An exquisite camp where five tented suites dot the landscape is the perfect East African escape
Home to an abundance of wildlife, Great Plains Mara Nyika Camp in Kenya’s private Naboisho Conservancy has large numbers of lions taking pride of place.
I’m clutching my thermos of cappuccino to ward off the early morning chill while field guide Lenkuma is navigating treacherous terrain to get to the top of the hill, and every sip seems to be thawing the crisp pre-sunrise feeling that coincides with having just left the cosy confines of my bed. On my lap is a ‘bushbaby’ (warm water bottle) in between the folds of a signature style Maasai blanket in purple, white and blue, and snugly lined with fleece. Driving up the mountain towards where we left a pride of lions the previous night, the silhouettes of plains zebra, blue wildebeest and Thomson’s gazelle are etched against the horizon and the imminent sunrise.
Sun’s out, claws out
The lions become visible on the plains, sporting very round bellies, indicating that they must have caught something significant for the whole pride to feed on. As the sun pops out, so do the lions. We sit for a while, taking in the wondrous sight of the spirited antics between different age groups, stalking and pouncing. One of the younger cubs finds a sandy hollow that becomes his playground. The indentation slopes to such an extent that he is obscured from the others, and he starts playing his own game of hide and seek until one of the older ones discovers his secret place. In typical cat style, the ambush commences with stalk mode, followed by the animal becoming completely
flat and then the obligatory butt wiggle in big-cat style, which is more like a shake-it-out before leaping into action. It becomes evident that the best time for lion sightings is early mornings, when the weather is cooler and their energy levels are at an optimum. As the pride starts ambling down the mountain to look for a shaded spot, three of the youngsters stay behind to continue their unsuccessful attempt at climbing the only tree on the plains. One cub pauses, and anticipatory silence fills the air. Will he make another fruitless dash for it? He gleefully looks up, his round ears pulled flat, then stretches himself and starts sharpening his claws on the bark. His one nail almost hooks into the tree, and he timidly abandons this futile effort to add the skill of tree-climbing lion (cub) to his résumé. They have now become separated from the rest of the 13-strong pride, and as if on cue, the oldest one starts vocalising, calling to the others to make their way to safety and respite from the sun’s warming rays.
On our way back to camp, I ask Lenkuma to share any fascinating anecdotes he might have about his journey as a field guide. Without hesitation, he tells me about\ the time he got stuck in the midst of a pride of lions, something most people would describe as a harrowing
encounter. “I was in the Mara North Conservancy when I got the news that a pride of 21 lions had been spotted,” he tells me with a smile. “Wanting to see for myself, I set off on a solo journey, stopping at the top of the hill, where I parked the game drive vehicle. Without realising it, there was a rather large rock under the diff [a set of gears allowing the wheels to turn at different speeds] of the vehicle, and when I tried to move out, I noticed that I was completely stuck. The car would not budge, and here I was, right in the middle of a pride of lions. I waited for about an hour to see if someone else would appear in the vicinity, but because it was in the middle of the day and game drives are conducted during early mornings and late afternoons, my hopes weren’t very high. I had to make a plan, but what? I needed to
get the lions away from the vehicle, so I took off my Maasai blanket and waved it twice, and fortunately, it scared them away. Then, after checking whether it was safe, I could climb out of the vehicle to place a jack under the diff in order to get myself unstuck. It was by far one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had as a field guide, and I was not the least bit scared.”
Fuel for adventure
Back at Mara Nyika, assistant camp manager Tikani shows me to my table, where I will be having breakfast overlooking the plains. The menu is beautifully presented in a wooden frame with all the options you can think of – it’s a toss-up between an English breakfast or classic eggs Benedict with a side order of crêpes. All dishes are prepared by chef Livingstone and made using the freshest farm-to-table ingredients. With a plentiful variety of healthy choices to feast on, there is something for everyone. Waiter Mike presents me with my second beverage of the day, a second decaf cappuccino, which I opt to enjoy in the lounge area, where the comfortable leather couches are so inviting that I spend my morning taking in the impressive surroundings. Walking to my tented suite, I stop at the entrance to open the zip. This is no ordinary tent – it houses three spectacular rooms: a lounge with a seating area, a dreamy bedroom and a splendid bathroom containing the stunning copper bath found at a number of Great Plains camps. This is the most magnificent start to a day – or to the ultimate Kenyan safari.
Text and photography | Heléne Ramackers For more information or to book a stay, go to greatplainsconservation.com. Heléne Ramackers’ flights were sponsored by Karell Travel. To book, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call +1 800 434 1323.