Kenyan tented camp is a brilliant base for indulging in an animal extravaganza
Elevating the ambience of explorers from yesteryear, Great Plains Mara Expedition Camp is situated alongside the private Mara North Conservancy, where 28,000ha of open plains beckon. It’s paradise for any safari-goer, with a diverse array of legendary wildlife emerging on the open plains.
At Wilson Airport in Nairobi, guests departing on flights to different destinations are escorted to the specific aircraft they have been assigned to fly on. I board a Cessna Caravan 208B with my luggage now safely in the hold, and we are fourth in line to depart to Mara Olkiombo, a large arrival point just north of the Talek River.
Flying high over the escarpment, the pilot points out Mount Kenya, a beacon of imposing glacial valleys and the second highest peak in Africa after Kilimanjaro. Taking in the views from my window seat, I spot a herd of elephants in the river as we start our descent into Mara Olkiombo.
Field guide Frank is standing at the bottom of the Cessna’s stairs, stretching out his hand to assist me with my carry-on, or perhaps my balance. It’s quite an art form to navigate what is essentially a little swing-out ladder attached to the side of the plane – it gets flipped inwards when the door is closed during flight. Three steps down, and with terra firma below my feet, we make our way to the game drive vehicle. As we leave the airstrip, the beautiful sight of a lone Mara giraffe standing under an umbrella-like tree presents itself. The seat on the game drive vehicle is so comfortable that when Frank asks if we prefer to go straight to the lodge, a 45-minute drive, or see what is ‘out there’, the consensus is to go on our first unofficial game drive. Welcome to the armchair safari!
A huge male lion is walking towards us, frothing at the mouth with foamy residue visible between his bottom teeth. Another guest says he’s a handsome fella with his big mane that looks as though he’s just run a brush through it. His belly is round, an indicator that he must have recently eaten, which is probably why there are pesky flies all around him, and he’s trying to get rid of them by swatting his tail left and right.
Surrounded by life
Opened in 2021, Mara Expedition Camp forms part of the Great Plains Conservation portfolio. This stunning spot is a chic nod to the safari era of days gone by, albeit with essential conveniences and amenities that are indispensable for the modern-day guest. The tents are set off the ground and furnished with a mix of olden-day meets contemporary finishes and furnishings: a beautiful bedroom with the softest white bedding, a writing desk where you can pen a postcard to your loved ones and a large bathroom with brass shower taps and double vanities. The communal tent is where meals are enjoyed, and delicious fare is cooked up by chefs Kimani or Pemba and attentively served by waiter Mike. Bar manager Julius is ready to whip up any drink you might fancy, whether it’s a Kenyan coffee or a pre-game drive alcoholic beverage.
Seeing us off on our afternoon game drive is camp manager JP, reminding me to take lots of photographs. Being in an active game area, this is almost too easy, with lots of wildlife sighted, including a Thomson’s gazelle with a tiny foal, Grant’s gazelle, Burchell’s zebra, topis, Ruppel’s griffon vultures, hooded vultures, banded mongoose, long-crested eagle, African hawk-eagle, black-winged lapwing, martial eagle, a sandpiper, baby eland and blue-headed tree agama.
Heading into the Mara North Conservancy, I am excited to see what lies in store, and as we approach a tree-lined area, I notice the outline of a leopard on the embankment. She is gnawing on something indistinguishable, with her cub feeding on the rest of the meal, which mom has hoisted in the tree for him to feast on. He doesn’t seem too well versed in dining etiquette, as every so often, large parts of the carcass fall to the ground, much to the delight of hyenas lying in wait.
We sit with them until sunset, and I ask Frank what his favourite wildlife sighting to date has been. “I adore cheetahs; they are so elegant,” he tells me. “I was following two cheetahs hunting, and they managed to catch a baby wildebeest. What I didn’t know was that there were lions hiding in the bush, and out of nowhere, a male lion appeared. Fortunately, he didn’t go for the cheetahs – he only wanted the wildebeest, and once the lion had the wildebeest carcass, the whole pride, including cubs, came out to eat. The cheetahs didn’t give up; they followed the same herd of wildebeest and hunted again and caught a meal a few hundred metres from where their kill got stolen. I enjoy being a field guide, you never know what your day has in store for you or your guests. I got the opportunity to become a guide by chance; one of my cousins was supposed to go to guiding school and he didn’t want to, so I went instead, and I loved it!”
Text and photography: Heléne Ramackers