Kids on safari!

Perhaps some of the most rewarding safaris I’ve led have been those during which families are brought together in novel experiences here in Africa. Having brought up my own kids here, with so much time on safari, and seen many other youngsters immersing themselves in the great outdoors, I feel it has such wonderful effects on their developing minds. Their curiosity is immediately piqued, and they can never ask too many questions. It really is the ultimate classroom.

There is such a range of new sights, and so many exotic and wild things to smell, touch, and explore. And every day we witness the great diversity of animals feasting and chasing and swimming and sleeping – all those storybook creatures, including the colossal frames of the elephants and graceful gaits of the giraffes, to the ever-interesting dung beetles, superb butterflies, and everything in between.

Sometimes we view this from our safari car, and sometimes we experience it as we walk through the wilderness, or ride horses, or catch a train of Samburu camels. Seeing the wide-eyed joy of children riding their sturdy Ethiopian ponies alongside a herd of wild zebras or their pride when they catch a Mara River catfish on a hand line are always the best moments on a family safari – for both me and their parents! 

The personal interactions we have with Maasai and Samburu people can also have a significant impact. Our friends in the communities we visit continue to live traditionally in many ways. For kids growing up in the fast paced 21st century, the grounding insights from time amongst such proud and noble people is as valuable as ever. And this isn’t a stand back and watch experience; kids jump right into soccer matches with the locals and learn how to throw spears and clubs in the Maasai Olympics in camp. Everyone always enjoys the singing and dancing, and we have had plenty of attempts to jump as high as the infamous Maasai warriors!

As a parent, I believe we have some special windows of time with our children, to share with them some of the wonders of our precious planet. Africa provides such a magnificent space in which to be a kid, and the impact of this kind of journey lasts a lifetime.

The Maasai Mara – still the ultimate

There is simply no place better than the Maasai Mara when it comes to wildlife observations and photography. After all of my years on safari across the African continent, nothing beats a sunrise game drive here. The thrill of lions and hyenas fighting over a kill right next to the car, the tenderness of a cheetah mum grooming the morning dew from her cubs’ fur, or the peaceful sounds of chewing and tummy grumbles as elephants graze along the grassy tracks. The chorus of birdlife provides the idyllic backdrop for all of this as well as the giraffe, zebra, eland, and gazelles that are so often in view. The Mara is a year-round paradise, with something always happening. While the annual wildebeest migration is a highlight between June and October, the carnivores are all here year-round and there are thousands and thousands of resident animals to enjoy.

I think one of the benefits of traveling on safari with me is the ability to quickly get in sync with daily rituals that most suit your interests. While I can use my experience and offer recommendations, everything is still tailored around you. Working together, from the initial planning stage to actually being out on safari, we have the most fulfilling days and get the best results, whether you want ideal photographic opportunities or just feel like relaxing amidst it all. Regardless, we always feel like we need more time in the Mara, to soak it all up and then to share our experiences back in camp by the fire each night.

The exotic isle of Lamu, Kenya

A recent visit back to Lamu reminded me of how unique this place is. Relaxing into rooftop yoga before breakfast, winding through the car-less alleyways of the small Swahili town of Shela, sipping a Pimms at the infamous Peponi’s Hotel while looking out over the Indian Ocean, and enjoying a sunset cruise on one of the traditional Dhow sailing boats are just a few of the highlights of this laidback yet exotic archipelago.

What I love about Lamu is that since I first began traveling here in the mid 90s it has kept its charm and traditional atmosphere. The uniqueness of the Swahili architecture and cultural heritage brings out so much of the flavor, and my guests continue to enjoy the low key feel of the whole place. Our kids love fishing in the channel, exploring the mangroves for crabs and birds, hitching beach rides on donkeys, and meeting the alley cats that invariably cross our paths. After almost three decades it is still my first choice on the East African coast, and the perfect way to finish a safari.

Ol Malo lodge in Kenya

This month I’m showcasing an old favorite safari lodge. Ol Malo is owned and run by Andrew and Chyulu Francombe, good friends of mine who both grew up in Kenya and truly know how to bring their patch of wilderness to life. With unique and exhilarating helicopter tours, horse riding safaris amongst the giraffe and zebras, as well as invigorating hikes and breathtaking views across to Mt Kenya’s 17,000-foot peaks in the distance, Ol Malo is an enduring highlight for any safari. Set amidst the privately managed wildlife ranches of Kenya’s Laikipia Conservancy, Ol Malo has provided many enjoyable and memorable moments on safaris in recent years. 

With two Raven 44 Helicopters based right at the lodge the scenic flights in these fantastic machines is made especially accessible during our stays here. You can see highlights from a recent flight in another blog post – Helicopter safari to Lake Turkana. And here is a selection of images from myself and Ol Malo that I think gives you a pretty good feel for what our time there is like! Enjoy a little bit of a virtual safari from wherever you are in the world…

Helicopter safari to Lake Turkana

One of the highlights of my most recent safari was our day exploring the vast, spectacular landscapes of northern Kenya by helicopter. Setting off early, we flew over the rolling contours of the Mathews mountain range before dropping to palm tree level and gliding down the dry sand river “luggas” that bring this landscape to life. 

An impromptu stop above an ancient riverbed for morning tea provided a chance to walk through this country and admire up close the magnificent desert rose flowers and fossil-rich riverbeds.

The diversity of this great wilderness was magnified as we flew over remote hot springs, the croc-filled rivers of the Suguta Valley, and the dazzle of hot pink flamingos on Lake Logipi. Finally landing on the shores of Lake Turkana, on a volcanic sand beach, we leapt into the welcome waters of the mystic Jade Sea; a 200-mile inland sea so remote it was only first documented for the outside world in 1888. Stretching from the Ethiopian border and filling a mighty wedge of Kenya’s northern Rift Valley, the lake and its storied shores resonate with stark beauty and history. We felt privileged to see so much of this land that for centuries was an inaccessible, unknown place on the map. 

Safari photo diary – Botswana and Zimbabwe, May 2021

A three-week safari odyssey through the highlights of Botswana and Zimbabwe last month immersed us in the fascinating wildlife and stunning scenery of this region. 

Here is a series of images from this epic trip.

Spending an evening with the habituated meerkats of the Kalahari was an up close and personal experience! Watching them socialize, dig for grubs and scorpions, and then retire into their burrows for the night to keep warm was a delightful and memorable wildlife encounter.
Mombo’s legendary leopard lineage showed off the new generation with two playful cubs contesting with their mother for the spoils of their impala food store. Observing them in the crisp morning light, and once again that same evening, rated as one of my top leopard viewings ever.
Everywhere you travel in Africa, the impala make up a healthy part of the herbivore count. Perhaps the most graceful of all the antelopes, even their great agility can’t keep them from the clutches of big cats, wild dogs and sometimes hyena.
These playful hyena cubs we found at their den while staying at Mombo entertained us with their inquisitive nature and determined bouts of rumbling with their siblings. They will take four months or so to molt out of their black natal coats and into their namesake spot patterns which mark them for life.
Flocks of tens of thousands of red-billed quelea fly in a mesmerizing, synchronized flight over woodland around Mombo Camp. Much like a school of fish they shimmer and swerve through shafts of light.
The elevated wooden track into Mombo Camp.
Mombo Camp’s stylish interiors provide the ideal place to rest up after a morning’s game drive.
As we journeyed into the northern reaches of the Okavango Delta, our time in Selinda produced spectacular lion action with a pride of 14 demonstrating these big cats at their most cooperative and competitive as they tore into a wildebeest kill one morning.
Red lechwe moving through the delta.
One of the highlights in the Okavango Delta was seeing this bull elephant effortlessly move through these channels. Confident of being left alone by the big crocs and feisty hippos who call these waters home.
Wild dogs showing their close bonds as they rest up in the Selinda Reserve, Botswana. This endangered carnivore exhibits some of the most interesting behavior and we were able to witness lots of cool interactions in this pack of 12.
Sleepy Simba in Selinda.
A hungry cheetah in Selinda Reserve scanning the grassland one evening.
Victoria Falls in high flood following good rains in the Angolan highlands catchment area several months and 1,500km away. Combined with some fascinating insights about the life of David Livingstone by local history buff Chris Worden, this was an amazing and memorable visit.
Enjoying a buffalo herd’s visit from the pool edge at Linkwasha Camp, Hwange National Park.
Mother and calf white rhino graze in the sanctuary of Malilangwe Reserve, Zimbabwe.
This Nyala bull near Pamushana Lodge was one of the most photogenic species we saw. The stunning, spiral horns and captivating white facial lines made this individual a favorite subject to train our cameras on.
Curious cubs near Pamushana Lodge, Malilangwe Reserve. Waiting for their turn to feast on the buffalo kill the lionesses have made overnight.
The exquisite view from Pamushana Lodge, over the 130,000 acres of wilderness at Malilangwe Reserve.

Report from the Indian Ocean

Ollie reeled in his first sailfish!

Following the big run (UltraMARAthon), we were all ready for our sore feet to be soothed in the sand and sea, so I flew the family to Watamu the next week. We had plenty of time to soak up the Indian Ocean vistas from our sundowner deck and enjoy a few fun activities. A sunset cruise with friends aboard the tradition Swahili “Monangu” dhow offered fun for kids and adults alike. I joined Ollie on the good ship Alleycat for some deep sea fishing one day, and the joy of Ollie’s success pulling in his first 50-pound sailfish was matched only by the exhaustion after the half-hour battle to reel it in. And while the great blue marlin eluded us that day, we also caught a giant trevally, and I am sure we’ll be back for another round soon!

I also had the excitement of taking Ollie for his first scuba dive. It was action packed with green turtles, octopus, and thousands of stunningly colored fish all around. Ollie took to it like, well, a fish to water, and I’m looking forward to our next diving adventure.

Ollie’s first scuba dive in the Indian Ocean.
We predict Ollie will end up working in the ocean one day….
Ollie with his first giant trevally.
The kids spent plenty of time searching the tidal pools for cool creatures.
A well-camouflaged crab.
Tiny starfish.
A speckled moray eel.
It is always fun to try to catch these crabs with their bright red eyes!
Enjoying the warm waters of Watamu.
Jumping off the dhow during a sunset cruise along Mida Creek.

The inaugural UltraMARAthon – 50km through the Mara conservancies

Perhaps once in a lifetime – or possibly once a year – it feels right to push some boundaries. This can be at different levels, whether emotional, spiritual, or physical. For a year like 2020, I chose physical, and went all out to launch and participate in a wild run across 50km of spectacular Mara savannah. Read my account of this “ultra” marathon race across the great plains of the Maasai Mara that benefitted the rangers of the conservancies here in Wilder magazine (www.wilder-mag.com/magazine). It was brutally hot and the final 10km was much more challenging than I expected, but I managed to complete the full 50km…and I am already thinking about how to train better for the next one!

Running up to the finish line!

Learn more about our partner charity, For Rangers, on their website (https://www.forrangers.com/home), and here is a fantastic highlights video from race day:

Sam Taylor and me, enjoying some Kenyan beer after the race. Sam runs For Rangers and was the co-organizer of the UltraMARAthon.

A new film about The Original Ker & Downey Safaris

Enjoy our new short video on the essence of the private guided safari experience in Africa. The Original Ker & Downey Safaris has been in operation for more than 70 years, and I am so proud to be a partner and director of the company that outfits my safaris.

A trip to the southern edge of the Mara

We recently took a break from our northern Mara home and spent a little bit of time down in the Masai Mara National Reserve, right on the border with Tanzania. We were fortunate to take over the Ker & Downey seasonal camp with a few friends for three days, and the location couldn’t have been better. We had wildebeest and zebra crossing the Sand River in and near camp, lions roaring nearby each night, newborn topi babies learning how to run, and spectacular sunsets.

It has certainly been strange for me to not be out on safari with my guests in June, July, and August for the first time in more than 20 years. But I have loved being able to spend so much time with the kids both at home and on a few little family safaris here in Kenya. Hopefully we will be back out there next year. Until then, enjoy a few highlights from the Mara:

Sunrise hot chocolate in camp.
Ollie and two of his buddies were excellent spotters!
This lioness was simply too fat to catch another gnu!
Baboons and impalas at a little stream.
Ollie enjoys exploring the Sand River.
Wildebeest and zebra coming down to drink and cross the Sand River.
Gnus on the move!
Portrait of a young gnu.
Halina watches a crossing from camp.
Halina and her friend, Bella, observing eles.
A special sighting of a very handsome reedbuck.
Karembo, a lovely little female cheetah, at sunset.
Karembo sunset.
A birthday dinner on the river bed with the full moon rising.

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