48 HOURS IN THE CHYULU HILLS

Chyulu Hills….magical, mystical Chyulu Hills, located between the Amboseli and Tsavo ecosystems. I have always wanted to visit the high-end Ol Donyo Lodge, situated deep in the Chyulus and when the opportunity presented itself at the end of January, I grabbed it with both hands.

Having heard so much about the lodge and the numerous activities one can enjoy there, I knew that I was in for a fun filled, adventure stay. Most importantly myself, and other visitors to the lodge are contributing to the conservation of this magnificently wild area and its animals.

3 magnificent bulls at the waterhole

Getting there was a breeze – a 35 minute flight with Safarilink Airlines early in the morning got us to the Ol Donyo airstrip by 8.30 am, ready for our adventures. Our guide, Jackson (instrumental in getting us to visit the lodge) met us at the lodge and escorted us to the hide, where three large elephants were waiting to greet us. Although we were extremely close to them, and they knew we were there, the elephants were calm and enjoying the cool water at the waterhole. All the water used at the lodge, is filtered and routed to the waterhole for the use of the game that visits the waterhole.

The lodge has 2 hides, one on ground level and one below ground and both offer excellent photographic opportunities. Jackson, being an excellent photographer, also offered us some very valuable tips.

Ground level hide

The managers at the lodge, Abby & Edward, although quite new, are extremely competent and run a very tight ship….nothing escapes Abby’s eagle eye, and they are always on hand to greet every arrival at the lodge, be it new arrivals or guests just arriving from a game drive.

The rooms were a wonderful surprise – each of the suites and villas has it’s own plunge pool overlooking the plains, and a rooftop terrace with ‘star beds’ which can be set up for you.

Plunge pools overlooking the plains

Two of us in the group were given the loan of a professional Canon Camera each (normally inclusive when you pay for exclusive hire of the vehicle), and we whiled away the hours before lunch learning how to use the camera, hopefully getting some wonderful shots of the wildlife below.

Lunch was served in the pool house – a selection of fresh, delicious salads and a delectable dessert and cheese board. Drinks are inclusive at the lodge so while everyone enjoyed a chilled glass of rose wine, I opted for the fashionable Hendricks G & T.

A dip in the pool after lunch, and off we went on our first game drive. We came across lots of plains game, no cats unfortunately, and settled down, drinks in hand, for our first sundowner in the Chyulus. Driving back to the lodge in the early evening, the lodge radioed Jackson to advise him of lions at the waterhole – unfortunately we missed them as they had already left the waterhole by the time we arrived. A quick shower and then dinner served in the wine cellar – a veritable treat.

All of us decided to sleep out on the ‘star beds’ that night, as the stars were particularly bright in the night sky. Lanterns, candles and an open sky awaited us after dinner, but I am ashamed to say that I promptly fell into such a deep slumber, that not only did I miss out on the stars, but also on all the animal noises during the night.

Next day, early wake up call and off we went to the Ride Kenya Stables, to meet the team headed by John & Paul. After being fitted out with chaps and helmets, we mounted our horses and were given brief instructions on how to handle the horse. It did look a little intimidating at first but we soon got the hang of it.

Back in the vehicle, we drove out to the plains where we met up with the horses and set off on a gentle walk on the plains. It was a blissful 60 minutes….walking quietly on the plains, game in sight, with the iconic Mt Kilimanjaro in the foreground.

Soon it was time for a well deserved breakfast under some shady trees, and then back on the horses for the return journey. Jackson picked us up midway and then received an alert from the lodge that a black rhino had been spotted on the plains. There was pandemonium – this was the first time a black rhino had been spotted here in 20 years and everyone wanted to be a part of this historic occasion. All the staff from the lodge came out in the vehicle and we were there too (actually we were just a total of 3 vehicles which indicates how unspoilt this area is) but the shy creature retired into some bushes. We tried getting photos of the rhino but the high temperatures were creating a haze which was showing up on the photos. Big Life Foundation‘s Craig Miller came to see the rhino as well, accompanied by his dog, and it was a very exciting and charged 30 – 45 minutes trying to get a glimpse of the rhino in the distance.

Back to the lodge for another delicious lunch, followed by a dip in the pool and then onto our next big adventure – going into the one of the lava tube caves that crisscross the Chyulu Hills. The Chyulu Hills has the deepest known lava tube cave in the world, and one of the caves, the Upper Leviathan Cave has been measured at 11.15 km – one of the world’s longest caves.

Getting there took us about 45 minutes by car and then a short hike to the entrance of the cave. We were accompanied by a Maasai veteran carrying a rifle and a wicked short knife, and despite having only one eye, was said to be an expert marksman.

Descending into the cool, dark depths of the cave was like entering a another world. There were trees growing out of the lava, and the silent, eerie depths were home to many bats. Thankfully one did not feel claustorphobic as the cave was large and most times you could see open sky at both ends. We came across a few birds but no snakes or other reptiles, though we were all so focused on where we were putting our feet, that we may have missed a few. There were sections where the only way to get down was on the seat of your pants.

Coming out into the fresh, open air has never felt better, and we had to celebrate with the obligatory sundowner, this time the spirit of choice being Musgrave Gin.

Back at the lodge, I decided to try the outdoor shower in our suite, which I dubbed “Star Shower” , after which we had dinner by the pool….truly a magical setting! As everyone was knackered after the day’s events, and we had an early start in the morning, we all decided to sleep indoors – good choice as the beds were super comfy and conducive to a good night’s rest.

Our last breakfast at the lodge, goodbyes to Abby, Edward and the staff with promises to return and then Jackson whisked us off to the airstrip. No sooner had we arrived, when we saw the lights of the Safarilink plane coming in to land. No byes for Jackson…for him it was ‘see you soon’ and then a wonderfully smooth flight back to the city.

I do think I will need a stint at the coast to recover from all that activity.

THE NGORONGORO CRATER LODGE

The last time I visited the Ngorongoro Crater, I stayed at the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, and as we were on our way down to the crater floor, we passed a very imposing entrance. When I enquired of my driver as to the lodge contained within, he whispered to me in a reverent hush that it was the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge owned by & Beyond. From this, I got an indication that this was not your ordinary ‘run of the mill’ type of accommodation, and decided that I had to see it for myself one day. After all, they say seeing is believing.

From the time we drove in through the imposing entrance, everything was just perfect. As we drove into the lodge, we were directed to the ‘South Camp”. I could see strange looking buildings shaped like twin huts with a chimney at the end, grouped together. The murram road leading to our camp, the lush vegetation all around us and the swirling mist, all combined to give us a feeling of adventure and excitement.

As soon as the vehicle came to a halt, we were given an extremely warm welcome by our camp manager Ali, and butler, yes our very own butler Nemes. Concerned that we were tired after our drive from Nairobi, they insisted that the check in formalities be done in the comfort of our room.

What a surprise awaited us when we opened the door to our room! Who knew such luxury existed behind the simple door? Chandeliers, raw silk curtains, velveteen bedspreads, fresh roses almost everywhere, exotic smelling lotions and shampoo in elegant glass bottles, a superbly placed bathtub with a view of the crater floor, and not forgetting the loo with its own view of the crater floor.

ng crater 2

A blazing fire was lit for us, and some delicious goodies were placed there to tempt our palates. Some sherry before dinner? ………….no problem! A decanter of sherry and some crystal glasses should you wish to indulge. We were pampered and spoilt rotten.

The butler sends a Maasai guard to escort you to dinner at the time you request, and serves up a delicious 4 course dinner. The dining room was magnificent too…raw silk curtains, elegant period furniture, gold motifs on the ceiling and should you wish to visit the washroom during dinner, you are in for a surprise! Located in a separate building, the washrooms are linked by a cozy lounge area….again, lots of silk, crystal, and lovely smelling soaps and lotions.

While you are enjoying dinner, busy hands are restoring the pristine appearance of your bathroom – replacing bath & hand towels, turning down your bed, and warming your nightclothes in the electric blanket. I can’t tell you what a treat it was to come in from the raw, cold wind outside, to a roaring fire and warm nightwear.

We spent a blissful night, heads resting on fluffy pillows, and encased in warmth. You morning wake up call comes with the yummiest, crunchiest homemade biscuits.

After breakfast, we explored our surroundings. There is a view of the crater from every corner and angle of the room. and the room opens out into a terrace that gives you a magnificent view of the crater floor. Plump cushions are on hand, should you wish to relax on the terrace.

ng crater 1

The day was spent on the crater floor, looking for game. Come lunch time, and I was feeling really sorry for all those people not staying at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. All they had a was a picnic lunch box with a sandwich, boiled egg, fruits etc. Us?….well we had a picnic table with chairs, a veritable feast spread out on the table…potato salad, green vegetable salad, chicken salad, pasta salad, tomato salad, fresh bread, drinks, cheese and crackers and to round it off, hot tea or coffee with cookies. Need I say more?

Returning to the lodge, we visited Tree Camp, a must for honeymooners. All in all, it was a memorable stay and I left the lodge with many a backward glance, and sighs of regret that I could not extend my stay.

DON’T MISS THESE 9 ESSENTIAL TIPS WHEN PACKING FOR YOUR SAFARI

1.The best colors for safari wear are neutral colors like beige, khaki, tan, fawn etc. Not only do they keep you cool, but they help you blend in with the environment, and also look the part which adds to the fun. Steer clear of the color blue as this is the preferred color for tsetse flies, and also of the color black as you will feel too hot. Bright whites reflect light and can startle the animals. Experiment with splashes of red and purple, emulating the Maasai and Samburu tribesmen who live amongst the wildlife. safari clothes 1

2.Cotton and linen work best in the bush as they look good even when crumpled and sweaty. They also age well and can be easily washed.

3.Dress in layers – more layers for that early morning game drive, or balloon safari when there is a bite in the air, and fewer layers later on in the day, when the sun is high. Ensure you are fully covered, especially your ankles, during the sunset hours as this is when mosquitoes tend to bite.

4. Think about what you’ll actually need as many of us tend to pack needless items that we never wear. Pack as sensibly as you can, looking for fabrics that are light and breathable, as there is a high possibility that you will be in the same clothes the whole day.

5. Keep it simple. Think about it…the less you have to worry about what you are wearing, the more energy you will have to be where you are, and appreciate the stunning landscapes and wildlife around you.

6. Look for clothes and accessories that are easy to put together – think about dressing in a dim light at 5.30am when you will be dressing for your early morning game drive. Leggings and long sleeved t-shirts are great staples to have.

Safari clothes

7. Footwear should be sturdy walking shoes, which will also be comfortable on game drives and especially if you take a walking safari. Tip – although running shoes are fine, if you opt for the short hiking boots, you will get a bit of extra coverage to keep those ankle-biting mosquitoes away.

8. Create modules for your travel needs e.g you can pack all your ‘tech’ items like your IPad, smartphone,camera, chargers etc in one bag and your toiletries in another and then your self-care and first aid in another…when you pack like this you are less likely to forget something important.

9. Finally remember to keep lightly covered up when the sun is high so you don’t expose your skin to the sun. A wide brimmed hat is an asset when the sun is strong. Also carry a scarf, which is useful for wiping off the dust from your camera lens while in the vehicle.

safari clothes 2