crescent Lake, Naivasha
Crescent Lake, Naivasha
Finally, we headed for the Masai Mara for two nights and AT LAST saw lions!
Finally spotted a Lioness!
Although January is meant to be the dry season, the rains had continued and the tracks were almost impassable – we were grateful for the skilful driving of Joseph who worked his way towards our final accommodation, and my favourite: the Ashnil Mara Camp. These were glamping tents with balconies looking over the Mara River with its hippos and crocodiles.
The Masai Mara was amazing and we saw all sorts of wildlife here. The grass was long and so we really had to hunt for the animals and birds with binoculars; we saw lions, black rhino, hyena, cheetah, antelopes, elephants, giraffes, hippos, jackals. Each accommodation had lovely food in buffet style and nice bars for enjoying our memories of the day.
An Elephant with her calf
4. What were your highlights from your trip?
My animal highlights were: the elephants in Samburu, with the tiny babies, all feeding on the lush grass. I was amazed at how silent these huge beasts are as they walked past the jeep, with just the odd rumble between them. The gerenuk or ‘giraffe gazelle’, also in Samburu, as they stood on their hindlegs and stretched out their long necks to feed from the tops of bushes.
The Gerenuk or ‘giraffe gazelle’ standing on it’s hindlegs
I loved the boma-style huts in Samburu too and the much needed down-time by the cool swimming pool where colourful lizards scrambled around us.
We loved sitting on our balcony at the Serena Mountain Lodge just watching the wildlife come and go from the waterhole – it was so peaceful. I loved watching the ox-peckers cleaning the backs of the white rhino at Lake Nakuru, and the hippos gurgling and squirting water in Lake Naivasha. And of course, our first sighting of a lion in the Masai Mara: Joseph stopped at a bush and told us there was a lion in it! I took about 50 photos of the bush and later I could see the two eyes of the lioness watching me. It was so surprising to me how the animals could be completely hidden in a small tree or bush!
We loved the tents at the Ashnil Mara Camp and would love to have stayed there longer. In between each of the National Parks, we had a lot of road to cover and the scenery, villages, towns and peoples of Kenya were so colourful and lively, even with the dire poverty everyone looked proud: it really is an amazing country to visit.
5. Any advice or tips for anyone thinking of going on a Safari?
Sunsets in Kenya
I would advise people to think about the kind of safari they would like to do: Do they want to see as much of the country as possible and therefore spend quite a lot of time travelling with only one night here and there? or would they prefer more down-time, relaxing on their balconies or by the pool ?
The Cheetah Safari is definitely for those wishing to see as much as they can. I had thought that we would drive through savannahs of animals to photograph but I was wrong – you really have to hunt the animals down. We didn’t see a male lion or cubs, or any leopards. So if you only have three or four days to spare for a safari, then choose a National Park where you are almost guaranteed to see the animals you want to see.
If you are a photographer with a long lens, then pack a travel neck cushion to rest your lens on in the jeep, and an old pillowcase to shield your equipment from the dust. The tracks in the game reserves are very bumpy and the back seats of the jeeps are the rodeo seats but the seats are comfortable and sometimes you just have to strap yourself down!
We made sure we had a day in Nairobi to visit the Elephant Orphanage, Giraffe Centre and Karen Blixen’s House & Museum before our safari.
We then flew on to Mombasa for four nights and thoroughly enjoyed just lying by the pool and resting after the week’s busy itinerary – this is a must I think!
We would love to work with you to plan the safari holiday of a lifetime. For more information on how our safari experts can help you, call Somak Holidays today on 020 8423 3000.
All photos are credited to Gillian Gardner.