RHINO HAVEN

Just 4 hours drive from Nairobi, is the privately owned Solio Game Reserve. Home to large numbers of white rhino, the Reserve was initially focused on the breeding of the endangered black rhino, but has now succeeded in the breeding of white rhinos.

Driving down was a comfortable drive, and we arrived at the lodge in time for lunch. Lunch was served outside on the lawn deck and comprised of fresh salads with a pasta dish, followed by delectable cheeses and crackers. All this was accompanied by a glass of chilled rose.

After lunch we retired to our rooms where we spent some time admiring the view from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Then it was time to go out and see the rhinos. We began with a walk outside the Reserve for about 45 minutes, before entering the Reserve for a drive.

Rhinos, rhinos and more rhinos…we saw them in large numbers as we drove through the Reserve. Our vehicle was modified to have seats fitted on the roof, giving us an unobstructed 360 degree view.

At around 6 pm, we came upon a large pride of lions (about 27 to 30), feeding on the fresh carcass of a giraffe. We stopped a few feet away from them and settled down to watch. Lots of grunting and crunching sounds rent the air and we were totally surrounded by lions – one young male was stretching himself on a tree right beside me, and there were lions lying in the grass close to the vehicle.

As the sun had begun to set, this made for a charged atmosphere that had us glued to our seats, while feeling very vulnerable at the same time as we were completely exposed, and night was falling rapidly.

Then the lions began to quarrel amongst themselves and an old male lion began growling and roaring at two young male lions who had come closer to feed. The roaring grew louder and then the old male swatted his huge paw at one of the younger lions and the younger lions came bounding towards us – we were all spooked. This was definitely out of our comfort zone.

Our driver/guide, Ole, bless him, chose this moment to ask us if he could pass us our sundowners….a resounding NO from all of us put paid to that idea. We spent another 10 – 15 minutes there until it became too dark to see, and then headed back to the lodge. You can imagine what the topic of conversation was over pre dinner drinks.

Dinner was served in the dining room – the meals at Solio are very well prepared with good vegetarian options should you require, and a great wine list.

Taking a shower is a real treat as the shower heads are huge and it feels like you are standing under a waterfall. The shower area is large, and is fronted by glass on the garden side, so you can shower with a view of the gardens. There is a free standing bathtub should you wish to indulge, with a fireplace next to it – this fire is lit on request.

The lounge area next to the sleeping area also has a fireplace where the fire is lit in the evening, and lends a cosy air to the room. The beds are super comfortable and we spent a very relaxed night.

Morning game drives don’t start at the crack of dawn as in other parks and reserves, but at the more civilized hour of 8 am. On our morning game drive, we saw again, huge groups of rhino, and we went back to visit the lions – there was a lone lion feeding on the carcass with the rest of the pride sprawled in the long grass around.

The highlight of the morning game drive was a bush breakfast set up right next to the rhinos….who were very curious about us and kept coming closer to look at these strange creatures.

Later that day, we went for a horseride outside the Reserve. This lasted about 45 minutes and the horses were quite amenable except for one spot where 2 of the horses were bitten by tsetse flies and wanted to bolt.

On the day of departure, we had breakfast at the lodge and as one of our party was celebrating a birthday, the manager Ava, graciously arranged for a birthday celebration complete with cake and singing and dancing.

Ava also, very generously, sent us off with packed lunches and gifts for the ladies – the lunches came in very handy.

For anyone wishing to interact closely with rhinos…Solio is the place to be!!!

NABOISHO CONSERVANCY, MAASAI MARA RESERVE

Safarilink Aviation has a spanking new terminal at Wilson Airport, which is located adjacent to the departure area, with a lovely seating area and coffee shop run by Monikos Restaurant. Flights to the Mara take off at 10 am and 3 pm every day, and on a cold, grey Friday in June, we flew out to the Mara on a morning flight at 10 am. Our flying time was about 45 minutes, in a twin Otter with 2 pilots, very smooth, touching down at the airstrip in Naboisho Conservancy, Mara at around 11 am, right on schedule.

We were received at the airstrip by Manfred, our driver/guide from Basecamp Eagle View, who cut a fine figure in his Maasai shukas and jewellery. We set off on our first game drive, en route to the Camp which is about an hour’s drive away.

Basecamp Eagle View 132

Driving along in the Naboisho Conservancy is a refreshing change from the main Mara Reserve as you don’t see the congregation of vehicles and large cattle herds  that you would probably see in the main Mara Reserve. Instead we saw huge numbers of wildebeest, left behind from the migration as they had ‘no passports’ to return. Basecamp Eagle View 146The amount of wildlife we saw on this first short game drive was staggering…..wildebeest, topi, eland, Grant gazelle, dikdik, impala, zebra…..it was amazing.  Arriving at the Camp, we were greeted by magnificent views over the Conservancy as the Camp sits on a hilltop, facing a salt lick below which is frequented by wildlife throughout the day, providing hours of entertainment for the guests.

Our tent was beautifully appointed, with a lovely spacious bathroom, also featuring an outside shower which sadly we could not use, due to the rainy weather.

Lunch was set up in the open air dining room, and we were kept entertained by the beautiful birds flitting in and out of the mess area. Jonathan and his able assistant Alfred, served us very well throughout the meal, ensuring that we were well fed.

Our evening adventure began with a game drive at 5 pm….we drove through the savanna, past the trees uprooted by the elephants, through the large herds of the resident wildebeest. The grass was short due to the large wildebeest numbers and this was very useful  in spotting wildlife.

Suddenly Manfred spotted a young male lion under a tree, so well hidden that a few vehicles had just driven past him. Basecamp Eagle View 187Although the lion kept looking towards a herd of gazelles, he didn’t make any move towards them,  so after spending some time there, we reluctantly moved on.

As the sun was beginning to set, we stopped on the savanna plains for sundowners….crisp, refreshing gin and tonics served with mini pizzas to take the edge of our appetites. It is amazing how quickly one feels hungry out in the bush….didn’t think I could eat a thing after lunch but here I was, ravenous again. We  were enjoying the sunset and the drinks so much that we didn’t realize that a group of buffalos was drawing nearer to us, and in fact there were 3 buffalos quite close to us.  Our able guides Manfred and Kiok had already spotted them and ushered us back into the vehicle…… time now for a night game drive, which can only be done in Conservancies.

This time, we saw a hyena, and three lionesses on the hunt…though we had to leave them to hunt in peace, returning to Camp just in time for dinner.

Being escorted to our tent after dinner by the night askaris (guards) was very reassuring, as all around us could be heard noises of animals and the rustling of leaves. I was very glad to get into the warm, welcoming tent and settle down for the night.

And what a busy night it was…we had a herd of elephants come through the Camp, there were  lions, hippos and hyenas in near proximity to the Camp during the night and we could hear their distinctive noises throughout the early morning hours.

The next morning, there was drama at the waterhole as a cheetah was chased away by a group of baboons, spotted by us  from the Camp. Our next game drive was in the afternoon of the 2nd day and we saw tons of wildlife including a herd of elephants, and pride of lions with cubs. The Naboisho Conservancy is famed for its lion population, similar to  that of the Ngorongoro Crater.

Basecamp Eagle View 394The lion cubs were in a playful mood and we loved watching their antics and rough play. One of the larger male cubs made an attempt to hunt down a wildebeest, but after a thrilling chase, admitted defeat as the the wildebeest was too fast for him.

The next morning we set out for a walk in the Conservancy in the early morning. This is a special activity you can only enjoy in the Conservancy and it brings with it a sense of adventure and fun. We were accompanied by 4 Maasai guides, complete with arrows, and Maasai singing and jumping. One of the object of the walk is to educate guests on little known facts about animal footprints, droppings, and useful plants. Fortunately the only animals we came across were the wildebeest, zebra, hyena and hippos in the distance. …no predators though this has happened in the past. The Maasai walk at a pretty fast pace so one has to be able to keep up with them. A guided walk typically lasts for about 90 minutes to 2 hours, so you are back at Camp in time for a yummy breakfast.Basecamp Eagle View 481

Sadly we had to leave for Nairobi that day, so we departed with heavy hearts after breakfast, making our way to the Naboisho airstrip. The airlines flying these routes can make upto 4 landings in the Mara, dropping and picking passengers from different airstrips, so they require that all passengers be at the airstrip at least 30 minutes before the flight departure time, in case of the aircraft arriving earlier than scheduled. Basecamp Eagle View 611The typical scene at these airstrips will be of vehicles waiting for their passengers either to depart or arrive. Fortunately for us, our flight was on time and this time it was a 35 minute, direct flight to Nairobi…smooth sailing all the way. Landing to the hustle and bustle of Nairobi, the peaceful, natural world of Naboisho seemed eons away.