Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Kenyan Adventure

Safari in the Masai Mara
Having recently opened our East Africa office, we were very keen to showcase our new destination to potential clients. The opportunity presented itself sooner than expected with the generous support of Kenyan Airways and KLM, who assisted us in securing seats from Germany to Kenya. We promptly set about inviting all our top incentive clients on a true Kenyan Adventure.

Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi, the gateway for most European flights, is currently undergoing somewhat of a metamorphosis. New parking is under construction, which will certainly alleviate the congested parking site. Nevertheless, arrival is hassle-free, especially if one secures airside assistance and porters beforehand. From the Arrivals Hall it is a short walk to the parking lot, where coaches or 4x4 vehicles await, alternatively one can cross the road to the conveniently located domestic departures. For charter flights, it is a 30min road transfer to the local Wilson Airport.

Our guests arrived on the 06h30 flight from Amsterdam and were ready for the first phase of the trip; Nairobi to Mount Kenya. This scenic journey takes one from the bustling city out into the countryside in an easterly direction, passing the Abedare Mountains on the left and Mount Kenya on the right. It is an easy three-and-a-half hour drive. Along the route one passes “Matata’s” (I am sure you familiar with the phrase “Hakuna Matata” from the Lion King...) and “Boda-boda’s” mini-vans and motorcycle taxis respectively.

We spent out first night at the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club – a wonderful, colonial property set on the slopes of Mount Kenya. Originally the hunting lodge of William Holden and Stephanie Powers, this property has now been transformed into a deluxe resort. Sloping lawns, frequently graced by what I called Maribu Barbies (the Maribu Stork, definitely the winner of ugliest bird in Africa!), roll out to the base of the mountain. The hotel is reminiscent of a bygone era, from the silver service and sumptuous buffets to the elegant, well-appointed rooms. On-site, they have a choice of sporting activities as well as an Animal Orphanage which is well worth a visit. The equator literally runs through the hotel and this is easily demonstrated by a simple water experiment. After crossing the equator, each guest was handed a certificate by a Masaai Chief and his warriors. The GM hosted us for a magical evening at the Likki River Boma, complete with candles lighting the way, a traditional African BBQ and local entertainment. What a start ... dinner under the African Skies!

For incentive groups there are a number of offsite breakfast, lunch or dinner sites, as well as safari excursions located a mere hour’s drive from the resort. Certainly a worthwhile venue to combine with the Masai Mara or Lake Nakuru. In addition, fly-in options can be arranged via a helipad on the property or an airstrip situated approximately 30 minutes away.

Day two was off to an early start as we headed out to Lake Nakuru, but not before we were treated to an an iconic view of Mount Kenya at sunrise! Spectacular! The journey to Lake Nakuru took about five hours, mostly on tarred roads. A half-way stop at Thompsons Falls helped break the journey. Please note that it is possible to offer this as a fly-in package.

Lake Nakuru is renowned for its birdlife and in particular, its world-famous flocks of pink Flamingos. Unfortunately the viewing is seasonal, so we did not see as many as expected. Nevertheless, we did get some marvellous photo opportunities and the area includes a huge array of other wildlife from Lion, and Rhino to Hyena (they offer the Big Five - Lion, Rhino, Elephant, Leopard and Buffalo).

Spectacular scenery – right out of the movie “Out of Africa“ – teaming herds of animals, extraordinary birdlife and quality hotels, make Lake Nakuru a definite must in Kenya. We stayed at Sarova Lion Hills and viewed Lake Nakuru Lodge, the two main properties. They are both comfortable 4 star hotels and offer incentive-style events such as dinner on the lawns, tree planting programmes, local entertainment and more formal gala dinners.

Day three was the great trek from Lake Nakuru to the Masai Mara; a six hour journey, which covered a variety of terrains. Up till Narok, the last outpost before the Masai Mara, the road was in good condition, however between the town and the lodges, the road is currently in a terrible state. If budget allows, I definitely recommend a fly-in to the Masai Mara. Our first night in the Mara, was spent at the sublime Mara Bushtops – not quite located on the reserve, but a mere ten minutes outside the park. They have the advantage of a private concession, which is rare in this area. Ten exquisite safari tents, each with private jacuzzi, afford complete privacy. The cuisine is superb and we were very well looked after by attentive staff. Suitable for small, high-end incentive groups, or honeymoon couples only, this is the ultimate romantic hideaway.

Our second night was spent at the Sarova Mara Bush Camp; completely different in style but great for bigger groups – 73 tents in total. The tents are spread across expansive gardens which can also incorporated for events. A large communal pool is the hub of the property.

And now for the good part... the one which has brought millions of visitors to this region – game viewing. Vast open plains and gentle hills allow for some of the best safari viewing in the world. Large herds of animals, including the Big Five, are the main attraction. Of course, when the wildebeest and zebra start their annual migration from Tanzania between July and September, this is magnified into an awe-inspiring spectacle. We were very lucky to catch the first arrivals - the Tanzanian border was covered in black, which when viewed with binoculars, was a vast teeming herd of zebra. Taking advantage of the migration are the omnipresent big cats and crocodiles. In the words of Karen Blixen - "You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions."

A minimum of 2 nights is recommended in the Mara, and wonderful incentive-style activities can be arranged, except for bush dinners, which the park does not allow. Included are bush breakfasts overlooking the hippo pools, champagne served by Masaai warriors in full regalia, sunset cocktails overlooking the plains, and possibly the highlight, a hot-air balloon ride over the Masai Mara.

Our penultimate day was spent completing our round trip, back on the road to the capital, Nairobi. Apart from the section to Narok, the roads were in good condition. Lunch hosted by Fiona and Marcus Mitchell at Kiambethu Tea Estate provided a welcome break. The tea plantation has been in their family for generations and they were very gracious hosts, serving us a home-style lunch on the lawns. Only 40kms from the city centre, this provided us with sufficient respite to brave the chaos that is Nairobi traffic. The Sarova Stanley Hotel is located right in the centre of the city and offers old school hospitality. Our last night’s celebration was held at the Tamarind Restaurant, sister to the more famous Carnivore Restaurant. Specialists in Dawa’s (traditional cocktails) and seafood platters, it was a fitting end to a superb trip.

Nairobi offers many incentive options, such as dinner on the lawns at the home of Karen Blixen, the famous Danish authoress whose life was immortalized in the movie “Out of Africa”, to a function at the city museum. Great day activities include a visit to Kazuri Bead Store and Factory and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. David Sheldrick was a Warden of Tsavo East National Park. In 1952 he started a haven for the rehabilitation of orphan Elephants, and his legacy continues at this venue on the outskirts of Nairobi.
Kenya truly has much to offer potential incentive programmes, with the Mombasa coastline adding a beach element into the mix. Combine this with Tanzania and the island of Zanzibar, and you have an unforgettable programme.

“Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is worst of all.” Brain Jackman

No comments:

Post a Comment